How the Blue Ridge Mountains Inspire This Mother-Daughter Duo's Abstract Paintings

Courtesy Marleigh and Shannon Foeller

Shannon Foeller and Marleigh Hughes put their nature-inspired spin on fluid art. 

Swirls of sage green, gold, cerulean, and ultramarine paint flow together and form organic, geode-like abstract patterns on an 18-inch by 24-inch canvas.

"The title is 'undone.' […] It was inspired by the late winter-early spring snowmelt when the mountains explode with brilliant greens and everything glimmers with new life," said the artist, Shannon Foeller.

"Undone" that it was inspired by the late winter/early spring snow melt when the mountains explode with brilliant greens and everything glimmers with new life.
Courtesy Marleigh and Shannon Foeller

The mother of five lives in the quaint town of Front Royal, Virginia, about an hour west of Washington D.C. Her creative gene comes from her father, who was a photographer. Foeller, too, turned photography into her profession, but with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing her and her family to hunker down, she started experimenting with fluid art techniques. Her teenage daughter, Marleigh Hughes, also became interested, and the two converted their 100-year-old barn into an art studio.

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"It originally was for storage mostly, for our kayaks and our bikes and things like that. And then we just made space. It's perfect because there's a big cement floor that we can just throw canvas, drop cloths down. And I put some old tables in there and wired up speakers and some brighter lights, and now we can paint out there," Foeller explained.

Titled BSOGB by Marleigh and Shannon Foeller
Courtesy Marleigh and Shannon Foeller

The two started using acrylic paint as well as acrylic and alcohol ink to create bold ethereal paintings that they posted photos of on their Instagram account. Soon, commissions started coming in.

Pouring acrylic paint on canvases creates unique patterns without having to necessarily use traditional paintbrushes (although Hughes would sometimes handpaint face motifs on her works of art). Their techniques are a work in progress as both often reach out to other artists for advice and tips.

Shannon Foeller using the heat gun on her painting
Courtesy Marleigh and Shannon Foeller

"It's [our art] messy, and it's abstract. A lot of times, it's fluid. But I would say controlled fluid. I move paint a lot of times with a blow dryer or a heat gun. I will tape spaces off before I pour and then remove the tape. That way I'm sort of controlling it to a degree," explained Foeller.

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Both credit nature as their primary source for ideas and inspiration. The entire family spends countless hours outside hiking, climbing, and kayaking around Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains. So it's easy to see why Hughes and Foeller's art would be so influenced by the sights and sounds they are surrounded by every day in this part of the country.

"I'll see pretty colors next to each other outside, and I'll put that [combination of colors] into my paintings," said Hughes, who loves the work of Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama. But she added that her paintings are open for interpretation. That's the reason why she doesn't like naming them—to avoid inference and let the viewer come to his or her own conclusion.

"I think people should look at it and let their imagination do what it wants," she said.