As a mental health counselor and grief specialist, Mark Lucero often helps people get through some of the most heart-wrenching experiences of their lives.
He works with those who’ve lost a loved one, are facing a terminal illness or are coping with other major life events. Sometimes, the emotional investment Lucero puts into comforting others and guiding them through life changes can lead him on his own path to recharge himself.
“I live just a few minutes from Fort Ebey State Park, so I call it my backyard,” said Lucero, whose counseling office is in Coupeville. “I tell my wife, ‘I’m going to the trees.’ I spend a lot of time in nature. Nature is a huge healing place for me.”
Connecting with nature also inspires another of his life passions — his art.
Lucero, 51, has played with art in various forms for most of his life, but didn’t start showing his paintings professionally at galleries on Whidbey Island until 14 years ago.
Using acrylics, he mostly paints abstract compositions over wood panels that often carry a hidden message. His work often reflects images, colors and experiences from his walks in the woods locally and travels abroad, particularly Europe.
“His work is very individual,” said Gary Schallock, a watercolor painter from Langley. “He does acrylic paint over wood panels, which he has carved with a router. He focuses a lot on design, intense color and craftsmanship.”
Lucero’s paintings are on display at Penn Cove Gallery on Front Street in Coupeville and will be shown July 23-24 at Whidbey Expressions 2016, an annual benefit for the Pacific Northwest Art School at the Coupeville Recreation Hall.
“Art is very therapeutic for me to do,” Lucero said. “It’s a great release. When I’m painting, time kind of disappears. You get into that zone. It could be 1 o’clock in the morning and Sandy (his wife) will come in and let me know and say, ‘You might want to think about bed time.”
Inside Lucero’s counseling office at Pathways Counseling are three abstract paintings, including one that is brightly colored that depicts geometrical shapes overlapping each other.
Lucero calls it “Euclidean Memory.”
“The idea of this painting is how over the years our memories sort of overlay over the top of each other and when they do they create different shapes and they kind of alter our recollections,” he said.
On another wall is a framed painting that swirls with curves, color and activity that he calls “Prometheus Dance.”
The paintings sometimes stimulate conversation with clients, who are surprised to learn that Lucero himself is the artist.
“Since I do a lot of abstract art, it’s sort of a good form of self-expression for me,” Lucero said. “I’m a fairly introverted person. My artwork is not. It’s really quite bold with strong colors. So there’s some part of me that wants to be expressed in a little louder voice. My art work does that for me.”
Lucero opened his counseling office in Coupeville three years ago, returning to the profession after spending nearly 15 years running his own cabinet-making business on Whidbey.
He had worked in the trade while attending graduate school at the University of Utah in his home state ,and found those skills to be beneficial when he and his wife fell in love with Whidbey Island during a visit and decided to leave the traffic snarl in Bothell behind them and move to the island in 1999.
“It was a very long detour I didn’t expect,” said Lucero, who’s only a dissertation shy of a PhD in psychology from Utah after completing all of his coursework.
Although his cabinetry business was thriving, Lucero said he felt an emotional tug to return to counseling. He had been volunteering with the hospice program through Whidbey General Hospital. Also, five years ago, his wife battled breast cancer.
“At that time we really started reevaluating,” Lucero said. “You really sort of think about your priorities when something like that comes along. I decided to make a shift back toward doing counseling work. I felt like that’s sort of my calling and where my gifts were. The cabinetry business was bonkers. It was going great. But I felt like, really, when you think about life, life goes by pretty fast.”
Lucero’s woodworking skills continue through his art, serving as a canvas of sorts for his paintings, inspired by the island and his global travels.
He and his wife, a graphic designer who works from home, like to pick a new travel destination each year but became enamored with Italy, which became the stop of choice for five consecutive years.
Not having children has afforded them the opportunity to see much of the globe and gain quite a worldly education.
“It gives me a sense of connectedness to the rest of the world,” he said. “You feel like you sort of belong to the whole of humanity in some way. It’s such an education to see how other people live. It’s so different than the way we live. Especially in the poorer countries. It’s amazing to me how happy people are in poor countries and how generous they are. It’s just a beautiful thing to see.”