Thursday, January 22, 2015

DPW Spotlight Interview: Carolyn McDonald

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

To enter to win Carolyn's painting, "Peek-a-boo Flicks?" go to Daily Paintworks and click on the link at the top of the page announcing their interview.

From Carolyn's DPW gallery page:

Carolyn McDonald lives in Hoover, Alabama with her husband. She has two handsome sons, two beautiful daughter-in-laws, and three adorable grandchildren.

Carolyn has a B.F.A. and M.A. in painting and drawing from the University of Tennessee and a Ph.D. in art education from The Florida State University. (click to read more)

Tell us a bit about how you first started painting.

I've been drawing since I was a young child around the age of three.  However, the first time I used artist paints was in high school art class.  The Kennedy administration had done a lot for extending the arts in high schools across the country and we were blessed with no art fees and plenty of paper, pencils, pastels, canvas, brushes, and polymer (acrylic) paint.  My art teacher, Mrs. Hill, taught us under the Victor Lowenfield tradition where supplies were made available, but no formal instruction was given.  Hence, there was a lot of experimentation with color mixing and trying to achieve a a 3-D effect on a 2-D surface.

From there, I majored in painting and drawing at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee.  During my last year, my husband asked how I would be able to make a living should anything happen to him.  It was a common opinion that anyone trying to paint for a living would be a starving artist and women even more so.  Also, the head of the art department, Professor Ewing, told me that I had two strikes against me for becoming an artist.  Number one, I was female.  Number two, I was a married female.  Therefore, I considered my husband's question and double majored: one major in painting and drawing, and one major in art education.

Four years later, I went back to the University of Tennessee to obtain a masters in fine art.  I wanted to see Professor Ewing to tell him I was back and I had added two more strikes against me:  two adorable sons, but the Professor had had a heart attack that previous summer while riding a camel somewhere in the Middle East.  What more can be said?

Peek-a-boo Flicks
(click to see original image)

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

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

When I returned to school to work on my masters degree, I quickly learned in graduate fine art classes that it would be a dog-eat-dog environment and I would be required to work nights and take trips to museums all over the United States.  I had two small children, ages six months and two years.  My husband traveled and was not home thru the week days, so I chose the path of love and nurture for my sons and changed my major to art education.  While I was still able to paint during my residence of school, I quickly found very little time to paint after I achieved my masters. However, I never felt that I had to choose between being an artist and being a mom. It was simply a season of my life.  I wanted to be a good mom the most and teaching art gave me time during the day to keep my paint brush wet.  However, I didn't get to paint as much as I wanted, and my painting ability suffered.  It became harder to pick up the brush.  I could see that my ability to paint was loosing ground and it turned into a vicious cycle:  I couldn't paint as well as I had in the past which made it even harder to pick up the brush.

It wasn't until I was teaching full-time in college and painting with other artists that I had that extra push to paint more often.  Later, I went to Florida State University to get my doctorate in art education.  It was the only Ph.D. in art ed. in the U.S. that I found where I could minor in painting and drawing.  However, the rigorous research and writing gave me less time to paint than I had hoped for.  After finishing my Ph.D. coursework, I was hired as the Visual Art Consultant for the State of Tennessee Education Department.  Unfortunately, that job gave me no time and no energy to create anything.

After I received my Ph.D. in art education,  I began teaching at a high school, in Birmingham, Alabama.  Leaving a private college and teaching in a public school was, indeed, a culture shock.  Lots of preparation with only five minutes to breath between classes,  I felt like I was drowning in a pool of discipline and art projects.  Painting ceased for two years.  I finically decided that for me to survive teaching in a high school setting, I had to carve out a space for ONLY ME in the classroom.  I set up an easel with all my paints and began painting again.  Not until 2010 did I learn about daily painting.  I took a painting workshop with Carol Marine, and the rest is history.  I now paint almost every day of the week except Saturday and Sunday.

Butters McLovin
(click to see original image)

What mediums and genres have you experimented with?

As a high school art teacher, everything.  However, for me to really improve in a medium, I chose to concentrate in oil painting.

What does procrastination look like?

It's wanting to paint but intentionally finding other things to do.  Think of an Olympic runner who intentionally doesn't run to keep in shape and sharpen his/her skill.  Procrastination is sabotaging my future; more of a fear of succeeding than a fear of failure. 

What is your favorite subject to paint?

Actually, anything that grabs my heart.  It can be as simple as an orange that is back-lit or a little iron pig with wings.  Also, I love animals.  Then there are my grandchildren!  I am captivated by the narrative portrait.

Who or what inspires you most?

In college, I fell in love with the works of Degas, Cassatt, Van Gogh, and Lautrec.  However, the teachers that have inspired me the most are Dawn Whitlaw, Michael Shane Neal, Peggi Kroll Roberts, Carol Marine, Timothy Thies, Leslie Saeta, and Dreama Toll Perry.  Recently, I participated in a portrait painting workshop at Portraits, Inc. in Birmingham, Alabama.  Dawn Whitlaw was the portrait artist teaching the sessions.  While viewing her sublime work and demonstration, I was inspired to paint more portraits.

What a Pear
(click to see original image)

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

I have a studio space at school and all my supplies are organized where I can easily access them.  I have all my student studio lessons organized and all supplies have their own special place.  It takes a while to get my students oriented where to "always" pick up their supplies, where to turn in their work, and where to pick their finished work after it is graded; even how to ask for help.  After the first month of school, the art room runs smoothly. 

I do not have difficulty painting five or ten minutes at a time, stopping to help students and walking around the room to answer questions.  I also use my painting to illustrate concepts I am asking them to emulate.  The students are excited each day to see what I am working on and many conversations about art, technique, and the business of art, etc. arise from me working on paintings in the classroom.

Also, I go to school early and stay late some days in order to finish a painting alla prima.  During the school year, I have chosen to not paint in my home studio or paint during the weekends.  This helps me to have a healthy balance in my life and I am more excited to go to school each day of the school year.  Yes, I wake up excited about what the days holds for my students and what I might create.

Girlie Girl
(click to see original image)

How do you generally arrive at ideas for your painting?

It depends.  I try to consider my surroundings at all times and when the shadows and highlights illuminate a scene that catches my eye, I think to myself, "I want to paint that."  I take a lot of photographs and occasionally I take one that as soon as I see the digital image I know it would make a lovely painting.  My favorite is the narrative portrait.  Recently, while visiting my grandchildren in Nashville, my eight year old granddaughter wanted me to take a photo of her cat, Pipper, looking out the kitchen window.  As she bent over and stretched out the cat against the window, I seized the moment and snapped several shots.  While her face was not recognizable, anyone that knows my granddaughter would recognize her by her clothes.  I chose to paint that photo instead of the individual image of the cat because the first shots told a story about my granddaughter's relationship with her cat.

The "Shoe Series" were inspired by the cute shoes my female students were wearing to class.  Knowing my students, it seemed that their choices in shoes echoed their own personalities.  I wanted it to be all about the shoes, and I am constantly encouraging them to try out unique vantage points.  Therefore, I saw an opportunity to teach by example.  More and more students, even the guys, began to wear unique shoes and requesting that I photograph them.

I paint pets because I understand the love between the human and their pet.  Dogs and cats don't speak English, but their eyes speak and I so enjoy painting eyes.  Also, I like working with the pet owners and listening to their stories about their relationships with their beloved animals.

(click to see original image)

How do you keep art "fresh?"  What techniques have helped you avoid burnout and keep your work vibrant and engaging?
  1. I try to paint three to five days a week (not everyday)
  2. I don't paint at home during the school year or on weekends
  3. I look at a lot of art on-line and in museums and galleries
  4. Occasionally, I take chances on painting something that I think is going to be very difficult
  5. I wipe off paintings that are not working by the end of the day
  6. I give myself grace when the painting does not work and I resign to try again the next day
  7. I work in series to see how far I can push the subject
  8. I take painting workshops that I have deemed will be beneficial to what I want to achieve in my own work
  9. I have taken breaks from painting and done color charts
  10. I take time to organize my studio
  11. I have relationships with other artists
  12. Teaching
What makes you happiest about your art?

When I can see improvement from year to year, and when I see the joy on someone's face after they receive one of my paintings.

Thanks, Carolyn!

© 2015 Sophie Catalina Marine

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