Reflections and Intentions

Artist Tabby Ivy opens her solo exhibit this month at Frame of Reference in Whitefish featuring her tonalist oil paintings

As a sixth-grader in the 1950s, Tabby Ivy wanted to take an afterschool art class. But she didn’t get in.

Students interested in the class were told to write their signature on a piece of paper, which would apparently demonstrate their artistic potential. Ivy flunked the signature test and was rejected from the program. She wouldn’t pursue art for another 40 years.

“I just kind of (thought) in my little mind, ‘You don’t have talent; don’t go there,’” Ivy said.

Now, she is a featured artist for a solo exhibition at Frame of Reference Fine Art in Whitefish for the month of October. “Reflections and Tone” shows off Ivy’s tonalist-inspired oil paintings in her collection of reflections on water.

The show will feature 20 landscape pieces ranging from her 50-by-90-foot signature piece, “River Reverie,” a three-panel piece known as a triptych, to several 5-by-5-foot paintings.

Her work displays muted and gray tones morphing together to form a blended landscape. Ivy sometimes uses cold wax, which adds thickness and texture, creating a matte color. Tonalism generally allows viewers to form their own interpretation of the art.

“I like to leave a little bit unsaid,” Ivy said.

Having no formal training in oil painting, she relies on local workshops and literature while painting intuitively and allowing her art to transpire organically.

“I trust where the painting’s gonna go,” she said.

She formed the reflections concept while boating with her husband on Flathead Lake. She also dabbles in photography, and usually uses photos as a starting point for her paintings.

Ivy attended Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula in the 1990s where she studied black-and-white photography following a career in diagnostic ultrasound in Seattle.

“It’s interesting because ultrasound is obviously very visual, and ultrasound in general is typically black and white, and there’s a lot of gray scale and tonal changes in the image that you have to understand,” Ivy said.

Ivy translated her familiarity with black-and-white imagery to photography, which she would later show up in her paintings. She breaks down her creative process by taking a photograph or drawing a sketch to base the composition. The painting is never a literal interpretation of the photograph, but Ivy says the image helps her remember the moment she captured in the photo.

“It reminds me of the feeling I was feeling when I was there,” she said.

Once Ivy begins painting, she simplifies the composition and eliminates unnecessary features in the painting. She then manipulates the image and narrows the painting down to illustrate her emotions, which she translates into the painting.

It takes Ivy anywhere from an afternoon to several months to finish a piece, depending on its scale. She prefers painting on a large canvas, which allows looser interpretations.

Ivy’s advice for artists is to trust their intuition.

“Stay true to your intention, follow your curiosity and execute appropriately,” Ivy said. “Then you’ve got a good shot of something coming out the way you envisioned it to.”

Ivy’s exhibit will run through Oct. 31. Her work will also be featured in holiday shows at Frame of Reference and Radius Gallery in Missoula, both starting in November. For more information, visit