Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for Personal

I may or may not have mentioned, but some of my artwork and poetry is going to be featured in the June issue of The Rusty Nail. The other day the Editor-In-Chief sent me a questionnaire to fill out - an online interview, if you will. I thought it was a great set of questions and, hoping he won't mind, I thought I'd share my answers here.


Q: When did you begin writing/painting?

A: I have been writing since I first discovered words. I can remember being fascinated as a very young child at the way words work together and the way they can be strung together. I have a distinct memory from my pre-alphabet days of me sitting at the kitchen table and "writing" a letter to my Grandmother. I knew what I was trying to say, but I'm reasonably certain it didn't translate well.

While I've always been creative, I didn't actually start painting until about three years ago. I simply felt a profound need to slap some paint at a canvas and see what happened. Much to my surprise and delight, I found the missing puzzle piece to my need for self-expression.

Q: What does the word “art” mean to you?

A: There's an anonymous saying, "Without art we are but monkeys with car keys." That really speaks to me (and I apologize to monkeys everywhere - no offense intended). Defining art is a ridiculous pursuit because it is so subjective. I'm always amused when people try to interpret my work because all too often, even I don't know what it means. So all I can speak to is what art does, not what it means. What art does, whether we're making it or standing back and surveying it, is evoke an emotional response of some kind, of any kind. It is simultaneously an outlet and an inlet into that deep part of ourselves that so often defies expression.

Q: Why do you write/paint?

A: The simplest answer is, "I need to." Back in the olden days buildings were often heated with boilers. The boiler would heat water and the warm steam would be distributed for heat. Those boilers came with pressure release valves that would let of steam if there was too much of a build up. However, sometimes the release valves wouldn't work, so the boiler had to be dumped. Art and writing are my ways of dumping the boiler on what I call my "soul gunk." Besides that, it's just plain fun.

Q: Is there a main theme in your work?

A: Kind of, but not intentionally. I certainly recognize that I have a certain style when it comes to writing or artwork. Given that those forms of expression are intensely personal, it's difficult not to have a somewhat unique voice.

When writing, whether it's fiction, poetry, or a simple "think about this" blog post, I tend toward pointing out the light that causes the shadows. Having been through some terribly rough spots in my own life, I like to let people know that it's okay to feel your life. It's okay to experience everything. Writing is a fabulous way of sorting those feelings and experiences.

My art, on the other hand, tends toward a collaged look. I like pieces, whether my own work or that of others, that make me think and then think again. I like art that takes me down different paths and leave me with several varied destinations.

Q: Does inspiration come easily to you and, if not, how to you summon the muse?

A: I would say that about 90% of the time inspiration comes easily. Part of that is just the way my mind sees things, a sense of aesthetic. As a kid I read all the time and I know that really helped develop my imagination. To this day, it isn't a very big leap for me to go from reality to pretense. Once there, things just seem to unfold by themselves.

When I do need to summon my muse, I usually just have to close my eyes. I envision a word or a phrase (if I'm writing), or a certain color (if I'm painting). Sometimes when I need a boost to write I read the dictionary and wait for a word to jump out at me. Sometimes when I need to paint I just load the palette with paint and start dabbing. The trick is to not panic or get frustrated, because that sends everything into lock-down mode. If I start feeling that way, I find something else to do that will take me outside myself for a while.

Q: What is your overall goal in regards to your art? Is it simple for personal enjoyment or is there something larger at work?

A: It’s kind of funny, the first time a friend approached me about buying some of my cards, my reaction was, “Really? You want to pay me for having fun?!” Ultimately, it’s for personal enjoyment. I’ve arrived at a point in my life where I don’t see beating myself up to do something unless there’s some level of passion involved. With that in mind, it is my goal to turn my art and/or my writing into a steady, reliable income.

Q: Do you think anyone can write/paint? In other words, is it a natural thing or can it be learned?

A: I think the people who are really good at their craft are people who have some kind of natural talent and who have given credence to that talent. I say that because for many years I didn’t allow myself to be an artist because I didn’t think I had it in me. I would go to the craft store and look longingly at paints and brushes, and then walk away without buying anything because I was certain that it was just a goofy dream I had. It wasn’t until I allowed that artistic side of me that things really took off in terms of living a creative life.

That being said, I do think that anyone can learn to write or paint at least to the degree that it will give them some personal satisfaction. And that’s what it’s really about - it doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to feel good. It saddens me that so many people won’t even try for fear of failure or that they set their expectations too high. It takes time to learn anything and learn it well. I look back at some of my older work and I laugh and wonder what I was thinking. But the important thing is that I tried, that I managed to release some of that soul gunk.

When I was in high school, my piano teacher - a very forthright woman - said, “You’re not going to be a concert pianist, but you’re a good player. However, it’s my theory that if you can play well enough for your own enjoyment and to maybe entertain a few friends sitting around the living room, that’s really all you need.” It was a great lesson that I’ve revisited any time I question why I’m bothering to do something that, subjective as it is, can never really be perfect.

Q: How often do you engage in the arts? Is it a daily thing or do you work with individual marathon sessions with breaks in between?

A: It’s pretty much a daily thing. Even if I don’t produce something that I feel is worthy, I’ve at least kept the thought process limber. But I can easily get lost in a marathon session (both in writing and in art) and not even know it until I try to stand up (hours later) and realize how achy I am from immobility. I sometimes jokingly refer to my studio as The Rabbit Hole because it’s so easy for me to get lost in it.

Q: How would you describe your writing style?

A: That’s a tough one. Lyrical, I think. It has a certain meter to it, a cadence.

Q: How would you describe your painting/drawing style?

A: It’s a collage style with some surrealism tossed in. I love putting different components and textures and elements together in a way that maybe makes some mad sort of sense while at the same time (hopefully) challenging that very sense.

Q: Who are your influences?

A: Artistically, I’d have to say my greatest influences are Nick Bantock, Marc Chagall, RenĂ© Magritte, and Wassily Kandinsky.

Writing fiction, my influences are Lee Smith, Amy Tan, Stephen King, but when it comes to poetry, I’d have to list Carl Sandburg, and Robert Frost.

Q: What is the greatest misconception that people have about artists?

A: That we're crazy, flighty, or pretentious. That we have no sense of responsibility. Granted, the arts have more than their fare share of people who are "out there." But by and large, most of us are almost boring but for the work we produce. Although our work is a way of asking the world to "see" us, most of us are fairly introverted. I know that I'm happiest when I'm in old sweats and a t-shirt. Given the choice, I much prefer to curl up on the sofa and read or watch a movie than go to a party.

Q: If you could channel the artistic ability of one great artist/writer in history, who would it be?

A: Artistically it‘s a toss up. I’d love to see things the way M.C. Escher did - his work is so complex. At the same time, I can‘t begin to imagine what it would feel like to hold Van Gogh‘s paintbrush for a day - when I look at his work I can almost taste the colors.

As far as writers go, I can’t imagine a more fascinating brain to peer into than that of Douglas Adams.

Q: Do you have any major projects in the works that you’d like to share?

A: I have a novel that I’ve been working on and am hoping to complete this year. I’m also toying with the idea of putting together a book that incorporates my artwork and poetry. I’m always doing something new with art, so it’s hard to say what will come out of that.


  1. I big ole puffy {heart} you Barb.

  2. Hi...I'm hopping over from the A to Z Challenge...lovely blog...good luck with the rest of the challenge...

    Donna L Martin


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