Tell us where you are from, the early years of your childhood and what influenced your direction towards the arts?
I was born and raised (for the most part) in Boston, MA. My mom was a professor of piano studies at The Boston Conservatory of Music. As a result any child of a professor could take classes at no cost and my mom enrolled me in ballet classes. I grew up around all types of creatives; artists, musicians and actors. It wasn’t strange to walk past our house in the summertime and through the wide opened windows hear a piano recital or a tuba playing. These people were joyful when they were playing, dancing or singing. You can’t help but want more of that. When I was 15 I hurt my knee in dance class and had a chance to explore other avenues in the arts. Eventually I ended up drawing and decided that I wanted to explore fashion design.
Your first memory or interpretation of visual art.
My first memory of art was an auditory one. My mom accompanying a singer. My dad (who was a huge Jazz afficianado, playing the drums or the bass…My first encounter with visual art was strangely enough a piece of Marimekko fabric that my mom had made into a dress (no kidding). My parents’ close friends were an enamel artist and photographer. The couple had their own shop on Cape Cod and let me touch everything! Usually children are encouraged to “look but don’t touch” but it was a great opportunity to experience the beauty of their artistry. I’ve always been drawn to patterning and color. Usually the brighter the better!
Were your family and friends always supportive of your work?
I’ve been blessed to have the support of my family throughout any creative endeavor I wanted to undertake.They may not have understood exactly what I was doing but because my mom was a musician I think that the concept of unconditional acceptance wasn’t foreign to them. My husband delivers the best technology gifts. He researched the various types of drawing tablets and presented it to me one year. I was so intimidated by it I didn’t touch it for almost two years. Now I really don’t know what I’d do without it.
How many man hours do your pieces average and which piece took the longest to date?
A piece can take me hours or days. I may finish it in one evening if things are “flowing” or I may scrap it if it seems to labored or overdone. I love it when my pieces are quickly done but I also like the meditative quality of something that takes longer. Right now I’m working on several large pieces that I started earlier this year.
How long are your working intervals before you need a break?
Three years ago I began a practice of drawing and finishing a piece every night. It was grueling and I often hated what I produced but the strict practice made me expect better of myself with each piece. Now I might not finish something every night but I use the time away (from my drawing tablet) to understand what I need to do when I return to the piece. Any artist will tell you that they work a piece until they reach a level of satisfaction no matter how long it takes. It also helps to review pieces that were done a year or two ago to understand growth or the need to revisit something that I’d forgotten.
How do you determine what will be your next piece or any practices, rituals or a process that inspires the direction of future work?
I determine what I’m doing next (when I’m drawing fashion) by looking at great fashion photos or watching a fashion show. I’m especially intrigued by the work of Alexander McQueen, Gaultier or any designer that stages shows where the clothing is showcased by the attitude of the model. I love reading about the fashion illustration maestros, Antonio Lopez, Viramontes, and Gruau. If I’m hitting a barrier rendering a particular type of fabric or capturing the movement I look to them for inspiration and instruction.
My rituals? There’s nothing better than beginning something new. Right now I’ve been challenged by my son to paint. It’s exciting and somewhat intimidating all at the same time.
What would you say to those who don’t have the positive reinforcement of family or friends when pursuing a passion?
I can’t tell you where I would be today if I didn’t have cheerleaders in my life. If your family and or your immediate circle of friends can’t, or worse yet, won’t understand your passion you have to realize that this is where you will either push ahead to become what you want to be or become what they want you to be…more like them.
I’ve found that people who don’t understood my passion quickly fade into the background of my life and that’s okay. Not everyone will “get” what you are passionate for. You aren’t pursuing your passion for them but for yourself when all is said and done. In the end you must become self sustaining because no one else is going to pick up that pencil, or stretch that canvas or understand that software program needed to produce what you see in your mind. For a young creative? Find a mentor, a teacher. Someone who is already doing what you want to do. Read about them. Learn about their history. Follow their positive examples. I hope to begin a mentoring program for young creatives early next year.
As an aside you may not know that I am 54 years old. I studied fashion illustration and graphic design at Pratt Phoenix School of Design and later at the New England School of Art & Design now a part of Suffolk University in Boston, MA. After years of giving myself over to earning money for my family, doing work that I am very good at but not passionate about I took a leap in 2009 and formed my own business. I secured an art (business)coach and mentor during this process to examine why I hadn’t been successful attracting interest/work. Additionally I had an “AHA” moment when I thought that being a great body painter would be better than reviving my skills to be one of thousands of fashion illustrators. I actually took a workshop with John Vargas and was told that I had the skills to really succeed in the body painting arena. I explored that for a while and at some point realized that if I never tried to be a fashion illustrator how was I really going to know if I was mediocre or not?
The interest in my work has been gratifying, often humbling because I sometimes doubt whether exerting all this energy detaching myself from conventional work is worth it. I am motivated because I know that despite our overly age conscious society I will gain more of the work that I love because I am passionate about my creativity and how it has changed over the years. My mother is still my biggest cheerleader. I think she still sees me as that art student lugging a very heavy and very large portfolio on the T everyday.
My reference to “drawing at night” is how I’ve nurtured my passion for the last 6 years. I look forward to getting home and off into my studio. I’m sure most artists have to work in a conventional field at some point in their lives but I realized that if I gave up on my dream of becoming a full time artist that my sacrifice would mean very little, not only to my family but myself.
If you could spend the weekend with any artist (past or present) who would it be and why?
Only one? I love Klimt and Schiele. The patterning that is a mainstay of Klimt’s and the raw quality of Schiele’s figures.
If you could only rework one of your pieces for the rest of your life or chose a subject you have yet to attempt, what piece or subject would it be?
I think it would be torture to rework one of my pieces for the rest of my life. A month or two yes but forever? No thank you. I’d like to begin using my own photographs as source material and am considering using one or two models that interest me. Now my interest in patterns or the figure that stares back at you sharing who they were at the moment the brush, stylus or lens captured them is something that I know I will be working on the rest of my life.
Most humorous or strangest reaction/story regarding your work
I participated in my town’s monthly art show and had a painting on display of an Black female model wearing a black bikini. It was unlike any of my fashion drawings and I was feeling pretty good about this particular piece because I felt I had broadened my scope as a result. A family walked up to the piece and their son was absolutely disgusted by the image. He asked why anyone would want to show this (and he gestured to the painting) woman? She was disgusting. His mother walked up to me afterwards and apologized. I told her it was no problem. She was really embarrassed by his behavior and I shared that any reaction to art shows that someone is thinking. Kids know what they like and what they don’t. I completed several more pieces like that one and plan to do more. If I’m being honest I was kind of put off by the little kid’s rudeness. I considered asking him if he wanted the “naughty” chair for a moment.
Set the mood of your work space; do you listen to music, enjoy silence, turn off your phone etc..
I try not to answer the phone or emails when I’m working. I listen to house music ( a la Larry Levan, Lil Louie Vega, Frankie Knuckles or Osunlade) when I need to let go of a particular thought or mood while I’m working most evenings. I enjoy the silence of Sunday mornings too. I guess it depends on what I’m working on as well. I’m an audiobook junkie and love to listen to mysteries while I work as well.
Sources of Inspiration
Interesting fashion photography that incorporates unexpected imagery or a different vantage point. A trip to a museum. Exchanging ideas with another artist who uses a completely different medium than I.
I spent a lot of time doing other creative things for about 6-8 years. I wasn’t being flighty but the experimentation with something like body painting, lampworking, mask making, sewing, crotcheting, making jewelry was happening for the most part to get a handle on my creative process. What could I take from my experiences and use to make my drawing better? I love the fact that learning isn’t limited to mastering a particular skillset but finding out how best to use your creativity. My ancestors and their accomplishments. Whenever I start to doubt myself or my direction I rely upon my relationship with them to remember that I am always supported. And loved.
Biggest obstacle to date
Juggling my schedule to balance my creative needs versus my physical needs…Getting enough rest and exercise. Allowing enough time to play. Transitioning into this second half of my life.
Current music playlist
I love Ibeji, Carmen McCrae, Ledisi, Brahms, though my heart lies with house music.
What is the best piece of advice or life lesson you have learned?
To be yourself. To accept yourself. To love yourself. And the certainty that all things change. Everything else will fall into place as a result of faithfully practicing and understanding these four things.
My son and I are planning a joint exhibition in August at a local gallery in our area. I’m also thinking about merging textile design with mask making inspired by African Traditional Religion.