Your work is inspired by the nature that surrounds you in Montana. You only recently moved to Montana after living most of your life in Chicago. What inspired your move to a more remote location? Has your art undergone a transformation process as your surroundings have changed?
I’ve always felt most comfortable in nature. I grew up in the Midwest and had the intrinsic feeling that I was in an unnatural habitat. When I was 18 years old I visited Colorado and had my first experience being in the mountains. The connection I felt to that environment, the charge of energy, was unlike anything else I had experienced up until that point.
I’ve always known that I would end up living in the country, so the question was more what motivated me to stay in the city for so long. I became incredibly committed to and fulfilled by working with the amazing non-profit The Arts of Life. The community there became a second family to me and I wanted to devote that portion of my life to the mission of the studio. Every chance I got I tried to escape to nature, particularly to the Northwest where I felt the most at home.
After 12 years in the city, I met my future husband who was living in Montana. We traveled back and forth to see each other for a year and a half, and when the time came to take the next step, a move to Montana was the obvious choice.
My art has undergone a transformation process since moving to a remote location, a specific one that I did not expect. After several months living so close to nature; a little house surrounded by ancient trees, the milky way glowing every night, a local elk herd, golden eagles from the windows, sunset dog walks so far from other humans-the images that flooded my head changed. Alone with the animals in the mountains I began to connect with a latent but deep feeling of distinct feminine power. Woman as predator, woman as creator, woman as goddess.
My work has always been a way for me to process difficult personal experiences, usually focused on fleshing out a moment of profound vulnerability. Since moving to this mountain valley, I’ve noticed that my work has shifted to images of power.
In Chicago you worked for a non-profit organization, The Arts of Life, where you developed art programs for people with disabilities. Can you tell me more about this experience?
After my first year of art school, I felt ready to give up on making art. The dominant culture was focused on creating output similar to the most commercially and critically successful work found in galleries at the time. I found myself unable to fit this mold, and with such emphasis put on the final product, I lost my enjoyment of the creative process itself.
It was this disillusionment that led me to both Outsider Art History and undergrad classes in art therapy. Art therapy studio classes reconnected me to the pure energy of the creative process, while the “Outsider” artists I studied became a strong visual inspiration.
This, in turn, brought me, at the age of 19, to an Art Therapy internship with The Arts of Life. I would never have expected that this program would become the focus of my life for the next decade. At first, my interest was primarily a desire to observe the creative process of artists with disabilities similar to the Outsider Artists whose work I had fallen in love with.
I was not disappointed in this aspect. The studio, though much smaller at the time, has always been a place of amazing creative energy. The organization is focused on professional artistic development and personal advocacy rather than art therapy, but the healing power of art as well as a raw drive to create was evident. The artists immediately became a much stronger creative inspiration to me than anything I had seen in art school.
The Arts of Life encourages staff, interns, and volunteers to make personal connections with the artists as opposed to introducing them through behavior plans and diagnoses. This allows the artists to be seen just as anyone else; as complex individuals with differing goals, strengths, and challenges.
It was this approach that led me to bond with the artists as a second family and feel so at home within the community. The more I learned about the terrible state of disability funding in Illinois, and how little the state prioritized the needs of those with disabilities, the more committed I became to staying with and advocating for the community.
It’s incredibly difficult to summarize 12 years with the eclectic, hilarious, talented, and strong community of The Arts of Life. The best way I can do this is to say that staying with the studio so long gave me the opportunity to witness concrete positive change in so many individuals, based simply on the studio’s mission to give everyone an equal voice and to encourage everyone to reach their full potential.
I have seen artists enter the studio classified as non-verbal, who later learned to communicate with others because their peers never gave up on including them in conversations. An artist who barely spoke when he joined the studio is now a lead singer of the studio’s band. Individuals who enter the studio shy and unsure about themselves often become leaders and mentors to others when simply given the chance to pursue their innate strengths. I saw an artist who was terrified of yoga when a new volunteer introduced a class eventually become able to teach the class himself.
Much of this movement starts when new members join the studio and are able to define themselves as “artist” first, before any mention of disability. Each artist then takes ownership of and responsibility for the studio. We always liked to say, “There are no mistakes in artmaking.” In this way, art becomes a catalyst for positive change.
You recently partnered with The LIA Project to release an original #artgivesback piece where partial proceeds go back to The Arts of Life. Why did you choose this particular piece to represent this initiative and what inspired you to participate?
I chose this particular piece because I have displayed it in The Arts of Life’s gallery space, now known as Circle Contemporary. While it was up, I loved seeing the reactions and interpretations from many of the artists. I love the idea of The LIA Project and believe the first step to dispelling stigma, whether about disability or mental illness, is visibility.
You studied art formally at The School of Art in Chicago. You specifically studied scientific illustration. Can you tell me more about how you got your start into the realm of art and what inspired you to concentrate in this particular specialty?
I’ve spent my whole life making art, and my favorite subjects have always been animals. I believe that a solid technical foundation leads to art having a stronger emotional impact. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago offers scientific illustration courses that take place within the Field Museum. This meant that I could spend hours every week wandering the museum with my sketchbook, being in awe of and close proximity to specimens of every species. As a student, I also had access to certain closed areas of the museum, such as “The Division of Birds”, and was able to check out almost any taxidermied bird specimen to draw up close for the day. This whole experience furthered my technical skills and love for the intricate details of nature.
You create with a variety of mediums. Can you tell me more about the mediums you prefer and more about your creative process when beginning new work?
I have two distinct techniques that I use when making art. The first is line drawing, where I use primarily micron pens and some white watercolor for highlighting. This is a more precise technique for when I want full control over the medium and pulls from my Scientific Illustration background.
My larger, colored work such as “Pisgah”, is created almost 100% using markers. When I am looking at a subject, I often see a full spectrum of color on each small section. Markers are the only medium I have found that lets me quickly move from one color to the next building up the prismatic glow. These larger projects become time consuming and meditative, as each square inch can have hundreds of layers of marker color.
What’s next on your creative journey? Do you have any upcoming projects you are looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to delving further into the concept of creating more feminine power images. I’m interested to see what happens next as my art moves from vulnerability to strength. The more time I spend connecting with the wilderness around me, the more freely these visions come to mind.