Non-representational contemporary art. Realistic figure drawing. Contemporary figures art. Contemporary still liife pictures. Colorful women portraits.
Click each image to see similar work, or see hundreds of intriguing and sensuous art works at the artist's GALLERY.
Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco Bay Area, East Bay, northern California





Frequently Asked Questions

answered by the artist, Sharon Hudson




How did you get started in art?
Why do you do so many kinds of art?  Isn't that unusual for an artist?
What objects or feelings most influence your art?
You do many styles in your figure work.  How do you decide which style to use?
What do you think about realistic art, and how does that relate to your figures and portraits?  I am a beginning art student.
Tell me something about your portrait work.
Do you sketch from live models and then create compositions from your sketches later?
Much of your art seems to be about dancers.  Tell me about that, especially "Dancer with Arabesques" in the PORTRAITS OF WOMEN exhibit.
Why did you break your figures up into little squares in "Garden Party" and "Buddha Girl" in the OTHER FIGURES exhibit?  What were your influences, if any, for doing this?
Why do you draw and paint so many female figures?
I'm an amateur artist who is fascinated by the female figure.  I want to get away from copying from photographs, but I don't have access to a live model.  What can I do to improve my figure drawing?
How does your work relate to being a woman or a feminist?
Tell me about your abstract art.
How do you do your puzzle pieces?
How do you choose your colors?
I love the way you use collage, but when I try it, it doesn't work. Can you tell me what collage materials you use, and how you bond them to your backing?
Your "Arabesque" reliefs are so precious; I've never seen anything like them. How did you make them?
Tell me something about your interest in mosaics.
I am a 10th grade student.  I took art this year but my teacher is not very good.  I want to continue studying art but I'll probably get this teacher again.  If I just study independently, how far do you think I will get?
I'm in high school.  How can I develop my own style?  How did you start off and progress to your own style?
At 50+, now I have decided pursue my dream of becoming an artist.  Do you have any pointers for me?
Is there any art instruction book you recommend?
How does your photography relate to your other art?
Why did you decide to photograph mannequins?
I notice that so many of your photographs have some kind of screening or see-through layers in front of the subject, such as a chain link fence. Tell me about this.
Your mirrored image photographs (STRANGE SPACES exhibit) are really remarkable. What inspired you to create them?
How do you do your multiple exposures?
What is your current artistic challenge?
What is the best way to make money from your art?





I have done all kinds of arts and crafts for as long as I can remember.  My parents encouraged me, and one grandfather was a "Sunday painter"; I used to paint with him when I visited his house.  My parents also collected Asian art--mostly sculptural--so art was both available and appreciated in my childhood environment.  I took a few art classes in high school, although my major focus was on college preparation.

I did not decide to study art seriously until my first year in college, when I saw the work of the art majors in my dormitory and decided I could do better.  I declared an art major (later also a psychology major), but I still did not "plan" to become an artist; I just enjoyed it.  In those days (the early 1970s), American college students were more focused on changing themselves and changing the world than on preparing for a lucrative career.

The art department at UC Berkeley where I went to school was dominated by abstract expressionists and I did not fit in there at all.  In fact, I wanted to be a sculptor when I started; I wanted to work with my hands and create something beautiful.  But the department was completely oriented toward conceptual sculpture.  So I studied painting and etching, where we were also not supposed to create anything beautiful, but by taking as many classes as possible from visiting professors who had a different orientation, I managed to work around the prevailing philosophy.

When I graduated from UC Berkeley, I continued to take classes in the local community college system, where I did mostly figure drawing and photography, but also ceramics, printmaking, etc.  Again, I never made a conscious decision to keep doing art or to become an artist; instead, I just never considered NOT doing it.  So my money-making jobs always worked around that priority.

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Why do you do so many kinds of art?  Isn't that unusual for an artist?

Part of what it means to be a fine artist, as opposed to a commercial artist, is that one pursues her/his own vision instead of executing the visions or goals of others.  Non-artists may not experience or even believe this, but the artistic drive to explore one's own changing forms seems to be less of a self-indulgent or stubborn choice than an inavoidable compulsion.  It is an exploration of the self through one's art, and vice versa.  When one stops exploring, one ceases to be an artist and becomes a craftsman.  (Of course, many "artists" are actually craftsmen, many "craftsmen" are artists, and one can be a true artist at almost any activity.)  An artist is an explorer, and one would expect that the exploration would lead in as many different directions as the artist has interests.  I have a lot of interests.

The real question is: Why would any artist be limited to only one or a few styles?  Answer: Some true artists are focused on exploring a few narrow interests.  However, the reason that most artists today have a single "style" is a marketing phenomenon.  A "style" is the artistic form of branding: easy to recognize, easy to predict, easy to advertise, easy to sell.  Therefore, galleries, patrons, and consumers all exert pressure on artists to turn out predictable quantities of look-alike work.  Once a formerly starving artist has experienced the economic benefits of conforming to this pressure, it is hard to resist.  Whether the modern marketplace is more or less dictatorial and constricting for artists than the wealthy patrons of centuries ago is an interesting question.

In either case, art history paints a false picture of individual artists.  In fact, many, if not most or even all, well-known artists have done a variety of art in their explorations, but it is the job of art historians to select and emphasize the work that contributes to a coherent line of personal and/or historical development.  Therefore, all non-conforming work is essentially lost to history.  This leads to the general perception that serious artists single-mindedly pursue a narrow line of work when in fact they are highly explorative.

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What objects or feelings most influence your art?

I love the sensuality of physical objects--their colors, forms, and textures--and have always been surrounded by beautiful things.  So as a child I began by drawing things around the house,  which included Asian antiques and other art objects.  I also created art from my imagination, but I gravitated toward working from physical reality.  This preference remains.  However, I am not a realist; I like to abstract things.  And my compositions tend to come from an abstract photographer's perspective.

Human figures have been one of my favorite subjects.  All my figures and portraits are drawn from live models, but I am not concerned with the models as individuals.  I am not a "people person"; I view human figures primarily as objects.  Thus, even when it comes to portraits and figure drawings, what motivates me is my sensual reaction to the model rather than any sentimental feelings.  This reaction includes enjoying and trying to portray the dynamic and plastic qualities that are part of any living thing, as well as the sensual and erotic shapes and textures of the human figure.

I don't try to express my own "feelings" (emotions) in my art.  Historically and cross-culturally, self-expression has rarely been the purpose of art, even though this has been the focus of art in the West for the past century.  My art obviously reflects my personality, and at times my mood, just like everything that anyone does, but I don't consciously use art as a form of emotional expression.  My artistic goal is elsewhere, and I have no trouble expressing myself through other means.

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You do many styles in your figure work.  How do you decide which style to use?

Four factors primarily determine what "style" I will use in my figure work: the model, the pose, the length of pose, and the media available.  I usually draw my figures in group drawing situations, so I have almost no control over the model, the pose, or the length of pose.  That's probably been a good thing for me, because it has prevented me from overcontrolling things and has forced me to create and adapt with my different styles. 

If the model is muscular, I may take advantage of the interesting flowing shapes and surface detail with a realistic or expressive linear and/or modeled style.  If the model is plump and rounded, I generally like to abstract the discrete forms into flat shapes or lines.  That's the most obvious division, which to some extent follows gender lines.  Then, I usually try to find the most interesting angle on the pose, and one that fits best onto my paper shape.  If the pose is boring, the model's body is boring, or the model's face is especially interesting, I may do a portrait.  If the pose is very short, I will either do a quick loose drawing or portrait, or a broad abstraction to be fully resolved later.  I try to have a large range of media ready to work with, which can be augmented at home, so media is usually not much of a constraint unless I forget to bring something to the session.  However, significant size limits and other physical limitations have already been set by my home work environment, as well as by other factors not especially related to figure drawing.

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What do you think about realistic art, and how does that relate to your figures and portraits?  I am a beginning art student.

As a high school student I felt that what I call "romantic realism"--Michelangelo, 16th and 17th century realism, etc.--was the greatest art.  I think it must be a teenage stage, probably related to that idealistic, sensual, energetic, and romantic stage of life.  Many people continue to prefer romantic realism for the rest of their lives because it is robust and accessible.  Others continue to appreciate it, but don't find it as interesting as other visual art forms in this sophisticated, post-photographic age.

But you have asked a very broad question, because so many things can be defined as "realism." I have no interest in the type of realism in which the viewer is expected to respond in a sentimental way to some more or less real-looking scene, for example, by vicariously inserting himself into a landscape, identifying with or responding to human figures doing or seeing something, etc.  "When I look at this, I can just imagine myself in that cafe": that empathetic response has no artistic interest to me.

On the other hand, I find super- or photo-realism intellectually and sometimes visually interesting, because it is essentially a conversation between reality, art, photography, and the physiology of vision.  To the extent that this adds another layer to a work of art that also has aesthetic compositional interest, it is appealing.  But I don't have to patience to do it myself, and anyway, I am also a photographer, so that urge is satisfied through another media for me.

In my own art, I am always more interested in the artistic elements--composition, color, etc.--than in the subject/object.  Nonetheless, I usually work from objects because I like them, and because having the object allows for a dialogue between reality and art that does not exist in non-objective work.  The art and the object play against each other.  Another reason I like to start from objects is that I'm not very good at simply drawing from my imagination with no physical starting point.  When I get better at it, I may do more of it, because I certainly appreciate good expressive non-objective art.  But for now my non-objective art is more deliberately composed, usually built up from pre-existing pieces, as in my "pattern abstracts." This relieves me of the obligation to create from scratch.

As for my "realistic" figures and portraits, I began that when I set about to do some remedial work on my weak areas in the figure.  I did this not so much because I was interested in drawing realistic figures, but because I have great respect for the physical structure of objects, including figures.  So even though I was abstracting from the figure I still wanted the structural underpinnings to be right.

I also used the portraiture sessions as an opportunity to improve and loosen up my drawing style, which had been very tight.  I wanted to develop an expressive, spontaneous, and fluid line and stroke.  So while the results may look fairly realistic, my real interest was in the sensual use of the media, so some of these "realistic" drawings actually include some of the most expressionistic use of line, etc.  As I said, I am always more interested in the composition and media than in the subject, so even when I create a very "realistic" portrait, I am most interested in the smooth way the pencil flows over the paper, or the contrast between the white paper and the black charcoal, or the interaction between blank space and detail.  That is, the aesthetic elements, not the realistic ones.

To be honest, as an artist, the farther I get from realism, the better I tend to like it, but as a person, I love objects and figures, so I tend to stick to them, but in a sensual way, not a sentimental one.  For example, if I draw a plant, it is because of the shape or some other aesthetic quality, not because I love plants and want to be a gardener.  I like to draw from the figure not because I like people, but because of the sensual forms and the "life" and energy it brings to the act of drawing.

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Tell me something about your portrait work.

My portrait work began simply as a way to improve my figure work.  Having studied the figure only under abstract expressionists, after graduating from college I realized that I had no idea how to draw hands, heads, or feet.  This is because my teachers had always emphasized the "big picture" and looked down on getting bogged down in details like noses and fingers.  Continuing my education in community college under instructors with the same philosophy, I realized that I would have to focus on my weaknesses--hands, heads, and feet--against their wishes, and I did.  After a semester or two of this, I had greatly improved my figure drawing.  This was my first exposure to portraiture, which otherwise I had little interest in because, as I said, I am not a "people person," and because I also find traditional portraiture aesthetically boring.

It was about ten or fifteen years later that I began to see portraits as something that could be interesting artistically and sensually.  It happened that I wanted to learn to draw drapery and to work from longer poses than is common in figure drawing classes.  To do this, I had to enroll in a portrait class, where the models wore clothes and the poses were much longer.  Luckily, the portraiture teacher was outstanding, and I eventually took many classes from her.

In fact, my first class changed the whole course of my work.  I had been working from the figure, quite large and always very boldly, with pastels and sloppy paint.  But now, because of certain practical limitations of the classroom, I was looking around for a new media, and the teacher suggested colored pencil.  Ugh! I thought: How could I work boldly in such a weak and fussy media?!  However, I had nothing else to use right then, so I gave it a try.  I was able to very quickly adapt my expressive, strokey pastel technique to the colored pencil, and with the longer poses, explore the sensual details of the models.  I used various strategies to overcome the problem of achieving color saturation--including prepainting the paper, combining the drawing with collage, etc.  Over time I not only developed the sensitive side of my work (which I had been ignoring), I also developed a completely new, very free and expressionistic drawing technique which has served me very well ever since.

I generally use portrait drawing as an excuse to practice and enjoy my drawing technique.  I also do many portraits from short poses in figure-drawing classes: when I am not inspired by the model's body or the pose, I can still draw the face.  Usually these poses are 20 minutes or less, so these are generally spontaneous free drawings in black and white media like pencil or charcoal.  I also have many portraits on newsprint that were from 5- or 10-minute poses.  Again, these are done to practice a media or drawing style rather than to try to create a likeness.

I don't like to create portraits for clients, and I don't care if my portraits look like the model or not--although they usually do.  Occasionally I have done portraits on demand and had to limit myself to a likeness, and I can do it, but I don't enjoy it much.  I want to be able to go where the drawing takes me rather than being tied to a particular outcome.  My job is to grow and develop as an artist, not to worry about what someone looks like, or worse, what they think they look like, or worse yet, what they wish they looked like.

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Do you sketch from live models and then create compositions from your sketches later?

I do figure drawings in a class situation and then bring them home to finish them, except for the most spontaneous drawings, which I finish in class.  Portraits, or at least the part of the portrait that is most based on the model, I usually finish in class, though I often finish the clothing or the background at home.  Portrait poses range from 20 minutes to 3 hours, so there is plenty of time, with the kind of media I use, to finish from the model some kind of drawing or even painting of the face, hands, or other parts that require the model.

Figure drawing poses tend to be much shorter, so I almost always finish the work at home.  I don't take collage materials to class, though I often draw on a surfaces I have prepared at home.  The danger of working on figures at home is always that one loses the spontaneity and tends to stylize, but I do my best.  In terms of composition, the basic structure is done in class but I complete it at home.  I never copy my sketches, so I'm always using the original drawing from class on the original paper--although I sometimes mount that drawing into a larger work.  From the start, I know I will be turning the drawing into a completed composition, so I always take tht into account in my figure placement when I draw it.  I often start with the figure off to the side, for example, to leave room for something else to interact with the figure.  I did the same thing later with my double-exposure photography.  Often the local environment around the model starts off the composition.  I have donated furniture and plants to my classes so I have interesting elements to draw along with the figure.  Otherwise, I incorporate objects from home.  This is one reason I work in my home instead of in an isolated studio somewhere.

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Much of your art seems to be about dancers.  Tell me about that, especially "Dancer with Arabesques" in the PORTRIATS OF WOMEN exhibit.

For over 20 years I have perceived and participated in a strong relationship between figure drawing and dance.  I have taken various kinds of dance classes (still do), and one year I had to take dance early in the morning before my figure drawing class.  I found that when I got to the art class, I was loose and invigorated.  Both physically and mentally I was in the realm of broad, life-sized motion, and my art became bigger, bolder, and more physical and dynamic than ever before.  I started doing huge works in sloppy paint on the floor while others were nibbling at small drawings at their easels.  Ever since then I have felt the connection between my own body and the joy of bodily motion and the activity of figure-drawing, which is fairly intense in any case.  I usually identify physically with the model's body, feeling my pencil moving over the skin like fingers over a lover, moreso with muscular bodies than rounded ones.  And it's always hard for me to keep my figures enclosed within the confines of my paper because I have the urge to paint life size.

I did "Dancer With Arabesques" in 1994, when I was doing a lot of Matisse-like abstractions from the figure.  I had been working with patterns and collage of decorative papers for about five years, and in 1990 I lived in Japan, where they mix patterns freely in their textiles and also have very rich textiles with lots of gold thread, etc.  So even though this work is much more simplified than many of my works with patterns--with only one large pattern and some borders--I think you can see in it my comfort with pattern, sensuality, and textiles.

All my figures originate with live models, and this started as a nude model.  There was a textile hanging in the background which provided the basic pattern there.  I did several pencil drawings, which I later painted in my studio.  (I often have to finish work without the model, since I don't control the length of the poses and usually don't have time to finish paintings with the live model.  This often results in a kind of stylization or simplification, which I try to use constructively.)  I focused on the model's face (which I liked) and the textile, because the body was lanky and uninteresting to me.  Whether or not this particular model was a dancer, I have no memory (but many models are); that feeling came to me as I worked on the picture, arising from her delicacy and the flowing lines of the textile, and I began to imagine that she was imagining the graceful forms of the dance, as represented by the arabesques.  I was also trying to play the symmetry and static quality of the pose and the peacefulness of the face against the dynamic forms of the background--the dance--with its strong diagonals and flowing lines.  The precise, hard-edged style and formal pattern would seem to make her a ballerina.  One thing you can't see online is the iridescent gold used in the arabesques, which also enlivens the background and makes it more dynamic.

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Why did you break your figures up into little squares in "Garden Party" and "Buddha Girl" in the OTHER FIGURES exhibit?  What were your influences, if any, for doing this?

This is not an original idea with me, since artists from the Cubists to Chuck Close and David Hockney have done it.  My own antecedents are not from painters but from quiltmaking, stained glass, mosaics, and my own photography.  For me, a photograph is more interesting when it has a vibrant stimulation of the surface.  This can be created by "breaking up" the space into small parts through pattern or texture, whose elements visually "vibrate" against each other at the edges and corners.  So I have played with this idea in both photography and art.  That's probably why I like quilts and mosaics.

Since the early 1990s I have been breaking up the surfaces of my pictures, both in my abstract and non-objective pattern works, and in my figure works.  In both cases, the entire surface is flattened and activated through cumulative detail and/or homogenization of scale.  This started in the 1980s, when I began embedding the figure in intricate patterns as a way of intertwining the object and background and and eliminating the distinction between them.  To the extent that my "backgrounds" reflect the thoughts or moods of the figures, cutting the figure and background up into little squares creates a flexible and easy way of melding the figures and "thoughts" together.

I also like to show how objects, atomically speaking, are just temporary, recognizable configurations of energy that emerge from the energy field, which is represented by the "background" patterns.  Sometimes the patterns run through the figure, or the figure and "background" are so similar that the figure seems to coalesce from the surroundings, for example, in "Little Red Riding Hood" in the ARTIST"S COLLECTION, and others.  Sometimes the figure is compositionally connected directly to the edge of the picture in numerous spots.  Regardless of how the connection is made, the visual idea is that the figure is intrinsically embedded in the "web" of the universe.

I also like a sense of movement in my art.  The little squares are not lined up precisely, so they look like they are dancing a little.  And likewise, pieces of the larger image are shifted a little this way or that.  This little bit of "camera shift" does not destroy the object (because I always like the object), but it does say that no object (least of all a live figure) is static; it is always shifting depending on our own viewpoint, movement, etc.  This is similar to analytical Cubism.  So although I don't work in mobile media, I can still achieve a sense of motion.

The final reason for cutting up these figures was purely practical.  I often have artworks that don't turn out as well as I would like, or that I don't finish, but which nonetheless contain lots of interesting color and texture.  Creating these rich colors and textures requires considerable time, labor, and materials.  I don't want to waste that investment, especially since the little scraps of texture I can salvage from these works make visually vibrant components from which to construct new images.  So for the two images you refer to, I "recycled" the good parts of the underlying figure works, and added other textures and imagery to create an interesting sense of mood or place.  Almost all my recent abstract work also contains leftover pieces.  Such art "assemblage" is "modern" with the 20th century, but also as ancient as any art created from found materials.  I think of many of these pieces, especially the ones made from tiny bits, whether figurative or abstract, as "paper mosaics."

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Why do you draw and paint so many female figures?

I paint more women than men mostly because there are more women models than men, and I have to paint the models that exist and that are hired.  I more or less paint them in the proportions they are used in my classes.  Eight or nine out of ten figure models are women; portrait models are more evenly divided.  I also generally prefer the female figure aesthetically, finding their shapes and faces more appealing, so to the extent that I decide when to go to class and how many drawings to do, I favor female figures, especially my favorite models.

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I'm an amateur artist who is fascinated by the female figure.  I want to get away from copying from photographs, but I don't have access to a live model.  What can I do to improve my figure drawing?

That's very difficult.  You're right to know that you shouldn't draw from photographs, except maybe your own, because a photograph has already been filtered by somebody else's artistic sense.  And photographs are lifeless, relatively speaking.

You could try to find some good book on figure drawing, I suppose, but it's hard to imagine that you will ever become good without using a live model on a regular basis.  Do you live somewhere where you have no access to community college art classes, or other figure-drawing sessions?  Could you form a drawing group to share model fees?  Could you do trades with people to model for you, if you can't afford to hire them?  Or use your significant other?  You can also go to the pool or park or beach in hot weather and draw people lying around sunbathing or doing other things where they remain pretty still.  I've done that on occasion, and it's certainly a time-honored tradition!

Otherwise, if you love art as much as female figures, you will probably have to change subject matter.  Don't be fixated on one subject; you might soon become equally inspired by others.  Whatever art you do will improve your art overall, and make your figure work better when you eventually get access to models.  But it seems like you might have to think outside your box and choose another path.  A century after you're dead, art historians might be saying, "He always wanted to draw the female figure, but never could afford a model; that's why all his plants look like women," or ". . . so he just gave up on realism and drew these fantastic creatures from his head." Worse things could happen!

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How does your work relate to being a woman or a feminist?

I don't think it relates much to being a feminist, but I think it is greatly influenced by my being a woman.

To me, one is "feminist" to the extent that s/he believes that women should have rights and opportunities equal to men, and/or behaves in a way that reflects that view.  Of course, equality requires deeper social and psychological changes, like better socialization, self-image, etc., which support the institutional and legal equality.  So of course I'm a feminist; only a masochistic and/or brainwashed woman wouldn't be.  It's a given.

However, I guess because it is a given, I don't think of my art in terms of feminism, any more than I would relate it to my being Caucasian, or 5'4" tall, or having blue eyes or two legs.  I suppose these are all related to my art, but not particularly meaningfully.  Likewise, assuming a just and constructive society where everyone can actualize themselves is an ingrained part of me, and I suppose this attitude comes out in my art just like any other ingrained part of me.  But I don't consciously "express" this any more (or less) than I express any other opinion in my art.  Almost none of my art is deliberately or overtly didactic--a kind of art that I dislike.  But presumably and hopefully every piece carries a "message" through its subject, style, or form that contributes to the psychological health of any viewer and thereby contributes to self-actualization--which is part of the feminist message.

A (male) friend of mine recently pointed out that simply by drawing and painting such a wide range of women, my body of figure work as a whole captures or creates a kind of holistic, universal picture of women in all her aspects.  This variety occurs for several reasons.  First, I generally let the figures dictate the "style" I use rather than imposing a singlular style upon them, which permits the variety of women's shapes and moods to emerge.  Second, I tend to stick to some aesthetic version of the body I actually see, warts and all.  I am always amazed, for example, at how many people think slender models are "fat" because, when relaxed, as artists' models are, human flesh tends to settle into folds and lumps.  Most people haven't seen hundreds of nude human bodies, and except for their own lovers, those they DO see are carefully posed fashion or pornographic models, so they never see this "unattractive" fleshiness, which is simple reality for almost all figures.  Finally, I also don't impose a social or psychological burden upon the figures I draw; I let them express their own personalities.  Many are disarmingly frank, even challenging.  Others may be thoughtful or introverted, but they are rarely coy, charming, or demure as might be desired by some viewers--and even if they are, the figure is still setting the agenda.  Thus in both artistic style and personality, I think the women I draw and paint are able to "speak for themselves."

Next, does being a feminist cause me to draw so many women?  No; I draw so many women mostly because as an artist I prefer to work from women's bodies.  But of course there is a relationship to gender, because women are generally trained, permitted, or inclined to be more expressive with their bodies and faces, which both brings them into modeling and makes them more interesting to draw.  And also, women (and women artists) are allowed and trained to appreciate the beauty of other women--"woman as object"--just like men are.  So I suppose if our culture were one that considered men to be the more beautiful and erotic sex, the majority of artists, and I along with them, might prefer to draw men.  I also draw what is available, and at least 80% of our models are women, which they wouldn't be if women weren't allowed to do that kind of work, or could get better work.  So there's a rather direct connection to women's socially liberated yet economically oppressed condition!

Obviously it would be highly unlikely for a male artist to do art like much of mine, especially my work with collage and patterns.  In general, women are more attuned to the creation of decorative and beautiful objects than men are, and I am not hesitant about prioritizing sensual pleasure in my art.  My sewing background is evident in many works, some of which even include fabrics and sewn elements.  My attraction to rich color and sensual texture in textiles parallels my preferences for these qualities in my art.  Also the inclusion of household objects and plants in my work arises from my attention to my domestic environment, which (people tell me) looks like a work of art..  The "small" job of art--to make life more rich and beautiful--has been out of vogue for several generations now, but I persist with it, because it is the only kind of art that really interests me.  Not that art should be merely "pretty;" my art also has plenty of aesthetic intrigue and philosophical sophistication.

Finally, I think as a female I have had more freedom to become and remain an artist, because I have fewer family, social, and even self expectations to have a financially successful career than I would have had as a male.  Men are probably more likely to leave the arts if they cannot make a living at it, and if they remain, male artists may experience more career ambivalence. 

On the other hand, I think women (especially those with families) still suffer many professional and personal disadvantages in creating successful art careers.  In addition to all the usual gender disadvantages women have in most fields, I think there is one disadvantage that is particular to our expectations of visual artists.  That is, that it may be harder for women to create a "brand," or a consistent, marketable style.  For a major exhibit, for example, one must gather a large number of works of the same style.  If we assume that artists evolve over time, it follows that this body of work needs to be created within a limited time frame.  If women's art production is either slow or constantly interrupted because of lower incomes or domestic responsibilities, her "vision" is likely to change before she can create a substantial body of work of a given type.  She will be perceived as not being dedicated to her vision/style, as being a dabbler, or diletante.  But of course, this is all about capitalism (and later, historiography), not art.

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Tell me about your abstract art.

Since most people use the term "abstract" to refer both to art that is abstracted from the subject and to art that has no subject all, I have used the term to refer to both on my website.  However, the latter is technically called "non-objective" or "non-representational" art.  And there is no clear dividing line between them.  On my website, I use the title PATTERN ABSTRACT to refer to a particular kind of non-objective art that has a philosophical goal represented through patterns.  I lump all my other abstract and non-objective art together in the ABSTRACT exhibit. Almost all my art is abstracted to some extent, but I will assume you are referring to the work in the two abstract exhibits.

Frankly, creating non-objective art from scratch is difficult for me.  As I said, I prefer to work from physical objects, not from my imagination.  It's too open-ended! Here's a blank surface: why should I put a line here instead of there; why should I start with yellow instead of blue?  Nonetheless, I am good with color and composition, so I can create good non-objective works of art.  But it's always a struggle, always an accident, always difficult.  I feel that I never know what I am doing or why.  But I have also learned that if I just keep working long enough, whatever is on the paper or canvas can eventually be manipulated into something good.  So I just keep going until it comes together--even if that means chopping it into pieces and reassembling it twenty years later!

For me, it's always easier to have something to work from; then it's just a matter of altering, adding, subtracting, or manipulating what's already there.  This is probably why I like photography, too: it is subtractive rather than additive.  Using collage is also a way of limiting possibilities, at least to some extent--that is, one is at least limited to the range of available materials.

The pattern abstracts are more a creation of design than of imagination, and they often spring from existing materials.  Here I more or less know what I am doing--in a general sense, that is, because I never know what any individual work will finally look like.  Although I don't approach each work so intentionally, again, as in much of my figure work, the result is to represent the web of the universe, the interrelationships of parts.  The "big picture" is created from a myriad of small complex, often irregular elements, which coalesce into the structured "forms" that human beings define.  As with fractals, the microcosm, which is any part of the picture when viewed from up close, should be as complete and interesting as the macrocosm, which is the composition when viewed from a distance.  And further, this macrocosm may be a microcosm of another, larger universe.

The pattern abstracts arose out of my experimental and abstract photography of patterns and layered images.  They reflect my interest in combining the deliberate with the serendipitous, the rational with the irrational, symmetry with randomness, building layer upon layer until an aesthetic and spiritual gestalt is reached.  This process is painful and time-consuming (collage is technically and physically tedious and messy), but eventually satisfying.  For me, at this point, it's all about trying to reconcile--within a single work of art--my rational and controlling side, which creates harmony, beauty, and balance, with my spontaneous and expressive side, which adds texture, emotion, and vitality to the work.  The result expresses "the divine irregularity of the universe."

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How do you do your puzzle pieces?

The works in the PATTERN ABSTRACT exhibit (including puzzles) are the hardest to see online because the amount of detail, especially combined with brilliant color, is not compatible with file compression. It's a shame, because they are incredibly rich and nuanced when you see them in person. Sigh.

The puzzle pieces arise from my interest in combining random and structured elements.  They are done in different ways, but the random aspects come from painting or otherwise treating the pieces while not assembled, so I have no idea where the pieces will be in relation to each other in the finished piece.  Then I assemble the puzzle and add more things to create the structured elements.  Sometimes there are several assemblies and re-assemblies and partial assemblies.

Different puzzles have different characteristics. In complexity, puzzles range from simple children's puzzles with huge pieces to difficult jigsaw puzzles with huge numbers of tiny pieces. Cheap puzzles have "cookie-cutter" pieces that are very uniform, lined up in evident straight rows and columns. Others hide their structure more effectively with more irregular and varied piece shapes, and a few don't even have a grid structure. Achieving something approaching a visually random distribution of actually random events requires a puzzle of about 300 pieces. Of course, the investment of time rises along with the number of pieces and the difficulty of the puzzle. There is no reason to use a difficult puzzle with tiny pieces, and every reason not to; I never go over 300 pieces.

Technically and physically, puzzle pieces pose many problems.  I generally paint on the opposite side from the original puzzle picture, so I can use the original picture later to guide the assembly.  I seal the puzzle with an acrylic medium before painting.  There are considerable physical problems; for example, the media often gets onto the edges of the pieces and make them hard to assemble or disassemble; I often have to scrape down the edges with a knife.  And then there are the usual mixed-media and permanency problems--the "fat over lean" rule, etc.--that are common to all mixed media.

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How do you choose your colors?

When I draw or paint from the figure, I seem to be very sensitive to the undertones in people's coloring, and also the color that comes from reflected light around them, so I just exaggerate those different colors that I see.  For example, in some areas the skin is thin and there are veins near the surface, and those areas tend to be bluish; on the other hand, elbows, knees, and knuckles tend to be ruddy, etc.  Sometimes people think I just make those colors up, but I really see them.  In addition, there is always deliberate artistic input by the time the piece is finished.  For example, I like to make hair an intense color like black or red because that helps draw attention to the face.

In my more stylized art, such as the decorative figures or still lifes, I tend to intensify the color that is there--like an existing pattern or object--or just make up color designs as I go.  But I always like to start with something, so in collages it is often a particular decorative paper that I want to use; then I work my own controllable painted colors around that.  Other times I start with whatever paint I had left over from the last picture.  Or maybe I just do the opposite of what is expected, like painting a figure green instead of pink.  When I can't decide what color to put somewhere, I find it often works to reverse what is already there--if the area is light blue and that isn't working, try dark orange.  That's bound to set the piece off in an unexpeced direction!  Of course, this is risky when one is near the completion of a work, because by that time the basic layout of value, intensity, and even hue are already locked in, unless one is prepared to redo the entire work--which I have done on many an occasion!

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I love the way you use collage, but when I try it, it doesn't work. Can you tell me what collage materials you use, and how you bond them to your backing?

I use Japanese decorative ("mingei") papers (which I got cheap in Japan but cost a lot over here), American wrapping papers, marbled and other decorative papers, wallpapers, and rice and mulberry-type papers (which are translucent in collage).  I fade-test samples through sun exposure; if they fade, I either pre-fade the entire sheets before use, or I don't use them in my art.  All papers have their own characteristics, but I like the Japanese mingei best because they almost never fade, and when wet, they get stretchy and pliable but remain very strong.  At this point, I have a huge supply of different papers.  I also frequently use scraps from other artworks, and I sometimes use non-fading fabrics.

I use water-based, artist quality, permanent, non-acidic adhesives: the traditional YES paste and modern acrylic mediums.  Each has advantages and disadvantages, and you can use both in the same collage.

YES paste is cheaper and much easier to use than acrylic mediums because it is very tacky, dries slowly, and you can clean up stray paste with water at any time after it dries.  With YES paste, if you want to remove a collage piece, you can usually lift it off after soaking it from the top.  YES paste is the best for gluing large surfaces or any other job that takes time for positioning.  You can thin YES paste to any consistency; I usually have both unthinned and slightly thinned glue handy.

The main disadvantage of YES paste is that it is resoluble after drying.  Although things glued with YES paste will not lift again if the paper is thick, or if you just do a quick overpaste with a glue that is not too watery (or overpainting with paint that is not too watery), I try not to use it if there are likely to be many more collage layers on top, because the underlayers might become saturated and come loose.  In addition, if you have some YES paste on the surface and you start painting over it with water-based paints, it can turn into a sticky mess.  YES paste is also very brittle when dry, so don't use it if you have to bend something later.

When I intend to have multiple collage layers (especially with thin papers), I usually use some kind of acrylic medium for glue--anything from thin glazing medium to thick modeling paste.  I think they're all about the same thing, just varying in viscosity and gloss, but you want something that is not cloudy when dry.  These media are not formulated as adhesives, so they lack tack and work best with thin papers, which they can quickly saturate.  I suggest wearing surgical gloves when using these acrylic media; they are very hard to wash off your hands when dry, and over time your skin can develop reactions to them.

I keep a spray bottle of water handy to pre-wet some things and to re-wet other things; this helps keep the paste moist when gluing large surfaces.  I also use a hairdryer to dry things quickly.  And I have weights on hand (old irons, anvils, etc.) to weigh down small areas as the glue dries; this is more necessary for the thinner, less tacky acrylic mediums than for YES paste.  You need boards and heavy weights for mounting large surfaces.  Collage is very messy and takes a lot of room.

You have to start with a pretty sturdy substrate, at least a heavy paper if not matboard or something similar.  If you anticipate having to mount the piece to keep it flat, do it before you have covered it with irregular textures.  Mounting is a skill in itself, which you can read about in books on art techniques, conservation, or picture framing.  When pasting large areas, you must be familiar with how paper stretches, expands, and contracts; this is something I also learned as a professional picture framer, from books, and from experience.

Many of my artworks use irregularly shaped and/or torn pieces, but when I need a definite shape or line, I call on my sewing experience.  Like cutting a dress from a pattern, I trace the shape on tracing paper, pin the tracing paper to my collage paper, and cut on my line through both layers.  If pinholes are a problem, use another temporary tacking method.

To apply pressure to the bond, I cover the piece I am gluing with paper (usually tracing or wax paper), and rub it with a rag or another piece of paper; this reduces the friction.  If the papers are flat, I use an ink roller, or even a rolling pin for a large surface.  Also use a wax paper cover if you have to weigh down pieces while drying.  As you apply pressure, glue will leak out around the edges, so you have to have a damp rag handy to clean up--right away if using a fast-drying acrylic medium.  Even though it is transparent, the glue changes the gloss of the surface.  You don't have to worry so much about cleanup if you plan to "homogenize" the entire surface at the end by applying a final glazing of acrylic medium: matte, satin, or gloss.

If your bond develops air bubbles and you don't notice until the glue is dry, you can often slit the surface or backing with a razor and slip some wet glue underneath.  Another technique involves injecting paste with a hypodermic needle, but I have never done this because until recently it was very hard to get hypodermic needles.  With YES paste you might be able to adhere the spot with a warm iron, but be sure not to dent or "polish" the surface.  In any case, you have to make a tiny hole to let the air out.

I usually use other media along with collage.  You can underpaint to create color under translucent papers, or overpaint, or add pastel or other media.  The thing to know is what sticks to what: "fat over lean," etc.  Some surfaces resist water-based paste and the paste just beads up.  When in doubt, rough up the resisting surface with sandpaper or steel wool.  I also sometimes use sandpaper to feather an edge from the back if I don't want an abrupt edge; you can also tear paper to get a feathered edge.  All these and many other little tricks you will learn from experience.

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Your "Arabesque" reliefs are so precious; I've never seen anything like them. How did you make them?

These small wall plaques arose from my lifelong interest in pattern, texture, and bas-relief, and my experience with ceramics, sculpture, and textile arts.  I chose to work with molded casting plaster because of its versatility, workability, and speed. 

I first created individual molds of textures and designs by pressing found objects into oil-based modeling clay.  These individual molds were then cut to shape, usually based on a predetermined pattern.  I then assembled these components into the larger compositions which, when surrounded by a temporary "wall" to hold in the plaster, become the final molds for the finished pieces.  Casting plaster was poured into the molds to a thickness of between 1/4 and 1/2 inch, and allowed to harden.  Untreated casting plaster is soft, so at this time I did any necessary finishing work, including carving, filing, sanding, and steel-wooling.  I then warmed the plaques and soaked them in thinned linseed oil; after two soakings, the plaster had sucked the oil in to a depth of about 1/8 inch.  When dry, this oil-impregnated plaster is very strong, with a tough and durable surface. 

The painting process was lengthy, especially since each layer had to dry for one or more days before the next.  Each plaque may have a dozen major applications of color; most also include areas of gold bronzing powder.  I used regular artist's oil paints, starting with a thin coating rubbed into every cranny of the surface.  I then used brushes and rags of various hardnesses and differing amounts of pressure to apply and remove paint from different depths of the relief.  The last major applications of color were made with a brayer, also using differing pressures to deposit more or less paint.  Finally came some spot detailing.  The goal was to achieve a harmony of color and detail throughout the piece without losing the unique energy of each area.

The final stage was framing.  The frames came from a variety of sources, but all were specially constructed since I did not want the usual overlapping lip.  Therefore, when I used regular picture molding, I turned it on its side.  In other cases, I made my own molding from picture moldings or decorative moldings obtained at the hardware store.  These hand-made moldings were painted similarly to the plaques.

These works should be displayed in a location where they can both be studied from up close and viewed from a distance, since as one moves away from the piece, the patchwork of detail unites into a harmonic whole.  In addition, as sculptural works, and also because of the varying glossiness of the painted surface, their appearance changes dramatically in different lights.  And finally, since they will not be damaged by moderate moisture or temperature changes, or even an infrequent mild washing, they may be safely displayed in problematic areas such as bathrooms. 

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Tell me something about your interest in mosiacs.

My mosaics are a continuation of the "paper mosaics" that I began in the mid 1990s, and the small, colorful, plaster relief sculptures that I did around year 2000.  These plaster reliefs are highly ornate and sensual pieces composed of many embossed textures.  The paper mosaics began with non-objective mixed media works of complex patterns made of scraps of different art materials, including reflective materials that change with the light.  Later I applied the same technique to more representational images.  My mixed media wall relief art works using fabric and sewing also cross the boundary between sculpture and flat art.  All these reflect my longstanding interest in relief art and its close relative, mosaic, especially Hindu, Assyrian, Greek, and Mayan relief sculpture and Islamic mosaics. 

Recently I transitioned into true mosaics, having obtained more studio and storage space, as well as a stockpile of mosaic materials, which is necessary for this medium.  I focus on creating abstract or non-objective designs made from broken china and other re-used objects.  I choose to avoid representational mosaics because I do not want to start with a "picture" of reality and then try to "execute" it in mosaic.  Though a mosaic might be more luscious and tactile than most other media, replicating reality would be tedious, time-consuming, expensive, and no different in concept from creating representational art in any other medium.  Instead, I prefer to let the medium dictate the form, and to use broken china and other found objects rather than tessarae, tiles, or glass specifically made for rendering mosaic.  The transformation of an object created for one purpose into part of another object adds interest, surprise, and sometimes humor to the final art work.  There is a huge investment of time in mosaic work, so simply replicating what can be done in other, more flexible, media seems silly.

Creating mosaics from broken china is much more time-consuming and difficult that creating a mosaic from materials especially created for mosaic or tile work.  This is because the pieces are irregular, different thicknesses, and not flat on the back, which makes fastening them to the substrate and dealing with the transitions/joints especially troublesome.  However, I believe that the added visual and mental intrigue is worth the annoyance, and that the irregularity adds to the unpredictability and life to the final product.  And with non-objective designs, the idiosyncratic materials are better able to dictate the direction of the mosaic.

The luscious surface texture is the most vibrant and vital part of mosaics made from irregular pieces.  It is critical that the mosaic be displayed in a place where the light will dance off the mosaic in different ways as one moves around the room, revealing the ins and outs and rich glossiness of the surface.  In this way, mosaics are very dynamic.  This is the opposite of most other art, for which glare is something to be avoided.  On a practical note, a mosaic can be hung in a place where other art works might be obscured by glare.

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I am a 10th grade student.  I took art this year but my teacher is not very good.  I want to continue studying art but I'll probably get this teacher again.  If I just study independently, how far do you think I will get?

I'm sorry to hear that your art teacher is not very inspiring, but that's not unusual.  Luckily, you don't need to take art in high school.  My advice is to take any subject where the teacher is inspiring, because at your age what you learn about any particular subject is less important than the quality of teaching, the teacher's enthusiasm, personal mentoring and example, and your inspiration to keep learning.  You will always be able to do art later.  A bad teacher might even turn you off, which happens sometimes and would be too bad.

Although I have done art since I was a young child, and I had an art class or two in junior high and high school, I didn't declare an art major until my second year of college.  Even then, I had a double major.  There's no rush at your age.

Just do art on your own time for a while until you get a good teacher.  At college maybe.  Or at a community college or some other type of lesson.  I would not recommend trying to study completely on your own for very long if you are serious.  There's a lot to learn, just like with any subject.  You need to acquire knowledge, skills, ideas, and inspiration from those more experienced than you.  Of course, you don't necessarily have to learn in a traditional Western educational environment; if you are interested by the art of another culture or some other activity that you might someday incorporate into your art, you could study with some non-traditional "teacher" in a non-traditional environment. However, at some point you should have a solid technical and historical foundation if you want to be a serious artist.  Unless you are a once-in-a-century genius, anyway.

Even though I have decades of experience at art, and no longer directly learn much from all but a few teachers, I always try to take classes and surround myself with others; it's helpful to motivate me, raise my energy level, and give me some focused time for a certain number of hours per week.  Working with others makes you take art seriously, and also you need the feedback; even if others don't give you direct feedback, you will feed back to yourself when you compare what you are doing with what others are doing.  It is difficult for most people to be serious about art just working on their own.  And don't underestimate the value and possibility of finding a really good teacher, a mentor.  One of my mentors for the past decade or so has been a former photography teacher of mine.  Your mentor doesn't have to be in art, because being an artist is as much about developing yourself psychologically and spiritually as developing a particular skill or style.

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I'm in high school.  How can I develop my own style?  How did you start off and progress to your own style?

The obsession with developing a "style" is a pet peeve of mine.  My advice is not to worry about it; style should grow organically rather than being artificially created.  Your style automatically forms with your character, personality, and experience.  On the other hand, if you want to be a commercial success, rather than a true artist that is always changing, you will be pressured to have one style and stick with it, because you will have to be marketed as a "brand"--i.e.  style.

Well, there is so much to say about how to learn to be an artist.  For starters, know yourself.  You will quickly find out what your strengths are as an artist; they will soon become your weaknesses.  My original strength was my accurate draftsmanship; it set me aside from others who lacked this ability.  It took me years to get away from it and develop the expressive, free drawing style that people now think came naturally to me.  Far from it.  My natural inclination is toward tightness and stilted rationality.  But I developed techniques to work around my natural inclinations. I can still draw on my draftsmanship and perfectionism if I want, but I am not constrained by it.  Experiment courageously and your art and your character will develop in a healthy way and become more integrated in parallel.

Here is the usual artistic progression as I see it:

First people draw what they think, or think they know; this is an unschooled or child's schematic drawing.  The sky is blue; grass is green; Daddy is taller than Mommy; breasts are round; etc.  This form of representation is natural and spontaneous for the developing human brain, and it is called "naive," but it presents the visual world based on mental categorizations, stereotypes, and abstractions.

Then, by studying with good teachers, developing artists learn to ignore what they think they know, and learn to draw what they see; this is what you go to school for.  You learn to draw what the figure or anything else actually looks like, not what you think it looks like.  You learn perspective, foreshortening.  There are all kinds of colors in skin.  Shadows may be purple or blue or red.  Objects don't have lines around them.  Etc.  So it's a form of realism, but ironically, painting entirely from your eye and not your mind would ultimately lead to an idiosyncratic and unpredictable result.  Because definition, selection, isolation, prioritization, and focus--which make things look identifiable and "realistic" to us--are all effects of the mind, not the eye or the physical world.  However, most artists do not delve into the purely visual realm to that extent.

Instead, next, in this culture, artists usually go on to express what they feel, whether that is based on what they see and know, or freed from it.  They utilize abstraction, expressionism, and narration.  Or, this stage might be to express what you want in purely visual terms, in the sense of being free enough not to self-censure, and not to express what somebody else wants, and being aware enough to know the difference.  (Personally, I tend to express what I want on a sensual level rather than what I feel on an emotional level.)  However, there is always the tension between your own aesthetic standards and the expectations of the audience, if you ever hope to have an audience.  So you must plug into the shared symbolic vocabulary of your culture or of humanity.  If you just express what you feel or want without doing this, others will not understand your work or respond as you intend or hope. 

A lot of modern artists get stuck in self-expression, which is rather self-indulgent.  Throughout history and across cultures, most visual art has not been an individual and emotional quest, but a spiritual and cultural expression.  Was Rembrandt consciously trying to express himself?  I doubt it.  He was trying to deeply represent his subject with his media.  Likewise, in my opinion, Van Gogh and most others.  Kandinsky was attempting to represent music.  Goya tried to reflect the horrors of war.  Until recently the reflection of the artist was an unavoidable by-product, not a goal.

Finally, people express what they have come to understand or realize, which is a kind of deep, spiritually holistic "knowledge."  But expressing something of value here depends on a lifetime of experience and self-examination as much as on artistic skill.  Remember, you have to have content as well as style.

That's why at your age you should find teachers that fill you with curiosity and excitement about life and help you develop your character, because ultimately that is what will make you the best artist.  If you have an integrated maturity, along with some creative talent, you could probably start creating art at any age and reasonably quickly develop a meaningful art form.

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At 50+, now I have decided pursue my dream of becoming an artist.  Do you have any pointers for me?

Even though most visual artists are loners, I recommend that you take classes or work with a group, for example, at a community college, especially if you can find a good teacher.  This will raise your energy level, give you ideas, force you to work if you tend to be "lazy," and allow you a designated time and place to work if you have a hard time escaping from the multiple responsibilities that fill the life of an older person.

Even if the teacher isn't that good, most adult classes have a wide variety of students, some of whom have been artists for many years, and you can always learn from them, just by observing if nothing else.  If you are only in your 50s, you might find that you are far from the oldest person in your drawing or sculpture or ceramics classes.  The greater the mix, the better.  Also, take your classes "pass/not pass"; you don't need any degrees or extra pressure at your age.  Although there are exceptions, generally avoid classes created especially for senior citizens; you don't need to hang around with hobbyists if you want to be a serious artist.  You might consider taking figure drawing even if that is not your goal.  Figure-drawing classes, if done right, are always energetic because you have only seconds or minutes to do a drawing.  Indecision is out!  Action is in!  So figure drawing will raise your physical energy, encourage you to draw boldly, and may have an impact on your whole approach to life.

After that, my advice to an older person would be a little different than to a younger one.  To the extent that art has a component of personal character, maturity, and vision in it, the older person is at an advantage, because these are already quite developed.  The process of "finding yourself" may be drastically shortened.  There are many cases in which a wonderful and mature art form seems to spring full blown from an older person with almost no training, because their vision has been percolating for decades, just waiting to emerge.  And there may be a huge backlog of pent-up desire as well.  If that is the case, you may wish to move toward your vision quickly and focus your learning time mostly on those particular skills that will help you execute your ideas.

Otherwise, if you don't have any ideas dying to emerge, my general advice would be the same as that for a younger person, except maybe to expedite the process somewhat.  After you have several years of basic training under your belt, then I would advise you to do two things.  First, do whatever you can to get out of your comfort zone; force yourself to do things that go against your nature.  If you like to work small, make yourself work big; if you like detail, force yourself to work with a coarse brush.  Do anything to free yourself up and get yourself out of your own box.  Whatever you really want to do, or whatever comes naturally to you, spend half your time doing exactly the opposite (at least for a while).  And second, work in media outside your main media--ceramics, printmaking, anything.  Your media in large part determines your style and possibilities, so try many different media, especially the ones you don't think you would like.

Also, quantity counts.  Because quantity is experience.  If you have six hours of figure drawing per week, you should be turning out about 40 drawings a week (including gesture drawings); about 90% will be throw-aways, but they all help.  You will learn ten times as much as the student who spends the entire class trying to perfect one work.

And finally, if you are timid and afraid to start: loosen up; let go; work big; use cheap paper; and be serious but don't worry.  And sometimes, don't be serious!

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Is there any art instruction book you recommend?

Not really.  It's hard to learn to do art from a book, but its great to get inspired from books and exposure to art of all kinds.  For myself, I mostly refer to coffee-table books of the great artists or artists I like, or to books on some related subject like textiles, quilts, architecture, ceramics, patterns, etc.  Although there particular situations in which working from photographs is suitable (especially your own photographs), generally speaking one should avoid copying too much from photographs if reality is available.  Even worse would be drawing from another person's illustration.

That being said, when artists work from the figure or a landscape or some other subject that they lose access to before the painting is complete, as is the case whenever I finish a figure work at home after starting it in an art class, they probably have to resort to some kind of reference material insofar as they want the picture to be realistic.  It is a well-kept secret that many famous artists have "copied" from photographs since the earliest days of photography.  I clip and save pictures of people with interesting faces, or in different kinds of unusual poses, etc. from magazines, including sex magazines, advertisements, etc.  I take or collect pictures of plants, furniture, animals, and anything else I think I might incorporate into a picture someday.  I have large files of these pictures for reference. 

I haven't used many instruction books, except on technical matters like perspective, anatomy, art materials, or picture conservation.  For technical information, books are an excellent resource, and you can learn useful things about how to use various media.  But if you are talking about learning a style, most art teachers would look down on learning to draw or paint from almost any book--with good reason.  Why would you want to start from someone else's interpretation of reality? 

However, one that I do find helpful (although most art teachers hate it) is Dynamic Figure Drawing by Burne Hogarth.  Looking beyond the style, he provides a direct, workmanlike approach to the structure of the body (with useful tips on proportion, perspective, etc.), how to visualize and manipulate it in space, and how to make your drawings look realistic.  Again, however, I don't use it for "instruction" so much as visual reference: he shows the body in so many unusual and dynamic positions, from unusual angles, that when I am stuck on how to draw some part of the body from some perspective, I can almost always find it somewhere in his book.  I frequently can't find equally useful reference pictures in men's magazines, for example, because of the limitations of their poses.

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How does your photography relate to your other art?

It's all the same to me, just different media.  I work with the same ingredients--—composition, color, texture, pattern, dimensional ambiguity.  The subject matter is not as interesting to me as the aesthetics.

Please go to www.sharon-hudson.pixels.com to see my photography. Prints and other products using my images, such as tote bags, pillows, and mugs, are available.  

The mannequin photographs are essentially the same as my decorative figure paintings and collages, although the mannequins tend to be clothed and head-and-shoulders shots. 
My "Mixed Emulsions" photographs are essentially the same as many of my "pattern abstract" collages.
I am a big fan of "pure" photography, especially black and white, with its incredible tonal smoothness and depth, and did some of that when I had a darkroom.  I still have hundreds of black and white negatives I have not yet worked on.  But for me a good black and white photograph requires incredibly rich forms, which are not so easy to find.  I also tend to like perfect focus, fine detail, and other forms of technical perfection in black and white photographs.  In general you can't get the best results with small negatives or file sizes.

However, I also love color, and color photography is another way of "painting."  It's a little frustrating that color film is so limited in its range of values (light to dark), but I adapted to it fairly easily because my painting and collage work also tends to be flat, or flattish.  So I don't mind choosing flattish photography subjects, and if they're not flat, I make them flat.  When it comes to technical aspects, like focus and grain and detail in the highlights and shadows, the perfectionist side of me wins out sometimes, and other times I think to myself, "In a painting it's perfectly acceptable to see brushstrokes and fuzzy edges, and completely undefined areas, and large areas of black or white, so why should a photograph be any different?  There's nothing sacred about it; it's just another way of creating an image." 

In fact, my whole attitude about photography changed several decades ago when I saw a photograph in which the film grain was a very prominent textural element.  So grain can be like brushstrokes. Any manipulations that can be done in Photoshop are just more tools to create images. For example, photographs don't usually have much in the way of lines. Lines are one of my favorite compositional elements, so sometimes I use filters to add them in Photoshop. I don't have any purist philosophy that limits my image manipulations. I am creating art photos, not documentary photos, so I use Photoshop to do things like removing litter or straightening perspective, but I'm not trying to "fool" people into thinking what they see is "real."

I was attracted to the overlapping patterns of the original photograph at left, but it was too confusing and not interesting enough. By manipulating it, I could add color and line, and make it a bit more attractive and readable.

At this point, I can no longer find a clear dividing line between "art" and "photography," or between a "photograph" or "artwork" and a "digital image."  One may start with a photograph of something real and end up with a digital image that is completely unreal.  Or I may photograph something that is unrecognizable as a real-world object.  Or I may scan an object--is this a photograph?  Or I may scan one of my art works and digitally manipulate it.  And of course the opposite--the use of photography in art collages--has been commonplace for a century.

I have always thought of photography as analytical, both because it involves carefully selecting images from the environment based on some criteria, and also because the process itself is technically demanding-- coordinating the exposure, the lens, the filter, the focus, the shutter speed, the depth of field, etc.  (It's also pretty physically demanding--lots of walking, carrying heavy gear, in the heat, etc.)  Painting is synthetic, creating something from materials available, and much more relaxing.  I am about equally drawn to each of these two mental activities, analyzing and creating.  So when I don't feel particularly "creative," I can still go out and take pictures and exercise the more analytical part of my brain.  On the other hand, if I don't feel like concentrating heavily or taking a long walk, and just want to have fun, I can do art work.

When it comes to working with the photographs after they are taken, the power and speed of experimenting with and then executing different ideas on digital images in Photoshop is very exciting.  But it's a completely different experience of artistic creation than making art by hand.  In part because it is so fast, creating an image in Photoshop becomes a highly intellectual and analytical process rather than a physical or synthetic one.  That is, the number of "decisions per minute" is enormous, and total concentration is necessary.  In addition, it is physically unhealthy to sit for hours, tense, staring.  And there isn't even a physical product at the end of the process.  Creating art "the old fashioned way," on the other hand, permits many hours of free-floating consciousness, provides some physical exercise, and generates a tangible product.  "Decisions per minute" and accompanying stress are low, because you make a decision and then it takes some time to execute it, and this is —relaxing, contemplative time.  For me I think the sensual pleasure and meditative frame of mind of creating art by hand is healthier and more satisfying, both physically and psychologically, than creating intangible images on a computer.

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Why did you decide to photograph mannequins?

I had been doing figure drawing and painting for several decades, so when I became more serious about photography, mannequins were just another version of the human figure.  They are more interesting to me artistically than real people, because they are already abstracted and simplified, so they are the idea of a person rather than a real person.  When you see a photograph of a person (as opposed to a painting, which is also abstracted), there is too much tendency to ask, "Who is this person? What are they doing? Where are they?"  That is, the picture is almost always narrative.  With a mannequin, there are no such questions; although it arouses our interest to the extent that it looks human, it's just a mannequin.  It permits people to just see the figure as an object embedded in the aesthetic, dimensional, or symbolic elements of the picture.  It makes the photograph much more like traditional painting or drawing, and the figure and the "background" can interact just like they do in my figure paintings.  Although when the mannequins are very lifelike, as some of the better quality ones are, that adds another layer of ambiguity to the image.

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I notice that so many of your photographs have some kind of screening or see-through layers in front of the subject, such as a chain link fence.  Tell me about this.

Oh, yes!  People used to ask me if I carried around a piece of chain link fence to put in front of the things I wanted to photograph!  Well, I didn't actually do that, but it did surprise me once when someone suggested that most people might not want to buy a photograph of a chain link fence.  Really?  But chain link fences are so interesting!  Seriously, look at them: They are static because of their regularity and obvious horizontal-vertical grid, yet dynamic in their diagonals.  They are cold and rigid, yet consist of sensual wires with organic twists at the joints.  And most importantly, they cast lively, fabulous shadows, varying with the shape of what they are cast upon.  I try to find places where the fence or other foreground "veil" interacts with the thing behind it in a visually interesting way.  It's the same as with much of my other art--the interplay of two and three dimensions.  For example, if the fence and the "background/subject" are both in sharp focus, then they meld together into a two-dimensional design.  But the melding itself is visually odd, because in real life the human eye can't see foreground and background in focus at the same time; that can only happen in a photograph or painting.  Again, it's all about playing with space.  And about creating an unreality (artwork) out of reality (the object photographed).  And, of course, there's a little philosophy in there, too: There's a veil between us and the reality over there.  How clearly can we actually see?  What is the reality and what is part of the veil? 

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Your mirrored image photographs (STRANGE SPACES exhibit) are really remarkable.  What inspired you to create them?

Something remarkable almost always happens when you mirror an image around the vertical axis.  I imagine this is because bilateral symmetry on the vertical axis is about as old as animal life on Earth, and certainly it is the first thing we see when we pop out of the womb and take a look at the faces peering down at us, and we continue to see it in our parents, who are our giant providers and protectors.  So I think an instinctive reverence for this form is somehow evolutionarily embedded in our psyche.  It is certainly the case that in every culture I know of, bilateral symmetry is a feature of sacred spaces.  It is a very powerful form, with associations that are both organic and spiritual.  Quadrilateral symmetry contains the associations of bilateral symmetry, but becomes more of a visual exploration of the idea of "the center."  Entering a center is also a powerful experience.

The "Beam Me Up" series is composed from my photos of Korean Buddhist temples.  I can't remember why I first decided to composite these images, but once I began, I realized that the complex dimensionality of the space, with it's deep shadows and strong perspectives, created very intriguing spaces, made even more fantastic by the endless patterns.

For the "Plasticity" series, I had some old negatives I had taken of a piece of melted scrap plastic; it had no symmetry or aesthetic coherence in itself, but the fluid texture and the almost superorganic forms were irresistible.  I couldn't find anything to do with my negatives until Photoshop came along and made it easy to mirror the images.  Adding bilateral symmetry doubled down on the organic, voluptuous qualities of the original object, resulting in pictures that seem like they must be some kind of real creature!

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How do you do your multiple exposures?

Almost all my composite images consist of or begin with in-camera double exposures.  I did most of this long before I started using Photoshop, long before digital cameras.  So I had to shoot a roll of film, carefully rewind it, reload it aligning the frames by marks I had made when I first loaded the film, and shoot the second exposure.  I used color-positive (slide) film.  I spent several years doing this, so I knew how to modify my ASA settings and so forth.  On my first roll, the pairing of the two images in the frame was totally random, because I didn't think to keep track of what I had on my first exposures when I shot my second exposures.  Nonetheless, about six of the 36 pictures were "keepers."  The most exciting part for me was the luminous, other-worldly colors that result from double exposure, unlike anything you usually get in photography--more like painting.  This inspired me to keep going.

Aiming for a better success rate than six out of 36, I developed a system for keeping track of what kind of image I had taken on the first exposure, and where in the frame any "subject" was.  I divided each frame into a grid of nine sections (3 x 3) to record location.  I divided my "content" into three categories (based on my philosophy of photography): subject, texture, and color, all of which I would hope to have in my final photograph.  Then I would note, for example, that I had a not-very-colorful subject in the three left-hand sections, and that the rest of the frame was dark, with little texture.  Then on the second exposure, I would try to place another subject somewhere in the remaining sections, and add texture and color to the image.  Or maybe I would shoot some colorful texture on the first exposure, and try to follow up with an interesting subject on the second.  I never wrote down the actual images that I took (e.g, "water lily" or "mannequin" or "yellow daisies") because a very important aspect of the process was that the composite images would be serendipitous; I didn't want to be consciously looking for a second image that would "go with" the first image.  I tend to be too controlling as an artist, so the more chance I can introduce into the project, the better.  But film was expensive, so even though I didn't want to know what my paired images were going to be, I also didn't want to end up with two subjects sitting on top of each other.

I also created a stockpile of overexposed color and texture images that I could sandwich (mount two slides together) with the double exposures.  Other than that, for several years I had no way of editing (improving) the images after taking them, but a few years later I got a good slide scanner, and I was able to improve my original double exposures by modifying contrast, colors, etc. in Photoshop.  I am also able to take some of my old double exposures which, although not acceptable as stand-alone photographs, are good raw material, and composite them with other images in Photoshop.  I am still using images from those old days.  Examples of the in-camera double exposures with very little editing (from the MANNEQUINS exhibit at www.sharon-hudson.pixels, com) are "Snoe Whyte," "Diamond Face," "Two Women," and "Morning Glory."  Examples of Photoshop composites (but also using double-exposures) are "Boa Ties," "You Wait Here," and "Rescue Me."  Can you tell the difference?  A few images, like "Hermes" and "Mannequin with Leaves and Letters" are heavily manipulated double exposures.

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What is your current artistic challenge?

Like life, art is a constant struggle between control and abandon.  It's easy for me to be completely controlled in a realistic still life, for example, and relatively abandoned in an expressive portrait; the challenge is to put it together within a single work.  Reconciling the structure and the surface, so to speak.  The Apollonian and the Dionysian;  the ordered and the random;  the universal and the individual.  All the apparent dualities. To create a coherent and integrated whole.

Right now I have moved into broken-china mosaics, which is technically very challenging.  For example, it is not possible to redo significant areas of the piece, or add new things later.  You cannot hang the art on the wall or stand it on an easel and get back from it and look at it for a while.  For mosaics that hang on the wall, you cannot work too large, because they will become too heavy, yet the component pieces cannot be too small, for ease of assembly.  Therefore, the ratio of piece/component size to overall size is strictly limited, constraining the design.  Given these and many other constraints, and the fact that I don't want to work from a preconceived design, I am working out a design and assembly methodology that somehow doesn't require "fixing" too much, or even effectively studying the emerging mosaic as I go along!  So, in terms of a concrete challenge, it is to incorporate and reconcile all the dualities of the previous paragraph in this new medium.

I once heard the following Native American proverb: "Ride your greatest pony into your greatest fear."  This saying was aimed at the warrior, but also applies to life and to art.  It describes a balance between security and risk.  It reminds us to identify and rely upon those things that are our known strengths, which give us our courage and self-confidence, at those times when we ride into our next challenge or area of insecurity.  In other words, take advantage of what you do well, your best resources--your greatest pony--but move beyond them into new territory--your fear.  If you do not do this on a regular basis, you are not growing as an artist or a person. 

When you look at a work of art--yours or someone else's--if it is good, you can always see the pony; which is what is done expertly.  The question is, can you also see the fear, or the courage?  Can you see where the artist took a risk, tried something new, tested a boundary?  If you cannot see this in your own art on a regular basis--not in every work, but frequently--if you cannot see the new territory when you look at your art, or do not experience any fear as you create it, then you are merely repeating yourself.  So pushing my own boundaries is always my challenge, and also the reason that the consistent, which means safe, "style" demanded by the market is antithetical to any real growth as an artist.

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What is the best way to make money from your art?

Well, I guess that depends on what you mean by "best" and by "art." I believe that the "best" way to make money from your art (though not the most reliable or lucrative) is to have rich friends or acquaintances, who have rich friends and acquaintances, all of whom want to buy art.  Then you don't have to worry about painting to some dealer's expectations.  The public likes to buy from people they know, and will generally buy a greater variety of art than dealers are willing to take a risk on.  How you collect the rich friends I'll leave up to you; let me know when you find out!

If you are more interested in the money than the "art," then you can "paint to the market," or become a commercial artist. You may be lucky and find that people want to pay you for doing exactly what you want to do. However, if maintaining your audience prevents you from growing and changing your art, you are no longer a fine artist, by definition.  Once you get into a commercial niche, you probably won't be able to get out of it for both economic and psychological reasons.  It is hard to walk away from "success." But if you want to be an artist who continues to grow and explore, don't count on any income from your art.  It may happen, but don't give up your day job.

It's difficult to sell fine art in the United States.  Generally speaking, our culture does not value visual art.  In addition, the rising cost of living (especially housing and medical care) relative to salaries certainly cuts into spending money.  But the primary problem with selling art seems to be the mechanics of the marketplace.  There are quite a few people with enough money and taste to buy original art, but the gallery system is the only conduit by which they can access it.  The galleries of course double the price, which is difficult for clients who are not wealthy, because art is labor-intensive and therefore costly enough even when purchased straight from the artist.  So this eliminates a large number of middle-class clients.  Meanwhile, galleries like to cater to the very wealthy, who are generally looking mostly for status and investment value in art by well-known artists.  Relatively few galleries cater to the middle group who want good quality original art, but who are not interested in art that costs $20,000.

So there's a significant audience that cannot access the art they want through galleries, and they seem to be frequenting venues like outdoor shows and art fairs.  There has also been a huge renaissance in the crafts (glass, ceramics, textiles, etc.), while "fine art" has for the past 50 years moved away from what most people want to live with.  So high-end craft galleries are now getting a lot of the money that might otherwise be spent on wall art.  And high-end craft galleries almost never carry wall art of the same high quality as their three-dimensional pieces, for reasons that are somewhat mysterious, but this also eliminates a possible marketplace for both artists and buyers.

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2021