Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Interview with Ruth Armitage

For some time I've been following Ruth Armitage's blog Not only do I enjoy Ruth's art, but also her insights and slice of life entries. The other day I read an online interview she had with another blogger and decided I would like to be interviewed as well. This was quite a challenge. Here are Ruth's questions to me and my answers.

"What led you to pursue art seriously?"

From childhood I had an interest in artistic and crafty activities. Like many people, I never thought pursuing art seriously was a logical choice. When my personal life hit a particularly crazy period, I decided to “gift” myself with trying out watercolors. I had always been attracted to the transparent, jewel-like quality of watercolor paintings. I soon realized that painting would keep me sane. It is a form of meditation, where everything else falls away and I truly live in the moment. Nothing exists but me and the paper in front of me. I took classes with a couple of different Eugene artists and really clicked with Lois Enman’s teaching style. She encouraged me to see what worked in a painting that may have only had one good square inch. I got brave enough to take a class with a nationally known artist, Frank Webb. That was a very intimidating but life changing experience. I felt like I had left grade school and hit college, all in one week in Bend. Seeing a master of watercolor like Mr. Webb opened my eyes to what was possible. I met another emerging artist Diana Madaras ( there who turned me on to The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. By reading and following The Artist’s Way, I was able to call myself an artist for the first time. Lois encouraged me to apply to WSO (Watercolor Society of Oregon). I got in on my second try and even had a painting in a WSO that first year.

My next baby step was asking Lane Community College if I could teach a watercolor class in their continuing education program. I was amazed when they said “yes.” From there I looked for opportunities to hang paintings and found there were many venues available. Sometimes people even bought a painting! I continued my art life as an evening/weekend pursuit until I retired from my daytime career to join my husband in Hawaii. There I had time to paint all day every day if I chose to. I read several books about art as a business and finally had the courage to present my work to a gallery.

So I have given you a very long answer to a short question. But there was never a moment I decided to take art seriously, it was a series of events and small steps leading to where I am today—still on that journey.

How does your process differ when working in illustration (if at all)?

When I was asked to illustrate the book Rain or Shine as a collaborative effort with the author Hilary Horder Hippely, I had no idea of how to go about this. One would think it would be just a matter of drawing and painting pictures, but nothing is ever as simple as one thinks. First of all, someone else was creating a story and I had to search for images to enhance the story from my own mind. I had to create characters that I could portray throughout the book with consistency. I was given the page breaks in the story from which I would create a scene from that part of the story. I had to learn about making and presenting a dummy book for the publisher. Just figuring out the size of the illustrations and the type of paper to work on was a challenge. I used the internet to find photo resources such as a particular gesture I had in mind for a character, or what tomato leaves really look like.

Although creating the illustrations were a departure from what I was painting at that time, it helped me flow into a new stage of my personal art. The illustrating gave me the courage to begin painting more from my own ideas without the structure or security of reality or reference photo. My Crow Man series exists because of my illustration experience.

Rain or Shine can be purchased from:

I love your tropical paintings. What took you to Hawaii, and how much
time do you spend there... how does your location change your work?

My husband’s work took us to The Big Island of Hawaii. I lived there for two years, and had the opportunity to become a full time artist. I went back in June for an opening at Chase and Hanes Gallery in Hilo, Hawaii. I also taught a workshop in Hilo at that time. For my birthday (and to get out of the cold) my husband and I are about to return to Hawaii for a two week vacation. I hope Hawaiian visits stay in my life for a long time.

As for how the location changed my work, I’d have to say that my palette was most profoundly different. My Northwest palette tended toward cooler, more neutral colors. When I settled into the tropical climate, Alizarin Crimson moved aside for Windsor Red and lots of it. Almost overnight my paintings became much more vivid, and always had red in them. When you live in the heat, your paintings reflect that in the color choices.

Naturally the subject matter changed also. I painted the required waterfalls, but also enjoyed painting the older more modest Hawaiian homes in their tropical setting. And it was in Hawaii that I began my abstracted Volcano series with the wild, exploding ink patches and hot earthy colors.

Which artist has had the most impact on your work?
This is a very difficult question to answer and I really can’t confine it to one artist. I have great admiration for Frank Webb’s work. He is such a master of transparent watercolors and though he is an excellent draftsman, his paintings are never stiff, overworked or overly realistic. He often departs from local color to make his paintings dynamic and whimsical. All of these traits are things I try to emulate in my work.

I also have had a serious flirtation with the Canadian painters—the Group of Seven. These turn of the last century artists painted landscapes in very simplified shapes and bold colors. Many of the paintings from this group just take my breath away.

Most recently, I have turned to the work of Henri Matisse for inspiration. Now that I am moving deeper into patterns, I enjoy looking at his work to observe the both subtle and bold use of pattern. I also am emboldened by his ever evolving work. He moved from realistic paintings, to flatter modernistic pieces, to cut and paste work. His efforts to continually challenge and question his own vision and willingness to change his art are qualities I aspire to.

If you could immortalize one member of your family in a portrait, whom would you paint & why?
I recently did a painting of my mother where I tried to convey a combination of the many parts of her life. I must say, it is not a good painting, but it is the start of something I will return to. I chose her partly because of her longevity—she just turned 93. I have known her for most of those years, and have seen the chapters of her life. She’s gone from child to nonagenarian, wife to widow, working to retired. She’s lived through the great depression, become a grandmother and great-grandmother to a tribe, she’s seen a daughter die. She now has dementia and her daily life is shrinking to the confines of her condominium and the visits of a handful of people. If I could capture even some of that in a piece of art, wouldn’t it be something!

1. Post a comment here to let me know you want to be interviewed.

2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. (I get to pick the

3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.

4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone
else in the same post

5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five

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