I’m very excited about today’s post which features an interview with the awesome artist Amber Alexander.
I first discovered Amber through her Etsy store where she sells her original paintings, cards, fine art and limited edition prints, and immediately fell in love with her work. It’s one of those shops where you can’t stop browsing, you just have to click on one more thumbnail to see the whole image (and read her adorable “mini-stories” about the animals), and then one more, and one more…
I’m always interested to hear how artists get their ideas, how they work and how they view their own art. I asked Amber if she would consider being featured and interviewed here on DD, and she kindly agreed. No surprise, Amber is as funny and witty as the little stories that go with the paintings, so enjoy the interview (to see a larger version of the paintings, just click on them), and then head over to her shop – I know you’ll be as enthralled as I am.
Amber, how long have you been an artist?
Informally, my whole life… but with purpose, about 5 years
How did you get started?
From a young age I wanted to draw and paint and kept doing it, but between about 12 and 24, didn’t really do much with it. Then I worked for a Teddy Bear company, where I was in a creative role, writing copy for ads and catalogs, illustrating teddy bears, and helping to design catalogs. That was a bit of a push, but I truly didn’t settle into my own until much later.
Are you self-taught or formally trained?
Self taught! I went to a liberal arts college, with a major in “studio art”, but in that particular college, that was little more than a high school art focus… anything I ever really learned of real value was by reading, practicing, and studying art through the ages.
You work in several mediums – do you have a favorite?
Watercolor is the most natural for me, but I do like the boldness of acrylics.
Have you always focused on animals and nature?
Yes, without a doubt. I can’t imagine painting anything that didn’t involve some aspect of our natural world. When I was little, I painted kitties and mice in elaborate gowns and headpieces.
What is your creative process like?
My creative process usually starts with an idea about an animal doing something… like baking cookies.. then I paint the face and general body gesture… if I don’t have the face and gesture right, there is no point in putting any more time into it. If I get those right, I can spend quite a bit of time on the details. I just let it unfold…
Some of your paintings are traditional-style images from the natural world where the animals are “just” animals, and some are anthropomorphized. What is it about an animal that makes you choose one style over the other in a particular painting? Or is it not the animal that is the deciding factor?
That is a good question. I think it has more to do with my mood than the animal in my head. Sometimes I just want to see an animal just the way it is… other times, I get such a kick out of the silliness of making them do things… I can’t resist… by the way, my husband and myself make up stories about our dogs all the time… they keep us in stitches. So I guess it’s a desire to laugh and have fun that might make me paint anthropomorphic instead of “natural”
How does a painting come together for you? Do you finish them in one sitting or are they work in progress for a while?
Some of them are finished from beginning to end in one sitting, others need to be put away and revisited.
Do you find yourself working with one theme at a time, for example cat paintings for one period, feathers for the next, etc. or do you mix it all up?
Yes, I tend to go through phases, and then changing it up helps my creative process. It’s nice to have a variety to paint.
Is there a message you are trying to convey with your art?
I’m not really out to convey anything, but if anything is communicated, I hope it’s that “animals are people too” or some such thing. I love animals and nature and just wish the world had more respect for both.
I totally agree with that message! I think it’s obvious in your paintings that you not only love, but really “get” animals. Do you spend a lot of time around them?
I spend a lot of time around our two dogs – standard poodles Olin and Izzy. They are fun and a handful. Aside from them, I’m always on the lookout for squirrels, chipmunks, deer, owls, bears foxes , etc. on our land.
What else inspires you?
Nature. haha, broken record here… animals, trees, plants, wind, weather, music.
Do you have any favorite artists?
Beatrix Potter, Edward Hopper, John Singer Sargent, Klimt, Van Gogh, Maurice Sendak, Winslow Homer.
This is your full time job, right?
That can add a bit of pressure to the creative process. Do you ever have to push yourself to be productive?
Yes, sometimes it just won’t work and I have to force myself … but those times just end up being a waste of paper, paint and time… as you really can’t force it. Either it is there for the taking or it is not.
So, like most of us, you also struggle with the occasional case of “artist’s block”?
Oh, haha! yes – see above. Many many times I ‘ve been BLOCKED… and it’s not only frustrating, but scary. I feel like all of the creatures and scenes in my head can leave me at any time and I’ll be stuck in reality with nothing fun to paint.
How do you get out of it?
I try to not stress about it too much, sometimes, successfully… try to do other things, like run – exercise is great for creativity… watching great movies and visiting with children…. all these things help.
One of the things I love in your Etsy shop is the little “blurb” that goes with each painting. They always make me smile (and read them out loud to whomever happens to be around) – how do you come up with them?
That’s a very interesting question. Sometimes they just tell me what to write… (figuratively speaking of course, haha), other times, I have to think on them for a few days. I think since I love the animals so much, I put my own emotions and experiences on them… hence, they lead lives much like ours. I know the day I painted “A hard day”… that cat truly represented how my day had been… HARD. And I felt like that cat… so it flowed so well. I never thought I could paint after a very hard day, but I did that day and therefore… the cat was me
All your paintings are fabulous, but my favorites are “Sweet tooth Charlie”, “Math Kitty”, “Secret Santa” and “Sneaky Corgi”. Do you have a favorite piece or character from your own art?
I love them all, seriously… but maybe “A hard day”, “Eat your peas”, “Donald”…. oh, who am I kidding? I love them all so much… the characters – not the paintings… they are like little moving pictures to me… they take on a life of their own. Donald is his own man (squirrel) now… he’s more than a painting to me now
So it sounds like we can expect to see more of the same characters in your art?
Yes, you can expect to see more of the same characters, but also more landscapes and nature studies too!
Do you do custom work (i.e. if someone would like a painting of their pet skiing or something)?
I have in the past, but am gradually not doing that as much… it seems to be really hard to capture the way the customer expects it to turn out in their minds..
What is the hardest part of your job?
All of the office-related, money-related, finance-related stuff. I hate it. It’s just not where my head is at. Unpacking boxes, supplies, ordering supplies… all of that.
And the best part?
The best part is painting creatures that I end up loving for life… and of course, the freedom to do it when I feel I can do it.
Do you do any other creative “things”?
I have done many. Needle felting, sculpting with clay, knitting, gardening…
And you also wrote a book, “It’s me, Teddy” – how did you come up with that idea?
I worked at a Teddy Bear Company and they needed a book about teddy bears… so it was pretty much going to be about teddy bears!
And now there is a new children’s book out – “Ninny Nu’s Organic Farm” – with your illustrations. How did you get involved with that?
They found me on Etsy and asked me to illustrate the book. They were looking for Vermont artists and illustrators…
Final question – what’s next?
Good question! More of the same, and maybe some bigger projects. I would love to some day write and illustrate my own book. But most importantly, I’d like to be happy and healthy.
All images © Amber Alexander
I would like to say a big Thank You to Amber for agreeing to be featured here. I can’t wait to see what my favorite characters are up to next, and I will keep my eyes out for that book (featuring Donald, perhaps?).
Don’t miss part 2 in our “Interview with the Artist” series, featuring Lesley De Santis