Oil Painting: Art That Heals: Camille Engel

0707eng2144x144Sometimes painful experiences can cause people to lose interest in activities that once brought them incredible fulfillment. That’s not the case with Nashville artist Camille Engel. Her trials have actually driven her back to her original passion for painting; and each day spent doing something she truly loves brings another day of hope—and healing.

If you or an artist you know has a story that you would like to share in the Art That Heals section of the website, please e-mail us at mail@myamericanartist.com. Please be sure to write Art That Heals in the subject line.

by Camille Engel


Red Apple on Green Napkin
2002, oil,
14 x 11. Private collection.

Ever since I can remember I have wanted to be an artist, but there seemed to always be someone or something standing in my way. My parents were hard-working professionals who did everything they could to prevent me from painting. They were not mean people, they meant well—they were just trying to spare me the heartache of becoming a starving artist. Later in life, a painful and toxic relationship with my ex-husband further discouraged my passion and interest in art; my spouse separated me from all that I loved and all that brought me fulfillment. Eventually, however, I escaped that physically abusive relationship and was able to finally pursue what I felt I was created to do.

Before I found the strength to leave, I had reached a place of complete emotional despair. Everything and everyone appeared ugly to me—I had lost the ability to see the beauty and meaning in life. One day, I picked up an apple and, just before I took a bite, I noticed how glorious and lovely this object was in its color, texture, and detail. It was at that moment that I realized that even though my life at that time was painful and ugly, there was still beauty to be noticed and appreciated. The result of this observation is myRed Apple on Green Napkin painting, which has basically served as a recovery testimony for me.

Sunflower at the Old Factory
2004, oil,
24 x 24. Private collection.

It was at that time that I determined, as a way to heal, to find three things daily for which I could be thankful, even if it was just the color of a flower or the sweet sound of a bird singing. Then one day in early autumn of 1999, at the age of 46, I was for the first time in my life encouraged to pursue my dreams, and from that moment on, all I could think about was painting. I went out and bought brushes, oils, and canvases—and rediscovered my passion. I often cry when I paint; I’m not quite sure if it is because I’m appreciating the beauty of the object I’m studying or if it’s because the process of painting is so much a part of who I was meant to be.

Red Apple on Green Napkin eventually ended up hanging in a museum at my first public exhibition. The staff reported that they had never had such a positive response to a show, which inspired me to enter this painting in “Realism 2003,” in New York City. It was one of only 25 paintings accepted from thousands of entries. When this painting—which signified my healing process and rediscovered passion—began receiving such positive attention, I decided to start painting full time.

Home Sweet Home
2006, oil,
22 x 28. Private collection.

The long, contemplative process of painting is very introspective for me: It's realizing the beauty we have on earth and also realizing the beauty in unlovely things. Because of my painful background—and the healing process I pursued to force myself to find beauty in life and not dwell on how I was being treated—I began looking at the world and people around me with gratitude, and exploring realism in detail is part of that process. The technical side of how I create my paintings is quite painstaking. I try to add layers and layers of color so there's interest in the painting other than what’s seen on the surface. That's one of the things that I think distinguishes me as an artist: I revel in the painstaking detail that most others find tedious.

Through studying and painting the simple transient beauty we too often overlook in everyday life, I am constantly reminded that each breath we take is a gift, and life should be embraced and enjoyed. I now see every morning as a fresh opportunity to find God’s extraordinary joy in the most ordinary things. I have chosen to embrace the painful process of life with great joy and make something beautiful out of something that was meant for harm. I truly believe each trial we face can be an opportunity to reflect the hope, grace, and healing that is available to us all.

For more information on Camille Engel, visit her website at www.camille-engel.com, or e-mail her at camille@camille-engel.com.

Related Posts:


Oil Painting Blog

25 thoughts on “Oil Painting: Art That Heals: Camille Engel

  1. That was truly a beautiful piece of writing. I have a poster of the apple on a green napkin in my kitchen. Now when I look at it, I will understand what was behind it and appreciate my truly blessed life even more. Thanks Camille for seeing the beauty in life and helping others to see it, too.

  2. I enjoyed reading this “thought behind the painting” essay. It is refreshing to read how this artist experiences personal healing as she pours out from within. The added beauty, her outpouring brings so much joy to those who view her work.

    Bravo to Ms. Engel for being so transparent with her audience and bravo to American Artist for giving her column space to share her story.

  3. Art, as artwork, can indeed be therapeutic to the artist and the viewer alike. What Camille has done with Art That Heals is effectively communicate a truth that further connects viewers to the artist, deepening the linkage. Congratulations to whoever thought up this column. Thank you. How about syndicating it?

  4. Camille, what a touching story. I understand all too well the emptiness that exists when you know you are meant for something special, and have been blessed with a gift, but fear and life circumstances prevent you from employing it. You are an inspiration for me, as I try to find meaning in my life, and try to get back to using that special talent that God gave me. Thank you.

  5. Thank you for this story. It gives me an even greater appreciation of Camille. I live in Nashville and have had the pleasure of knowing Camille and seeing her works.

  6. Camille…I appreciated our conversation about truth and symbolism and subject matter.
    Your bravery and openness about your love of life and its struggles is deeply personal and yet universal. It lets us all know “we are one.”
    All the best!

  7. Great article. A story of hope and God’s destiny. Camille’s story and art remind me of a scripture: Jeremiah 29:11
    “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
    Thank you for sharing her story of a beautiful life.

  8. your story reminds me of my own which is similar. it’s like i just broke free from being numb and broken and just saw beautiful color even in the most gruesome of objects. thank you for sharing your story with me and the rest of the world. i find it encouraging.

  9. Your essay was a field of wildflowers for me. When you said, “I often cry when I paint; I’m not quite sure if it is because I’m appreciating the beauty of the object I’m studying or if it’s because the process of painting is so much a part of who I was meant to be . . .” I understand now why I sometimes cry when I look at a beautiful painting, photograph, or read a poignant and powerful poem. Tears go into the creation, and tears come out the other side. Isn’t it awesome?

    I was introduced to your column by an artist friend. I’m so glad that she sent me this link. I know of a few other limping spirits who could use the crutch of your work.

    Thank you so much for not only finding the willpower and guts to paint against exorbitant odds, but also for having the compassion to inspire others.

  10. Having known Camille for many years, I know how painful it must have been for her dredge up the ugly memories to write this. I knew her when she was young, single, excited about life, heading into a career in commercial art, and dating a bright, handsome man who treated her like a queen. I knew her when this man she married quickly turned into a self-righteous, hateful, and deceitful human being. I saw a beautiful and caring young woman be beaten down and tormented by the man who had promised to love and cherish her. As years passed, she somehow, by the grace of God, managed to keep her sanity and her faith. I will always admire her for that. As her life moved on over the years, she was blessed with a help-meet who truly loves, appreciates, and respects her, and encourages her to develop into the talented woman God created. I never saw Camille as an apple…I saw her as a glorious butterfly, who spent way too many years stuffed inside a dark cocoon. It’s wonderful to see her spread her wings again and spread God’s beauty to everyone willing to see it.

  11. Camille, you always inspire me with your paintings and now you have lifted my spirit. I am more than ever inspired to paint for the Lord, to paint whatever He wants me to paint. I am inspired to truly “let go,” and be the artist the Lord intended me to be. In spite of my recent physical struggles, this story has given me the freedom and joy to paint and heal. Just the act of painting is healing. Thanks!!!

  12. This story touched my heart. We own several reproduction pieces of Camille’s, and although we have always considered them beautiful, I will look at them in a different light. Now I will see them also as the beautiful stepping stones that paved her pathway to healing.

  13. Camille,Thank you so much for sharing your healing process with us. I also began painting as therapy, I didn’t really know that (in my head )but in my heart I felt I was going to get well as I painted. Most of the time it was painful to paint, as I struggled to work out the painting I was reliving the hard times in my past and by the time I would finish the piece and sit and look at it,I felt as if I was understanding what God was saying to me and with each finished piece-He took His Word and healed me.
    I am so thankful to Him. I am still struggling/healing . Nice to know I am not a nutcase-HE just showed me YOU. You have told your story in such a beautiful way. Thank you for being such a blessing to me.

  14. Camille, I appreciate your transparency and willingness to open your heart in this story. Art is therapy and I find that when I open my “diary pages” and show people, they connect to it in ways I never expected. Please keep on the path — your work and heart are beautiful.

  15. Thank you, Camille, for your open, lovely words and vivid creations. I am inspired by your raw appreciation of beauty in all its capacities. I am inspired to go paint and cry, too.

  16. Camille, shares the beauty in all that she paints. It is evident that the faith she has restored her. I love the flower she paints, as it struggles to grow through rusted fence, dead wood…in spite of the oposition, it’s strength and beauty is shown…very much like who Camille is. Thank you Camille for the beauty you restore.

  17. Thanks Camille. Everyone has a story and I appreciated hearing yours – and how you have chosen not to fold your tents but make your second half better by pressing through woundedness. You make things better for everyone who sees your work.

  18. Dear Camille,
    Countless times your inner beauty is spread across canvas and countless times you spread your hope, inspiration, and support to me personally. We are all in this life/stuggle and you have brought us closer together by sharing yours. Thank you for the reminder to look for and treasure beauty.

  19. Brilliant author. Extraordinary artist. Gifted beyond imagination. Blessed for sharing. Becoming ‘whole’ requires that we first embrace our brokeness. Let it begin in me.

  20. Such an inspirational story. It was moving to read,
    and the artwork is absolutely divine. It makes me want
    to know much more about Camille and her life.

  21. Camille, your creativity has always intrigued and added joy to my wife Cheryl and I. Thank you for sharing your story behind the paintings. We look forward to each and everyone.

  22. Camille’s story is an encouragement. There are times of turmoil and transition in everyone’s life, and our emotional response to God’s visual creation can put circumstances into their proper perspective. Camille, your work is beautiful but your testimony of courage is even more beautiful!

  23. your works have deep meaning and profound effect on the viewer.

    I share the belief that life is too short to waste on not being happy or on painting unhappy emotions and disturbing thoughts. Though they can quiet be a real release at times, What does it for me at the end of the day are simple things and taken for granted blessings that abound in ourselves and in mother nature things like the sound of a brook, or the little freshwater “crablets” (as we call it back here in the philppines) huddled around their mother under a stone in some cool mountain spring on a hot summer day.

    We should have a joint exhibit sometime.