One of my favorite things about 2018, was the opportunity to interview so many fascinating people. From artists and illustrators to authors and entrepreneurs, I have gotten an inside look at the lives of the people I could have only dreamed of talking to before I began this blogging journey. I’ve visited artists in their studios, chatted with the creators of The Jam Stand over the phone and sent hundreds of questions via email and enjoyed every moment of it.
How does a typical day in your studio begin?
I just want to top yesterday. Paint better, more efficiently and on better concepts. I’m my own worst critic.
Do you have a favorite painting?
“‘What He Wore’ that I painted for my husband. He has this old Timberland barn coat and no matter how many Christmases I would buy him new ones, we’d always end up returning them. So I decided to ‘honor the coat’ and I painted a 30X40 for him. It’s a painting that’s really sentimental for me, and we have it up on our mud room. (I think everyone has a piece of clothing that they cherish and can’t bear to get rid of, which naturally makes a fun subject to paint.)”
Like yourself both Zadie & Emma are doctors who originally hailed from Kentucky and moved to Charlotte. How much of Queen of Hearts is inspired by true events?
The scenes and settings are all inspired by my own experiences. Which is to say there isn’t a tremendous amount of creative license in the plot— the actions of the characters are almost all invented, but I put them into situations and places I knew to be realistic. (I’ll just add: the book gets compared to Grey’s Anatomy all the time, which is excellent, because people love that show. But I’m not much of a TV person and I have never seen it.)
Since your paintings aren’t modeled after particular places, what inspires you to create a piece?
Lots of things plant seeds for a painting. Mostly observations of nature, sometimes a photograph of a place visited or a memory. My daughter is a photographer. Her photographs have inspired the start of some paintings. I say the start because that is the only connection to the finished work. The finished work has little if any relationship to the original idea. The rest of the painting comes out of the process.
You create such beautiful pastries including macarons to eclairs. What is your favorite pastry to create?
Definitely Eclaires. I could eat them everyday. It’s where Eclairesse came from. I love the texture of the dough (thin & crispy) it’s a reminder of my childhood and I will never get tired of them. They are so light and you can fill them with any flavor of creme that you can think of.
What do you most enjoy about teaching art?
The chance to work with kids. I’m basically a big kid so I love everything about it! Teaching art plays well with my strengths and works with my weaknesses. I always go in with a plan but have the freedom to change it at any time. No day is the same, and I thrive in that kind of atmosphere. Paying attention can be a struggle of mine, but I can hyper focus like nobody’s business when I’m interested in something. Teaching kids and art are two of my passions, so I am constantly engaged in what I’m doing.
When did you first become interested in calligraphy?
My husband gave me the gift of calligraphy lessons after I was furloughed from my job as a flight attendant after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. I found the practice to be meditative and wanted to start doing work that was related to my degree in graphic design, I started incorporating my calligraphy work into my designs. This gift gave me the title for my book. Calligraphy is a gift that was given to me. As I teach it, I find that it allows me to connect with others in ways that I have never expected. It is a gift that keeps giving, and it also allows me to spread love and kindness around in unexpected ways.
Is there somewhere you like to go when you need inspiration?
I went to the Florida Keys for years, and I like the coasts of North and South Carolina along with the mountains of North Carolina. I take photos and notes when I travel, and when I visit the mountains I’m inspired by the waterfalls, lakes, the shapes of the mountain ranges and the clouds in the sky.
What is your favorite color palette to use for your paintings and why?
I am most comfortable with a neutral, soft palette. Pale blues, grays, greens, whites, yellows combined with a smokey graphite, charcoal and/or oil pastel. That said, I constantly challenge myself to venture out of my comfort zone. For the most recent show at The Shain Gallery I’ve added a couple pieces with stronger colors on the surface which is sort of a reversal for me. I tend to keep the more vibrant colors underneath and let little bits of them peek through.
Some artist prefer to paint in their studios and other en plein air, you do both. What aspects do you enjoy about painting en plein air versus painting in your studio?
I try to get out and do en plein air painting once a week because I love feeling a connection with what I am creating. There is something deeply satisfying about being outdoors and fully engaging my senses. The sounds and smells and the feeling of the breeze blowing (except when it blows over my easel and my painting lands face down in the dirt…true story!) all make me feel like I’m part of the scene I am capturing. I find it exhilarating when I’m racing to capture the light and shadow before it all changes. In that short time I strive to capture the immediacy of the moment and every time I go back to look at that raw painting, I relieve the experience.
Most of the time I paint in the studio using reference photos that I’ve taken for my landscape paintings or arranged objects for my still life. The advantage of studio painting is that I can be more thoughtful and deliberate, building the paint layers over several sessions and taking the time to think through what my next decision will be. In my case, it results in a more polished painting but not quite as immersive an experience.
You work with a variety of mediums from oils and watercolors to pastels. Which medium do you enjoy working with the most?
I enjoy all mediums; I have always had a curiosity about them. If I had to choose favorites, I would say that I enjoy watercolor for the spontaneity and quickness of it, however I love to work in oil because of the variety of effects it offers.
You recently painted a beautiful interactive mural on one of the outer walls of Crossings on Main, what was you favorite part about creating the mural?
It was hard because we had to pressure wash etc before we could paint the mural but my favorite part of creating the mural was painting the butterflies. I also loved that the mural was interactive. It invites the community to participate and I love how people are responding to it.
When did you first come up with the ‘idea’ for The Lost Vintage?
I first visited Burgundy in 2010 to research an article on Thomas Jefferson’s favorite vineyards in France. The minute I set foot in the region, I was captivated by the vine-covered slopes and charming villages. And if I sensed ghosts there, hovering amid the beauty, they only added to my fascination. I think the seed for this novel was planted then. A few years later, I volunteered to pick grapes at the harvest in Champagne. Harvest volunteers are often given free room and board, and I was put up in an empty attic apartment at the vineyard house. The rooms hadn’t been touched since the 1960s: they were sparsely decorated with mid-century hospital furniture; the floors creaked; the wallpaper was peeling; and at night the rural silence was deafening – and bone-chilling. Even though I was exhausted from long days of physical labor, whenever I lay down to sleep, my imagination would cartwheel. And so, I slept with the lights on, and when I woke, I wrote in my journal. This story was born from those wild scribblings.
Tell me about your freelance design & illustration company, ‘Make Things Co.’
I started my illustration company in 2014, and in the beginning, I was painting mostly wedding-related artwork and portraits. While I still create a lot of wedding-related commissions, my work has expanded to different things, like designing packaging and even patterns for textiles!
This year the Hidell Brooks is celebrating it’s 20th year anniversary. Tell me about how the gallery began and what drew you to the Southend area.
We first met each other when we were working at another gallery. When we got our space here in the Southend, it was a new area of Charlotte, and we were the only tenant in our building. Sullivans had just opened across the way, and we didn’t have any artists yet. One thing we did know was we didn’t want any crossover artists from the previous gallery, we wanted to do what was us. At that time our only support system was our family and friends.
We started the gallery with the goal to bring in artists that had rarely been shown in the Southeast before. We don’t have contracts with any of our artists, and prefer to build a relationship of trust with the artists that we represent. We genuinely care about both the artists and clients we work with. Many times we will go into peoples homes, and our installer, Wes (husband to one of our artists Sarah Helser) will send us pictures of the final installs. Our favorite part of the whole process of selling a painting, is seeing the art in it’s final place.
When you were creating the illustration of a particular place for the book, did you visit in person to create the illustration or rely on photographs/memory?
My co-author and I extensively walked the streets of Paris trying to find the best angle and pragmatic way of discovering the city. I took extensive photos and created the illustrations in my studio. Watercolor is finicky and not always adaptable to the elements.
When did you first come up with the concept for Vivi et Margot?
2 ½ years ago when I was on maternity leave after having my daughter Margot. I was looking for an outlet from my everyday job (I have been a talent agent in Los Angeles for over 20 years) and originally I wanted to open a brick and mortar shop but decided an online store was more manageable to begin with, plus the obvious in that the store would have a more accessible wingspan. The name Vivi et Margot is after my two daughters. Vivienne (6) and Margot (2)
We’ve seen encaustic pieces that have oil or acrylic artwork underneath, but your work is watercolor with encaustic. How does the process of adding encaustic over watercolor differ from other mediums?
When I glaze my finished watercolor with encaustic, the painting seems instantly transformed. The colors become a bit muted, and the waxy finish feels like a window from which you are viewing the painting. The paper is porous, and the wax can burn the delicate surface of the watercolor if it isn’t applied exactly right. Sometimes little bubble emanate throughout the layer of wax, or it pools into the wrong areas. It is a tricky process, but over time, I have come to see the wax as a living thing. By knowing it’s moods, you can (almost) make it do as you wish.
How do you decide on the shapes included in your collages?
There are certain shapes that you will see repeat throughout my work. Much like nature, these shapes will have wide variations. When working on a piece, my shapes will change according to what, where, and how I want the movement to flow with the work. A curve or angle might change many times in each artwork’s development.
I just love all of the imaginative pieces that you create. What sparks an idea for a new piece?
Sometimes it’s something a gallery requests. For the commission I’m working now, the gallery wanted something to do with a vineyard. In the painting I have this wine glass sitting on a stump in a vineyard and the mouse is at the edge of the glass overlooking the vineyard. Once thing I always try to add to my paintings is an element of comedy.
I get my best ideas standing in the line at the bank. I always have a sketch pad with me. I think the reason why I get my ideas this way is because it’s so out of place that my subconscious comes up with something. I literally have notebooks full of ideas and sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming, so I have to just sit back and focus.
Another thing that inspires me is figs. Whenever I see them, I’ll do a painting of mouse with a fig. Other times I just run with an idea. I like to put myself in the mouse’s shoes and think of how he’d react to a situation.
You live in the beautiful city of Charleston, SC. How do your surroundings inspire you?
Charleston is a constant inspiration for me. This city is so unique because of its historical presence, but also because of its lively atmosphere. My work has a strong vintage-inspired feeling, which I think can certainly be credited to living in such a beautifully aged city. I also use local products to create most of my pieces (tea from the Charleston Tea Plantation), so I feel extremely connected to this amazing place.
You create such beautiful wildlife paintings featuring everything from birds to farm animals. When did you love of wildlife first begin?
I grew up on a farm and have always had a passion for animals. As I started my art career I was constantly painting pet portraits and then realized how much animals made other people just as happy as they made me. So I began to paint farm animals to wildlife and I knew then that painting this subject matter meant so much more to me and gave my art a purpose.
You studied in both Paris and London who was the biggest influence at the start of your career in fashion?
I can’t pick a specific influence. I feel it has always been my environment in general that I absorb and translate. I remember the initial rush that I felt when moving to these buzzing metropolitan places. The energy, the lifestyle, the cultures that collide and contribute to so much diversity and influence that I did not know when growing up.
The opportunity to express yourself via clothing. I have always felt fascinated by the powerful psychology behind a person’s wardrobe. It reveals so much about ourselves.
Yet it also allows us to switch roles and dive into a whole new universe for a day. I experimented with that throughout my twenties. I guess today my dress code has rather stabilized. But that’s possibly because my life has somewhat settled in general. I am sure it’s a similar evolution for most women. In your 30’s you just know who you are and what suits you the best. With my label I am trying to create the kind of clothing that I have found to work the best at all times. They are timeless classics with smart detailing. They are feminine without ever over-revealing. Which is, to me, the key principle for any woman with style.
Who/what is your biggest inspiration when it comes to your artwork?
I find inspiration in everyday life, specifically in the love that surrounds me. Most of what I create starts with the idea of wanting to create a gift for someone. For example, the personalized pet mug started as a joke gift to my sisters because we’re obsessed with our dogs and I knew they would love that. A lot of my greeting cards also begin as something I want to give to a friend—so I’m always considering what other people would want and appreciate. I generally find that the more I paint, the more observant I am of my surroundings. Picasso says “inspiration exists but it has to find you working,” and I find that to be especially true of my process. The more I paint; the more inspired I am by the everyday. I just read a really great book, The Creative Curve, that elaborates on this notion more; the idea that hard work and a passion for your field is what allows us to have those “lightbulb” moments of inspiration.
How did moving to LA influence your artistic style?
I moved to the LA area at age 21, and was working in the commercial interior design industry for 10 years. I began painting again in my early 30s after the birth of my daughter. An evening oil painting class at a local community college helped get me back to my artistic roots. I continued to work in residential interior design for another 10 years, while continuing to reach and evolve as an artist and building a following. Living at the beach had a great influence on both my abstract landscape series and botanical works. I draw inspiration from the colors of the ocean and landscape, and interpret them in modern abstract form on the canvas. LA’s hip, urban, yet fresh and casual lifestyle would have a profound effect on my more modern art later in my career.
Where do you source the fabrics that you use to create your handbags and clutches?
Many of my fabrics come from Paris, some even being designer remnants including Yves Saint Laurent or Christian Lacroix. I also buy fabrics from the Netherlands and select clutches are made from Ikat fabrics sourced from my favorite supplier at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. It all depends on what catches my eye!
What was it like preparing for the first aerial performance on a building?
Very different. I’ve been doing aerial dance for 11 years and I started with rope and harness in the Wells Fargo Atrium. It was kind of high, but not against a building. In training for this performance, we didn’t have the height we needed in our studio, so we had to work only a foot from the ground to choreograph it. We’ve had two rehearsals on building, the first was on August 27th. It was only once we were on the building that we could figure out the logistics of everything.
When it comes to working on a building, you’re working with pendulum and a fixed point. I always love new challenges and this performance definitely provided us with that opportunity. To get a feel for the building and the atmosphere of the performance we had to just start with repelling down the wall and go from there. It definitely feels much different than when you’re practicing in the studio, but it was so much fun!
Tell me about how you first came up with the idea for The Jam Stand?
I started the business a few years ago with my friend Jess. We met in college and it was really something we started as a fun project. We always baked and cooked together and did crafty things. We were both unemployed one summer (I was backpacking in South America and she was working on freelance jobs). I’d picked up some Wildberry Jam while I was in South America and when I got back to New York I called Jess up and asked her if she’d like to try making jam.
We started The Jam Stand with the idea of creating interesting and unique flavors that weren’t your everyday flavors. Instead, we wanted to create a product that was more fruit forward and could be used for a variety of things instead of just the standard PB & J.
When did you first become interested in creating art?
When I was about 3, I climbed out of my crib when I was supposed to be taking a nap and drew all over my bedroom walls with wax crayons. When my mother came up to check on me, she was horrified and punished me by making me spend the rest of the day cleaning the walls off. This was my first memory. The funny thing I that I don’t remember the punishment part, but I do remember falling in love with making marks and lines. I truly believe that my love of art started here although I had no idea what art was.
I do not remember a time that I didn’t love making art! I also never considered being anything other than becoming an artist of some kind.
Your work has been featured in 80 collections including collections at both the British Museum in London and the Brooklyn Museum in NYC. What do you considere to be the greatest achievement of your career?
I don’t quite think that way. I guess if you want to sum it up, doing this everyday for 61 years is an achievement. Longevity is part of the story and it’s sustained me since I was 12 years old and I’m 73 now. My achievement is doing what I love. I don’t really care about awards. I find seeing the finished work to be the true reward.
Once you arrived in your new ‘hometown’ what was the very first thing you did?
As a plein air painter I wanted to see, explore and start to take in the overall feel of Rome, so I got a bicycle and started to ride around everywhere. I explored parks, monuments, far out neighborhoods to see everything that I could. I did this for months before I even painted anything- it was my way to get input before jumping into painting, I wanted to take Rome in.
The other thing that I did was find the local Rome urban sketchers group and join them in one of their monthly outings to sketch somewhere in the city. This was the best thing I could have done because I instantly found my Rome family and they continue to be my closest friends 8 years later.
If you had to choose a particular character in a French film the most similar to yourself who would it be?
It’s difficult for me to find a character I’m most similar to but I would have loved to have been the precocious Zazie (Zazie in the Metro) when I was ten-years-old. The actress, Catherine Demongeot, who played Zazie must have had the time of her life.
What was your favorite interview of 2018? Let me know in the comments below.