Spotlight on Painter Bethany Mabee
Last year, I was walking through the Renegade Craft Fair and I was lucky enough to see the work of Bethany Mabee. Her booth was hard to miss because the colors of her prints stood out in the crowd. In a crowd of other incredible makers I consider this a VERY impressive feat. I wanted to buy every single print but sadly, I had already surpassed by budget at the fair(this happens every year). Instead I left with a business card which I believe is just as good because I was able to bombard her with emails about an interview(Bethany if you’re reading this sorrryyyy for all the emails). Mabee’s words inspired me in many ways but most importantly it reminded me about the importance of buying original art work. While, I love prints because it makes art more accessible, I would love to start of collection of original work. Thanks Bethany!
What sparked your interest in art and painting?
I was always drawing as a kid. I grew up taking art classes and being told that I was a "good artist" in the traditional sense. Meaning I could draw a photo or a still life and replicate it. I enjoyed it, but something was missing. I started exploring abstract painting on the side in my early twenties without sharing any of it with anyone - I would never have referred to myself as an "artist" at that time. I didn't think I deserved that title then because there wasn't a measure of "good or bad" to go off of with abstract, so I just assumed everything that I did was bad! I've always known that creativity was a part of me, but it wasn't until my late thirties that I figured myself out as an artist and painter. I decided to take the plunge and rent a studio to focus on painting. Giving myself that space (and pressure!), allowed me to find my definition of what I wanted my art to be and what I considered "good" and worthy of putting out into the world.
Are you a full-time artist? If so, how did you make the decision?
I suppose it depends on the month! I am really lucky to be able to work for myself full time. I have a consulting business that I've managed remotely for the last 8 years doing furniture purchasing/logistics for interior designers. The workload very much comes and goes with my consulting, as does my workload as an artist. I've gotten better at taking them both as they come and letting them ebb and flow with each other. It can be difficult to set my art to the side when my consulting work picks up, but I try and permit myself to let it be, knowing it will always be there. I'm not sure that I could enjoy my art as much as I do without my consulting. They balance each other out so well.
Who or what inspires you?
I'd say that my inspiration is two-fold. On a deeper level, when I'm painting, or reflecting on a completed piece, it's then that I realize that my inspiration is stemming from reflections on my own experiences - or those around me. However, something as simple as a new home magazine is what inspires me to want to jump up and head to the studio to paint! Colors and compositions in a room catch my eye and make my head spin about palettes I want to start mixing!
What is your artistic process?
My artistic process starts with finding a palette that sparks my interest and sometimes a general composition. Everything else is completely improvisational. The first half of a piece is me just reacting in a moment and seeing what shows up. The remainder is taking what showed up and adding or removing layers to get to a place of balance.
Is there a theme to your work?
Finding parallels between my process and real life is a theme that I love to explore in my work. Whether it's strengthening my intuition out of the studio by trusting my instincts in the studio....or finding new ways of seeing a painting as more layers get applied, much like our shifts in perspective with time and experience. Contrast is another theme that continues to show up in my work and one that I rely on heavily for a piece to feel complete. For myself, I find that in life and art, when things are consistently perfect or pretty, something real or emotional seems to be missing. I love representing this in my work with my use of color. My contrasts between the light/cheerful areas and the dark/moody areas are there to acknowledge that there are ugly parts of ourselves, others or an experience, and we can choose to view them separately, or together as one big masterpiece. I don't intend to convey these themes to the viewer by any means, they are just insights that give me personal meaning to my work, which allows my art to be a tool for my personal growth.
Has your style evolved?
My style is always evolving and maybe even devolving! There are times that my style feels loose and free and other times it feels rigid and forced. I think that this is what comes with being an abstract artist because it is a reflection of what you have going on in that moment.
How much time do you usually dedicate to one painting?
That can vary! Some pieces come together quickly - others can take weeks and weeks to work through and even require a total paint over half way through! When I do commissions, I make sure to give myself at least a month to finish a piece and it's rare for me to not use up that entire month and in some cases even feel rushed.
At times do you find it difficult to put down the brush and decide a painting is complete?
For sure! I think that any artist would agree that skill is knowing when to stop. You can tell when a piece is over-worked and that's definitely one of the biggest challenges! My gauge for knowing when to stop is when I can eliminate a feeling of unrest in a piece. Even if there's a tiny area that feels off, I know that I need to re-work it, just for myself if anything. A piece is never perfectly done, but if I can look at a piece as a whole and with excitement, I know it's done.
What is the most challenging part of being an artist?
If I answered this question a few years ago, I would have said that the vulnerability of putting yourself out there is the hardest part. Fortunately, I've gotten to a place where I know that my art is special to me, but it's not for everyone and I'm OK with that. So now I'd say that the biggest challenge in being an artist, on the creating side, is letting yourself play and change. To be relevant you have to have a consistent aesthetic or style, so trying new things and venturing out can be scary. Over time, I've tried to let myself be in the moment and trust that my style will shift naturally - but it's not easy. On the business front, the most challenging thing in being an artist is finding those that value original art. Art prints are so accessible now and people are opting for those over originals more and more. I sell prints myself and always will because I want those without the budget for an original to be able to collect. Still, to make it as a full time artist, you need to also have those collectors that are willing to spend money on an original piece of art and finding them is not always easy. This is why I value interior designers so much because they are such a great voice for artists by educating their clients on the importance of including art in their plans.
How do you stay motivated when you experience a creative rut?
I usually combat ruts by stepping away, taking a break and moving. I have a thing for rearranging. There's something about rearranging my studio or my home that hits a reset button for me like nothing else can. Most people call this procrastination but I've learned that it's really me just giving an idea or frustration time to simmer while I move and reset my focus. I can't even tell you how many times I've rearranged full rooms of furniture or bookshelves just to clear my head.
What has been your favorite project or creation so far?
My favorite projects are always the ones that require me to put everything else aside and immerse myself in the studio to meet a deadline. My latest project was for a solo show at Art + Light in Greenville, SC. It's always rewarding to finish a large body of work that you know has a place to land. This is why commissions are also on the top of my list of favorite projects. Being trusted to work on a custom piece that already has a designated home is an exciting place to create from. Finishing any piece is the best part of it all - nothing can replace that high! Even the manual labor that follows of wiring, loading, hauling, hanging etc.. is still rewarding!
What is your ultimate goal with your artwork?
It's easy to get caught up in what defines success or "making it" as an artist. No matter how much success I experience along the way, if that's the only focus, nothing ever feels like enough! So I think my ultimate goal is to continue to grow as an artist and create work that I love and to connect with people along the way that can give me more opportunities to do that. The reality is, I'm a driven person that is motivated by challenges and deadlines! So shows and commissions keep me motivated to create, so I need opportunities like that for my own fulfillment as much as I need them for monetary or "success" reasons! I think that's why we create any kind of art anyway, to feel fulfilled and to express a part of ourselves that shouldn't lie dormant. So my goal is to continue to find great opportunities to create + sell more work and see where it takes me!
Any last words? (words of wisdom, fun/interesting news)
I have my favorite market coming up - The Renegade Craft show in Chicago on Sept 7th and 8th. I look so forward to this show. I think that it's a good idea for artists to participate in markets or shows like this where you get to experience people's real time reactions to your work. It's scary - but I always walk away feeling re-energized and validated. Sometimes those boosts of confidence are necessary as reminders to keep doing what you're doing because it's so easy to fall down the comparison / doubt rabbit hole. Nothing lifts me out of that more than a show or market.
Also - I'm excited to put more attention into the line of fabrics and wallcoverings that I created from small sections of my paintings. It's been so fun to extend the life of my paintings and to be more intentional and controlled in my creativity by making patterns. Creating this line has caused a lot of trial and error in figuring out where to put my energy and efforts in getting it out into the world. I just got picked up by a rep company name Beverly Collection so the line will be available to the trade-only, starting August 1, 2019. I'm excited to have someone else out there doing what I lack the skill and time to do! I'll still have my textiles on view on my website and will sale some items direct on the site (such as samples + pillows)