The executive director of the Maryhill Art Museum, Colleen Scrafroth, encourage my art business class to define our own success. Maybe success is getting a show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Maybe it’s making enough money to live. Maybe it’s a day in your studio, painting. The latter was how one of my classmates defined her success. She loves the process of painting, and it makes her happy. That is success to her.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I love painting in large part because it’s a challenge. It makes me think constantly. It’s analysis and decision. And often in all of that it’s really joyful. And often in all of that it’s really frustrating. I began thinking about my mental state while painting in terms of this classmate’s definition of success and I want it to be more of the second.
So March’s painting a day* has a new twist for me. I’m going to try and use the exercise not just as a way to get into my studio but to begin to teach myself a new discipline within my studio: That of happiness.
It’s strange how just a little shift of focus can change how you see.
*I missed two days in a row due to auction crazy. Auction was a success (and a 17 hour work day) and now I’m back into a more regular schedule. March on!
This interview is part of the Creative Catalyst Artist Interview Series and was originally published in 2012.
Oil and Acrylic painter Michele Usibelli loved art from an early age. Her training as an architect student at the University of Washington gave her what she calls the "fundamental groundwork for drawing." Usibelli also clearly loves to travel, and she is inspired by the light and shapes she sees on these adventures and brings them to her canvas.
1. How do you think studying architecture helped you as an artist?
Architecture gave me the fundamental groundwork for drawing. An artist is only as strong as his or her ability to draw. The technical drawing that I had in architecture has built the groundwork for my cityscapes and street scenes. Without a clear understanding of vanishing points, perspective and other elements of design, executing a well planned scene is extremely difficult.
2. You have been strongly influenced by several artists. How important it is to have influences when you're learning?How did you incorporate their influential elements and make them your own?
I think being influenced and connecting with other artists who you admire is a necessity. When I first began painting I was enamored with the color palette of Sydney Laurence and the brushwork of Nicolai Fechin. I spent hours studying their artworks, paying attention to their use of color, composition, brushstrokes and paint application. This exercise helped me see my paintings in a different way. Its important to take those elements that inspire and and apply them to your own style, making it your own unique voice. You don't want to merely copy.
I am very competitive with myself and set my goals and standards very high for what I one day hope to accomplish with my art and the message I want to send to my collectors. One way to do this is through my galleries that represent my work. When looking at potential galleries I take the long term approach, knowing that a decision may not come right away and it may take a while. I also firmly believe that it is my job to make sure that I interview the gallery to see if I am a good and they meet my expectations; do they greet customers as they enter the gallery in a courteous and attentive manner, is the gallery staff approachable and friendly, do they love my work. If they love my work they will be excited to sell my work! It is important to do your homework, research the gallery before you approach them, make sure that your work compliments the other artists being represented by the gallery and follow closely their submission guidelines, don't show up unannounced and expect them to meet with you.
4. How long have you considered yourself an oil painter? Was it the moment you discovered the medium or did it take years of study before you felt ready to identify as such? I have had years of drawing classes but only began painting 12 years ago when I picked up a brush and tried oils for the first time. I immediately fell in love with the medium and identified myself as an oil painter almost immediately.
5. How do you decide what to paint? What is it you are looking for in a subject and how do you know when you've found it?
I love to paint all subject matter from figurative to still life, landscapes to portraits. The common theme that carries though my artwork is my attraction the the play of light through the scene. This play of light against dark and warm against cool is what inspires me to begin a painting.
6. How does your approach change or your goals change when painting different subject matters?
My approach really stays consistent regardless of subject matter because I view each painting as a compilation of shapes and values, not subjects. I really view each piece as a series of color spots and if you look closely at my work you will see that is how I apply the paint.
I don't have a very long attention span and tend to get distracted quite easily. My average is 2-3 days on a simple composition up to one week on a more complex composition. I will do preliminary sketches for a more intricate painting and I have usually spent a few days working the drawing out in my head before I begin to paint. To learn more about artist Michele Usibelli, visit her website, micheleusibelli.com
A painting a day has jump started march for me. In five days I have completed (ish) five paintings. I have earned a ton about my paints and I’m learning more about color. It’s forcing me to paint on nights where normally I’d go to bed at 7PM. (Not from sadness but from actually moving tables all day at work. : )
However, there is a sort of awkward side of it as well. Paintings are not a one-a-day endeavor. At least for me they aren’t. Paintings take time and thought. They aren’t hurried. They are the opposite of hurried. Painting a day, however, is hurried. It creates a bit of internal stress. I can feel myself yelling, “You don’t have time to think about this. Just put a damn color down.” I’m not spending the necessary time in the thumbnail and sketching stage. (There is no thumbnail or sketching phase for a painting a day.) With limited time, it’s just all energy into painting.
So again, there are 300 reasons why this is PERFECT for me...for the short term. For March. And then I need to take what I’ve learned and slow down. Be thoughtful.
The other awkward part of it is that even when I’m focusing on a painting, not all paintings come out. I have hundreds of painting in my studio that will never make it to the walls of this blog because they aren’t good enough. With a painting a day, I don’t have that luxury to pick and choose. Maybe if I created 5 paintings a day, I would like one enough to post...but that luxury is gone when you’re just trying to meet a daily check mark.
We are T- minus 3 days from the biggest fundraiser of the year at work, and I'm feeling the stress. I'm eating like a 17-year-old boy and not sleeping much. Now I have a sore throat and I'm pretty sure it's all the diet soda I'm drinking right before my 1AM bedtime.
That's a long way of saying that the painting a day challenge is really serving its purpose because I would not have painted at all today had I not had this goal. The same would have probably been true yesterday as well.
I got home around 10PM tonight with a painting needing to be finished (er, started). I walked in the door and jumped on it. Because I didn't have the time I normally have, I decided to approach it with mainly collage. I took a background I had painted yesterday and started cutting out shapes from papers I've painted over the course of the last few paintings. And then I got mediuming down.
So when I say painting, it's meant loosely. I didn't actually do any painting tonight except the bit of titanium white I put behind a flower to make it not as transparent. But it was a fun approach.
Next steps for this painting: Stamp in a purply dark brown along the bottom. Maybe (maybe) paint n a flower or two...although looking at the piece that might be risky. I do, however, think this is a good candidate for some additional layering with either clear gel or crackle paste.
In today's painting, I added some collage. I love collage but if you're not careful, it changes the feel of a piece pretty significantly. It creates a different, much harder, kind of line, and now that I have it in, I need to try and reign in back. There is also a bit of a fight between subtle and overt. The photo doesn't show some of the layering affects I have working through the piece, but i think because I decided to add strong line to one of the flowers, I've boxed myself in so that I need to a piece with fewer subtle shifts.
I'm heading back into my day job for an evening of work, so I can let it sit and think about it again tomorrow.