|Every artist dips his brush into his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.---Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887), Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, 1887
"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be."
Art isnt about validating yourself, as much as recognizing yourself.---me.
Barbara Johansen Newman
I am an illustrator. Ive been illustrating professionally for more than 20 years. Ive done art for books, art for magazines and newspaper articles, art for calendars and advertising, greeting cards, corporate reports, medical reports, invitations, and even other assignments for things I probably cant remember. For the ten years before I was an illustrator, I worked with puppets and created figurative fiber sculptures which I exhibited at shows and galleries around the country.
If you want to jump ahead to the cold hard facts, and see my Illustration Client List, click to follow that link. If you want to check out my Puppeteer and Fiber Artist shows and awards, you can check back at this site to see if Ive found time to post that history, or email me and ask.
I live in Massachusetts with my husband Phil, and three sons, Dave, Mike, and Ben.
How I Got Here
What follows is a little background information that I hope will speak to kids who love being creative. It is my hope that young artists seek fulfillment and inspiration in EVERY aspect of their artistic journeys, which are not always the most direct paths when all is said and done. I also want to share with more experienced artists in appreciating the long, strange trip of spending ones life making art.
Thanks to Mom and Old Walls
Like almost all artists, I began my career when I was still a kid. My mother really did encourage me to draw on my bedroom walls when I was very little--honest to goodness. And my parents both aspired to be artists themselves since they went to art high school, so from the time I could talk about it, I talked about growing up to be an artist. All my grandparents were also artistic. They drew, they painted, they sewed, and they sang and made music.
Unfortunately, I never made music and I cant sing worth a cent, but I have always drawn, and painted, and even sewn. And I have always taken the creative urge for granted, because I was surrounded by it. I am thankful to my extended family for making sure that creativity was celebrated and encouraged. And I am very thankful that they also made sure that there were old rolls of shelf paper hanging around so I had plenty of cheap paper to draw on. Because after a while the walls leave something to be desired.
The Continental Divide
In a nutshell, I cannot ever remember not drawing and painting while growing up, but, at some point in high school, I had that moment of truth when I realized that I am an artist, thats the way it was, and Math was NOT going to be my major in college. That moment came especially to me in Trigonometry class. But, more importantly, it came to me when I looked the Demon-of-College-Prep (also known as the guidance counselor ) in the face and said, No way am I going to take chemistry my Junior Year! Im takin art.
For some reason at the age of about 16 -- for a reason I cant even remember now--I had this crazy vision that I had to make art my lifes devotion, and I had to take whatever steps I needed to take to make it happen. That was the first kind-of serious, kind-of risky step I ever took to follow my heart, because everyone took the same college prep courses back then, and everyone thought I was out of my mind.
In spite of the peer pressure and raised eyebrows, I took art and I never looked back. And I made plans to go to art school. But where? I probably would have gone right to professional school in NY, and skipped things like Sociology 101 and Psychology 101, but my mother made me promise to get a degree in education so I could teach. That meant going to a regular university and taking those very courses and courses like them. The same mother that encouraged me to draw on my walls was also convinced that if I tried to support myself as an artist I would end up starving and living in a cold water flat. I did not know what a cold water flat was, but I knew that my mother did not want me to live in one. So I made sure to get a B.F.A. with certification in Art Education. And then, of course, I never looked for a teaching job.
Before I finished college, I married my wonderful, pro-art, best friend, childhood sweetheart, Phil. We were young, and carefree, and we didnt know what we were going to do for certain in our life together, except that I was going to make art and he was going to help to keep us from ending up in that old cold water flat. All our flats were old, but they definitely had hot water.
As it turns out, we were both involved in art for a spell when we finished school. During college I had spent some time studying puppetry at the Bil Baird Theater in New York City and I developed a love of the art of puppets. I got Phil interested in puppets as well, so he built us a traveling puppet stage, we made puppets, we wrote a few plays, and before long we were hired to perform with our troop, The Moonberry Puppets, in and around the Buffalo area. We also connected with the late Janet MacDonald, who was a well known puppeteer in the Buffalo area for many years. She inspired us and was very helpful.
To tell the truth, Phil was (and still is!) a much better puppeteer than I. He was a talented performer and he could just lose himself in the puppet characters. I mostly lost myself in the puppet creation, which is to say that I liked making the puppets even more than I liked performing with them.
One Thing Led to Another
The turning point for Moonberry Puppets and my art career came when we were hired to do a puppet show at a local craft fair. As part of our payment I got a booth to sell hand made puppets. From that show we were invited to other shows and I was invited to other craft fairs as an exhibitor.
In Upstate NY in the seventies, there was a wonderful culture of fine handcrafts . Because of wonderful, rich craft programs at colleges in Rochester and Buffalo, many of the countrys best and most talented craftsmen seemed to live in the area. Having the good fortune to reside in that area, in that atmosphere, at that time, made me want to go far away from traditional media for artistic expression. Between my exposure to crafts and my love of puppetry, the law of serendipity (is that an oxymoron?) put me in a wonderful new mindset that embraced the possibilities of something besides paint and paper. I fell into a love affair with fabric and textiles, and it was wonderful to get lost in a medium that came into my lap almost by accident.
Juried craft fairs full of wonderful handmade objects were flourishing and the public began to gain some sophistication in looking at fine crafts in a serious way. In a relatively short time for me, the puppets became dolls, and I was spending more time making and selling the figures than I was doing puppet shows. Before long we had left the puppets behind, and I was exhibiting in shows like Kenan Centers 100 American Craftsmen and the American Craft Council show at Rhinebeck, NY. Doing those shows led to many other shows, sales, and gallery exhibits.
The technique that I ended up using to create all my figures was called needle modeling, which is using a needle and thread to sculpt cloth into a face and keep it that way. Sometimes this is done using nylon stockings. I chose to use Cotton stockingnette. Except for large seams, all of my work was done by hand.
The first figures I created were fashioned from old clothing in somber colors. The characters where mostly older, and they were portraits of people who had seen and done much, and were a little the worse for wear. Buffalo, being in a bit of a depression at the time , had many people who fit that description. Inspiration was all around me in that city.
It was a wonderful, funky place to live, even if a little depressing because of all the gray days. The sun rarely made appearances there all winter long, and my work was appropriately gray and brooding. Unemployment was very high in western NY State back then, and even though Phil kept us afloat by working at a rather tedious office job, we lived pretty much hand-to-mouth. I expressed a general bleakness in my dolls that was in the air at that time. My work grew quite dark and cloistered.