Although she had never painted before, Pamela Prince became a fine artist overnight.
During a sleepless evening seven years ago, Prince, who had been enduring severe pain from chronic medical issues, had a vision that dramatically altered her life.
She saw her bedroom filled with several beautiful paintings on easels. Seeing the canvases very clearly, Prince, then 50, could even smell paint fumes.
"I felt my hand holding a brush and stroking the wet oil paints and said to myself, 'Dear God, you can't be serious. I don't know where to begin to paint that way.'"
Prince then heard what she calls a voice or a loud instinct say, "I will guide you." The rest of the night sketches poured from her mind.
After only a couple of practice paintings, Prince, who lives in the Five Knolls neighborhood, jumped into the series titled "Reminders," allegorical dreamscapes that contain symbolic messages about life's lessons.
She said her works are based on the premise that we create our realities through our thoughts and feelings.
Prince, now 57, uses the name P.S. Thibodeaux for her artwork because she thinks her French maiden name sounds artsy.
Carefully proportioned props are posed with the model to communicate thoughts and perceptions. Representing human kind, the model's face and hair are concealed; there is no persona. Drapery substitutes for clothing, fashion and style, while adding mystery and drama to her image.
Models are carefully selected for the character and personality of each painting. Prince has used dancers from the North Carolina Dance Theater, thespians from the Actor's Theater of Charlotte as well as a yoga instructor and massage therapist.
"I'm so particular," she said. "I will go through several models and many modeling sessions for just one painting until I feel it is a perfect match. It's almost like type casting. I've been very fortunate to find wonderful women who love my work and are eager to be a part of the series." Prince, who took drawing and sculpting classes in college, makes many of the intricate props for her paintings and considers them art within art. She says the inspiration for her work comes to her faster than she can finish a piece.
"I have a pile of sketches and ideas that come from seeing each completed painting in my minds-eye before I begin anything," she said. "I can't imagine being without enough to do in the future."
What is stunning about Prince's art is that she instinctively paints using old world masters' glazing techniques, a style that captures intricate forms, rich hues and dramatic textures of real life with stunning perfection.
Prints are made by a master photographer and printmaker who has worked with museums around the world, including the Louvre.
Prince's work is so realistic and moving that it often brings tears to those who attend her art shows.
She said the dramatic light and darkness mimic the extreme polarity of the world in which we live.
"The single light source from above gives each painting its flow and depth to lead the eye while symbolizing the heavens or the light. The paintings actually glow with luminescence in the dim lighting of a room, as if they are lit from within, reminding the viewer to also be lit from within."
Prince has sold some of her work through local galleries and marketing through advertising in art magazines and distributing brochures at local events. Her originals range in price from $2,000 to $6,000, with prints costing $200 to $650. She is not yet supporting herself through her art but she is looking for a local gallery to represent her.
"My husband (Jim) is very proud and supportive of me," she said. "He saw my painting talent came from nothing. One day I was into gourmet cooking and the next day I was a painter.
"He put lots of money into my art career and never batted an eye. When I felt like I would fail he'd say, 'you're going to make it.'"
Prince hopes to challenge and improve herself as a painter. She says her "download from the heavens" was a gift that gives her something to live for and look forward to.
"Suddenly middle age is just the beginning," she said.