Charleston painter Hilarie Lambert sees opportunity to grow as an artist wherever she is


Dinner Plans, oil on board, 36″ x 36″

Artist Hilarie Lambert has found a way to feed her wanderlust and fuel her creativity during the pandemic. The Charleston painter’s salvation came about last May when a teardrop trailer she named Cha-Ching entered her life.

Lambert was in Paris visiting her daughter when the spread of the coronavirus shut down normal life. She came home, and the world traveler pondered her next move. “I had always wanted a camper, so I started looking,” she says. “I found one in Michigan. I bought it, and it gave me something to occupy myself with. I had a whole new set of skills to learn.”

Coasting In, oil on canvas, 18″ x 36″

So in June, with the camper hitched to her car, Lambert and Cha-Ching (named as a joke for all the surprise extras she put into the endeavor) took to the road about twice a month until it got too cold to paint outside. The camper is well outfitted. “It’s peaceful, comfortable and safe, with everything I need. It’s so cozy,” says Lambert.

The oil painter, who has always used the world around her for inspiration, opened up new vistas for her work while on the road, particularly in state parks. “I now have a body of work that is mostly birds,” she says, “because I’d get up in the morning, make my coffee, photograph the birds, sit there and do some plein air pieces, then come back to the studio and do bigger pieces.”

Sun Rises on Church Street, oil on board, 30″ x 30″

Lambert, who is mom to two adult creatives—a brewmaster son and blogger daughter—has always had art in her life. She describes her mother as a wordsmith, and her grandfather was a creator of cathedral pipe organs. She moved to Charleston in 2000 from her native Rochester, New York, where she worked for corporations as a graphic designer. Once she settled in, she started out as a pastel painter and eventually moved into oil painting. “I started going out with friends to paint,” she says. “I had a huge learning curve, and switching to oil was a big transition.”

Still, she took it at her own pace. “I didn’t feel like I had to instantly become a painter,” Lambert explains. “I love the whole process. I love drawing and being an illustrator, creating the bits and pieces that stand out in a painting. I’m known for my brushwork. When someone invests in a painting, I want there to be some sort of magic. I don’t want to just paint a marsh. I want it to be really interesting.”

The Band Played On, oil on linen, 36″ x 24″

Lambert describes her style as contemporary impressionism, and her paintings have an interplay of light, texture and solidity. Subjects are varied—Europe, still lifes, wildlife, landscapes and more. Human figures are often depicted in a modern context, as in bikini-clad sunbathers or a commuter with mobile device in hand, coffee on the bench next to him. Lambert sometimes chooses unconventional approaches in pursuit of curiosity: In Décolletage, for example, a woman in a V-neck red dress is visible from the neck down.

The artist is busy balancing painting the outside world and painting commissions back in her studio for upcoming shows. She is currently occupied with working on new pieces for the Piccolo Spoleto Outdoor Art Exhibition in Marion Square, May 28–June 13, which she has participated in for 13 years.

The artist and her camper, Cha-Ching

In addition to the road trips with Cha-Ching, the artist hopes to travel later this year to Alaska as an artist-in-residence, and to Italy to study with a figurative painter. For Lambert, as long as she’s engaging in the world around her, she’s growing.

“I paint every day,” she says. “I’ve had people ask me, ‘What do you do in there? Do you have any interests besides painting?’ I try, but there’s so much in my head that I want to paint. I’m still amazed that I can take six colors and create something with just those colors and paint the world around me.” *

Freelance writer and editor Connie Dufner is a proud Texan transplant living in Washington, D.C. She is a former editor for Modern Luxury Dallas and The Dallas Morning News who has been covering interiors journalism since 2001.

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