Sunlight softly filters through the branches of a mulberry tree, creating mesmerizing shapes of light and shadow. A young Valoy Eaton stands below the tree captivated by all he sees. Now, at age 82, that fascination with light, shapes, and shadows continues to be an integral part of him. He says that when it comes to being an artist, “The seeing is really important.” His ability to see and appreciate his surroundings, along with good old-fashioned hard work, has earned him his livelihood and a 50-year career as an artist.
Born into a family of musicians, Valoy didn’t get much encouragement in the visual arts as a youngster. However, he did enjoy drawing as a young boy. He recalls what a treat it was to get out of months of school during the 5th grade to create an art piece for the roof of the school featuring Santa and his reindeer. It won 1st place in a community Christmas contest.
Art certainly wasn’t Valoy’s main focus in his youth. The Eaton family lived in Vernal, and money was tight. Valoy recalls, “We were on the edge of poverty, and I felt my best chance at going to college was to get a scholarship to play basketball.” The sport became his driving force, but something else also caught his attention — a beautiful girl in one of his classes named Ellie. Ellie was a cheerleader and the student body president. Valoy told his mother that when he got married, he wanted it to be to a girl just like Ellie. Both of Valoy’s high school plans worked. Several colleges offered him scholarships to play for them. And following high school, he got to marry his dream girl, Ellie.
A Call For Change
The newlyweds headed to BYU, where Valoy played basketball for Coach Stan Watts. At the same time, he majored in art and minored in PE. After four years playing ball and earning a bachelor’s degree, Valoy secured a job at Cyprus High School in Magna, Utah, where he taught and coached. Life was good. The Eaton family was growing and now had a couple children in tow. Valoy was spending much of his spare time playing golf and basketball with his buddies. Everything seemed to be going just fine. However, one person wasn’t satisfied with the situation.
In Valoy’s words, “Ellie got fed up.”
In a moment of brutal honesty, Ellie told Valoy that she didn’t know if she could be married to someone with so much artistic talent who only wanted to have fun. Initially, Valoy was shocked, but as the shock wore off, he ultimately knew Ellie was right. Valoy took this truth Ellie shared with him and used it for motivation to start “painting truth” as he calls it.
He started working harder at painting than he ever had. He would occasionally even work through the night on his art, only to shave, brush his teeth, and head back to his teaching job. The Eatons decided together that Valoy would quit teaching just as soon as he was making as much money with his art as he did with his day job. That day came in 1972. The Eatons packed up and made the move from Granger to Midway, where they bought a little fixer-upper on the corner. Valoy had spent a lot of time painting on the river in Heber Valley and knew he would love living in the area. Ellie was Valoy’s right-hand gal, a true business partner, helping him any way she could. He made art. She sold the art. She also was a model in many of his paintings and became a great art critic. Valoy credits Ellie with doing as much, if not more than himself, to create the success he has enjoyed as an artist.
As he looks back at a career that spans over 50 years and 3,000 paintings sent out into the world, Valoy considers his crowning achievements. Without pause, he lovingly mentions his family. He and Ellie are proud parents of five children, grandparents, and now great grandparents. When it comes to his art, though, the single thing he’s most proud of: “That I stuck with it.” He never gave up even when it wasn’t easy. He also considers getting into the National Academy of Western Art in the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City a significant milestone that pushed him to the next level in his career and gave him national recognition. Valoy feels he may be remembered most for the, almost sixty, works of art he has displayed across the world in the temples of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Valoy and Ellie, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wanted to donate paintings to various temples. With this goal in place, the couple spent their summer vacations traveling all over the U.S. going to temple sites so that Valoy could paint a local scene for each temple. In six years, the Eaton’s donated twenty-four paintings to the church’s temples. Valoy now looks at this time with his beloved Ellie as some of their most precious memories together. Ellie has since passed away, but her influence lives on, continuing to inspire Valoy.
A Bit of Advice
Valoy has plenty of his own inspiration to share. For those wondering how to take the leap from hobby to career, he offers a no-frills approach with straight-forward advice: “Work hard and start selling.” If you really want to make a living with art, Valoy shares the formula that’s worked for him: “Paint to please yourself to the maximum. There are always going to be people who don’t like your work, but make sure that you do.” And when it comes to those creative slumps that we all occasionally find ourselves in, Valoy says, “Make time to think. Realize you’re in a slump. Keep working at it. Throw some paintings away if needed. Compare where you’re at now with where you used to be.”
Valoy can no longer put in the same amount of hours painting that he used to, but he paints for at least an hour each day. Valoy’s walls are covered in many beautiful finished canvases, but they also hold many paintings that hang unfinished. He says starting is the easy part, but it’s the finishing that remains the real challenge: adding those delicate touches that give his work life. Those walls serve as a reminder of the starting and finishing that each of us must do: the goals recognized and completed, the dreams that remain unrealized, and the work yet to be done. In art and in life, “The seeing is really important.”
You can see more of Valoy Eaton’s artwork on display at Edelweiss Gallery in Midway and online at valoyeaton.com