Thursday, May 22, 2014

DPW Spotlight Interview: Sandra Spencer

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

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

From Sandra's DPW Gallery page:

Yay, I’m happy to be a member of Daily Paintworks! I have been a daily painter for the last 8 years, selling art work to customers around the world. I am glad you have found me here! I am mainly an animal painter -- pet portraits are a specialty. I also love to paint our local Eastern Oregon horses, and you will be seeing many of them here. I am always willing to paint requests, so if you would like me to paint something special for you, please just ask.

Tell us a bit about how you first started painting.

I was fooling around, trying to be creative with many different avenues, and realized that I was making too many things to actually keep or give away, so I should focus on creating something I could sell. That led me to painting, which fulfilled my desire to "make" something every day. I sold my first painting on ebay for more than I expected (it was a pretty rustic scene of bright yellow lemons on a cobalt background) and I was encouraged to keep at it.

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

No, I just kept painting or sketching almost every day, learning what worked for me (and did not). Creating things gives me pleasure in knowing I am leaving something fairly permanent behind after I am gone. I don't have to paint things the whole world loves, but just that one person loves. That's enough for me.

Smooch II
(click to see original image)

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

What mediums and genres have you experimented with?

I started out painting acrylic still lifes and landscapes, until the day someone asked me to paint her dog. That painting changed everything and I focused on pets after that. I continued in acrylics for eight more years, then switched to oils which I work in now. At the time, I loved acrylics and couldn't imagine ever changing, but now I can't imagine going back.

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

I like capturing the spark of life in an animal, in either its expression or its behavior. I love to capture a face full of joy. I don't think I have ever painted a landscape in the last ten years. I look at the terrain of where I live now (the high desert) and sometimes I think I should try to paint it. But I just don't see the color transitions of a landscape in my mind's-eye like I do animals.

(click to see original image)

Which ones are you looking forward to exploring?

I want to paint more cowboys. There are so many rodeo events where I live that I've recently realized I need to seek them out and capture the participants. I'm sure the local landscape will all of a sudden "pop" into my head like the figures do. One day.

Who or what inspires you most?

Years ago, before I started painting, I met Ray Bradbury at a book signing. There were no other customers around and he had ten minutes to talk with just me. We talked about writing, but the philosophy applies to just about anything. He told me to wake up an hour early every day and write something even if I didn't know where it was going to go -- just let it flow out. Make the time to be creative. I applied that philosophy to painting, making sure I painted every night after work (up an hour early every morning didn't work for me). He told me to read his book, Zen and the Art of Writing, which I have since done. I'd recommend the book to anyone trying to follow a creative path, every chapter was good advice. Don't listen to nay sayers, and cut out the people who criticize you in your life. Practical advice.

(click to see original image)

What does procrastination look like for you?

My gosh, I don't procrastinate about painting. One day a week, I will sketch up what I intend to paint the next week. And even then some of the sketches get left unpainted, or I realize they won't work like I planned, so I am glad I sketched up five other things to choose from. I find that every day my head wraps differently around a painting, and sometimes something I had planned to work on just doesn't come together right -- the colors, or the shadows -- and that I need to work on something that is completely different. Having multiple things sketched and ready to go leaves me choices about what I feel like doing that day, instead of having to address one thing that I feel only so-so about.

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

I don't get distracted by the things left undone around home. If the house isn't burning, like the saying goes, it can wait a while. I make sure to sit down first thing in the morning and plan what I will do, and then paint for a half hour before taking a break. I do need frequent breaks, or else carpal tunnel is waiting in my future. I've had to buy a new painting table at the right height, because an earlier one was causing problems with my wrists. So I'll walk around or go fool in the garden for a few minutes, and then go paint some more. Taking small breaks helps me come back and look at what I'm working on with a fresh eye.

The Labs
(click to see original image)

How do you generally arrive at ideas for your paintings?

I take loads of photos, carrying my camera everywhere. I stop by the horses at the fence, and ask people at the park if I can take photos of their dog. I spend hours at the county fair visiting with the rabbits and goats. I am so grateful for digital cameras, because I know no one could have afforded to take as many photos as I do with the old system. Only one out of 10 photos results in something that will translate well into a painting. I look for shadows, and how the subject interacts with the viewer. If the sun is behind the horse making it appear all in shadow, I don't even bother stopping the car anymore.

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

I take a day off now and then. I can tell when my creativity is flagging and the painting lacks life. If I am coming down with a cold, I also take a break. I have found that my mood is directly telegraphed in my paintings, and I only want to paint upbeat scenes. There's no reason to sit down and waste canvas and paints when I know I'm just going to be going through the motions and no spark.

A Smile a Day
(click to see original image)

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

I am finally recognizing why something does *not* work. I'd say one out of fifteen of my paintings is not entirely successful, and I am learning how to spot those before I even create them.

What makes you happiest about your art?

It's sort of bittersweet, but I like hearing from a customer five years later how their pet has passed away and they are so happy they have the painting to remember him by. I have heard that a lot over the years. So on the one hand of course it's hard to hear, but on the other hand I'm glad my customer has a happy memento to look at every day.

Thanks, Sandra!

© 2014 Sophie Catalina Marine Cruse

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