"Find your teachers."
(But it's a quote on my wall and I look at & think about these words every day).
In 2009, I joined Facebook and slunk around all the pages belonging to people I went to high school with, saw what everyone looked like ... err ... I mean, was up to ... and then didn't to go to my 20-year class reunion because I slid off the earth with my 2-year old and newborn.
Social media cooked right along without me.
I'm that late-adopter mom who writes epic text messages with her pointer finger. And edits before sending. I edit and re-edit Facebook posts. I edit posts I wrote 2 weeks ago. I'd edit your posts if I could. I write snarky posts and cancel them because I'm a Facebook Weenie and can't imagine adding more conflict to my existing life-drama of "Why do we always have to eat a yucky dinner?"
I also go to bed at 9 pm.
So when I saw Kathy Halper's embroidery work online last year, I had to contact her. If there was one thing I could learn from this person -- amid my riot of small children and exhaustion and yucky dinners and the wondering what the hell I was doing with my artwork all the while editing myself into oblivion -- it was, perhaps, how to just be.
-How to be contemporary while working in a traditional medium.
-How to create work that feels spontaneous, yet well crafted.
-How to use language to make a social point.
-How to be better at listening.
-How to be heard.
-How to find my voice.
Meet Kathy Halper, I found her for you. We've been exchanging a mile-long thread still connected to my original email, with the subject heading "Awesome Work." When I see this in the inbox, it always means I have a good excuse to cuss ( I don't in person), whine a bit (okay, I do whine in person), keep it real, bare it all and edit that shit, of course.
Kathy Halper, Chicago Area, Illinois USA
I transitioned from painting to hand embroidery when a series I was developing begged for a more personal maternal touch. In doing so, I discovered how much clearer my voice seems to be in this medium and how much joy I find creating the work. So after exploring social media and privacy issues as seen through our youth (i.e. my children) I'm continuing to “paint with thread” in my new series, which is a collection of thoughts that take stock of my life at what feels like a very transitional time.
Best advice given freely but never followed:
Get off your ass.
Seriously, as far as my art career is concerned, I’ve been pretty good about following the advice I give others, which is to set your sights on a goal, meet people along the way, develop relationships, work hard on your art and jump at opportunities when they’re presented to you.
Opting out of:
The 9-5 world. I had a brief return to the the business world this past year, acting as Marketing Manager for an ecommerce company. Turns out, after years of running loose as an artist and mom, I’m no longer domesticated enough to be in captivity.
Not currently. Not recently. But definitely in the future.
What don’t I watch!?! Downton Abbey, Shameless, Girls, The Good Wife, The Daily Show, Last Week with John Oliver, Better Call Saul, New Girl, Nashville, The Americans, House of Cards, any new movies On Demand ... In my defense, I spend a lot of time sitting embroidering so while my brain turns to mush my hands keep moving.
Spending too much money on:
Currently working on:
A series of embroidered narratives that are forcing me to examine my life at 56. I became an empty nester this year and I can see 60 from my front yard. This is forcing me to think about the ways life has not turned out as I imagined it would. I’m finding the work therapeutic in giving me closure and giving me a way to say goodbye to things that are no longer. It may sound depressing but I don’t believe the work comes across that way. We will see.
Hoping to learn:
How to make money as an artist.
On Voice and Truth:
I wish I could give a formula for finding voice, but I honestly believe my voice found me. And it took a couple of decades.
It seemed to emerge when after years of “trying on” different voices I finally created a body of work that incorporated so many disparate parts of my life:
-My adolescent love of needle crafts.
-My life as a mother of teenagers.
-My focus on figurative art exploring relationships.
-My love of wordplay from my days as a copywriter.
-My fascination with pop culture and the discovery of Facebook.
It’s like I put them all in a blender and my social media embroideries came out.
I never got a formal art education, but my daughter is getting a BFA so I have an idea now of what I missed. It’s taken me close to 20 years to create the work that feels like “my voice,” and I believe a good art education could've shortened that journey enormously. To be challenged every day by other artists' voices and forced to explore other mediums and study art history would’ve been such a wonderful experience. Yet I also realize that the work I’m doing now could’ve only come from my years of trial and error and my life experiences.
Years ago I made a lot of money doing commissioned paintings for clients of an interior decorator. I would do whatever they wanted to match the living room and go with their decor. As we struggle to pay for college educations, I often wonder why I don’t go back to this lucrative side job. But since I've found my voice, I've come to realize that I'm incapable of not being true to it.
For more of Kathy Halper's work:
Yes, and about that "making money as an artist part," check out Kathy's etsy shop for some little bits of voice that might just reflect your very own: www.kathyhalperdesigns.com.
And for further Awesome Work (of the fine art variety), head to www.kathyhalper.com.
Hey, if you're a Curious Learner type, you'll also like the post Find your teachers: Bren Ahearn.