Highlands County Painter Brings Florida Scenes to Life
by TERESA SCHIFFER
photos by JESSICA McDONALD
The natural world has long been a fertile source of inspiration for artists. Even in this modern age, there is a serene beauty to be found in scenes of greenery, a primal thrill in seeing the hunter take his prey, and nostalgic charm emanating from bucolic images of rural life in pastoral settings. Monica Turner has made it her life’s work to capture such enchanting sentiments in every piece of artwork she creates.
Turner is a Florida native who was raised immersed in agriculture and art. She was sketching before she could speak, her innate creativity nurtured by supportive family members who quickly recognized her talent. With no formal training or education in artistic pursuits, Turner’s skill with a pencil, brush, or wood burner is truly captivating.
Growing up, Turner was homeschooled and was also active with the 4-H Club. She drew banners and posters for various 4-H events, and her art was featured in the local newspapers several times. This exposure is what earned Turner her first commissioned art job when a florist requested that she paint some clay flower pots for their shop.
In time, Turner tried her hand at doing murals. Soon, businesses and individuals all over the Highlands County area were delighted to be displaying her original artwork on their walls. The Lake Placid Mural Society commissioned two large murals for the town, and Toby’s Clown Foundation and School, a beloved Lake Placid museum and tourist attraction dedicated to spreading the joy of clowning around, proudly boasts colorful murals created by Turner.
More recently, Turner has turned her attention to creating works of art on a smaller scale. Motivated by an interest she shares with her husband and former high school sweetheart, Crockett Turner, the innovative artist had a flash of insight one day, and a new creative venture was launched.
“My husband and I are hunters,” she recounts. “I had done murals before having kids, then when I had kids I stayed home with them. Then I wanted to paint something for him – I hadn’t done painting before on paper – as a Christmas gift, so I took his hunting dogs and put them in a picture to make it custom. That turned out well, and then when I shared it a lot of people seemed to want their own dog in a picture, or their own scene or hunting landscape, or even their own farm.”
Turner did not have an established fan base at that point yet, so she created a Facebook page in order to offer her artistic services to the public. Initially, her goal was to create a series of works depicting Florida wildlife and game, something she could potentially market prints of to commercial buyers, such as outdoor equipment retailers. However, when people saw her work, they wanted something different from her.
“They wanted to order their own pictures, so instead of me being able to sell prints, I was too busy selling custom art,” Turner says with a chuckle. “People like their own special thing in their painting. They don’t want to buy some generic picture. So this is the niche that I’ve found.”
People love their dogs, so Turner has painted more canines than she can count – duck dogs, hog dogs, cow dogs, beloved pets, and more. It can be a challenge to capture a good quality photograph of a dog when they are always in motion, but Turner excels at taking those blurry shots and transforming them into crystal clear visions that truly portray the image of the beloved companions as they will always exist in their human’s memory.
“Most of my work is done from hog hunters,” she explains. “Usually what they want is, ‘Can you put my dog in a scene with another dog that I have, and make them actually baying a hog?’ So that’s what I usually do, put them into a background or a scene of action that they wouldn’t actually be doing in the photo.”
Another specialty of Turner’s is the customized skulls that she paints for hunters. Hunters provide her with the skull of an animal they’ve killed to have it decorated as a unique, commemorative trophy. She’s also done a number of homestead pictures, nostalgic pieces of how a property looked in generations past.
The ability to preserve other people’s memories in such a meaningful way is an aspect of Turner’s work that brings her great satisfaction.
“I really like that I can take a poor quality photograph, from somebody’s old photo album, or a blurry picture, or even a screenshot, and be able to make it better – to improve the memory that they have beyond a little piece of paper. They recorded it with their camera, but that doesn’t really capture the moment. It just captures what’s going on in the picture,” Turner says of her commissioned artwork.
This type of tribute portraiture is also requested by families who would like to have a memory created that never had the chance to take place in real life. Turner describes a typical request she receives fairly often, “I’ve done a lot of pictures where Grandpa has died, and Dad is not doing too well, and they’ll ask, ‘Can you put them in a painting with my daughter, because they never got to meet?’ And that’s just kind of neat, that’s real special to me. I like that.”
Check out more of her work on Facebook at “Head Turner Art Studio by Monica Turner,” or her website, MonicaTurnerArt.org.