Connie Townsend is best known for her playful paintings of dogs riding motorcycles and driving cars, and pet portraits that some collectors believe "captured my beloved dogs true spirit". Her sense of humor is expressed most dramatically in her dog series, and she admits that her favorite response to the work is "your paintings make me smile". Townsend's evolution and passion for painting happened through a slow process of accumulating life experiences.
Connie Raye Townsend was born in Jackson, Tennessee in 1953. She began sketching in grade school and one of her earliest memories is the thought, “I want to be a cartoonist.” In high school, she was intrigued with photographic realism in life drawing and still life. She recalls that her parents' enthusiasm for their hobbies left a greater impression on Connie than their careers: "Mom liked to oil paint and dad liked to build things, so they let me paint murals on my bedroom walls and build a club house in the back yard." Acquiring skills and working with her hands became her passion.
For a short time in the early 70’s, she worked as a service station attendant where she learned basic car maintenance. She spent her work breaks sketching the vehicles parked at the shop, with a keen interest in the VW Bugs and Vans. Other blue collar work followed. Then, in 1980,she moved to Flagstaff where Ralston Purina hired her to drive a fork lift, loading trailers and boxcars with dog chow. It was during the next 10 years that she spent many days off, roaming the surrounding National Forest in a Jeep, and taking photos. She loved the utility of the vehicle, and became so obsessed with late model Jeeps that she developed a hobby of buying and restoring them.
In 1990, Townsend took a course in screen printing. One month after the course, she left Purina and opened her own company, "Outrageous Tees Custom Screen Printing". It was a perfect career, being physically and creatively challenging. She started noticing the graphics on t-shirts and began to look at art in local galleries and art exhibits. Several artists got her attention including Joe Sorren, Mike Frick and Shonto Begay, who were all living and creating art in Flagstaff and on their way to national renown. That spark lit a desire to paint. She enrolled at the community college and started oil painting and was instantly hooked. A large painting entered in a show at the Coconino Center For the Arts received public acclaim and a featured artist article in Arizona Daily Sun. The sale of that painting got her thinking that perhaps she could make a living as an artist.
That painting, by the way, was her dog driving her recently restored Jeep Willys Wagon, with St Francis in the passenger seat, taking a tour around the San Francisco Peaks. “Driving St. Francis” 48 x 36 oil on canvas by Connie Townsend.
By 2001, Townsend had enough confidence to approach galleries both inside and outside of Flagstaff. Her art was well received, and she began making steady sales. She could now dare to dream of being an artist. With several galleries selling her work, in 2002 she retired from screen printing and became an artist calling her new business Blue Collar Art Works.
She continues her education by taking plein air workshops with favorite artists who also teach, including Leigh Gusterson in Taos, NM. The time outdoors learning to paint landscapes to compliment her vehicle-driving dogs is well spent. Those dogs can travel anywhere now, and are often seen sporting - what else - a Blue Collar.