Local Talk Series: Q+A with Maryanna Coleman

Your work ranges from real life to fantasy which is unique to other artists we have had at the shop. What inspiration drives your subject matter?

I love children’s books and their whimsical illustrations, as well as “realistic” paintings – of architecture, animals, nature, and more.  I try to weave a little of both styles into my paintings. 

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What artists were influential when you were honing your craft?

Ludwig Bemelmans (illustrator of the Madeline books), Caitlin McGauley, and Beatrix Potter’s whimsical styles and animals are some of my favorites!  Other influences (whether or not they show in my work) are Michael Sowa, Kathryn Freeman, Matisse, Maira Kalman, Janet Hill, Erin Armstrong, Wayne Thiebaud, Edward Gorey, Tracey Sylvester Harris, William Joyce, Erika Lee Sears, Dorothy Shain, Ashley Longshore, Cj Hendry, Donald Robertson, Pauline de Roussy de Sales, Charlie Mackesy, and many more.

 

How did you actually start your life as an artist? When did you know you had something special to share?

I’ve been making art since I was a kid, and continued to take art classes through high school.  I majored in Studio Art at Gettysburg College, and sketched/painted on the side for fun after graduation while working in “corporate” jobs.  I started an Instagram account of my art and sold a few pieces here and there – it gradually took off after that!  It’s fun to think back to locally hand-delivering some pieces, then eventually shipping internationally.  What initially started out as dog/pet portraits has evolved into wedding art (wedding scenes as gifts, invitations, etc), scenery and house/architectural portraits, and book illustrations (most recently Louise Penny’s past three books!).

 

Watercolors are such a specific art and clearly you are masterful with your approach. How did you address this particular discipline when developing your technique?

I taught myself!  I actually hadn’t “played” with watercolors since I was in grade school (or maybe early high school?).  I always worked in acrylics/oil/charcoal/drawing, but when I was in my small NYC apartment, there was next to no space for oil painting.  I started playing with watercolor when I realized it was the quickest/easiest set up/clean up, and could spend hours on something as small as 5x7” as opposed to a 5 ft canvas.  I definitely owe larger/general painting skills to my art professor from an oil painting class in Florence.

 

I see lots of animals in your show. Do you work on commissioned pieces as well?

I do!  I started with many dogs because I really wanted (and still want) one and am just drawn to them.  That developed into many commissions of pets – whether for a birthday, anniversary, wedding gift.  They always make for fun and meaningful presents.

 

My favorite is the dog in a military jacket. There's something about his posture and facial expression that is intriguing. Tell us about this piece.

My friends actually had me paint their dog in a British militia style coat for no other reason than they love history and think the dog looks British – and I love it!  He feels simultaneously refined and unsure of himself to me.

 

What does living in Montclair contribute to how you see the world through your work?

Living outside New York City gives me more space and quiet.  I am able to have both the greenery of suburbia as well as access to the buzz of NYC and Montclair.

 

What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

Iced coffee (or very specifically cold brew at Local!) with either almond milk or regular milk.

Thank you!

Learn more about Maryanna here:

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Local Talk: Q+A with iconic Montclair artist: Fern Bass

Fern! So happy to have your work @ Local. Your work is well known 'round these parts. Tell us how and where you began your artistic journey.

I started out at The Brooklyn Museum Art School when I was 11ish. I would ride the Flatbush Avenue bus excitedly clutching the wooden paint box my uncle Herbie gave me. I remember the first time I walked into the art school I was euphoric. It was like, “Wow! I’m allowed to do all of this cool stuff? For the whole day?!?

 

We spoke (and laughed a bit) together while hanging your work speaking to the art scene in Greenwich Village in the 70s and 80s. What elements of that environment influenced your current state of art?

Well, I was at Pratt in the late 70’s early 80’s and deep into the study of graphic design and working as a waitress in the West Village. I was working so hard I didn’t get out much, so I wasn’t that aware of the art scene at the time. Anyway I’m more of an old schooler-I love the art of the Italian Renaissance, the Post Impressionists, the German Expressionists, Edward Hopper and Fairfield Porter.

 

How did Bass Arts Studio come to be? What is your proudest thought provided its existence?

After working as a graphic designer for 15 years I quit to stay home and raise my girls. That’s when I started painting again. Then I got divorced and began teaching at a studio in town and found that I really loved teaching. When my ex exited he took his fleet of Porsches with him and I found myself with an empty garage and then...light bulb! I renovated the garage and bought easels and started a school. That was 15 years ago.  Such a better use of a garage, dontcha think?

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You have a wonderful focus for artistic direction for teens. Not to get too deep, but on a scale of 1 to 10, how important is artistic development for children at this stage?

 I think it’s totally important. 10 of 10. I don’t know how I would have gotten through high school without spending 95% of my time making art. It was a lifeline for me.  I super identify with my teen students. They badly need an outlet for their angst, the intensity of their emotions, and their hopping hormones. They need to feel seen and acknowledged. I try to connect with them, see where their talents lie and reflect that back to them.  Developing technical skills grows their confidence and gives them the tools to communicate their ideas.

 

For yourself, how can you balance teaching with maintaining a high degree of personal creative inspiration?

 I prioritize! I am a very good time manager and a benign neglector. I only do what is absolutely necessary and let the rest go to maximize my time in the studio. I rarely shop with the exception of groceries.  I guard my time like it’s the most precious resource I have (because it is). There’s a lot of parallel process and cross-pollination between my personal work and my teaching, one discipline feeds the other. And I drink a lot of coffee! I am lucky my husband is extremely organized and does a lot of household stuff. (I have the fun job-I cook)

 

Tell us about the work you chose to share with our local community.

I have a thing for Parisian waiters. I love the graphic pattern of their long white aprons against their black vests and pants. And the graceful way they hold their trays and acrobatically move through space. A while back I did a series on dancers. These waiters are serving but their gestural movement feels very related to dance. 

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 What plans do you have around new creative projects?

I am probably not done with the cafe series, but I am planning to do a whole series on dogs.

 

Since you started, is there one experience that confirmed you did a beautiful thing?

There have been so many, it’s hard to pick. Many of my students have gone on to art school and art careers. That’s very gratifying. Last week an eleven year old in my Drawing Bootcamp was marveling over a large figure drawing she did and said, “Wow, I never thought I could do this!” That was a beautiful thing.

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What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

I like a nice cappuccino. Whole milk please.

Learn more about the one and only Fern Bass by visiting her website @ https://www.bassartsstudio.com/

 

 

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Local Talk: Q+A with multi-media artist Colleen James

Thanks so much for sharing your work @ Local! Initial response has been overwhelmingly positive. Tell us about these images and especially the composition.

The series Wave is intended to draw the viewer in on a few levels. The ocean has a calming effect — a respite in nature from our busy lives. The image is at once familiar and unfamiliar. I’ve combined images to create something that is intended to pull you in, to make you look closer and ask if it’s real or imagined. I like to play with collage — to physically cut/paste/combine the images in a new abstract way.

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Santa Monica has this really magical/ special mojo, what pulled you into using this location as your canvas?

I was traveling for work and woke up early one morning. The moment of sunrise is so special, especially when you’re alone — the quality of the light, the magnitude of it all.

Art is a passion project for you, yes? At what point in your life did you start putting concepts together?

Art is more of a way of living for me, and always has been. It’s a kind of meditation. My mother was an artist, and my two sisters and daughter are artists. I studied painting in college, with a focus on portraiture, and up until a few years ago I was exclusively into realism. Since 2015 I’ve moved to collage and abstract painting. I’m also lucky to have a day job that I’m passionate about (working for the furniture brand Knoll).

How, why and when do you take on a particular project?

I like to experiment and work in a multitude of styles and mediums at once. In my studio I usually have 3-4 projects going at any given time. Right now I just finished a portrait for a friend, and I’m also working on a large color block painting. I find that keeps my work fresh.


Is there a particular medium you prefer working with?

Oil or acrylic painting is my favorite — I love the feel of the paint, the excitement of a new canvas. It’s where I find my happy place.
 

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Is there a project that you have been working towards for some time but haven't taken that next step? I ask this question because so many of us have thoughts to building a creative model or platform but just stop short before fully committing.

I start a painting series and usually stop after 3-4 pieces and start something completely new. At some point I’d like to find a language that I stick with for a longer period. I feel fortunate to have a passion and practice that I can lean into even more as I grow older — age presents no limitations when it comes to art.

What does living in Montclair mean to you as an artist?

I’ve be deepening my involvement in the community of artists here in Montclair. It’s an incredibly rich and welcoming group. 

You are donating proceeds of sales of this project to Toni's kitchen which is an awesome gesture. Tell us more about your connection to this truly unique and valued organization right here in Montclair.

My husband and I both volunteer there. The mission is so important — the people who run it are incredible as are the people they serve. I like the idea of using my art to connect with the community.

What's next for you in the art space?

I’m working on an abstract series on paper and canvas. I’m inspired by the repetitive patterning of artists like Damien Hirst and Agnes Martin. You can find it on my website at colleen-james.art

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What is your favorite coffee or tea beverage?

I’m pretty simple when it comes to coffee. Good, strong drip coffee with milk.


Local Talk - Q+A with Local West Coast Artist Dolores Lusitana

We're so thrilled to have you post at the shop and thank you for being so accommodating in shipping the images!  West Coast images in an East Coast space brings me happiness as we're all California dreamin' to some degree. How do you think about one coast vs. the other from an artistic perspective? 

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I was first drawn to photography while living in New York City from 1981-1997. I’ve always thought of the city as a people laboratory - everyone combating the pressures of city life, the weather, the fierce professional competition, yet somehow all interdependent in those struggles. There’s an underlying humanity that I don’t experience in the same way on the west coast. California offers a more idealized lifestyle; grand, expansive landscapes, lots of sunshine with a cultural slant towards leisure. They’re completely different ways of life. Despite being a native Californian and grateful for the relative ease here (sans the earthquakes and fires..) I’ve always felt more at home on the east coast, more alive and inspired. Perhaps ironically, I think now of New York as a periodic B12 shot, my place for ideas and inspiration, and California the place where I can hunker down without distraction and get the work done.

 

Your prints, 'A deeper look at the Venice Beach Canals' provides us with a glimpse into a special place in southern California. Why did you select this area as your focus? 

I’d stopped shooting for a time and started my business, Situation Book. I was spending a lot of time behind the computer, and starting to feel a little hollow for abandoning my own creativity. The Venice Beach Canals were within walking distance from my home and I decided to take my camera for an outing - shooting for the first time in a couple of years. I had no objectives, no real intention of making images, I just let myself walk and shoot anything and everything that caught my eye. I found the reflections in the canal waters really beautiful and started making photographs - mostly figurative images, watery reversals of the many white bridges that intersect the walkways, the towering palm trees, the people walking by. They appeared like impressionistic watercolors and it made me happy to be outside in that quiet little enclave of peace and nature hidden inside Silicon Beach. I liked those images enough to continue going back.  

It wasn’t until I starting noticing the full-frame abstractions on my computer screen that the WATERCOLORS project began. I saw things that I hadn’t in my viewfinder, and discovered that by shooting more instinctually I was creating work I found more interesting. That’s when I began to see my photographs more like abstract paintings - and I focused on that approach going forward.

Do you often work with reflections or was this approach inspired by the environment?

I’ve always been more fascinated with people in social situations, how they each inhabit a given space together, than abstract or landscape driven photography. This work came out of my need to reconnect with the natural world and not think too much. What I saw in the water was just an unexpected gift.

The reflections on the Canals are created by wind and tides and ambient light, so you never really know what you’re going to encounter, and that reinforced my inability to control the situation. The source of all the reflections are inherently the same since they’re from the homes, buildings, gardens that line the walkways. But, they’re constantly morphing in shape and color given environmental factors. The lesson for me was to stay open. There was one day when the wind was so high that I thought nothing was achievable. But that day ended up yielding a number of interesting frames, including the image I call WINGS which is at LOCAL now.

How have these images provided you with a deeper understanding and appreciation of this landscape? 

I think good landscape photography is incredibly difficult. Taking a photo of a sunset is relatively easy, but in most cases I believe the viewer is reacting to the splendor of nature rather than the artistry of the photographer. To capture how a landscape makes the artist feel, to imbue the absolute beauty of nature with an individual human emotion, that’s not easy. At least not for me. The appreciation and understanding I’ve gleaned from this work is more about the origins of perception - how and why we all see things differently. I perceive very distinct scenes or images within these photos - rather than strictly water reflections. Other people often see very different things - which makes me happy.  I try and leave them open to interpretation - and encourage people to reposition them vertically and horizontally to their liking.

 

As a self-taught artist, what can you tell other individuals who would like to pursue an artistic endeavor OR career?

I do believe that everyone should have some kind of creative pursuit - no matter what it is - something that can never be mastered but always improved upon and made more and more your own. You learn a tremendous amount about yourself in the process, and it will always provide you with something to work at, hopefully share with others, and get joy from. I hope I’m still working at something creative when I’m old and blind.

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If I can offer any advice (and I’m not sure that I or any other artist is really qualified) it’s that we all experience the world differently, uniquely - and that’s what you want your art to reflect. And I believe that can only be achieved by process, time, and personal honesty, not strictly technical savvy. Craft - as applied to digital photography - can be crucial to expanding your visual vocabulary, but if you don’t dig into your own creative process it can override your vision. I try not to seek validation from others, which is hard. I look for something that speaks to me, perhaps even for me, and keep at it. If I’m really onto something, and keep at it, it will evolve. And hopefully it will eventually start to disappoint me. That discomfort is the challenge you need to move forward. I like to think of this period as “growing pains” - both in the creative process and in life in general.

 

What other artists within or outside your primary discipline do you look to for inspiration?

In my earliest days my photographic muses were people like Helen Levitt, Louis Faurer, Robert Frank, Bruce Davidson, Bresson…the usual street art suspects. Later, I discovered the magic of color documentary when I found a book by William Albert Allard in a bookshop in NYC near Houston. Blew my mind. I then sought out the work of the great National Geographic shooters:, Sam Abell, James Nachtwey, Gerd Ludwig, Eugene Richards, Alex Webb. Now I’m more drawn to the artists, mostly painters, of an earlier time. The European Impressionists and Beat Contemporaries. Odilon Redon always take my breath away.  As does Erik Satie.  And kids. Watch for how little children see the world - and look for that perspective.

 

What's next? What other projects are you currently working on?

Right now I’m focused mostly on getting this work out into the world a bit more. I’ve really just started showing it.

I’ve also started playing around with some light abstractions taken from the windows of my mother’s bedroom. She’s 92 now, and sleeps a great deal; her room is often dark but for the light creeping through the windows. It’s a tricky subject, but it feels like there’s something there.  Maybe not.  We’ll see.

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Any other thoughts to share?

There is beauty all around us in every day things. Spend some quiet time in nature; it can nourish you in ways that nothing else can.  And, thank you for this opportunity. I hope your customers find some pleasure in the work.

Thank you!

See more of Dolores’ work at https://www.doloreslusitana.com/about/

 

 

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Local Talk - Q+A with Illustrator Gina Stritch

How did you learn and hone your craft?

After fifty years, I'm still learning and honing. I'd say the best way to do anything is to just do it: sit down or stand up and draw, pencil and paper, pen and ink, computer, or whatever tool you have on hand.

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You interact with so many pets and pet parents, what has been the biggest learning for you?
 

I listen to what people say and draw the best drawing I can draw. I try not to intellectualize what I do. My philosophy is simple: draw the pet and make the owner happy, but NEVER compromise. Draw as if your drawing MUST stand the test of time. I don't aim for photo images, I aim for the best, simplest drawing I can draw. It's all about the drawing: pencil, ink, maybe a little watercolor, that's it. 

 

I've noted that pet sketches can come off extremely campy OR spot-on, with the artist being able to capture not just the image but the personality and character of the pet. Each of your sketches tells a different story and are so powerful, how do you approach each subject to extract that special something?
 

Source material: the better the photo, the better the drawing. If I get a good photo, you get a good drawing.

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Are there any particular artists that have influenced your approach?
 

Honestly, no, I'm into my sixth decade and am who I am. I don't try to be anyone else. I admire John Singer Sargent and many, mostly American artists. I admire the work ethic and business sense of Andy Warhol and I like the drawings of Al Hirschfeld, just to provide a few examples. Are they all commercial artists? Yes, but they were also extremely talented and intelligent and diligent.

 

Do you have pets, if so - tell us about them?
 

I have dozens and dozens, hundreds of pets, but they're all on paper. 

 

Tell us a bit about the images you have shared with us @ Local.
 

The drawings on the magnetic wall are all originals. Some are oil pastels and ink, (but I mostly stopped using oil pastel because it's messy and smears), and the others are watercolor and ink. Some are based on professional photos, but some are just good cell-phone photos. Some are popular breeds, some are unknown breeds. Some of my favorite drawings are mixed breeds. I used the drawings I used for a practical reason: it's what I had at hand. The drawings I don't have have been sold and the best artist is one who sells his or her work.

 

What's the best way for you to work with clients? Phone call, in-person meetings, simply sharing a photograph?
 

All I need is a good cell-phone photo emailed to me. I can work with a poor (hard copy) photo, tooand sometimes, maybe that's all a person has.

 

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