The Color of Teil

By Kelsey Lorman
A passion for art and an unwavering faith are two staples in artist Teil Duncan Henley’s life. She has always been passionate about her talents, but was unsure how to turn her art into a business. So when Teil walked into the Redux Contemporary Art Center and saw other women who were renting studio space and thriving as full-time artists, she was inspired to take her own leap of faith – a faith that Teil says she has relied on her whole life. She quit both of her jobs, took out a loan, and rented studio space of her own to pursue her path as a full-time artist.

“It was very scary, and very intimidating,” Teil says. “It’s like telling yourself, ‘I’m good enough to do this as my job,’ but I didn’t initially have that confidence.”

The leap paid off, and Teil recently published her first coffee table book titled “The Color Teil: Life, Work, and Inspiration.”

In the beginning in her studio space, Teil says, she painted a lot of pieces, with about one in every 15 turning out to be something she felt truly proud of. It was enough affirmation, says Teil, to keep her going through the two years that followed.

Teil recalls a needed breakthrough when she was inspired by the idea of painting a figure model who was posing at the art studio. She took a few photographs and decided to do some studies on the model. She switched her medium from oil paint to acrylic, which allowed her to paint a little more quickly (with a dry time of just five to 10 minutes), and allowed her to tap into her unique style that she still uses today. Teil painted 12 studies of the model and discovered her niche.

Soon, her business started to grow and Teil recruited her sister Laura Lea Vernon to help manage her website, social media and the business. Laura Lea is a former special education teacher, who has clearly found a knack for business in working with Teil as the studio manager. Teil says it’s wonderful to work with family. “I can’t imagine anyone caring more about this business than my sister does.”

While it is clear that Teil’s sister is integral to her business’ success, she also played a role in the future of Teil’s life in a very personal way. Teil and her now husband, professional golfer Russell Henley, met at Laura Lea’s wedding!

While Teil shares studio space with other artists in The Cigar Factory, she does most of her business online. “I can sell and expose my work everywhere from California to Europe,” Teil says.

The flexibility of her business allows Teil to travel with her husband around the country on the PGA Tour. The two have an 8-month-old son, Robert, who also travels with them the majority of the year. Teil says she and her husband are mutually supportive of their respective careers and are both devoted to their family.

“We’re still figuring out a balance, but it’s really cool because after this baby I am creating this new list of ideas, experimenting with new materials and new techniques to approach,” Teil says. “There’s something about a baby bringing new life that creates a surge of ideas, creating a way to make it all happen.”

Teil is inspired by places she’s visited while traveling with Russell. “You see a lot of coastal landscapes, and the places we go influence my art and how I can continue to produce that art on the road,” she says.

Teil began to do watercolor portraits on paper, a medium that allows her to continue creating art while traveling and one she might not have experimented with otherwise.

Her favorite place that golf has taken her is Hawaii, where she fondly remembers the “deep, deep water” as a beautiful shade of royal blue.

Though she says it’s hard to name just one thing that she loves to paint, Teil admits that figure paintings are still at the top of her list. “I love figurative beach scenes where it’s more of a focus on the people themselves,” says Teil. “I love painting faces, and a lot of my animal paintings have a focus on the face.” She loves manipulating colors and working with shadows and contrasting light sources.

She and her sister were scheming what was next for the business when they had the idea to do a coffee table book. “I had gathered enough visuals to create content for a book and we just thought, ‘Where do we start with this?’” Just before they thought the idea might dissolve, Palmetto Publishing approached Teil about creating a coffee table book. Eight months of work and “scheming off the canvas” later, the book was published.

The book contains full-bleed images of Teil’s figurative work broken into chapters and themes of personal background, studio life, artistic influences and the impact of social media. 

“My faith in God was essential in my entire journey, and my whole life,” says Teil. “Artistically, I remember thinking, ‘Lord, if this is the path you’ll have for me, please open a door or shut a door.”

Teil says every time she wanted to quit, a new opportunity would present itself, such as a restaurant calling and asking her to do the artwork for their space. “My faith kept me hopeful,” she says.