When did you start painting or drawing or doing whatever it is that makes up your work?
In kindergarten I drew a horse I was pretty happy with, and in a snap decision determined I wanted to be an artist. I’m pretty sure I told my parents, because my dad started bringing home stacks of scrap paper from his office for me to practice on. My parents both were very creative and liked to make things, so soon I was painting scenes on rocks and jam jar lids and little plaques. In middle school I set off to numerous local arts and crafts shows with my little booth full of stuff I had made to sell, and was pleasantly surprised when people bought things. In high school I had my first experience with oils. I put so much paint on my canvas (an airborne ballerina) that the whole thing started to sag, and I had to restretch the canvas. We were lucky to have a very good teacher in the high school, and he was very encouraging. When I got to college to start my art major, I found that while we were being taught to draw well, nobody was much interested in teaching representational painting techniques. We were handed a materials list, taught to make our own canvases, and shoved out to sea in a leaky boat. Oils didn’t take to me nor I to them, but I loved watercolors, where some actual teaching was going on. After graduation and between jobs I decided to give oils another chance and set out to teach myself by doing still lifes. This approach sort of worked, and then I learned a lot more in graduate school, where I earned a master’s in illustration. Lots of great hours spent doing sample covers for romance novels in oils under the tutelage of Murray Tinkleman. Later I had the benefit of some good teaching from Tom Buechner and Marty Poole, and I went to some Plein Air Painters of America workshops to rub shoulders with other artists and fire up the engine.
What artist or artists do you consider as having the greatest influence on your work?
When I started painting seriously, I really studied the American impressionists. Of course I love Sargent–everyone does–but my personal favorites and the ones I feel have had the biggest influence on my artistic thinking are Willard Metcalf, Dennis Miller Bunker, Thomas Wilmer Dewing, and the group that painted interiors with figures like Edmund Tarbell. Contemporary influences would be Richard Schmid, Tom Hughes, and Patricia Moran for her wonderful tips on painting flowers, which I love to do.
Do you have any influences, artistic or otherwise, that might surprise those familiar with your work?
It may come as no surprise, but I do a lot of theatrical scenic painting, which I think influences how I think about contrast and value.
What was the best advice you ever received that has helped you with your art?
The quote I remember best came during a workshop with Marty Poole. I was working on a painting in which I had allowed some far distant shapes to get too big, so instead of staying in the far distance where they belonged, they had crept up into the middle ground and were destroying the sense of scale my landscape needed. As I recall I was whining about it to Marty and he looked at me with wide eyes and said “Fight for them!” That was very sound advice. It is too easy to let a picture get out of control and give up on your idea or original intent, following the path of least resistance. But much more laudable to fight the good fight and lose, if you are going to lose, honorably—-or better yet, win!
If you could only pass along one piece of advice to a young artist, what would that be?
I guess I would say to paint what excites YOU, not what other people in your life think you should be painting. We all get so much well-meaning advice. I still (and likely will always) struggle with WHAT KIND of an artist I would like to be. There are so many paths that could be followed–so many choices, so many techniques, so many possibilities for subject matter. If you are versatile and curious, you will go through many phases in your artistic life. Don’t let other people’s opinions about what YOU SHOULD be painting distract you.
Do you have a favorite piece of art by someone other than yourself? How about by you?
If I could own any piece of art in the world, I would choose Willard Metcalf’s “Captain Lord House, Kennebunkport, Maine”. In my opinion it sums up enjoyment of paint, pattern and brushwork for its own sake, captures a moment in American history and architecture that really resonates with me, and is a perfect composition. In more realistic terms, I actually own several pieces by other artists of which I am very fond, from watercolors to oils to etchings. My favorite paintings of my own are all of my daughters at various stages of their childhood. In a couple of instances, I felt my ability actually coincided with my intent–a most satisfying experience, and unfortunately all too rare.
Do you listen to music when you work? If so, could you share a few titles or artists?
When I work, I do listen to music; NPR and, if I am not thinking too hard, books on tape. Some paintings I need quiet for, especially if there are lots of complicated problems to be solved. My favorite cd is the self-titled “Renee Fleming”, which has been played over and over again as I paint. I love bold sweeping melodies like Tchaikovsky and Puccini produced, and I’m very partial to hearing Debussy played on the piano below my studio by my daughter Audrey. I’m also pretty fond of choral music. But sometimes I listen to something lighter like Al Jareau or Steely Dan. Or whatever “Performance Today” on NPR is featuring.
Do you have a favorite book?
I have many favorite books, but in adulthood I find myself on a more or less steady diet of mysteries and international espionage/intrigue, enlivened by the occasional biography or novel with literary merit (usually at my daughters’ urging, who are more omnivorous and intellectual in their reading choices). Last week I finally read “The Shipping News” and was delighted by it. And I keep old and new poetry by the bedside.