DARIEN — At the start of 2018, Rowayton artist Tina Duryea was looking for inspiration. An oil painter and mixed media artist whose body of work primarily included landscapes and splatter paintings, Duryea decided to explore portraiture by painting pictures of politicians.

“I wanted to do a project to push myself and inspire me at the beginning of the year,” the 45-year-old said. “So I started to paint political figures who I felt were doing things that are really important.”

On Jan. 1, Duryea began sharing the portraits on her Instagram account, starting with a painting of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The project has since taken off with Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, the Michigan circuit court judge who presided over the Larry Nassar case, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy all eventually getting copies of Duryea’s portraits of them.

“I was really surprised and gratified by how well they sold,” Duryea said.

Though her portrait work is taking off, Duryea’s first love is oil painting.

The Darien native attended Tokeneke School, Greenwich Academy and Darien High School. She credits her schooling in town for the beginning of her love of art with her elementary school art teacher, Pat Atkins, even coming to the opening of her most recent exhibit, “Two Perspectives,” at the Darien Nature Center.

“Going to an elementary school like Tokeneke that had such a good art program, I’m sure laid the foundation for it,” she said, adding her high school art teacher, Bob Levine, was also a source of encouragement. “I had a good foundation here in Darien.”

As an undergraduate, Duryea studied international relationships at Mount Holyoke College before going on to work at a law firm after graduation.

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For more of her work, visit tduryea.com or find her on Instagram @t_duryea.

After about two years, she decided to go back to school and was torn between attending law school or going to school for art. After taking an oil painting class at the Rowayton Arts Center, she knew she had found her calling.

“It was basically like ‘Ah, this is what I’m supposed to do,’” she said. “It’s basically been a journey of making it support me.”

Duryea went on to study visual arts at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where she learned the principles of many different forms of art. But Duryea stuck primarily with oil painting as she finished her classes, painting portraits of pets and landscapes while visiting friends in Rome.

A few years ago, Duryea further expanded her repertoire with “splatter paintings” which she makes using watercolor, ink, shellacs and metal leafing, layering them on the paper one by one. She also uses her splatter painting patterns on other products, such as scarves, boots and bags.

“I was looking for a way to do works on paper. As an artist, you always want to be pushing yourself and trying new things and branching out and doing different things,” she said. “The splatter paintings look really fun. People say, ‘It looks like you’re splattering paint all over the place.’ It’s actually the exact opposite.”

Now Duryea’s work seems to be headed toward more portraiture. Her most recent project took off through social media (where she says she does about 90 percent of her sales) and she’s been commissioned for portrait work through May. Duryea said her goal is to balance personal portrait projects that appeal to her own interests (she is currently painting “Star Wars” characters and has a Princess Leia painting at her Darien Nature Center exhibit) with her commissions.

Another challenge is handling politics in her work. While doing a mentorship in Texas in 2012, Duryea said a fellow artist warned her she may have to choose between politics in her work and her audience.

“I have to decide if I’m going to be who I am — which is having opinions about the world we live in — or selling happy paintings,” she said. “There’s people who are conservative who won’t (buy my work), but the love and support I get from people who love what I’m doing ... that’s priceless to me.”

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata