At first glance, Heide Trepanier’s paintings may seem scattered and unruly, but a deeper look offers a glimpse into her way of creating stability in both art and life.

“I work predominately with these haphazard splashes and drips and blobs,” she says. “Then I go back and outline a lot of it and paint identifiable imagery. Sometimes they’re really vivid and grotesque, and other times they’re sweet and innocent. There always seems to be a sense of conflict that comes from my own internal conflicts — being a woman, being a mother, being an artist, being a teacher. I see the world as fairly random, fairly chaotic, and when I outline, it’s a means of understanding that chaos.”

The concept of creating order from chaos is one that Trepanier brings off the canvas and into the classroom. As an instructor in the University of Richmond’s Department of Art and Art History, she doesn't just teach the fundamentals of her craft, but helps her students sift through the noise of film, sculpture, pencil and paintbrush to find the medium that brings clarity to their ideas.

“One of the most difficult things to figure out when you’re an artist is what conveys the things I want to say best, and how do I go about that,” she says. “Sculpture is for people who want to use their hands, walk around, and feel a concrete visual in a three-dimensional space. Painting is more of an illusion. There’s a suspension of belief; you create a window and it’s a more visceral experience.”

While Trepanier and her students may represent a wide spectrum of media, message and majors, she tries to instill one commonality — the benefits of living in a burgeoning arts community. Trepanier, who received the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Grant and has a gallery in New York City, found the city of Richmond to be the most rewarding environment for her career as a painter. In Richmond, she’s found that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, local galleries and a full schedule of arts events have all contributed to a sense of community among both amateur and professional artists, as well as those looking to share an appreciation for the arts.

“My students aren’t just artists,” she says. “They’re environmental science majors, biology majors, pre-law. I try to teach that wherever you end up, a sense of community is so essential to [building] a better world, creating an environment of socially conscious [people], and living a life that appreciates creativity and differences. At the end of every class I try to say that who you are and what you contribute is a gift that you’ve inherited, but you also need to give to others.”

Image: Ember #2, ink on canvas, 2010