I often receive messages from students seeking advice or answers to questions for classroom interview assignments. As a very young artist I benefited greatly from things like public libraries and the free flow of information. I want to help! Due to schedule constraints it is generally impractical for me to respond to each inquiry. I have compiled the following Q&A in order to make this information available and accessible.
To submit new questions please use the Contact form.
How did you get started with making art?
My grandmother taught me how to draw simple profiles as a way to keep me out of trouble on our family farm. I was probably four or five years old. After that, I felt that I knew what I wanted to do and had a rough idea of how to get there. My mother taught me how to cross-hatch and paint in acrylics first. I read every book in my small local library, minus the romance section. I was fortunate to have a sixth grade teacher who prompted me to do master-copies of da Vinci instead of the usual coursework. (Thanks Ms. Weaver!) I started painting in oils at twelve and began taking commission in the years that followed. From there I was able to gradually build a collector base and study with artists I admired, effectually adding some of their knowledge base to the self-taught foundation I had built until that time.
How long have you been writing?
About as long as I've been painting - as long as I can remember.
When did you start taking writing seriously?
I had always taken the act of writing seriously, so long as taking a thing seriously means studying it and making time to improve. After I won the Guild Complex Award for Prose in 2014, I began to think other people may be interested in my writing, too.
Can you do a critique of my portfolio or painting? / Can you read my story?
Unfortunately, no and no. The first due to time constraints and the second due to legality. Please don't send me either! There are wonderful organizations and informal groups with (often free! or volunteer-available) services over the Internet. Local libraries often have these resources on their message boards, too. Find one near you!
Do you collect anything?
I like to live with as many plants as possible. Old books. Stories.
Do you have any hobbies?
I like to refurbish manual typewriters.
What's your advice for new writers and artists?
The usual stand-bys: first accept that you're not going to be very good for a while. Cultivate ambition and refine your taste. View failure and rejection as friends to your pursuit: they are each vitally important. Know that you will improve through work, and not usually through talking about work at the bar. MAKE FRIENDS. Contrary to what popular culture would have us believe about lone genuises: brilliance does not exist in a vacuum, and people are not made for isolation. Make friends with people who make work both similar and tangential to yours, and share your work with them. Ask for their opinions. Do not take their feedback personally. (Unless they frame it personally, at which point I advise finding someone else to take feedback from.) Accept that you will have to keep a fair bit of their input and you will have to throw a lot of it out. Perhaps most importantly: if the people around you are not supportive of you and your goals - e.g. if they don't take a vested interest in your well-being, or if they don't advocate for you with others - find new people. Making resonant work is enough of a challenge without passive sabotage.
What are some good ways to find inspiration?
Think in terms of engagement. Read books that you might not be inclined to read; expose yourself to new ideas; give yourself time to mull it all over and make connections. Your down time is just as important as your 'on' time. If you are engaged with your work and the world around you, inspiration becomes a self-starting engine.
Who are your favorite artists?
Agnes Martin, Lepage, Fuyuko Matsui, Mancini, Artemisia Gentileschi, Kehinde Wiley, Pollock... this list can get very long.
What’s your least favorite thing about art?
What’s your most favorite thing about art?
How do you feel about celebrity artists?
I never actually considered that being an artist meant being public until it started to happen on its own.
I think this might be some kind of myopia caused by too much time in a studio.
ART & THE INTERNET
What social media do you use regularly?
I use Slack (typically invitation-only channels) daily, as well as Snapchat. I look at Instagram probably every few days, even if I'm not posting. I check Twitter a few times a week and Facebook sometimes. I read every day.
Do you have any favorite apps or widgets that help with your work?
Yes! I use Inboard as a sort of image repository for things that catch my eye or remind me of other ideas I'm trying to cohere at any point. ColorSnapper is super useful for quick notation in digital colorspaces. I use ZBrush for 3D modeling.
ART & ACTIVISM
Do you think visual art can be a vehicle for social change?
Yes, to a point. Culturally speaking, the work of activists, journalists, and authors are all direct vehicles for social change. Visual artists are in an important support role: visual artists create cultural cues, and in that way fortify the work that's already being done.
You’ve said you’re non-binary and prefer gender neutral pronouns. What does that mean?
In point of fact: when I was a child on the playground, another child ran up to me and asked, "Are you a boy or a girl?" I shrugged. The child asked the question again. I shrugged again! I understood the question and it was not important. I didn't have the vocabulary then, as a six year-old, to articulate what I knew. Now I can say: I've never felt that the restrictions of Western colonialist binary gender identities made sense for me. As for pronouns, that's a form of daily activism. Our current cultural incarnation of - and deep reliance on - binary thought-modeling (in exclusion) has shown itself to be actively harmful to our progress as a thinking society. The more we can discourage reliance on reflexive this-or-that thought, the better.
How does this influence your work?
There is probably a thesis here, but in short - I am unlikely to accept what I perceive as arbitrary limitation, and as a consequence I am more capable of building the roles I believe should exist in the world.
LIFE OF AN ARTIST
Do I need to struggle to make good work?
No, not really. Certainly don't go looking for it. Struggle plus art is not an equation for brilliance. Western popular culture tries to convince us that being a tortured artist [vices implied] somehow tips our work into the sublime. This and the starving-artist narrative are very often used to mobilize the market through highly relatable pathos -- not to empower artists. As the struggle narrative is not designed for your benefit, do not invest in it. Acquaint yourself with the work of artists and authors who have or had day jobs, robust social networks and steady work ethic. They are easy to find as they populate museums, publishing rosters and collections all over the world.
What does your routine look like?
I wake up around 6am and start the day with about a half-hour of reading. I let the dog out to smell things in the garden, look at the light that day, and eat breakast with tea. I water the plants. (This is all important: this creates the quiet space, which can be filled with ideas.) Then I go into the studio. I work on whatever I'm working on that day until around noon, then break for food and the rest of the tea from the morning. Sometimes in the afternoon, depending on the body, I lie down and review the work -- make notes for the next day, and do the parts which can be achieved while horizontal. Some days I go to the museum with friends or have lunch out. Working constantly leads to burnout, which drags everything down. Avoid burnout as much as possible.
What materials do you use?
You do not need any of what follows to make fantastic work: try to make work with what you have first! Find your taste and your tools, then let yourself outgrow it. That said, these are the things I'm using lately: in my photography work I like Capture One for tether and processing. I use whichever cameras appeal to me - Canon 5D Mark IV to Mamiya RZ 67 Pro II to Nikon F2, whatever. I like Profoto lights and Elinchrom modifiers. For traditionally-rendered oil paintings I like to use Old Holland, Gamblin and Sennelier paints... with brushes I like Rosemary brushes when it matters along with the cheapest synthetics I can find when it doesn't matter. Inks, nibs, pencils, watercolor and gouache are all constants. The particulars tend to change depending on my goals and interests. As I've moved toward newer media I find myself using the iPad Pro, Wacom + stylus, ZBrush, old/bad scanners and Adobe CC suite (Photoshop etc) + Kyle T Webster brushes. This list is probably not up to date.
How do you protect yourself from bad experiences with commissions or contests?
Language and calculated side-stepping. With commissions, do not begin work without a contract. If money is a concern for you, try to find another way to get money - you do not want to be negotiating from a position of desperation. If they’re talking about ‘exposure’ or ‘publicity’, they don’t usually have a budget. These deals are not worth it: people who value your time will want to pay you at a competitive rate. If they're asking you to do work in another artist's style, it's good to be too busy. ’Collaboration’ from a stranger can be a weird red flag to avoid. ‘Submission’ from someone approaching you (not the other way around) is another weird one to avoid. If they’re a publication and they come to you as though they’ve been trying to get hold of you for a long time (a surprisingly common tactic) yet your email is clearly listed, you have a web form, and you’ve received nothing from them prior — proceed with caution. Too many folx like to assume that artists are desperate. We are not, and we don't owe the world a debt of honor for allowing us to exist. Be gracious. Expect respect.
In your opinion, what is the difference between an artist and an illustrator?
My take on this seems to change every five years, but as it stands now — the work of artists seems to ask questions, while the work of illustrators seems to answer them. Both are important and true.