Recently, a former classmate of mine, Caitlin Dickens who is currently studying in Alabama reached out to me for an interview and asked some great questions that made me think a lot in a good way. Check out her blog here.
CD What inspired you to be a painter?
CY I knew from a young age that I wanted to use my creativity for a living. I think there just wasn't anything more practical that I was any good at. While considering what I would want to study when college planning came around, I knew I couldn't go wrong with art school. The whole "starving artist" stigma didn't worry me a bit. I certainly went in knowing it was unlikely I would be making a living on my paintings alone, but being trained to make good art was a very good start. At first illustration seemed like a viable option for a college major, but I never got a knack for a representational aesthetic. Anything process-driven was out of the question for me too. I enjoy how direct painting is. You have your surface, you have your paints and brushes, and whatever you slap on the surface and however you choose to push your paint around, the result is right there in front of you-no variables.
CD How has your work changed and evolved so far?
CY In many ways, my work hasn't changed much from what I created in high school and my early years in college. I've always used bright cartoony candy colors and a flattened and dimensionless environment. My new work just utilizes those visuals better.
CD Is there any historic artistic influence on your work?
CY I love researching older Baroque works and portraits but I feel that I get more inspiration from artists working today. I reference sites like Booooooom.com, The Electric Beef, and Juxtapoz to name a few.
CD Do you work on your art everyday? Do you have a routine that helps keep you on track?
CY I try to make it a point to spend at least a few minutes every day in the studio, even if I am feeling unmotivated to paint. If I am not making anything, I'll usually devote that time to research, looking for Calls for Entries, or coming up with new ideas. I don't have a routine exactly. With working an office job, I use whatever time I have available to keep pushing ahead.
CD What was your first major accomplishment in your art career?
CY There have been a lot of little things, like winning high school art awards, solo exhibitions in coffee shops, so this certainly wouldn't seem like a first, but I really didn't feel my work going anywhere or feeling truly like I had found my own style until I created "The Decorator." Before that piece, I felt like I didn't really have a voice and was focusing too much on an aesthetic that had no conceptual bearing. Everything about that piece pushed the envelope for me-I had never been comfortable working that large and I had never tried anything as detailed either before that point. It was the first painting I felt true pride in. After that, things just fell into place.
CD How do you decide to price your work?
CY Normally it comes down to the cost of materials, how many hours I spent on the piece, and who I am selling it to. For instance, if it is a commissioned piece from someone close to me, I'll usually price it a bit lower. Or if the piece is showing in a gallery that takes a percentage of each piece sold, I'll mark the price higher to cover the commission. I have also priced my paintings higher since I am out of school and a professional, trained artist.
CD Do you focus more on artistic merit or marketability when creating?
CY The only pieces I have made with the sole intention of making a sale have been commissioned works or these tiny little fabric monsters I made to sell in one of my Java Cabana shows. Normally, I'll make little small pieces I feel could sell easily, but I'm more concerned with exposure than selling work right now. I think artistic merit is more important, and the more of that you have, the more sales will come later.
CD How important is self-promotion? Do you think you would be as successful as you are now without the aid of your website, facebook, etc. or is self promotion an absolutely necessary part of being an artist in today’s world?
CY Self-promotion is key if your goal is to be a professional artist. But to me, that's a broad term. When I think about self-promotion, I think about researching shows, calls for entries, reaching out to other artists, attending gallery openings, and just putting yourself out there. I think the internet is a great launching tool. It has made sharing art and ideas so much faster and easier. Every artist should have a website, whether it is a blog, a Linkedin profile, or a site with a purchased domain name. Even a Deviant Art page or an Etsy is something. It keeps you from being restricted to just gaining exposure from the people that can see your work in person, which if you are just starting out, might not be that many.
CD Do you ever question your choice of profession?
CY Not at all. I enjoy the regular job I do. While it is in an office, it is part time and art-related. As for being an artist, I have no regrets but it has helped that I have always kept my goals and aspirations in check. I am doing more with my work now than I thought I would be by this point.
CD What was the inspiration behind your Decorator series?
CY In college, very near graduation time, I had this overwhelming sense that I was not making work that meant anything to me and I felt a little bit lost. It made me start to think about things I have always loved and imagery I have been drawn to my entire life. I grew up near the ocean and was always fascinated by sea creatures and the natural colors of coral bodies and tropical fish. I started to think the ocean had influenced a lot of my aesthetic all along. As far as a social statement for my work, I started to think about the things in life that had always bothered me or that I felt controlled by and one of those issues was the struggle for physical attractiveness and suiting a societal standard of beauty. I wondered how to combine these two ideas together and while discussing decorator crabs with a few classmates, one of them suggested portraits of decorator crabs. So I tried it out for a portrait assignment in an abstract painting class and loved what happened. I started the series slowly, trying out full bodied figure paintings of Decorators, applying more patterns and using different color palettes and soon Decorators were all I wanted to paint.
CD Do you have plans for any new series or can you see the Decorator series morphing into or influencing a new series?
CY I had played around with the idea of creating a new series of portraits not unlike the Decorators by considering other creatures that camouflage and cover their bodies like the caddis fly and I did make a rather successful painting using imagery and colors you might find in a caddis fly's habitat. I often fear being stuck producing Decorators forever and people will think it's all I can offer, but there are still so many things left to try and I am not bored with them yet. Every now and then, I go back and forth making watercolors and paintings like the ones I made before the Decorator thing happened, but that's just to keep things interesting. I have plans for more Decorators with simplified color palettes and an overload of information.
CD In your view, what are some important qualities for an art student and for an emerging artist?
CY Tenacity, confidence, knowing rejection will happen, having realistic goals, openness to criticism and new ideas, and always being true to yourself.
CD What advice do you have for a fellow painter that is just graduating and attempting to start their career in art?
CY Always create, never stop. Even if it feels like you have no time, make time. Put yourself out there, meet new people, immerse yourself in the artistic community where you are, never stop questioning things, really utilize whatever resources you have, help other artists, and collaborate with other artists. Constantly assess your goals. Update your resume with every little accomplishment under your belt. Just keep pushing yourself for more and more. Dreams don't work unless you do.