The Myth of the Artist can take loom so large that it often seems impossible to grasp. How will we ever get there? Is it even possible in this modern age? And yet artists are living productive, fantastic lives every day and in every manner. This is what I find so compelling about these Sunday Salons -- reading, in the artists' own words, how they are making their artistic dreams reality and realizing that each and every one of us can accomplish the same things.
Today it is my great pleasure to sit down with Jo-Ann Sanborn, an extremely talented artist living on Marco Island in South Florida.
Jo-Ann, you once told me, "I'm sixty, and although I always had a painting going, it took a move to Florida in my late forties and responding to my love, the Everglades, to call myself an artist." For many people, this is often an intimidating step to label themselves as "artists." What do you think was the turning point for you, when you realized you could have a successful artistic career?
I've always had a painting going since I was very young. I studied art seriously in my 20's taking "foundation" classes part time while I raised kids, and studied with other painters. I've had the basics, and taken some great workshops over time, but life took me other places before painting came first. When I moved to Florida I fell in love with the landscape and it became my muse and my mission. I began to paint every day and to sell my work.
When the first painting I showed publicly in Florida sold, I was elated, but still didn't think of myself as a real artist. I was working hard but without a degree I worried about credibility. Only after I received a "Best in Show" award did I have the confidence to call myself an artist. I'm teaching now and that helps me feel professional too.
Success is many things to many people. To me it is when someone tells me that I have opened their eyes to the beauty and mystery of the Everglades. What more could an artist want than to change the way someone sees something! It is also rewarding for me when someone wants to purchase one of my paintings. To me, each and every sale means that my work touched someone enough for them to want to live with it and I'm very honored by this.
Your recent blog entry invited your clients to visit your studio by boat: "Call ahead, and I'll give you directions from the Jolley Bridge. You can pull up to the dock, have a cool drink on the patio and come into the studio and see my newest work!" How exotic and romantic, I can see the clients lined up right now, and I want to join them! What is essential for you in your studio? Can you tell us a little about the way you have arranged the space and how you work?
December Morning @ Jo-Ann Sanborn
So far, no takers on the boat visit! My husband and I live on beautiful Marco Island, truly a paradise. It's a small, densely populated island, but just a few miles away you can be in complete wilderness. Much of the island is built on a series of man-made canals, and we are fortunate to have one of these in our backyard. My second bedroom studio is on the water side, and for light we've added a sliding door leading to an outdoor patio. If I'm in the studio and hear a splash I'll hurry out to see what's going on. Sometimes it might be a school of fish, a dolphin or a manatee swimming by. And the sunsets are fantastic.
As far as equipment, we've converted the closet with shelves for my supplies, and I've hung a see-through plastic shoe bag over the back of the door for my paint supply. My large easel is in the middle of the room, with a "microwave cart" for my palette, water, and other equipment. There's also a futon couch, because the room doubles as a guest room when the grandkids come to visit. We do a number of outdoor shows in the season, so I'm always dragging stuff in and out. I do most of my larger work in the summer when it's quiet here.
There's a bulletin board with lots of bits of everything. Posted are things that catch my eye, postcards or pictures from other artists, one to remind me to be colorful, another to remind me to be conscious of design, another with colors that rest the soul. There are also things from friends, like two old ladies kicking up their heels as they head out for a swim, a nice piece of fabric and a small sign that says "Imagine". There are words that I might cut out, things like "Truth not flair". You know, the things that you collect and are precious but maybe just only to you. The paintings are floor to ceiling, too. That's humbling because the longer they hang the more I realize each might be made just a little bit better, and I sometimes take one off the wall and add a touch of paint here and there. Some days I long for more space and a larger studio, and other days wouldn't give it up for anything!
You draw your inspiration from a sense of place, your beloved Everglades. For the novice painter, what would you tell them regarding finding an inspiration? How important is it to discover an emotional connection to the subject of your work?
I feel a connection to the Everglades because they are a wonderful, mystical land that will show you some special delight of nature each time you visit. This land is one of the valuable "systems" of our earth. The water from the heavy summer rains move slowly to the gulf in all directions carrying nutrients to nourish the land and animals. This river of slowly moving water is only inches above the coral rock base. The mangrove fringes at the edges become the fish nursery for the Gulf of Mexico, Florida Bay, and to some extent the southern Atlantic. Everything is prickly, bitey and hot and not very friendly to humans. Environmentally this valuable land should be protected and left untouched, but the hand of man is everywhere. I am one of the first artists since the legendary Highwaymen to interpret this landscape in a unique way. It is my great pleasure when someone tells me they are seeing the Everglades in another way because of my paintings.
As far as inspiration, let your heart lead the way for you. If you are open to it, your own inspiration will find you. It's sort of like love, you can't force it. If you are fortunate enough to have a subject choose you, go with it! When you become intrigued with something, investigate it with your whole art spirit. While technique and skill are important, an artist cannot do their best work when the emotional connection isn't there.
What is the appeal of plein air painting for you?
Back Country @ Jo-Ann Sanborn
I spend a lot of time painting outside, and have learned so much from observation. The land and the sky never disappoint with their beauty. Familiarity with your subject is a necessary part of being a landscape artist, just like a portrait painter must come to know their subject for the best paintings. Investigation and understanding are a part of any good relationship, and only when you go deeper than the first pass can you truly challenge yourself to express in another's voice. It's a great privilege to speak for the land.
That said, sometimes I get lost in the reality of a scene and the painting suffers. I'll often finish a plein air painting in the studio to be free enough to find the magic that originally drew me to that site. Then again, too long in the studio and I must get back outside to see for myself what nature is offering!
I greatly admire the combination of color and composition that I see in your work Can you describe the thinking process as you work out your ideas? Where do you start? How does the painting develop?
I start every painting on a canvas toned with a warm dark. This takes all the fear out of a clean white surface and it's the way I was taught to begin forty years ago. There is always something in the south Florida landscape just begging to be painted. It could be the way the morning sky looks dressed in pinks or the way a palm shows itself yellow against a blue background. I paint directly without drawing, and start by finding my darks, and then some lights, with very broad strokes and a large brush at first. I work between the light and dark, building the painting almost like a sculpture. It's intuitive at first, and takes me about 1/2 an hour "in the zone" to get the painting to emerge from the canvas in a very rough way. This process of blocking in the major masses this way is called frottie or forttis. I can usually tell at that time whether the painting will work compositionally or not, and if not, it's easy to wipe off and correct. Then comes the modeling of the forms, determining where the light is coming from, ensuring its consistency, and providing the perspective that allows you to feel the space. It's important that a strong sense of place emerges, that it is an exact place I can take you to.
Once this process is working well, I change my focus to the canvas itself and am no longer concerned with what is "out there," but more with what's on the surface of my canvas. I adjust the "color conversation" happening on the canvas, and make any enhancements to the major forms. My process is also a process of working to the light, and I love the symbolism of that.
You work in acrylic, and achieve a very painterly surface. Do you have any favorite tricks for keeping your painted surfaces from drying too quickly? Do you ever use other mediums, such as watercolor or oil?
Rosey Glow @ Jo-Ann Sanborn
Acrylics are my medium of choice on a daily basis even with the challenges they present. A few drops of Liquitex Flow Aid in my water and a Masterson Palette with a sponge in the bottom really help to keep the paint workable while outside in the breeze. I use a water spray on the paints and sometimes on the canvas. I paint very thinly, and almost dry brush, so the layers of color are built up slowly and gain a nice richness. Generally I don't use mediums and additives, but will experiment from time to time.
Acrylics are a modern and environmentally safer medium, and will last without the yellowing and cracking that plague older oils. We spent a month in a small Tuscan village a couple years ago and I took a selection of pastels and painted buildings. A nice change, but I was happy to get back to the acrylics!
I met Jo-Ann on-line, through a Daily Painters discussion group. I admired her work greatly, and when I put out a request for artists over the age of fifty to contact me, I was thrilled when she responded.
Don't you just love her turn of phrase..."adjust the color conversation"..."Truth not flair"..."things that are precious but maybe just to you"... In fact, all of the distinctive voices of the artists who have participated in these Sunday Salons have been such an inspiration to me, and I hope to others as well. Thank you!
Jo-Ann's work has been featured on the covers of several magazines and on television. She is a member of the National Association of Women Artists and Women Artist Professionals, as well as other arts organizations. You can see more of her work at www.joannsanborndaily.com and www.sunshinestudios.net , the website she shares with her sculptor husband, Robert Frettoloso.