How did you become an artist?
I got into art late. Late in high school is when I finally found it, and only because teachers encouraged me. Then after high school, I decided not to go to college because the place I was going to go was so much money, and trying to get a career in art, who knows if I would've made money at all. So I decided to just do it on my own. In the beginning I was mostly drawing, trying to get very good technically. But that work felt really empty to me. It might've been good visually, but it didn't move me the way my favorite art moved me. So I took to painting and I ended up doing these very minimal compositions just as practice.
Trying to teach yourself is not always easy. What motivated you?
Mostly the motivation was just that living the life of an artist seemed like the best one for me. That's the one I wanted. Like you say, starting is hard. After college you have no idea what you're doing and finding out what you're doing and why is hard. Before I got on my current body of work, it was four years before I got there. But that four years I was drawing and painting the whole time. And it was all about figuring out what voice I had and what I wanted to say with my work.
It’s hard to find such a distinct style as an artist and really stick to it and really love it. What led you there?
It came from me trying to figure out how I speak personally, like how I'm talking now. I'm not a very loud or talkative person, so it kind of went back to minimal stuff. I try and say something when I'm speaking, so I try to put a lot of heart in my work.
That really reflects in the little surprises that you've put into each of your pieces. The expressions and the symbols feel very quiet, but also really, really intentional. You finished school and then you jumped into being an artist full-time immediately. How were you able to do that?
I had little odd jobs cutting grass or doing snow in the winter. But after that I decided to quit and do art full-time because I knew I had to figure out how to make a living at it, and the only way to do it is by jumping into it. All the pressure that comes with making art as a living, you had to learn how to deal with that too. So I kind of wanted to take it all in in the beginning. So now I'm better prepared for it.
Is your family very supportive of you as an artist?
They misunderstood me in the beginning, but they always supported me, even though they didn't know what I was doing.
Is there a reason why you chose paint specifically?
It was mostly for money reasons. Coming out of high school I wanted to be a sculptor, but it's kind of hard with resources and space. My art teacher was a sculptor in high school and she said sculptors and painters have the same brain.
As you were trying to find your way into the art world, did you look up to certain artists?
In the beginning I shied away from even studying any kind of artist or any other artists' artwork. I didn't really have many influences except early ancient creatives, like old sculptors or the Egyptian work, any megalithic ancient artwork. I appreciate a lot of artists and I buy a ton of artwork, but there's no one I really look to. A lot of people think it's a conceited thing to stay away from other artists, but I wanted to see what my brain would come up with on its own.
What gives you inspiration for your work?
I love the little — I call it nonsense — that happens throughout the day. Something that just shakes you out of your routine and you remember you're alive and you're actually a person walking around.
Where do your colors come from?
It mostly comes from the early studies I was doing. I give myself a rule: three colors per piece. I would explore different palettes and figure out how they play off each other and how they speak with each other. When I'm just painting myself, I'll pick a random color and then try and build out the space between the colors after that.
Can you walk me through your artistic process?
I just start with one mark. I try to feel my way through the piece intuitively rather than think up a story ahead of time. With the technical drawings, I realized that was part of the reason it was kind of empty, because I was thinking too far ahead without actually paying attention to what I was doing. I don't really sketch that much anymore because I try and make sure the first thing I feel is on the canvas.
When you heard our theme of "joy," did you have any specific memories attached to it?
The first thing that came to mind was movements. Anytime I think of joy, I think upward. Starting on a canvas, I always start a brush stroke going up and then with the color, even if I started with a dark color, I knew I was leading to somewhere lighter.
I know that you always say that your pieces are more than landscapes. Could you speak a little bit more about that?
I use landscapes as a way to show perspective or scale because I usually paint really small, but my dream is to make them really big. So I started with landscapes to find a way to bring people in.
Is Aurora, Illinois surrounded by mountains?
No, not at all. Corn fields out here. But I have family in California, and they live in the valley out near Yosemite. They're surrounded by mountains, but because they're so far away, you feel like you're never getting closer.
Can you talk through the composition of “Our New World”?
I wanted to make the ocean the biggest part of it, so that's where the blue mass comes from, and then bringing out the life that's in the ocean and around the coast. I love when mountains crash into the ocean, I think it's such an abrupt meeting.
It's got a lot of movement as well. Can you tell me about the accents?
I like to use those [marks] as the human energy in a landscape. I feel like that brings a lot of energy and life into a world where it can feel silent. So I like to make a lot of noise with those marks.
What about the arch?
That one was mostly trying to convey the horizon and how expansive it is and how you want to fall into it. I thought that really played well with exploring and how you are compelled to move outward instead of staying where you're at.
I saw it as almost a door into the landscape. I love the idea of having this portal into these expressions, like coming in and out of the landscapes. We've talked so much about diving into the ocean, that kind of splash that I really see in these accents. Can we talk next about “Held Among Them”?
This kind of composition was something early on I was doing, mostly trying to deal with depth and how big the mountains feel. And once you get among them, you feel so small, but it's not as scary feeling, the smallness. So I want to try and capture how you feel when you're that close to something so big.
Can you talk specifically about the marks at the top of “Held Among Them”?
That came from thinking about joy. It's not a sun, but that feeling of radiation from the joy and the excitement.
And what about “All We Saw”?
My family in California lives in the desert and the feeling of how big the sky is out there always had a big impact on me. I wanted to capture the two kinds of skies out there, where in the middle of the day it's glaring, you can't see, it's just one big, giant mass, there are no clouds or anything. And then at night it all comes alive, the stars and everything. So the darker blue side was the evening and the sunset over the desert.
I love your Friday roundups of artists. I literally wait for them. I really want to ask you about your relationship to social media and Instagram specifically, and if that's just natural to you?
In the beginning I had to be talked into social media. I wasn't really into it, but with art in trying to do it on my own, I figured I had to do it, but I never liked trying to do it as a marketing thing. So I would just use it as a place to show my paintings. And I didn't really talk to people much in the beginning, but as I grew more, I felt more part of a community and I wanted to share the community.
You can see that your instagram is super organic and the relationships that you create, they're never about promotion and marketing, it's just about getting to know other artists. Do you have a favorite collaboration you've done with another artist? I know you're doing one right now with the secret blue color.
That project came from a friend, Eve Lippa from France. She's the sweetest lady and we're both really into color. And we were joking around one day about both using blue. And we said we should make a secret blue that only we have. And then we ended up making our own color and I bottled some up and sent it over to her and now we have this collaboration where one of us makes a painting and the other one makes a response. We actually finished one up today.
You were talking about how your work evolved after four years of technical work. And I'm wondering if you see your work evolving from today into the future?
I think about it a lot because this was just a way to practice and it kind of blew up into more than that and I wonder if this is just leading me back into doing more technical work and I question it daily at this point. I don't feel like I'm running out of things to say with this style, but I worry about the day I do. So I think going forward, it'll just have to grow organically wherever it goes, but there's no real plans right now.
What do you do when you hit a wall?
I just keep painting. I'll go through a run of ugly paintings to me, but I'll just keep painting and keep posting because I try to remove myself as much as possible from the process. So I can't get too precious about my feelings or what I think about the work, I try to work through and see. Whatever comes out, comes out and that's the best artwork I can make. I think that's part of the growing process.
The way that you name your pieces is really interesting. Can you talk about that?
Part of the technical work I was doing was me trying to talk too much and a lot of the stuff I was trying to do, I was saying too much. So with the titles, I feel like it's a way where I can still say something without getting into some long story. Sometimes it could just be the sound of a phrase together. But I look at these pieces as relationships and title them with the end of conversations I think would be happening in the piece.
What do you mean by conversations happening in the piece? Between you and the piece, or within the piece itself?
It's mostly within the piece itself, so just looking at the piece and feeling the balance and tension in it and what is coming out of that kind of conversation.
Is there any advice that you would give to other emerging artists who might also not have mentors?
Well an older painter a while ago told me to remember it's supposed to be fun, and it's just something I always keep in mind. Because we all put a lot of pressure on ourselves as artists and it gets too serious at times, but remembering it's supposed to be fun is always something I stick to.