It’s my pleasure to introduce painter Anne Ward! Please enjoy the interview and leave a comment at the end to let us know your thoughts. I encourage you to check out her website and subscribe to her email list.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art?
I’d always dreamed of being a painter. I remember hours spent sitting and looking at Time Life books with paintings by Impressionists. When I was about 11 years old I had a paper route so that I could earn money to buy the items needed for sketching that I read about in books I checked out from the library. I filled the walls of the room I shared with my sister with my endeavors. I was so lucky to have family and friends who championed my work. My Aunt Peg gave me my first set of oil paints when I was 15. I was beside myself with glee. To this day she still has my earliest paintings up in her home. I have 5 brothers and sisters and when we were growing up we didn’t have a lot of spare income, but my father worked at an airline which allowed us all to fly for free. My parents really valued travel and exposure to museums so I was incredibly fortunate to have seen so much of the world at a young age. I studied art in high school and continued on to UCLA where I chose to get a degree in history…but I was always drawing and painting whenever I had spare time.
After college I was so lucky to get a job working for a movie writer/director named Lawrence Kasdan. I was responsible for running his office, reading scripts, being on the set and being a gatekeeper to the busy demands on his creative time. I worked on a few movies in my time there and lived for nearly a year in Santa Fe working on a movie called Wyatt Earp and a year in Paris working on a movie called French Kiss. It was an incredible opportunity to deeply understand what goes into the creative process on a large scale. I taught my boss to learn to use a computer (this was indeed a LONG time ago!) so that he no longer wrote his scripts in longhand form on legal pads. I learned so much about focus and creative dedication and fun from him. All the while I worked there, I was saving money to support my dream of taking time off to finally learn to paint. I was still reading art instruction books and after 6 day work weeks on location, I would spend my Sundays studying art and painting. I sold my very first painting to a film coworker in Santa Fe and I was so thrilled.
After being in Paris for over a year I left my film production job to begin my dream of taking time off to paint. My parents had given me an outdoor easel and my boyfriend at the time urged me to bring it along on a weekend trip. We were in a small village in France. I must have worked easily 15 hours on that tiny attempt to capture light! By the end of the weekend it was pouring raining and a man with one arm held an umbrella for me to finish, people had brought me food and welcomed me into their homes, children had helped me with my clumsy attempts at speaking in French. I was hooked. The way an easel connects you to people and nature and the environment is such a special privilege! I realized that if I could do this I would live the happiest life ever. I quit my job in Paris, I returned to LA and within two weeks I had magically met a group of painters who had dedicated their lives to this ‘plein air’ thing. It was a somewhat unusual pursuit at the time to find people devoted specifically to plein air and I spent hundreds of hours outdoors learning from these generous artists.
So while I’m mostly self taught, I was so lucky to have been exposed to incredible painters who taught me exacting ways of seeing light. I began showing paintings and was fortunate to gain a following of collectors who supported me. I went through a divorce and painting was my anchor. With two children I realized that I had to figure out how to squeeze in painting. One of my mentors and a painter I greatly admire is Dan McCaw. He suggested that I should ‘always paint in my head’ when there wasn’t time to actually paint. Such good advice. I could be mentally prepping for the moment when I actually had time to paint. I read an article by another art hero of mine who eventually became a dear friend, Peggi Kroll Roberts. She described raising her kids and painting and setting up still lifes and painting small between loads of laundry. I began setting up my easel in the kitchen at night after the kids were asleep. While I didn’t have time to chase the light outdoors in true plein air fashion, I could grab whatever was in the fridge and set up ‘problems’…impossible color combinations or green on green, pink on pink etc. It forced me to see/question assumptions about colors and figure out where the actual chroma belonged. I was obsessed with taking the same objects and painting them indoors and then outdoors at various times of day to understand how light can transform even ordinary objects. Doing this allowed me to better understand color.
Now I am happily remarried to painter and author Ian Roberts. We share a studio and I am always inspired by his approach and patient allowing of a painting to progress. He is an amazing painter. Before anything heads out the door we discuss what might be popping out or distracting from the whole of the picture plane. I am dyslexic…so when I see a painting I see an abstract pattern of shape and color…Ian sees the ‘underneath’ of painting in the form of composition so I really am blessed to have that influence.
My children are older but I still set up still life on the back porch so that I can paint from life while also preparing meals. I am SUPER inspired by our beautiful garden and the vegetables and flowers we grow. My second love is pattern. So I have been making patterns to accompany my paintings and experimenting with putting them on bags, totes and fabric to use in my still life paintings. I love the idea of art being useful in the world so that even if someone can’t afford an original painting they could have something beautiful like a coffee mug that makes their day happy. I also have a few images that are reproduced and available online at Pottery Barn. Also, as a means of using my art to be of service in the world, I made an app that pairs my paintings which an intention for the day. It is free and has a simple meditation included to create more calm in a topsy turvy world. Its called i-intend on iTunes and has been downloaded by thousands of people around the world.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I’m SO inspired by pattern, light and color. I’m obsessed with infusing my work with the the joy and wonder I feel in our garden. I think that beauty is such a stabilizing force and I am always in pursuit of it. I find there is truth, integrity and absolute joy to witness things growing. It is humbling and powerful to feel connected to the growing cycle of things in the yard. A tiny seed becomes a carrot in 120 days. Amazing! A grasshopper that perfectly matches the color of a leaf on a lemon tree. That’s magical! Things that could easily be missed given the ‘important’ distractions of my phone. I’m inspired by bringing that experience of how I feel in nature to the walls of someone’s home. I’m using our daughters and the arrangement of light in our dining room as the backdrop for a painting I’m working on now. I think its important to use the truth of the things I love in my life as elements in paintings. I’m going to be incorporating more of my patterns into my paintings. I’m also inspired by painting on the Ipad and using it as a tool on days that I don’t have time to be in the studio. A daily practice of creating is so critical to my work.
What have been some of your favorite exhibitions that you’ve been featured in and why?
I once had a solo show based on a line in a book by Eckhardt Tolle about ‘spacious stillness’. That really is how painting feels to me. Its a wordless expansive feeling. The show was a series of outdoor still life paintings and some landscapes and moments where I had felt spacious stillness. An elderly neighbor who was no longer able to travel remarked ‘Thank you for taking me on that journey’. I was so moved by that. I’m always honored to show work at Marcia Burtt Gallery in Santa Barbara. Marcia has been one of my art heroes and part of me still can’t believe that I get to show my work alongside hers there! It’s also an honor when I have shown work with the California Art Club at their juried show. So many amazing painters.
What has been your experience with art associations? How can they be helpful for artists and their businesses?
I have been involved with the California Art Club which was founded in 1909. There are wonderful opportunities to go on paint outs and gain exposure to new ways of thinking and approaching work. When I was very new to painting, the club offered so many opportunities for exposure and submitting to shows. I think clubs and art associations are so valuable because making art can be a solitary endeavor. Its so important to find the people who inspire you along the way. I used to keep a binder of paintings I’d seen in magazines as ‘reminders’ of what made me really excited about painting. It helped me to figure out what and how I wanted to paint.
What have been a couple of your favorite projects and commissions over the years?
One of my favorite experiences was getting to help chef and restauranteur Suzanne Goin choose some of my paintings for her house. I love having the opportunity to do that and find images that resonate for people in their homes! I really admire Suzanne and all that she has created so that was a special experience. I also did a commission for my friend Laurie David of some of my kitchen counter/garden paintings. A lemon, an avocado and a radish…it was so fun to paint things I love for her beautiful home. Recently a dear friend and collector bought a large number of paintings of mine and Ian’s for her home. That made me so happy to imagine all those little snapshots of my life together in one environment.
So you’re scrolling through Facebook or Instagram at the beginning of your day, maybe you’re sipping your tea or eating your breakfast, and the first thing you see are just a bunch of posts where artists are showing off their sold commissions or paintings from their shops. Their posts are flawless. Even though they don’t have a ton of followers, for some reason the engagement on their posts are ridiculous. They seem to be so good at what they do, but you start to compare yourself to them and wonder what the big difference is between you and them – why didn’t you sell that piece you wanted to sell, or why haven’t you landed at least one commission this week, this month, or maybe even this year despite all of the hard work you’ve done?! Here are some points to keep you focused on your own business and creative output:
❤That artist is not you. You don’t know them, their business, or what their finances really look like. Their customers are not your customers.
❤Most of the artists that are crushing it in their art businesses have likely been in it for a bit longer than you and probably started in a similar place you did. Perhaps you can connect with that person – send them an email or a DM and ask for advice in the area/s you’re struggling with, or learn from them just by following them closely on social media.
❤Stop worrying so much! It doesn’t matter how much that person is making or that they seem to have a higher level of engagement with their social media posts – your work and journey are your own!
Real Artists’ Thoughts on This Topic
“On the pros and cons of comparing myself to other artists… On the one hand, a lot may be learned from studying the careers of people we admire in our industry. We can read their bios and CVs, see where they went school, their exhibition history, etc. This can give us ideas of what we can do to improve our own careers. On the other hand, there is the potential to compare ourselves to them. Doubt will creep in… How did they get a solo show five months out of school? This person has over a hundred thousand followers and they never smile in their photos, should I stop smiling? This artist is selling out all their shows and every painting has blue in it; should I only paint with blue? As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s crucial to remember to stay in your lane, run your race, have faith, trust the process, and keep moving forward.”
You can buy or commission work from Chloé on her website and follow her on Instagram.
“These days it seems like social media is the key to being a successful artist, and it does help me connect with potential clients and see what other artists are doing out there. But then it becomes far too easy to compare myself to these amazing, established artists! I’m constantly comparing my amount of followers and likes to theirs, and some days it makes me wonder why I do art at all.
But then I have to remember that I did not choose an easy career. All of these artists that I look up to had beginnings just like me, and as long as I’m putting everything I have into my pieces, then I will be successful. Between my painting and embroidery, I get to work on something I love everyday. And honestly, the massive student loan debt is a great reminder to keep going and stay focused—can’t waste that degree!”
“Here are a few things I have learned on those days when I feel overwhelmed, unfocused, and just plain stuck (which for me happen fairly often since I juggle running my small business with working as a part time substitute teacher and being a single mom to my 3 and 5 year old!). I have to constantly remind myself that baby steps really do add up and big things happen because of small steps over time. The second thing is lists, lists, lists! They help me stay focused and crossing stuff off gives me a sense of accomplishment. Lastly, on days when I feel too tired or uninspired I give myself small rewards as I get things done. For example, monthly bookkeeping done, time for my favorite snack, website and store update done, relax and read a chapter of whatever book I’m reading. The main thing to remember is that it happens to all of us and to just keep going!”
You can buy or commission work from Danielle on her website and follow her on Instagram.
I pursue my art in the hours when I’m not at my day job as a marketer/graphic designer, so staying focused and motivated is key! With my background in graphic design, I am used to working with clients and really enjoy it. In a way, clients can be a great motivator. I want to make my client happy so I strive to meet deadlines and communicate clearly. This has really translated well for me when working on custom pieces. However, a lot of the art related to my business is not client focused so I like to imagine myself as a client. I try to set goals and deadlines for myself and constantly keep a list of future painting ideas to help keep myself on task. When I decided to go all in and get my business license, I also wanted to share my work online to hold myself accountable and push myself to keep creating. A huge positive about sharing my work is that I’ve found that people from all over are really supportive and I love getting feedback and messages that keep me motivated every day.
I really enjoy following the work of other artists – it helps me break out of my bubble or leads to me trying new techniques. I really try to adapt anything that inspires me to keep my own stamp on whatever it is. I think everyone suffers from maybe feeling like you’re not moving or advancing fast enough and it appears like everyone else is doing more…for me I mainly struggle with time. Since I do this in my “free time” I have tried to go easy on myself but still make creating a priority a few times a week.
Setting aside small windows to paint at least means I’m moving forward even if it’s little by little. If I really feel unfocused it’s helpful for me to get outside and go for a run or a hike – I almost always come back with new inspiration. I like to take random photos of the sky or anything I find interesting outdoors so a shuffle through my phone’s photo gallery sometimes helps too. I also try to mix up my subject matter and go back and forth from a more formal piece to my sketchbook. Sometimes being uninspired – or even the odd feeling of anxiousness after of not painting for a certain stretch of time – is an invisible hurdle I imagine in my head and usually I can push through the “stuck” feeling once I start putting brush to paper.
Personally I think comparing yourself to other artists can be really daunting but at the same time I love seeing what other artists create and as soon as I start getting upset (the cons) I turn it all around by switching off the “self-judging” me and switching on the “how beautiful this work is!” me and then I want to start creating more.
So, to draw the line: Cons: Doubts about how good you are or how talented you are. Pros: Get inspired and motivated to create more and better! It’s a challenge that makes you work harder, gradually bringing your art to another level. And that’s what we need!
When I feel that I’m not getting anywhere or I just feel low and unfocused I always try to listen to my body and, perhaps, at that moment it just needs something else – so you need to do some other activity, e.g. clean the house, go for a walk, read a book or simply cook and listen to some music.
Sometimes our brain just needs to be unfocused so that it can take a break. It’s sort of a scream-for-mediation act.
In this case I get myself out of the this “I can’t get anything done!” box and stop torturing myself by focusing on other activities. Amazingly, my body and brain get their refreshment and then I sit down and create something in one go!
Sometimes it happens during longer periods, like several days or even a week, then I scream for help – but as my friend put it – just let it go. If you can’t focus on this work, don’t force it. Distract yourself and do whatever you want and then you are going to be back in shape when you just don’t expect it! So – let it go and listen to your body 🙂
Can you tell me about yourself, your journey with weaving, and the story behind your shop? What’s life like in Manitoba, Canada and the balance between being an artist/crafter and a mother?
My name is Rebecca Riel, but most people call me Becca. I have degrees in Political Science and Social Work, but after having my son two years ago, I decided not to go back to work. At the time we were living in a very small town in rural Manitoba and childcare was limited. While on my extended mat leave, I became a little stir crazy and got really into DIY projects. I actually started with woodworking and re-finishing furniture. Until that time (like many other people I’m sure!), I had always said “I’m not the creative type.” I now realize it’s not that I wasn’t creative – it’s that I had never given myself the opportunity to BE creative.
I had always excelled in academia, but never explored my artistic side. As I got further down the DIY rabbit hole, I started signing up for some workshops – one of which was weaving. I have to tell you that I was a disaster at my first workshop! I tangled my warp thread so bad, even the teacher was surprised (haha)! In any event, I fell in love that day – despite the fact that it didn’t come naturally to me at first. So I took my loom home and slowly traded my woodworking projects for fiber projects. I had the idea to try to weave a map in the shape of my home province of Manitoba and suddenly people were asking to buy them. It started with friends and family but sort of organically grew into something else. Last fall, after much encouragement from loved ones, I gathered up the courage to open up an Etsy shop and haven’t looked back. That’s how Riel Finishings was born. It’s pretty much the ideal job for me! I’m someone who has struggled a lot with anxiety in my life, and I find weaving so therapeutic. The fact that I get to do it as my job now is just unreal to me!
How do I balance being a mother and an artist? In short, not very well! I am so grateful for how busy I have been since my shop opened. That said, sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. We have had to seek some childcare for my son, just so I can keep up – and most of the time I still feel way behind. My house is usually messy and I don’t cook as often as I’d like. That said, I wake up every day being so grateful for this opportunity and the growth I’ve experienced!
Can you tell me a little bit about your ‘mapestries’? How did you term that awesome phrase?!
The most popular items I sell at the moment are “mapestries” (map + tapestry). While I began weaving maps of my own province of Manitoba, gradually I started getting requests for other states and provinces. The term “mapestry” came to me one night at 3am when I was up with my son. It literally just popped into my head, in a rare moment of genius!
What kinds of yarn and looms do you use and recommend?
Yarns: I love using a variety of textures in my tapestries. My favourite yarns to work with are hand spun and hand dyed, which I source from other small shops around the world. I’m also passionate about using recycled and reclaimed fiber in my work. You can frequently find denim, mudcloth, and recycled wool in my tapestries. They look unreal, and are also better for the environment. In terms of yarn I would recommend, it really depends on your textural preferences. I would caution against using anything acrylic, because it totally messes with your tension. Some of my favourite yarns to weave with are from: Knit Collage, Fly Yarns, Love Fest Fibers, Divinity Fibers, and Silk Divine.
Looms: I have a LOT of looms! Some of them are handmade, but my favourites are from Lost Pond Looms and Funem Studio. Both companies make excellent looms in a variety of sizes – really perfect if you’re just starting out.
What have been some of your favorite projects and commissions?
I was recently commissioned by a resort in Manitoba to weave some tapestries for their suites. This commission was the first larger-scale order I’ve ever received, which was a huge milestone for my business. The catch is that they wanted me to weave a buffalo. Yes, I said buffalo and I’m not talking about the place, I’m talking about the animal! When I read the request, I instantly panicked! If you have some familiarity with weaving, you know that some shapes are more difficult than others. I figured there was no way I could do this tastefully, but I challenged myself to give it a try. To my complete surprise, it turned out really well and I’m proud I was able to push through that challenge. I’m somebody who has always been a little insecure. I worry about failure and about what others think of me, and the thing about art is that there’s no room for those fears. You have to push through them. I try a lot of different things and they don’t always work out, but that’s okay, because sometimes they do and it’s magic!
Do you have any advice for artists and crafters just getting into weaving?
I don’t have much in the way of advice for new artists, because, well, I myself am still so new! I would have to say that it’s really important to find your own voice as an artist/weaver, which sometimes means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. When I put on my artist hat, I try not to let the rational/analytical side of my brain rule, and instead follow my heart and my gut. Sometimes that is the scariest feeling, it means being totally vulnerable and putting yourself out there, but you will never know what’s possible until you take risks. If you would have told me when I first opened my shop that by April I would have a waiting list of commissions, I would have laughed in your face. So I suppose at the end of the day, it’s really important to believe in yourself and just keep weaving. Oh, and never take yourself too seriously! Weaving is all about exploring different fibers and textures – it’s as much about the journey as it is about the final tapestry.
*Some photos featured in this post were taken by talented photographer Janique Fortier, see her website here.