New Mexico mixed media Artist Annie O’Brien Gonzales was always drawing. As a kid she would cover school reports will illustrations and wanted to be an illustrator. But growing up in the 80s, the space race was on and she was encouraged to take what she thought was a more practical job instead of art school: Nursing school. But after a few years of working in nursing, Gonzalez went back to art school.
Learn more about Annie O’Brien Gonzalez in her two DVD workshops, Expressive Still Lifes: Mixed Media Workhopand Expressive Abstracts: Mixed Media Painting Workshop.
How do you divide your time? I read that you work a 9-5 work day. How much of that is spent on marketing or writing versus working in your sketchbooks or painting?
Like a lot of women I had other careers and priorities before I was able to paint full-time. In addition to being a Mom, I was first a nurse practitioner and then an academic for many years and only did artistic pursuits part-time. As a result, I’ve learned to be a pretty good time manager and “juggler.”
My husband and I are both morning people so we are usually up by 5 AM. I do some emails and a little writing in the morning, then walk the dog before I go to the studio. I try to be in my studio which is away from my home by 9 or so. I turn on the music and concentrate only on painting all morning and usually I’m working on several pieces that are at different stages.
After lunch, I will either keep painting or maybe do some more mundane but necessary things like varnishing, painting edges, etc.
You have amazing inspiration sketchbooks. Why are sketchbooks important to you? How do you use them?
I developed my sketchbook idea or what I call in the book “Painting Notes” as a way to capture all of the fleeting bits of inspiration that I encounter every day. I have found that since I have been a full-time artist the last 11 years the sparks of ideas just grow and grow. I’m convinced it’s a part of your brain that tunes in the more you use it.
I needed a way to capture the ideas as they pop up so I started recording them in sketchbooks through notes, lists, magazine clippings, color swatches, etc. I took a cue also from a trend called Bullet Journaling, which I find really helpful. As I’ve gotten busier with writing and teaching, I’ve started to keep my “to do” list in a smaller format journal using the bullet journaling approach. I carry my “Painting Notes” and Bullet Journal around with me because you never know when something will pop up.
You paint from real life. What do you get out of real life that you don’t from a photograph? Would you encourage students to paint from real life? Why?
For me, it’s important to have references for my paintings. I need to be painting something that creates an emotional response whether it is flowers, still life or landscape.
I buy flowers about every other day (usually from Trader Joes!). I love having them in the studio as my reference and inspiration. I also reference magazine photos for ideas for vase shapes, layouts or color combinations. I take a lot of photos for reference for landscape paintings and sometimes will use them if I can’t get outside to paint.
You paint in both oil and acrylic. How do you decide which medium you’ll use for a painting? Are there qualities you can get in oil but not in acrylic and vice versa?
I work on several paintings at a time, usually it’s a series with some similarities. I have a show up right now at The Globe Gallery on Canyon Road in Santa Fe and there are 20 floral still life paintings. That was a push because I wanted to have 30 or so paintings to choose from. My new series will be interiors which I’m looking forward to.
In your workshops, what is the main problem you see artists facing? What advice do you give them?
I get a lot of women in my workshops who like myself did not get to pursue their interest in painting until they raised their family or they were earning a living with little time. So they sometimes have to shake off the idea that it is too late to start painting. It’s never too late and I try to get across the idea that painting is like any other learned skill—if you put in the time and stay with it you will get it.
My advice is to paint a lot, every chance you get if you want to improve. It’s the Malcolm Gladwell advice about 10,000 hours—it may sound daunting but like anything else you can’t expect to instantly know how to paint well, you have to put in some time. In the book I talk about the concept of “Hand/Eye/Heart” or as I translate it “Skill/Vision/Passion”— that’s what it takes and it can be done.
You’re known for your flowers but you also did a video on abstracts. What was your goal for Expressive Abstracts and do you think working abstractly is important for artists who paint more figuratively? If yes, why?
Well I see abstract painting as the most difficult. Because there is no subject matter you have to rely on your knowledge of the elements of art and design to create a successful painting. I personally see it as more difficult but definitely worth pursuing. It requires that you really have the basics down so yes I think it’s a helpful exercise for any painter who wants to really stretch themselves.
An artist doesn’t become a full time artist overnight. How long did it take before you felt you were a full time professional artist? How long did it take before you were consistently selling your work?
I started painting 11 years ago when my husband retired. I just quit my academic job and started taking classes to get back into painting which I'd only done sporadically over the years.
One teacher told me not to evaluate any of my paintings until I had done 100 paintings so I started in and actually numbered them until I got to 100! I was determined.
There were lots of frustrations along the way but at some point maybe 5 years into full time painting the fog started to clear and I seemed to understand what I was trying to do. One problem for me was that I needed to sort out how I wanted to paint. I found many of the books on painting were geared towards the traditional or realistic style of painting which didn’t interest me. That is really why I wanted to write my book, to support those who are more interested in expressive style of painting.
You are represented by several galleries. What advantage does working with a gallery still hold in the days of etsy and the internet? What advice would you give to emerging artists looking for a gallery?
Galleries are interesting and I’ve been fortunate to be associated with some wonderful gallery owners. I am not a natural at marketing or selling and find it difficult to keep up with selling online so I actually prefer to let professionals handle that part of it.There are lots of resources out there to advise artists on working with galleries.I think the most important thing is to make sure you can work with the gallery and you are on the same wave-length and to understand clearly their approach. It is really tough to get the attention of a gallery these days but I have found my best connections through word of mouth and personal referrals from other artists.
You are an intuitive painter. For students who want to paint intuitively, is drawing still important or should they be mainly focused on the painting? Why?
I do paint intuitively. My paintings are never preplanned. But I do a small sketch in my “Painting Notes” just to try out compositions. I don’t do a lot of drawing per se but I love to draw back into my mixed media paintings. Since I also try not to go towards realism I’m always trying to draw like my 8 year old grandson—free and easy! So it depends on your goals, if you are into reproducing reality in your paintings you need to draw a lot!
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself when you were just starting out?
Looking back I would tell myself not to compare with others, quit worrying what anyone thinks about your work and just get on with it! Pursue your joy—that’s really what I try to do every day and I love it!
Learn more about Annie O'Brien Gonzales by visiting her website.
Kelly Anne Powers is a writer for Creative Catalyst Productions. You can find her loving (and sometimes fighting) her own floral work at her blog.
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