Elizabeth will be showing her work at The Fine Arts Company in Hagerstown, MD next month. They interviewed her on their blog, which we are sharing here! We hope you will be able to visit her show. We’ll send you more information about directions and times….
The Fine Arts Company would like to welcome Elizabeth Seaver to our blog and store. Her whimsical paintings will be on display the month of January and you can meet her in person January 10th from 6pm to 8pm and ask her about her work.
I got a chance to ask her a few questions myself and get to know her better. I hope you enjoy the interview and come by to meet her in our store. Her work is so colorful and fun. You’re sure to fall in love with her cats and birds.
1. What made you decide to become an artist?
I think the desire lives in my DNA. Wanting to be an artist, has been a part of me since I was very small. I drew all the time, and when I won a dollar in a Halloween art contest in third grade, I was truly hooked.
I have a practical side, too, and those two aspects of my personality have often been at odds. I’ve worked to balance them my whole life. I earned a degree in Government from Smith College, but took as much art history as I could fit in my schedule and an important beginning drawing course. The professor was very encouraging.
After college I taught myself to cut linoleum blocks and was sent to a b&w photography class for a job I had in community relations at the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Houston. Around jobs and marriage and children I made as much art as I could until we moved in 2000 from Houston to Fredericksburg, Va. Here I found a lively, welcoming fellowship of artists and a supportive local buying public. The opportunities kept opening up. I helped found a cooperative gallery, got a studio at LibertyTown Arts Workshop and was hired to be artist-in-residence there from 2008-2011. I would not be a working artist today without that thriving local art scene.
2. You use several mediums in your work, acrylic, oil, college, mixed media. Do you have a favorite medium and why?
I have a love/hate relationship with acrylic paint. The thing I love about it, that it dries quickly so that I may keep painting, is also the thing that drives me craziest since I love that quality of oil paint which moves as it dries to blur lines and soften edges. I have worked in oils on occasion, but, I always come back to acrylics because of the bold color, quick layering, and ease in pairing with other elements such as paper and found objects.
I searched for years for my “style” and discovered the fun of using torn papers of all sorts as under-painting on canvas. That bright crazy quilt look lent itself to a whimsical bent in my work.
3. Your work is very whimsical with lots of animals such as cats, ducks, and flamingos. Is there a reason you have picked these particular animals as subjects?
I don’t know how far up my family tree the obsession with bird watching goes, but I got it from both sides. My grandmothers, my parents and my sister, used to get up early with their glasses and camp stools to tally their sightings. For a long time, I didn’t get it.
In the early ’90’s I went with my mother and sister to High Island, Texas, where the birds literally fall out of the sky in exhaustion in the flyway from Central and South America across the Gulf of Mexico on their way north for the summer. I had never seen such color in nature, bold golden yellows and reds, blues and greens, and all on the tiniest birds, warblers. I finally got it.
When I painted for my first solo show at LibertyTown in 2008 and 2009, birds and their movements and behaviors inspired me. Somewhere along the line my birds began to wear clothes, ride bicycles and teeter on tightropes.
4. You’ve painted a few sculptures. Why did you decide to start working in a more three-dimensional medium?
That collaboration was suggested by a sculptural artist named William “Tex” Forrest who works in the Northern Virginia area, but happened to have a studio next to mine at LibertyTown Arts Workshop in Fredericksburg. In 2012, he presented me with an interpretation of one of my birds on a bike and asked me to paint it. Wibur was born. I hope that Tex and I collaborate again in the future.
5. On your blog you wrote that a wise teacher once told you to, “Put down the paintbrush and back away from the canvas.” I think knowing when to stop is a problem for a lot of artists. What is your advice for knowing when to stop.
Really, I think there are a number of places to stop working on a painting, any of which will result in a fine work of art–just different paintings at each stage. But I know that when I begin puttering with my brush, dabbing here, messing there, with no object in mind–or notice the same behavior in a student– it’s time to stop and reassess. At that point, the piece needs watching. I put it somewhere I walk past frequently, and watch it–waiting for the idea to pop into my head about what should happen next. Sometimes, the idea is to frame it and hang it!
Still, I’ve been known to take a work down from the wall of my studio and work on it again even years later, with a sigh of relief that the painting that was meant to be on that canvas is there at last.
6. Have you ever painted a piece you couldn’t part with? Which piece and why?
For nearly a decade, my main work space has been in a public building where folks wander in and about through two floors of studios. In all that time, the question I’ve been asked most frequently is some version of this one. Early on, I felt the pressure to pick a particular piece, and then I had to justify why that one over another. ACK–that’s a slippery slope!
But all those people asking that same question made me think hard about the real answer for me. Because of course, I know artists who have a very hard time selling their work. They hate to part with it. I, on the other hand, knew I loved selling my work. And it wasn’t that I didn’t love each piece I made.
What I finally figured out is that my favorite piece is the painting I’m working on right now. That’s where the joy is, in the problem solving and hard work of making it come alive on the canvas. Once it’s done, I’m ready to fall in love all over again with a blank canvas that needs some care and attention.
7. Was there ever a time you were afraid to show your work? Tell us about it.
I found it very painful to learn to let people see my work in progress. Working in such a public art space left me open to casual criticisms from the group of people who were my best potential customers and colleagues whose work I admired. It took a huge effort of will for me to keep painting in that atmosphere. Now I know that I was getting encouragement, too. Part of what I had to learn was to hear the good things and not obsess over the negative things.
So, now, I say to anyone watching me paint or looking at an unfinished work, “It’s at the ugly stage.” I have passed that along to my students assuring them that the ugly stage is determined by the artist and may last as long as she wants–even until the last brush stroke.
8. Do you have a favorite artist that inspires you? Why?
Modigliani nearly got me thrown out of the National Gallery because I had to get just a little closer to see how he’d “done that.” Eric Carle’s collaged illustrations were an early joy–torn paper made caterpillars, so simple and brilliant. My art history classes introduced me to Albrect Durer whose woodblock prints inspired me to take my life in my hands and try to use very sharp tools to carve relief blocks.
But there are modern artists I admire, whose daring whimsy and use of materials amaze me like Sheep Jones and Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson–and I have to mention the work of my business partners, Susan Morgan, letter-press artist, and Lynette Reed, painter, paper and fiber artist. They inspire me minute by minute and keep me going with their support.
9. What projects do you have coming up in the future?
I have been invited back to show my work in the West Gallery of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda in their Clinical Center Art Program, March and April, 2015.
I am part owner, along with Susan Carter Morgan and Lynette Reed, of a downtown arts and writing business right on the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg–Water Street Studio, Writing and Arts–which is a year old. I will be continuing our work there to build community and encourage creativity in our teaching, retail and studio space.
I have recently become very interested in book arts and am currently making journals and sketchbooks. I have made a few more whimsical books and hope to continue with the exploration of art books using my own writing.
All this, of course, while continuing to paint and teach.
10. What advice would you give to new artists thinking about showing and selling their work?
Find your local art community. Take classes and opportunities to show your work. Find critique partners you trust and try lots of different media to find your unique expression as an artist. Don’t let anyone’s, “shoulds and oughts,” especially your own, keep you from pursuing art as a career. Do it because you love it, and people will be drawn to you and your artwork.