This is a short interview with Stephanie Law. You can learn more about our blog posts here.
Stephanie Law is an Oakland based artist. Her images trace the boundary between dream and reality. Much of her inspiration stems from mythology and folklore, mingled with the movement of dance, and the chaos of Nature's wild growth. Her techniques are mostly based in watercolor, supplemented by textured relief created with gesso and texturing mediums, ink, and metallic pigments. She exhibits original works with regular shows across the country in galleries in San Francisco, Seattle, and New York. Her work has also been included in the Spectrum annual of fantastic art for many years, and at the Society of Illustrators in NY, Spectrum show. Find out more about her in our interview:
My path to art
I always wanted to be an artist, from as early as I can remember. I always loved drawing and was never bored if you handed me paper and pencil. I took art classes at every opportunity throughout grade school and high school, learning along the way traditional Chinese ink painting, oil painting, and figure drawing classes at the local community college.
When I got to university, I did study art, though it was a compromise, because it wasn't quite the kind of art I wanted to do. I wanted to create more illustrative artwork, but I didn't think at first that art of any kind was a viable career. At that time in the late 90s, the internet hadn't really taken off, and so the concept of e-commerce, or being able to reach your audience directly was not something anyone imagined yet. The established avenues of being an artist mostly involved getting past gatekeepers of various sorts, whether they were publishers, agents, or gallerists, and the opportunities were few. I thought I was going to be a software engineer for my career, and so that was primarily what I went to university to study -- engineering. However, I knew I loved art and would be recreationally at the very least, taking art classes as well, and so I ended up taking so many art courses I had a double major by the end. But the downside of having selected the school on the merits of the computer science program was that I had not ever looked at what the art program had to offer and focused on, when I was deciding on my school. There are schools whose art programs would have suited my desires, but this one was very much an opposite. It was good for me, however. It forced me to stretch my artistic muscles and try things that were not natural to me, but that sometimes were good as creative exercises. The program was very much a modern abstract expressionism focus, with representational art frowned upon. In navigating through that, it forced me to try loosening my strokes, playing with texture, exploring randomness and chance. These are elements that have worked their way into my style and are evident even now, though on the surface, the kind of I art I do now and the kind I did while in university are entirely different.
And, as it turned out, my skills in software turned out to be an enormous advantage, because early on I was able to use those skills to set up a website, in a time when most artists didn't know what websites were yet, and to begin the process of building up my community where I was able to directly interface with my audience.
Motifs and inspirations
I have three basic elements of inspiration for my artwork. There is a strong narrative component that I tap into mythology and folklore for. I love these motifs, symbols, allegories, that have stuck with us through centuries or longer, across cultures. Mythological elements speak across languages, and the visual interpretation of them is something I love to do. I'm also inspired by movement. I am a dancer with over 20 year experience, some of it in professional venues for a few years. In a way, I feel like my compositions are all dictated by that sense of flow and movement that dance has given me. There are the narrative elements, but then there is also the compositional flow that takes the viewer through the image and moves around throughout my paintings. The third focus for me is the botanical, and natural. I love the patterns that emerge in growth and decay, and they are beautiful to me. I do a lot of traditional botanical art as well, and it interacts with my fantastical work.
Creating and mediums
It has been an evolving process. I started off with a very traditional approach with watercolors, and I was afraid to deviate from that for many years. But at some point I realized my art was not traditional watercolors anyway, so why limit myself to the restrictions of just the one medium. I started branching out and throwing anything on a whim into paintings, to see what would happen. One thing I love about watercolors are the random textures that happen. You can't control them. Or at least, you can only control the setting, but you can't control the exact result. My favorite thing to do is to create texture using mainly watercolors, but also various other mediums that I have discovered (sometimes by chance, sometimes intentional experimentation) create unique marks on my page. Once I have an enticing base, I then proceed to try to find shapes and form, and to coax out the more highly rendered elements. It is tricky to craft intentional narrative, out of randomness, but that challenge is one of the things I enjoy the most about my craft.
Difficulties and challenges
There is always the challenge of remaining true to your own voice while being in the public. This has gotten to be much more difficult over the past two decades. Even as the internet gave artists that previously unattainable direct connection with our audience, it makes us susceptible to artificial influences on our vision. It sometimes becomes hard to determine if what you're painting is what you actually want to paint, or just something you're doing because you feel it might sell well. Sometimes the only warning that this is happening is a vague dissatisfaction with the art that you're creating, and only when you look at it head on can you discern the reason.