A: From the beginning in the mid-1980s I used photographs as reference material. My late husband, Bryan, would shoot 4” x 5” negatives of my elaborate setups using his Toyo-Omega view camera. In this respect Bryan was an integral part of my creative process as I developed the “Domestic Threats” pastel paintings. At that time I rarely picked up a camera, except to capture memories of our travels.
After Bryan was killed on 9/11, I inherited his extensive camera collection – old Nikons, Leicas, Graphlex cameras, and more. I wanted and needed to learn how to use them. Starting in 2002 I enrolled in a series of photography courses (about 10 over 4 years) at the International Center of Photography in New York. I learned how to use all of Bryan’s cameras and how to make my own big chromogenic prints in the darkroom.
Along the way I discovered that the sense of composition and color I had developed over many years as a painter translated well into photography. The camera was just another medium with which to express my ideas. Surprisingly, in 2009 I had my first solo photography exhibition at a gallery in New York. Bryan would have been so proud!
For several years now my camera of choice has been a 12.9” iPad Pro. It’s main advantage is that the large screen let’s me see every detail as I compose my photographs. I think of it as a portable, lightweight, and easy-to-use 8 x 10 view camera. My iPad is always with me when I travel and as I walk around exploring New York City.
It is a wonderful thing to be both a painter and a photographer! While pastel painting will always be my first love, photography has distinct advantages over my studio practice. Pastel paintings are labor-intensive, requiring months of painstaking work. Photography’s main advantage is speed. Photographs – from the initial impulse to hanging a print on a wall – can be made in minutes. Photography is instant gratification, allowing me to explore ideas much easier and faster than I ever could as a painter. Perhaps most importantly, composing photographs keeps my eye sharp whenever I am away from the studio. I credit photography as an important factor in the overall evolution of my work.
“Impresario” partially boxed for transport to Virginia
A: Well, I have been working with the same framer for three decades so I am used to the process.
Once my photographer photographs a finished, unframed piece, I carefully remove it from the 60” x 40” piece of foam core to which it has been attached (with bulldog clips) during the months I worked on it. I carefully slide the painting into a large covered box for transport.Sometimes I photograph it in the box before I put the cover on(see above).
My studio is in a busy part of Manhattan where only commercial vehicles are allowed to park, except on Sundays.Early on a Sunday morning, I pick up my 1993 Ford F-150 truck from Pier 40 (a parking garage on the Hudson River at the end of Houston Street) and drive to my building’s freight elevator. I try to park relatively close by.On Sundays the gate to the freight elevator is closed and locked so I enter the building around the corner via the main entrance. I unlock my studio, retrieve the boxed painting, bring it to the freight elevator, and buzz for the operator. He answers and I bring the painting down to my truck. Then I load it into the back of my truck for transport to my apartment.
I drive downtown to the West Village, where I live, and double park my truck. (It’s generally impossible to park on my block). I hurry to unload the painting, bring it into my building, and up to my apartment, all the while hoping I do not get a parking ticket. The painting will be stored in my apartment, away from extreme cold or heat, until I’m ready to drive to Virginia.On the day I go to Virginia, I load it back into my truck.Then I make the roughly 5-hour drive south.
*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
… a lot of times you take a trip halfway around the world. You think the trip is for one thing… and you came away with something else. You change in a way you did not expect. These are the lessons that come well after school, college, training, apprenticeships. These lessons are not full courses; they are two sentences long. I felt I had gotten a degree in two minutes.
Anna Deavere Smith in Letters to a Young Artist: Straight-up Advice on Making a Life in the Arts – For Actors, Performers, Writers, and Artists of Every Kind
A: For three decades I have been making pastel paintings in two sizes: 26” x 20” and 58” x 38.” These sizes are dictated by practical considerations.
The smaller ones are because 28” x 22” sheets of acid-free sandpaper are what’s available. (I mask off an inch all around for mats so the paintings are 20″ x 26″). For large paintings I buy rolls of acid-free sandpaper that measure 54 inches wide by 30 feet. I cut this down to 40″ x 60″ for paintings and mask off an inch all around on these, too.
And why specifically make them 58” x 38”? This is the absolute largest size I can makeand I prefer making big paintings!
Again, practical factors come into play: the size of my truck, the cost and size of mat board, and the weight of the frames.
My pastel paintings need to lie flat when they are moved. Framed paintings are 70” x 50,” the largest size that can fit flat in the back of my Ford F-150. 58” x 38” is the largest size that will fit in a 8 feet by 4 feet sheet of mat board. (60 inch wide mat board is available, but the cost goes up considerably). Lastly, I’ve never weighed them but my large framed paintings are already rather heavy. It takes two people to carry them.
A: Travel is arguably the best education there is. My travels around the world, supplemented with lots of research once I return home, are an important part of my creative process. This is how I develop ideas to forge a way ahead. It is difficult and solitary work.
Even though I became an artist later in life, travel as a source of inspiration found ME. And it has been a blessing! People around the world have become fans. Many send messages of thanks saying they are proud that some aspect of their country’s culture has inspired my work. I am always grateful and touched to know this.
I love old movies, especially early silent films, classic noir and horror films from the 1930s and 1940s, and anything by Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Wells. Probably this interest is most evident in the way I composed and designed pastel paintings in my early “Domestic Threats” series. I’m not sure it’s discernible in subsequent work.
Another passion is swimming. Four times a week I swim at a local pool. I love it! In my view swimming laps is the best exercise to help maintain fitness and to prepare for the focus and physicality I need in the studio.
A: Making art makes me feel alive, using all my gifts, my brain, my heart, and my hands to create something that never existed before and that can never be duplicated; knowing I’m the only person, ever, who could or would make this particular thing, as I strive to push my pastel techniques further each time out. Whether it’s a painting or a photograph, I enjoy making something from nothing… art that is well-crafted and has never been seen before.
Travel is the other activity that excites me. I thrive on adventure and I especially love new vistas. When I am in a country I have never visited before, with every step and around every bend there is something new to see. I am an explorer at heart!
A: If I do say so, composition is something I’m known for. During the months I work on them, I devote many hours to looking at the painting on my easel and figuring out how to move the viewer’s eyes around in interesting ways. Everything you see is carefully worked out after hundreds of studio hours. Finished pastel paintings always have an inevitability about them. Change one detail and the entire composition is thrown off.
A: We all still wonder how the art world will change post-COVID. (Will there ever be a time when we can say we are post-COVID?). I know that I will continue refining and developing my art practice and seeking out new business opportunities. I have been an artist long enough to know that I will always follow my own path (each pastel painting points to the next one) regardless of what is going on in the larger world. How could I not do so? In large part due to an extensive social media program carried out by my two able assistants, the COVID period has been a personal boon. I completed a short documentary film about my life and work. It is in post-production now. I gained representation with three new international galleries. My blog is attracting approximately 1,000 – 2,000 new subscribers every month and I continue receiving requests for interviews from around the world.
A: During the pandemic I was fortunate to have added three international galleries – in London, New Delhi, and Sweden – to the growing list of galleries that represent my work. (This is in addition to a gallery in Naples, FL that I have been working with for several years). It is extremely gratifying to discover that finally, after 36 years as a devoted and hard-working professional artist, galleries are seeking me out, instead of the other way around. Next I’d like to find a local home gallery in New York with whom to work. This will be the final piece of my business plan… at least for now!
* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
You do not need anyone’s permission to live a creative life.
Maybe you didn’t receive this kind of message when you were growing up. Maybe your parents were terrified of risk in any form. Maybe your parents were obsessive-compulsive rule-followers, or maybe they were too busy being melancholic depressives, or addicts, or abusers to ever use their imaginations towards creativity. Maybe they were afraid of what the neighbors would say. Maybe your parents weren’t makers in the least. Maybe they were pure consumers. Maybe you grew up in an environment where people just sat around watching tv and waiting for stuff to happen to them.
Forget about it. It doesn’t matter.
Look a little further back in your family’s history. Look at your grandparents: Odds are pretty good they were makers. No? Not yet? Keep looking back, then. Go back further still. Look at your great-grandparents. Look at your ancestors. Look at the ones who were immigrants, or slaves, or soldiers, or farmers, or sailors, or the original people who watched the ships arrive with the strangers onboard. Go back far enough and you will find people who were not consumers. People who were not passively waiting for stuff to happen to them. You will find people who spent their lives making things.
This is where you come from.
This is where we all come from.
Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear