A Fine Artist in the Trades: Tara Burnley’s Colorful Life
Tara Burnley and her mural, Brophy Bros. restaurant, Ventura, 2007.

Maybe Tara Burnley’s life as a surfer prepared her for a successful fine-arts path in the construction industry. Think about it: Growing up in the subtropical waters of her native Florida, with a big move to sun-soaked Southern California, she learned a lot about color, lines, detail on the horizon, and — what any good surfer grows to appreciate — patience.

After moving to the Golden State and working as a lifeguard and junior-lifeguard instructor at Point Magu and Leo Carrillo state parks — while living in her 1965 split-window VW van — she landed at UCSB to major in art, with a minor in art history. Her peers — even some of her professors — said she would never make any money with art.

Then, she said, an older woman who specialized in home finishing saw some of Burnley’s paintings. “She took me under her wing,” Burnley said. “The next thing I know, I’m up on scaffolding in a Montecito mansion with an ocean view. I never even knew that line of work existed.”

Burnley learned the faux-finishing, antiquing, and distressing of cabinets, doors, furniture, and exposed interior beams. She learned to treat new wrought iron to make it look aged and rusty. She primed and color-matched cracked plaster walls. She also learned stenciling and how to paint murals across big ceilings.

Eventually, she branched out on her own, including some high-end signage and mural projects in the hotel and restaurant realms, in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles. She joined Augustine Painting in 2012, coming in on custom-finish jobs and, these days, doing a lot of color consulting for clients approaching the final stages of an extensive remodel or all-new construction.

Outside of  special projects for Augustine, Burnley works as a marriage and family therapist, with a degree from Pacifica Graduate Institute. “I had always been interested in psychology,” she said. “And I also knew I couldn’t be painting like that [in the trades] forever.”

At home painting on her own clock, she said she enjoys oil on canvas, building colors on colors — Maybe like the colorful layering she’s created with her own life.

This stenciled wood panel is a restoration Burnley did on an old ceiling from an Italian church.


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