Interview with Kelly Sheridan


Can you tell us about your process/work?

My process typically begins out of the studio. I get ideas for artwork when I’m outside usually. When I’m riding my road bike or on a hike I have a lot of time to think without outside distractions. My thoughts go on for a longer period of time and I’m really able to follow an idea all the way through to it’s core. A lot of times when I’m on my bike I have to stop and write down ideas in my phone so I won’t forget them. Then I have room in my brain to keep thinking without being worried about forgetting what I wanted to remember!

For almost every painting I make I use a photo reference. This is because most of the time I am inspired by a place and things that I see there. I mostly reference my own photos when I’m painting. Sometimes it’s a more imagined landscape so I reference a lot of different photos so that I have an idea of how to paint what I want. I do this especially when I’m painting something specific like a plant or a body part. I also orchestrate my own photos if I have a particular pose in mind and then I work from that. So, most of the inspiration for my work is from seeing and feeling what a place is like but I almost never paint it exactly as I see it. I interpret it and change it in a way that convey the message that I want the image to have.


Where do you feel your creativity derives from?

As with many traits, I think that creativity can come from a mix of nature and nurture.  I was very lucky to grow up in the household that I did. My mom is a full time watercolor painter and her mother (my grandmother) was also a full time watercolor painter. A lot of members of my family are creative in fine arts, music, sculpture, composing, building etc. even if it’s not their full time careers. When I was young, we had a “play room” in our house that was for me and my two younger sisters. In there we had a piano, collage materials, paper dolls, drawing paper, paints, pastels, markers, sewing supplies, yarn, and beads. We had everything we could have possibly wanted to make art. We also had a tv and a bunch of barbies, so we did normal things too! My mom taught watercolor classes as well as silk painting, glass painting, and jewelry classes. We would go with her to her classes and we saw her work as a successful artist from a very young age. She was so encouraging of us making art. When I decided to study art in college, I never had any resistance or doubt from my parents like many kids do. They let me know that I needed to work hard, have a financial plan, and a career post-graduation but they never doubted my choice. That’s the nurture aspect of my artistic development. I recognize that I was very fortunate to be supported in so many ways.

As for the nature aspect of my creativity, I never felt pressure to make art because my mom liked it. I always loved it. I was consistently drawing, painting, weaving, sewing, building my way through grade school because it I genuinely wanted to spend my time doing it. I was listening to Cheryl Strayed’s podcast, Dear Sugar, recently and she explained the balance of nature and nurture so beautifully. She said that you can have all the recourses and support in front of you but they are of no help unless you use them. You still have to do the work.Opportunities themselves don’t give you much unless you give in to the opportunities. This is kind a pretty accurate description of how I grew up as a budding artist in an artistic family.


Do you have a mantra or ritual that carries throughout your daily life?

Show up. It’s a cheesy expression but if you want to be successful in any endeavor you have to show up and try. It was Albert Einstein who said, “You never fail until you stop trying.” This is so true. In art (and everything) you have to be ferocious in your practice if you want to be successful. There are hundreds of thousands  of people who want to be successful. There are less who really really  try to be successful. The 10,000 hour rule is no lie! I try to keep that in mind everyday. If I’m not working on my making art, coming up with ideas, or analyzing art then I will remain at the level that I am at not and won’t progress any further.


What does success mean to you?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. I think that social media has really changed a lot about how we view success. On the top level, you could measure your success off of how many followers you have. That’s trivial but social media is a numbers game in many ways. Below that there are a lot of underlying indicators of success on social media including material wealth, health, self image, humor, and confidence. I do use social media a lot to promote my art business. In that realm you can see examples of artists who sell a lot of work, have gallery connections, and who are full time artists. That can be hard sometimes because you see the things you want for yourself very clearly in other people. We all know that behind the scenes it’s not so clear. You can either see those things you want and create a goal to work for them or you can be disheartened by them. It’s a choice.

If I’m very honest about what success means to me, it would look like me supporting myself with my artwork while feeling a strong sense of satisfaction and drive working everyday on art. Success would mean being really passionate about discovering and investigating new ways to create and express my artistic message. It’s a vague picture of success because I think it could manifest itself in ways that I don’t even know about yet.


What are you working on?  How do you feel creativity plays a role in the work that you do?

It’s hard for me to find an aspect of my life that is not influenced by creative energy. Starting with the more formal jobs or projects I have I am a painter, I create commissioned art, I run an online gallery called Upturned Gallery, and I’m also a high school art teacher. Those are the “roles” I have.

I am most passionate about being a painter and investigating ideas without a lot of outside influence, although I really enjoy my other roles, too. I try to diversify the types of art projects I am working on. In fact, I don’t even have to try I always have multiple paintings or series going on at the same time. Right now I am working on a series of contemporary landscape paintings that are a commentary on global warming, a series of paintings of every mountain range in the US, a historical post card illustration project with a feminist spin., and a historical book illustration project that also fas a feminist spin on a book called “Oh Mary, Be Careful!” by George Weston.


What project are you most inspired by right now?

Oh Mary, Be Careful is really recapturing my interest right now. The project began in Fall of 2016 and I took a break from it for a few months and now I am back at it. It began when I was in a antique store looking for old postcards. I was looking through some books and came across a 100 year old book called “Oh Mary, Be Careful!” by George Weston published in 1917. The premise of the book is that a woman named Mary Meacham is faced with a decision when her wealthy Aunt Myra dies. Aunt Myra wants Mary to remain single all her life because she says men are horrible brutes. She says in her will that Mary can either marry a man and get no inheritance or live alone all keep all the money. If she decides to marry, all the money will be donated to the,  “Penobscot Home for Feeble-Minded Girls.” Mary is very beautiful and has a lot of horrible suitors and has a lot of trouble finding a man. I’m not going to give away the ending, you’ll have to see my finished book for that!

So, when I skimmed through this book I just immediately has the idea for an art piece. I paint on and illustrate every page of the book. On most pages I isolate a portion of the text so that it’s still visible and that informs how I will illustrate the page. It’s a wonderful book to paint in because it’s an old book so the paper is thick and holds up well to paint.  I do create a visual story that relates to the text some of the time and sometimes I paint something abstract or metaphoric. I don’t really have a recipe or plan for the book. I am working from the front to the back of the book and coming up with ideas as I go.


What about the book spoke to you?

I think that this book and this idea are so enticing to me right now because I realize how little some things have changed since 1917 for women. This is not to discount women’s rights activists or suffragettes but a lot of issues are still relevant now that were relevant in the early 1900’s when this book was written.

For example, throughout the book Mary worries about the balance between partnership and finances. She has to decide at some point whether she values financial independence or not. She also deals with expectations for marriage throughout the book. She is so gorgeous that everyone doesn’t understand why she isn’t married yet. I think that the correlation between physical appearance and desirability to potential partners is really emphasized in the US. There are always storylines in shows about either the “perfect couple” who are both beautiful. On that same note, there are a lot of plot lines about partners who have markedly different levels of beauty. As a movie would put it, the ugly one and the hot one. This puts a lot of pressure on all genders to be physically appealing.

On top of physical beauty, Mary’s age is referenced frequently when talking about her single status. They worry that she’s getting old and won’t ever marry. Again, I think that might still be a fear that some men and women have today. Age and appearance are such a big part of the narrative for women. If women are older and unmarried, they are called spinsters. If men are older and unmarried, they are called bachelors. By and large, I think that in 2017 we are much more open-minded with what marriage and partnership means. There are so many more alternatives for partnership now as opposed to 1917.   It would be foolish to say that this old notion of marriage is not part of our culture though. I wouldn’t be surprised at all  if I heard a woman or one of my friends for that matter talking about how they not pretty enough or young enough to be pursued. Being pursued should not be our main goal in life.


How do you engage with the idea of femininity in the book and in your life?

The fact that I am working on this book literally 100 years after it was published seems special and important to me. My art in the book is pretty contemporary and sometimes racy. It’s an interesting time to be working on a project about family, gender, and societal expectations. I like that I am a woman working on a book about women that was written by a man. It feels right to me. Not all of my work is feminist or related to my gender but like I said, the idea for this project came to me immediately so I think that I was meant to pursue it. I relate a lot with the character Mary in the book on a broad scale of what it means to be a woman in a relationship. It makes me think about my relationship with myself, with family, with strangers, and with romantic partners. What you perceive the text and the paintings to be is partly a reflection of yourself.


What are some important lessons or learnings you would like to share with those reading this?

If something interests you, pursue it. I don’t worry about consistency in my work too much. I follow the ideas that are exciting to me so I have a lot projects that have very different styles, formats, and meanings. That’s okay with me. Life isn’t about branding, it’s about learning and growing. I think that following your interests is a much better expression that following your passion. The word passion feels monumental and salient. Following your interests may lead you to a passion you never knew about. For example, if you are a really great surfer but are interested in making pastries or computer programming, try them out. They may not be your passion ever but you will either end up appreciating surfing even more or finding a new pursuit you love as well.


Instagram: @kellyannsheridanart

Facebook: @kellyannsheridanartwork




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