After a long career in advertising, this Tampa Bay artist started painting full-time

Time correspondent

Amy Feil Phillips decided early on that “I didn’t want to be a struggling artist.” She became an advertising artist and has worked as the art director, creative director and senior designer at advertising agencies in Tampa and Connecticut. It has won national, district and local ADDY awards, the world’s largest advertising competition.

This year she fulfilled a long-standing dream and began to create and exhibit her own pictures full-time. She was one of the “emerging artists” at the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts earlier this month. This year it was a virtual show because of the pandemic. Although she didn’t win first place in the competition, she said she was thrilled to be a finalist.

Phillips, 62, works mainly in modern impressionism and photorealism, painting landscapes, still lifes and figures. She spoke to the Tampa Bay Times about painting and commercial art. The paintings mentioned can be found at and

How did you develop your skills as an artist and when did you realize you had a talent for art?

When I was a kid I loved taking art classes in school. And I vividly remember loving coloring books and Etch A Sketch, especially spirographers. I would spend hours and hours making perfect designs. …

And I had a wonderful art teacher in high school. … I don’t know if you’re familiar with Rapidograph pens, but they were popular with the artsy kids so I had to get one and … we drew all of these simple black and white illustrations. … (The pen) releases the ink, it flows out very evenly and in a very controlled manner, so that you can use them to create small, tiny, simple drawings and simple black and white illustrations. It’s almost like Impressionism, but it’s in the drawing. With small dots you create shadow areas and you can create shapes by the density of the dots. …

You made a competition (in high school), a call to participate in this art magazine. It could be any kind of art, and I submitted this simple black and white illustration of a troll taking a nap under a tree. … It was assumed. I don’t know what kind of award it won, but it was released and that was really exciting.

One of your early paintings shows flowers in a glass vase. How do you make glass look real?

It’s really about learning how to paint what you see, and it’s hard to see when it’s in the context of what you’re used to seeing. One little trick I do is turn the rough draft upside down and turn my picture upside down. It’s not something I made up, I heard that along the way. …

What happens is that you start to realize – instead of seeing a flower in a glass vase … and almost being intimidated by those reflections, turn it upside down and suddenly it’s abstract. It doesn’t look like reality. It’s something out of normal context and that really helps. … Then really examine and look and see, okay, this highlight is next to that dark area and then there is a mid-tone there.

And in photorealism like this painting, the original drawing is vital, you say.

It is really important that the drawings are exactly correct. Otherwise it just doesn’t look good, it looks amateurish. I’ve done so much figure drawing and life drawing and still life drawing and classes at the Art Institute of Chicago and all over Wesleyan University. …

And to really get the photorealism, it’s incredibly important to have the exact color. … I spend almost more time mixing colors than painting. It is so important. And the more complex the color, the more realistic it usually looks.

Human on nature, 2020. Human on nature, 2020. [ Amy Feil Phillips ]

You work a lot in impressionism. What made you do it?

With Wesleyan … I had to do art history for several years. … I just loved French Impressionism, to the point where I spent a year abroad in college in France in my junior year. …

I know it’s out of date, it was made, but there is such a thing as modern impressionism. So I consider myself a modern impressionist.

Would an example of this be the fruit and the flowers?

The pumpkin is blooming. There’s a looseness I want to achieve, a technique I learned in high school. … (the art teacher) would call them holidays, and that would be areas of the floor or the blank white canvas that you don’t cover. Paint quickly, cover the canvas quickly, and don’t get overly attached to one area. Don’t worry about covering the entire canvas. And this style leaves a looseness that breathes life into a painting.

How did you become an advertising artist?

I met my husband (Michael Phillips) at Tree Studios (in Chicago) and they have live drawing classes. It’s funny the artists that went there, a lot of them were commercial artists. They were art directors, creative directors at advertising agencies, and they went there for fun, drawing characters at night. …

My husband was an art director at the time and had a very, very good job. He had been pretty successful. So he actually became my mentor and I started taking night classes at the American Academy of Art in advertising and design and wow, I loved it. …

I started out as a production artist. … prepress, that was my first commercial job. …

I looked at my husband; he seemed to be having more fun. He made drawings all day – he was a “wrist”. Back then they called it a wrist. … He was really good at drawing and just doing layouts all day. He did it beautifully – in my eyes they were art. You could make a living being a wrist, being an artist as an art director. So that’s what I have in my sights. … I knew this was a way to use my art, apply my art, and make a good living.

Rachel, 1989. Portrait of Amy Phillips.Rachel, 1989. Portrait of Amy Phillips. [ Photo: Courtesy of Ellen and Michael Winner ]

How often do you paint

I find that I tend to paint in bursts. Once I get an image going, I find it hard to stop. And that includes at night too.

Will you keep painting until late at night?

I’m going. I love painting. Time disappears. Time lapse. I don’t even know how long I’ve been there.

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