Frank Questions for Rad Artists

Welcome to Cura Studios' new blog series: Un*varnished!

Frank questions with rad artists about those times when the going gets tough. This week with sculptor and painter, Brittany Marie Ryan.

Listen to the raw/unedited conversation on Soudcloud, or read the interview below.

Who are you and what do you do? (Name, job title/art category) I’m a sculptor, mainly, and a painter for about 20% of my time. I’m the lead faculty/department coordinator of the sculpture department at LCAD, and I have my own studio practice.

Is art a vocation or profession for you?

I have put myself in a position where I make a very steady income off of teaching, which is the profession part of things.

With my artwork, I do make reasonable good money off it, when it works out. But it is inconsistent, so I definitely feel like it is more of a vocation. I try only to make art that I enjoy, rather than just to sell it. For me that would be missing the point of it.

I’ve also realized that I am not the 60-hr-by-myself-in-the-studio kind of an artist. I don’t function that way. I’m more of a 50/50 split. I’m a super extrovert who loves being around people and hates being alone, which is a horrible combo for being an artist.

But mainly I really like the making of a thing. The construction of an object is really what gets me in the studio.

When/how did you realize you were going to be an artist?

Art was a very early thing that I was good at for me.

I also wasn’t really good at anything else. I had a 2.0 GPA, not because of intelligence issues, but because I didn’t care about anything else.

Once I’ve gone through my art education I really had to go out and make this artists life happen for myself. I didn’t graduate with a fantastic body of work, or had any leads jumping out at me. So I made a bunch of decisions and sacrifices, like living with my parents. Or, the main sacrifice really being: living without money for many years. But I remember when I sold my first piece of artwork, where somebody, out of the blue, paid $500 for a portrait head that I sculpted and I though “Wow, it finally happened. This is how that works.” That was a big moment for me. I cried when I drove to drop off the piece. That was a turning point, for sure.

What is your biggest, proudest creative accomplishment so far?

I just finished the Canyon Walkers, which is a monumental size, bronze sculpture that took 3 years to create. I’m in the dystopia of it now though. Sometimes after you finish something, you kinda hate it for a while. It’s not like I really hate it, but having worked on it for so long I kinda don’t get a lot of enjoyment out of thinking about it, or looking at it right now. It was a fabulous experience, but I think the greatest accomplishment is "still doing it". What really matters is that I’m still making art and that it is part of my daily life. As I said, it is about making the thing, not about the accolades or resume bullets, but about making stuff and getting to think about making stuff. I enjoy the problem solving part, or the being dirty and tired part way more than the actual art openings.

What is your most inhibiting habit/pattern/thought-loop that gets in the way of “doing the work”?

There are so many... Really, comparing myself to others. Instagram can be so destructive. Seeing all those young sculptors and painters who are say my age, or younger, and they get to do all those fun things I’d love to be doing.

You also only see the images of their art that is going well. You really have to remind yourself of the context of: how often do they post something, who are they, where are they at in their career, etc.

Another thing that’s tricky for me is wondering: what is this thing (art piece) going to do for me? What function does it serve? Which is the wrong question to ask of art. Getting caught up in the “Why am I doing this?”, which is so tricky because you can really talk yourself out of anything.

Do you have a go-to thing you do/ think about, when you notice you are stuck and in a funk?

For one I stopped looking at Instagram because it’s making me feel worse rather than inspire me. I also try and catch myself when I start thinking negative thoughts and call them out as something that’s not helpful.

I’m also a big list maker, which is a big physical thing that I do. I really like lists. And they have to be physical lists. It’s not something I can do on a computer. I keep ongoing notebooks of lists of various tasks, like pay my car insurance, submit these grades, and then 2 hours of concept sketching for a new painting. By writing it down I make the creative stuff as important as the other things of the day.

In the middle of the semester my days are kinda already planned out for me and I don’t have a ton of studio time. But when I am on semester breaks my days can get very disorganized and fluid so I need to make myself lists to make sure I get myself into the studio. But as I said, it puts it up there on the same importance level as all the other tasks.

Any pearls of wisdom you picked up from mentors, friends, or idols that have helped you to get through the sticky spots of creative life?

Observing people around me like you and Melanie (Florio), where I see how you guys push through. Seeing the everyday of close friends is super inspiring, and how they do it their way.

That helps for the day-to-day grind.

For the “big concept stuff”, I try to keep in mind what I picked up from Randall (Cabe), or my dad. Acknowledging where I am at and, even though it’s a trendy theme, being authentic. Paint what you want to paint, but know your context. Don’t try being anything you are not. Don’t try and be Velazquez. Being a representational painter, doing representational work in modern day is so, so problematic. It’s really easy getting caught up in the old masters and forgetting who we are.

For my dad, he always pushed me to do the things I am afraid of. He is the voice in the back of my head saying “Do something that scares you shitless!” Don’t say no because you afraid. You are going to be afraid, but that’s not a reason not to do something.

Check out more of Brittany's amazing work on her Website (look for my personal favorite, her Ugly Children series!) or follow her on her frenemy Instagram @brittanyryanart .