In 2010, a middle school student asked to interview me and learn more about what I do as an artist. Here is my response:
In response to your interview questions, I must first say that I firmly believe that once you understand who you are and what you are meant to do in life, the doors will open and you will soon find yourself doing that which you love, and it is a fantastic bonus to have the opportunity to make a living doing what you love to do.
I grew up in a family that was often relocating, so I was often changing schools. This was a benefit in some ways, as I was able to see many parts of the country and learn to appreciate diversity in people. But I was introverted and had few close friends. I was the quiet observer, finding beauty all around me. I began to paint and draw in second grade, in an effort to capture and share the beauty I saw. I have been “an artist” ever since.
Upon graduating from a tiny school in upstate New York, I knew there were two things I wanted to do in life. Marry and raise a family, and be a teaching artist. I am currently enjoying the fulfillment of these dreams, yet the road I traveled to get here is somewhat unconventional.
I felt like a kid in a candy shop attending college! There were so many things I was eager to learn and to try, opportunities I never dreamed of as one of 43 students in my high school class. I took every art class offered. I took courses in education to be a teacher, and I enjoyed many fun courses like rock climbing, German, choir, creative writing, gave tours of the nature center, and even worked as a DJ for the campus radio station! To this day, I love to learn new things! Upon earning my degree, my goal was to become an art teacher. Instead I met and married my wonderful husband after college. We soon started a family and moved to Jackson. I invested all of my time and creative energy in caring for our two children, and once they started school, I again turned my attention to making and sharing art with others.
In 2001, I officially opened my studio to the public and established my “Open Window Studio” business as a professional artist and arts educator. I continue to learn new methods and techniques in creating artwork and in educating students. I attend at least three art and educational development workshops every year, to first educate myself and then enthusiastically share what I’ve learned with others. I am largely self-taught, continually pursuing learning of new skills and compositional ideas. I have studied under several university professors, taking individual courses in ceramics, pastel painting, metal sculpture, watercolor, educational development, teacher workshops, etc. I have accumulated college course hours, but in a more sporadic and non-traditional way.
Since opening my business 10 years ago, I have built a reputation as a professional artist through the timely completion of over forty-five interior mural commissions, commissioned portraits and paintings, theatre and stage backdrops, commercial graphic designs and business logos, signs and billboards, and other specialty projects. When a client contacts me to request a commissioned work, I meet with the client and draw up a contract which states that half of the payment is due before I begin the project (to cover the cost of materials and supplies, and the preliminary renderings) and the remaining half is due upon completion of the project. We agree on a fee for the work before I begin, so careful time and cost estimation is crucial on my part. I decide how much a service will cost by evaluating the size and complexity of the project, the cost of materials, and the time I will need to complete it, based on an hourly artist fee.
But I am not only a professional artist for hire, I am also an artist seeking to share my unique voice – my own interpretation of the world through the artwork which I am inspired to create, unsolicited by another’s vision or ideas. I make artwork that speaks of my own life experiences, that merges concept and form to invoke meaningful response from those that view it. I have shared my collection of twenty caterpillar illustrations with eight different nature centers and gallery venues in the state of Missouri, to be used in interpretive programs and educational exhibits. In September I had a solo show at the Black Door Gallery in Cape entitled “Quickening,” in which I shared twenty-six personal works of art that expressed my ideas on motherhood, sexuality and the creative process through sculpture, paintings, drawings and poetry. It is very fulfilling to bravely share my most personal ideas through art and find the medium powerfully speak and truly connect so profoundly with the viewers. It is satisfying to accomplish that through one’s art.
I would say this is the greatest advantage to being an artist – heeding the voice of the creative spirit, developing skills, and combining these two elements which become powerful forces of change, connection and understanding. Other perks include flexible work hours, good pay, entrepreneurship, sharing beauty and truth with the world, and daily fulfillment of the need for personal expression.
As an arts educator, I find yet another avenue with which to share my passion for creative expression. Sharing what I do with others and providing them with opportunities to find their own creative voice is as fulfilling to me as doing work of my own. I offer classes in my home studio in any media, year-round. I am also an arts educator in private schools and academies in the area, collecting a salary for the school year, and a weekly fee for summer workshops. This more consistent income is very helpful in balancing out the income received for the more sporadic mural commissions and contracted work projects.
As a business owner and entrepreneur, a large part of my weekly tasks involve communicating with clients and students, creating newsletters and mailers on upcoming art classes, balancing accounts and bookwork, and promoting my business through smart marketing and advertising strategies. I also spend about six hours a week planning and preparing materials used in the seven classes I currently teach each week. On weekends and Mondays, I have few commitments outside the home, so this is when I do the majority of my studio work, painting and playing with ideas for my current works. In “wearing so many hats,” I must make careful and efficient use of my time, and be self-motivated to do any one of a variety of different tasks in a given day.
Some of the disadvantages of working as an artist involve this use of time. The best ideas and inspirations often come in the wee hours of the morning, or when I am moving -driving around town doing errands or exercising, and it is challenging to make the time later on to revisit those ideas and play with the possibilities they bring. When there is little unscheduled time in my day, my creative work can suffer for it. I can still produce what is requested by a client in a technically satisfying manner, but I prefer to let the inspiration lead when it comes to creating a truly meaningful and powerful work of art. It can be frustrating to be “too busy” to let that happen. It is also a profession that requires constant evolving and flexibility and it becomes lucrative as one builds a base of fans and supporters, and that can take years to develop. Perseverance in doing the work, promoting yourself and believing in what you have to share is key to making a name for yourself as an artist.
I have “sacrificed” little to become an artist, as I believe it is something I am meant to do. I believe the doors open to you once you know this for yourself. I did sacrifice the dining room of our home, as it is now my workspace and art classroom! My children use the space too, so we don’t really miss it as a dining room. My small studio is filled with the tools and equipment I use in making art works, as well as class supplies, teaching resources and business files. I work with acrylic paints most often, but also have high quality watercolors, pastels, graphite, colored pencils, watercolor pencils, brushes, pens, charcoal, etc. I have a small library of books, paper and canvases of all kinds, sketchbooks, as well as the “material of the moment” which is the something new and interesting that I am inspired to work with, such as stained glass, paper clay, beeswax, wire, natural objects, fabrics, etc. The studio space is filled with things I love, things that inspire ideas, extensions of me. I would not trade this profession for any other!
There is some travel involved in this profession, and in this business, travel is always a good thing! It means you are branching out to exhibit and share your work with an even larger circle of people, which may in turn bring you more clients and buyers! I have travelled throughout the state to exhibit my work, and I have a friend who has travelled to six foreign countries for the sole purpose of exhibiting his sculpture! I always enjoy a chance to travel, to gather new images, make new acquaintances and connect with the world in a new way!
I hope this essay has answered your questions, but even more importantly, inspired you to pursue your dream of doing what you love in sharing your work as an artist. I keep a blog, but do not yet have a website, so I am attaching some photos of myself and my work which you are free to use in a presentation.
If you would like to stop by the studio and get creative with us, give me a call! You are welcome to join us for summer classes or private lessons.
Thanks for your interview questions. If I can assist you any further, please let me know.