Gloria Aitken is an artist and mother living and working in Jacksonville, Florida. Having the opportunity to travel to the area allowed me (Kirra) to meet with Gloria in person to chat about her work. We met at Word Revolt Gallery where her work was displayed along with that of several other women artists in a show titled Stronger Together. A self taught artist, Gloria’s work is filled with nuance, vibrancy, and emotion mixed with a sense of larger than life stories that transport the viewer to dreamlike spaces.
Can you tell us about your field/work and how you became involved in that field/career?
I am a stay-at-home mom and self-taught artist and graphic designer. Art has just always been something I have enjoyed. I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. My mom is an artist and she instilled a love for that in me at a very young age. In the past few years, I have begun to take that love to a professional level. I have met people locally that have really pushed me in the right direction. It has been a blessing to find a community that supports me and also to have a husband who is very supportive of my career.
How do you define success in your own life?
For me, success is having the freedom to create work that I love and to have that work be accessible to the masses. It is less about monetary gain and more about sharing my work with as many people as possible. I feel I have been successful with my art when I see someone truly enjoy what I have created, when I see a piece take on meaning for someone else.
What is your success story? What brought you to this point in your career?
I feel like as a woman, and even just as an artist, it can be extremely difficult to label yourself as successful. We get caught up comparing ourselves to everyone else. She makes more money than I do. His work is better. You can’t let those comparisons downplay the successes that you have already accomplished. This is something that I worried about when preparing for this interview. Am I really successful? I think in certain aspects, I definitely am. I see myself as being in the early stages of success and every piece I create is another step forward. Just a few years ago, I was doing nothing with my talent. I would create because I could, because I always had, not because I wanted to. I wasn’t sharing my art. Working like that was not fulfilling at all. Then, I moved to Jacksonville. The art community here is thriving compared to anywhere I have lived before. I started attending art walks and other events and networking with other artists. They said “Hey you need to be out here with us.” Just having that little bit of encouragement from someone who was already doing what I wanted to do was a huge motivation. Now I make time to do 3-4 events a month and just had my first true gallery exhibition. That may not seem like much to most, but for a full-time mom and fibromyalgia sufferer, I feel it is a huge success.
What advice would you give another woman entering into your field?
I guess my advice here would be for mothers. I have two very young daughters that take up so much of my time. It is very easy to lose yourself to motherhood and forget that you need to take care of yourself too. It is easy to fall prey to guilt when you take time to do the things you enjoy, but it is good for you. You have to make time to do the things you are passionate about. It may require early mornings and late nights, but it is worth it. Get your kids involved in your process every now and then. I often paint alongside my three year old. I ask her opinion on what I am working on, which usually involves adding something pink. The three pieces I created for the Stronger Together exhibition were made while breastfeeding my three month old. It is definitely not easy, but the fulfillment is worth it.
What advice would you give to another woman who was seeking a life she deemed as successful?
It really simply boils down to doing what makes you happy. Work for yourself and not for someone else. And, don’t be afraid to say no if the work doesn’t suit you. If you aren’t going to be happy working, the quality of your work will reflect that.
Has being a woman affected your success? If so, in what way and how have you dealt with this?
Most recently, it has afforded my the opportunity to work alongside other wonderful women in my community. When Carmen Cay approached me with the idea to put on a show for women called Stronger Together, I jumped at the chance. Her concept was to break through the boundaries of competition that we often put on ourselves and build each other up instead. We had the opening reception recently and it was a fantastic experience. I got to know several other very talented women and we hope to organize similar shows in the future to continue to build support in our community.
What is the most important lesson you have learned thus far?
Do what scares you. I am a naturally introverted person. Being out at events and interacting with hundreds of people terrifies me. The thought of being interviewed is equally as scary, but here I am. I have found it is often the things that scare you that offer the greatest reward.
Tell us about your creative process.
I typically draw my inspiration from feminine beauty, nature, and mythology. Once I am struck with an idea, I read up on symbolism of certain aspects I plan to add. I study the properties of the flowers and plants I wish to include. I want everything to mesh and for the overall piece to embody a certain emotion or action. I find that my work is very cyclical in that the colors that I use or the themes that are put forth tend to coincide with the seasons.
To begin my work, I search for reference images. Depending on the details of the piece, this can be as few as 3 or as many as 30. I start with a very rough under-drawing in pencil. I then paint over that and use different techniques to bring forth interesting textures. Once that layer is dry, it is time for the line work. This is the most time consuming part of my process. I love the way it tightens up the piece and it has really become an earmark for my style.
Photographs ©Tracy Hutton
Artwork ©Gloria Aitken