What do you do?
I make small acrylic paintings of rabbits, birds, and women. I am working on a series of one hundred paintings.
Where can we find your work?
The best place to find my work is at Kaleid Gallery. There is a wall of my art there, which continually evolves and changes as I add new paintings and drawings. I also show in different galleries in San Francisco and Berkeley. Two of my paintings will be in the Tiny Show at Studio Gallery in San Francisco, November 3 - December 23 2011. The paintings are called “Squirrel with Acorns” and “Love in the Forest.”
What inspires you to create and how do you keep motivated when things get tough?
I don’t get blocked about art-making. I just like to draw all the time. If I am not drawing it is probably because something un-artsy has gotten onto my art-making space. For instance, there might be a pile of mail on my drawing table. So I have to deal with the mail first before I can keep going with drawing.
What do you think is more important content/finished product or technique/process?
I feel like the finished product is most important. I love the process of making art, but if the end result doesn’t look good, I will set it aside and move on to something else.
Who are some people who influence and/or inspire you?
The artwork of Margaret Kilgallen had a strong impact on me. When I was a student at Stanford, she was there getting her master‘s degree in fine art. I remember walking into her studio. It was like coming into a world of strangely compelling folk art, made by unknown folk. I stood there trying to memorize the colors. She had her own quirky color scheme - rust red, cream white, mustard yellow, sage green. In my work I see the echoes of her style in flat colors and strong outlines.
At that time I only knew that I really liked her art. It was only later, after her death - she had cancer, she was only 33 - that I found out about where she stood in the art world. She was part of the Mission School, she was married to Barry McGee, she showed at Deitch Projects in New York, her art was in the Whitney Biennial. Sometimes I get the impression that to be a successful artist you have to be a guy with a big ego, but Kilgallen was not like that. People remember her as a kind and selfless person. There are still traces and memories of her all around San Francisco.
If you could be any fictional character who would you be?
I sort of identify with Peggy Olson, the young advertising writer on Mad Men. I mean, I wouldn’t want to be her exactly. Some of the things that happen to her, I wouldn’t want those to happen to me. And I wouldn’t do some of the things that she does. But in general, as the story goes along she is figuring out how to interact effectively with people, in order to be successful as a creative person. That’s something I think about a lot.
When do you get your best ideas?
I often get good ideas when I am working on some kind of “assignment,” like making art for a show that has a specific theme. It’s interesting how having a bit of a constraint on the subject matter of the art actually leads to more creativity.
What materials/tools do you use most to create your work?
I start with stiff paper, like cardstock or Bristol board. I paint the background and other colors with acrylic paint. To draw the black outlines, I use an old-fashioned pen - the kind you dip into a bottle of ink.
I am always curious about exactly how some artists draw their smooth fine lines, so here are the technical details about how I do it. I use a pen with a Speedball #100 Artist Nib. If you want to use the exact same kind, look for a nib that has these words engraved into the metal: 100 Hunt Artist Pen Round Pointed. I use Calli Jet Black India Ink. I get the ink and nibs at University Art. Sometimes they have to ship the ink from one of their stores outside of San Jose. I’ve also seen similar nibs and ink at that new art supply store, The Arsenal.
I actually draw with the nib rolled over so the concave side is facing up. That way, the two metal points of the nib don’t splay apart when the nib is pressed against the paper. The result is a smooth, consistent line.
Are you self taught or formally educated? How do you think that has influenced or affected your work?
Formally educated. I have a bachelor’s degree in art from Stanford. My minor was Human Biology, so I took some biology courses that definitely influenced my art. I was able to take classes taught by some really interesting artists, like the printmaker Enrique Chagoya. And I gained some insight into how people like curators and art critics think about art - what kinds of books and articles they read, what their vocabulary means, what kinds of themes they think about.
If your creative work was edible what would it taste like?
Some of my paintings are little and sweet. Those ones would taste like mini cupcakes with pink icing. Some of my artworks are a bit darker, like the one shown at the bottom of this page (Peregrine Falcons Hunted Passenger Pigeons). The darker art would taste like black licorice.
When you are not creating what do you like to do?
I like working at my job. It’s at a store that sells art supplies, picture frames, and custom framing. Between the job and making my own art, sometimes my time is artsy all day long. In my spare time, I like to keep up with biology news by listening to podcasts from the journal Nature and This Week in Science.
How did you learn to access your creative talents and gain the confidence to put it out there for everyone to experience?
I’ve been drawing forever, so accessing my creativity was no problem. What I lacked was practical, nuts-and-bolts knowledge about how to exhibit my art. That changed when Anne Sconberg sent me an email that led me to a class called “The Business of Art”. It was put together by San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affairs. I went to the class and learned answers to questions like “What is a call for entries? How do you find out about one, and how do you submit art for it?”
They don’t offer the class any more, I guess because there is not enough money to pay the instructors. I wish they could bring it back, because it was so helpful to me and many other artists.
It feels a bit weird to write about a government-sponsored art class as the tipping point in my little art career. Other artists might tell you origin stories that are decidedly more epic. But honestly, I just needed someone to give me some practical information about how to show my art, to de-mystify the question of how to get into galleries, and that opened the whole door for me.
What advice would you give others just beginning their creative adventures?
Vague advice is unhelpful, so I won’t tell you to “follow your dreams” or anything like that. Instead, here is a specific example of something that worked for me. The first time I ever showed and sold one of my paintings was at Works/San Jose Gallery, for their annual Benefit Auction. I found out about that opportunity by going to San Jose’s South First Friday Art Walk. On the walk I found a flyer for the Benefit Auction. I followed the directions on the flyer and submitted my art.
So my advice is: Go on your town’s monthly art walk, look at all the flyers and postcards, and pick up any that look interesting.
If that doesn’t work for you (for instance, if your town doesn’t have an art walk, or you are too young to wander around downtown in the evening) send an email to Laura at LauraCallinBennett dot com with the word “advice” in the subject line. You can ask me a specific question if you want. If you are shy you can just leave the body of the email blank and I will make my best guess about what advice to send to you. I am intensely aware of how ignorant I used to be about some art-related things, and I am grateful to the people and resources that helped me learn more. I’d like to pay it forward by helping other young artists learn too.