Today I was sent some questions by a college student requesting an interview. Scroll down to read my answers.
Right now in the studio: I’m hoping to finish one last large Eclipse painting before the year ends. I’m working again with silhouetted people in this next one! Coming soon…
Interview with Cedar Lee:
Your artwork seems to have a common theme; how would you describe your art?
I currently have four different series of paintings I’m still adding to, and I skip around from one to another: “Looking Up”— tree canopies and giant sequoia forests, “Lotus”—stylized lotus flowers, “Eclipse”—exploring the moment of a total solar eclipse, and “Tree of Life”—different images of the Tree of Life, often showing the roots underground, and some including small human figures.
These themes are pretty varied but are all obviously nature-inspired, and they all include a bold use of color. My work is a combination of realistic imagery and things pulled from my imagination.
Who and what are your inspirations in your work and as a professional artist?
I take a lot of photographs and I’m always collecting mental images that find their way into my paintings. I’m heavily influenced by my travels and many different places I’ve lived—this is most evident in my paintings inspired directly by nature hikes through forests, but in my more whimsical images as well—there is often a spirit of wonder and adventure to be found in the image, and sometimes there is even a human adventurer pictured.
In the studio, I like the challenge of mastering the materials. My inspiration is often found in the act itself of creating artwork, as things I discover while experimenting or solving a problem will lead into the next piece.
How did college prepare you for your career as an artist?
I have a BA in studio art from Goucher College in Baltimore. They have an excellent art department. Beyond the obvious benefits of taking art classes—introduction to different art mediums and techniques, and art history, during my time there I learned how to think about and talk about art with my fellow art students. My senior year was most valuable to me as a painter, when I did a semester of independent study, which was my first experience creating a cohesive series of paintings for my senior thesis show. This was my first time seeing a long-term creative project through to the end. Persistence towards bigger goals than just whatever current art piece you’re working on is such an indispensable part of artistic success.
Notably lacking from my college curriculum was any focus on art business—something that I had to figure out afterwards on my own. I think that college art programs should all include courses on entrepreneurship, marketing, and small business strategy. Most don’t, and this is a great disservice to many students who are serious about pursuing careers as artists, but aren’t being given the tools they need.
What do you consider to be your most important accomplishment to this date?
I have just recently created my 500th painting! (Not including any artwork created in my childhood and teens before I started cataloging my artwork.) The work is always my biggest accomplishment. Selling artwork is exciting, exhibiting is exciting, but without the paintings themselves, none of that could happen.
Please note: arguably much more important than this, I am also raising two beautiful children.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist today?
Never stop. To be a professional artist, you have to want it more than anything. You have to have a certain kind of stubborn personality that won’t ever let you quit, and you have to have just the right balance of ego and humbleness. You have to understand that you suck while also believing in your work enough to keep striving to be great. You have to commit to figuring out your blind spots and teaching yourself everything you need to learn.
Figure out early on how to create a professional image and how to present your work well to the public. A website is a must. Create a consistent body of work, photograph it well and keep your files organized. Use the best quality art materials you can afford. Value your own time and expertise, and refuse to work for free.
Read about art business, make strategic plans, and work your plans. Subscribe to Professional Artist magazine, the email newsletters from Alyson Stanfield aka “Art Biz Coach” and Jason Horejs’ “Reddotblog.” Read “The War of Art,” “Steal Like an Artist,” “Art and Fear,” and all the other books you can that help you gain perspective.
If you must work an unrelated job to keep your finances afloat, or you have family responsibilities that limit your time, that is okay. Just keep the thread of your art alive throughout the years, and you’ll be glad you are prepared when opportunities present. Take the long view. Being an artist is a lifetime endeavor.
Seek out and surround yourself with artists that inspire you. When in doubt, look at lots of great art to re-ignite your passion and commitment to your own work. Just as they say, “write the book you want to read,” it’s important to paint the painting you want to hang on your own wall. Create the thing that you need to exist in the world, and if all else fails, you’ll still have experienced one of the best parts of being human.