I first learned about Abbey Ryan and her Painting a Day project through beachbungalow8 where Megan described Abbey's paintings as "little delectable morsels of art ... perfectly sized to lean against books on a bookshelf, tiny jewels waiting to be discovered." Since then, I've been a devotee of Abbey's work.
I hope you enjoy this first portion of my interview with Abbey:
Tell us about your background and your journey to “becoming” a painter.
I grew up at the beach in New Jersey. Growing up, I was always drawing and making tiny worlds with clay, and seeing my mom work as a full-time artist. I took my first real art classes in high school. I think I was lucky because I had two amazing and inspiring teachers in high school.
After high school, I went to Arcadia University, where I had planned to major in physical therapy. It was there that I took my first oil painting classes with Betsey Batchelor. At the time, I was pursuing a degree in scientific illustration, so I stayed in school an additional year to also finish a degree in painting. One summer in college, I also studied at the Art Students League with David Leffel.
After college, I began studies in the medical illustration program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, but soon realized I wasn't certain that I wanted a career other than one involving painting. I decided to leave the program to find out what painting really meant to me. I took that year to paint and get together grad school applications, and then went on to get my MFA in painting at Hunter College.
I don’t necessarily think that all my schooling made me who I am as a painter – I think people are really born to be painters. But these are the choices that brought me to where I am today, painting full time and teaching at a university.
What are your earliest memories of painting and creating art?
I have some vivid memories when I was in pre-school painting big colorful abstracts and making mobiles out of evergreen branches imprinted in clay. (I have images of those paintings, too, which is so fun). In my pre-school classroom, there were easels set up with big cups of paint. And each cup of paint had its own brush. How fun is that?
Tell us about the creation of your 'painting a day' project. How did it evolve?
My painting a day project didn’t really evolve – I just decided one day to do it and hit the ground running. When I started, I had almost no knowledge about the precedent that other artists had already set with it – which I am glad about. Last week marked one year since I began. I keep doing it because I enjoy and look forward to it every day. I’ll probably stop when I stop looking forward to it, but I’m so fascinated and challenged by painting that I doubt that will ever happen.
How do you decide what you'll paint each day?
For the daily paintings, I usually don’t know what I am going to paint until moments before I begin. Even if I have an idea, I still sometimes will set it up and abandon it at the last second (before it’s too late, ha). It’s an indescribable thing, what creates the spark to make a painting. In a way, before I begin – and for a split second – I almost see the finished painting in my mind’s eye. That might be close to what the spark is like for me. For my ink paintings, I usually spend over a month on each painting, so it is an ongoing process. I make studies before I begin, so that helps me decide when to start something new.
Does where you live affect your art? How?
I don’t know yet about living in Philadelphia (it’s too soon to tell), though I am interested in the light here (i.e., Thomas Eakins’s work). I think growing up near the beach has affected my work. In my ink paintings, the motion of tides overlapping, the transparency of colors, and changing contrasts – all very much relate to the vastness of the ocean and its ever-shifting surface. I think this influences how I perceive space and the fluidity and cyclicality of nature. In the daily paintings, I think it relates to my interest in and ability to slow down and just spend time looking and taking something in (i.e., whatever object I am painting that day). There are not many “things” that people can spend all day staring at like they do staring out at the ocean. My daily painting practice relates to that kind of activity; the difference, of course, is that I am attempting to capture the essence of that object, so that I can expand beyond my own experience to create/provide it for someone else.
Take us through a typical workday.
If I am teaching that day, I get up and have oatmeal and tea before I go teach. After my morning class, I come home and take a short nap before I work in my studio and make a daily painting. After my painting is finished, I have an early dinner before I go back in to teach my afternoon and night classes. On the days that I don’t teach, I get up and go hiking in Fairmount Park. After that, I’ll do administrative things (i.e., respond to emails, pack up any paintings that need to be shipped out that day, prepare panels, etc.). Then I am in the studio until dark – working and often reading. Depending on what else is going on, I also squeeze in some freelance design or illustration jobs, here and there. I try to post my daily paintings to my blog before it gets too late, but I never know what will be keeping me in the studio.
A teacher I had at Hunter, Lisa Corinne Davis, told me a story once during one of her visits to my studio about an artist friend of hers. This artist was supposed to go to an opening one night and Lisa asked her how it went. She answered that she never got to the opening because she had been painting and her work kept talking to her, calling her back into the studio every time she tried to leave.
(Coming up: In Part II, Abbey discusses the biggest influences on her painting and her life. Stay tuned.)
Abbey Ryan's paintings are available for purchase through her Painting a Day website.
"We are such spendthrifts with our lives,” Paul Newman once told a reporter. "The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out."
In a 2005 AARP interview, Newman said that his famous, long-lasting marriage to Joanne Woodard has succeeded because of "great impatience tempered by patience. When you have been together this long, sometimes you drive each other nuts, but underneath that is some core of affection and respect."
Farewell to this blindingly beautiful man who possessed such sublime talent and uncommon integrity.
:hole in the wall camps; newman's own; aarp
By way of tribute, I'm going to rewatch some Newman essentials (there are so many) over the next few days. Cool Hand Luke makes my Top-Ten-Best-Films-of-Ever list. Newman is at the top of his game in his unforgettable portrayal of Luke Jackson. "What we have here is a failure to communicate." Oh, man. It's such a great movie.
Cool Hand Luke
A handful of other favorites:
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Excerpt from the Entertainment Weekly interview with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert:
EW: You guys regularly make a mockery of the 24-hour news networks. Do you see anything good about the format?
Jon Stewart: It's Muzak now. You ever walk into a clothing store in New York City and they're not playing music? And you go, ''What's going on here? Did a virus hit? This doesn't seem right.'' Twenty-four-hour news now is this weird companion to my life.
Stephen Colbert: There's not more news now than there was when we were kids. There's the same amount from when it was just Cronkite. And the easiest way to fill it is to have someone's opinion on it. Then you have an opposite opinion, and then you have a mishmash of fact and opinion, and you leave it the least informed you can possibly be.
Stewart: We've got three financial networks on all day. The bottom falls out of the credit market, and they were all running around. On CNBC I saw a guy talking to eight people in [eight different onscreen] boxes, and they were all like, ''I don't know!'' It'd be like if Hurricane Ike hit, and you put on the Weather Channel, and they were yelling, ''I don't know what the f--- is going on! I'm getting wet and it's windy and I don't know why and it's making me sad! Maybe the president could come down and put up some sort of windscreen?'' By being on 24 hours a day, you begin to not be able to tell what's salient anymore.
:colbert & stewart, entertainment weekly
Photographer Yeonjoo Dung transforms children's crayon drawings into elaborate, posed photos in his Wonderland series. It's brilliance.
Pure. Brilliance. These inspired creations might be a good antidote for whatever ails you. I figure we could all use a little boost right about now.
(Click on images to enlarge.)
:yeondoo jung, wonderland
I decided to kick start next week (i.e., the one that begins Monday, 9/29) with The Abbey Ryan Interview. In the meantime, Abbey's Painting a Day Project carries on. (This pumpkin. Such a beauty.) You can also view the artist's photos from her summer trip to Italy, right here.
:abbey ryan, santa maria della novella perfumeria, florence.
I think the Ginkgo leaf is the loveliest example of natural design. It is at once delicate and resilient. I like that.
A few days back, I spotted this new Ginkgo leaf-y fabric (image 2) in Marimekko's autumn line. I didn't realize, initially, that the leaf's size had been enlarged to proportions that suggest some designer's prehistoric fantasy (image 3). THEN, I remembered some beautiful Ginkgo (and other plant life) artwork I ran across at Wagner Paintings (images 4-7). So I'm offering it all up here today, for your viewing plejure.
Did you know? The Ginkgo biloba tree is often referred to as a living fossil, and dates back more than 150 million years. It is the sole living link between the lower and higher plants, between ferns and conifers. At one time, the Ginkgo was thought to be extinct. But, in the 18th century, the tree was found growing in China and has since been redistributed throughout the world - and today, the Ginkgo can even be found growing on plantations where the leaves are harvested for use in herbalism. The "herb" is used to improve memory, cognitive function, and as an antioxidant. Aside from its rich history, the Ginkgo is one of autumn's loveliest trees. Its clear, brilliant yellow color is unmatched in beauty.
Throughout time, the Ginkgo leaf has symbolized longevity, changelessness and love.
:marimekko; wagner paintings
If you didn't catch Dave (and Keith) last night, you owe this to yourself. (Olbermann shows up at 6:35 on the YouTube clock - adding his special brand of fun.)
:youtube - david letterman reacts to john mccain suspending campaign
The fabrics, layering and basic silhouettes of Swedish label Permanent Vacation's fall 08 collection seem primed for a cozy, relaxed October through December. I'm way too old to pull off any of these looks—way too old—but you young people might find something to your liking here. I'm more taken by the styling, decorative inkwork and photo backdrops in these PV images.
Congratulations to my über-talented cyberpal, Abbey Ryan, who today celebrates the first anniversary of her Daily Painting Project. Do yourself a favor and take a gallery tour over at Abbey's Studio. Wish her the best. And find some inspiration to dig deeper into your own creativity.
Later this week, I'll post Part 1 of an interview with Abbey. The wait will be difficult, I know. But well worth it.
abbey's email: abbeyryan[at]gmail[dot]com