Thursday, May 8, 2014

DPW Spotlight Interview: Jessica Miller

Each week we will spotlight a different DPW artist who will give away one of their best paintings.

To enter to win Jessica's painting, "Tulips" go to Daily Paintworks and click on the link at the top of the page announcing their interview.

From Jessica's DPW Gallery page:

Originally from northern Michigan, Jessica now makes her home in the Hudson River Valley. She is best known for her portraits, recognizable for their expressionist style and vibrant color. Particularly popular are her half-hour portraits, small paintings done in one quick sitting, which effectively capture likeness as well as mood.

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Jessica studied at the School of Visual Arts and at the Art Students League in New York, with legendary painter Hananiah Harari, later continuing her studies with acclaimed portrait and landscape artist Andrew Lattimore.

Her work is shown regularly in galleries in New York and hangs in private collections throughout the U.S.

Tell us a bit about how you first started painting.

Oh, I've always been painting. I didn't begin to find my "voice" until I moved to New York City and started taking classes with Hananiah Harari at the Art Students League. A tiny, sweet man, well into his eighties when I knew him; he was a giant of an artist. I am so lucky to have studied with him. He gave me the confidence to be brave in my painting. My style loosened up as I experimented with color and realized that I was free to paint however I wanted. It was during this time that I found myself gravitating to the face and started to focus on portraiture.

(click to see original image)

Enter to win by clicking on the link at the top of the home page announcing Jessica's interview.

Did you have any stops and starts in your painting career?

Oh, sure. For a long time, I wouldn't have even called it a career. I had dreams of making a living from my art, but I didn't know how, and I didn't paint often enough. Eventually, I became more disciplined. The more I painted, the better I became, which I guess is true of anything.

Then, several years ago, I was asked to paint portraits for an event at the Katonah Museum of Art. The catch was, each portrait had to be completed in half an hour or less. I experimented in the weeks leading up to the event, until I found a size at which I could finish a portrait in half an hour. And it was amazing! Having to paint quickly forced me to paint loosely and freely, concentrating on the big things, like getting a likeness, value, and of course, color. Plus, people loved them. I've since painted hundreds of half-hour portraits, at gallery or museum events, and in my studio. I just love doing them.

Walking with Mayzie
(click to see original image)

What mediums and genres have you experimented with?

I wouldn't say that I've consciously tried different genres. It was more a subconscious progression from realism, because that's what I originally thought being a good artist was all about, to a more impressionist style, to whatever my style is now. I never set out to paint in a certain style, but I'm happy with how it's evolved.

I use oil paints for my landscapes, many of which are painted en plein air, and Golden Open acrylics for my portraits. A huge part of my evolution as a portrait artist is due to the advent of "open" acrylics, which stay wet for much longer than conventional acrylics. They allow me to mix all kinds of colors on my palette and come back to them over and over throughout a portrait session, something that was impossible before.

Which ones have "stuck" and which ones have fallen away?

I simply cannot figure out pastels. They seem so handy and portable, but I always end up with a mess on the paper and all over me. So that may be one that has fallen away, but you never know. Watercolor still eludes me, but I hope to someday get better. I've really settled on oils and open acrylics for now.

Which ones are you looking forward to exploring?

I'd sort of like to try encaustic painting, but not yet.

Half-hour Portrait
(click to see original image)

Who or what inspires you most?

VAN GOGH! His paintings, not his life. Matisse's portraits. The Society of Six, Tom Thomson, The Group of Seven. Whenever I feel myself getting too tight, I look at their work.

What does procrastination look like for you?

It looks a lot like eating. Or making lists of things to do instead of actually doing them.

What techniques work to ensure that you make time for your art?

I plan for it. I look at my schedule for the week and note on which days I'll have a block of time for painting. Some weeks are better than others. I also pay close attention to the weather forecast, trying to leave time for plein air painting on nice days.

Lake Minnewaska
(click to see original image)

How do you generally arrive at ideas for your paintings?

I like coming to a portrait session with no preconceived ideas, letting whatever I see in the face of that particular person determine the feel of the painting. For landscapes, I note views that I'd like to come back to and paint as I'm driving or running. In the winter, I bring a camera along with me when x-country skiing and take photos to use as references for paintings. I really love painting farmland, which is in short supply where I live. For that I drive north, something I should be doing more of.

How do you keep art "fresh?" What techniques have helped you avoid burnout and keep your work vibrant and engaging?

As I mentioned before, I look at work of artists who inspire me. A trip to the Met is always good, too. I do find that I work in cycles--sometimes I feel as if I have suddenly lost any shred of talent that I ever had, and those are not fun days. I've found that I have to make myself keep painting, if not that day, then the next and the next. And at some point, just as suddenly, things change, and I hit a groove, and I've got a painting that makes me happy. Sometimes that process happens all within one painting, and sometimes it takes a lot longer.

Morning at the Beach
(click to see original image)

What do you feel you are learning about right now as an artist?

It's hard to put this one into words. With each painting, I learn a lot of little things, and painting after painting, those little things add up. Sometimes it's something concrete, like how to mix a certain color, or how to achieve a particular effect. But often I'm not even conscious of what I've learned; it's something more like muscle memory. Right now, much of what I'm learning has to do with capturing the light, airy feel of spring before the green of summer closes in.

What makes you happiest about your art?

There are some paintings that just don't go well at all. They start out simply awful, but occasionally, if I just keep painting and trying to figure it out, something suddenly clicks. Sometimes it's as simple as one good brush stroke that reveals what I need to do to fix things, and from that point on the painting just flows, and I end up loving it. It's a rare occurrence, but it does feel good. And a little magical.

Thanks, Jessica!

© 2014 Sophie Catalina Marine Cruse

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