My blog’s Homegrown series features inspiring women who are balancing their creative pursuits in the midst of all the other demands of daily life. These little chats will explore not just the creative process, but also how these gals approach the challenge of integrating their art into their lives in a sustainable way. Enjoy!
Michelle Abernathy Art
Next up is Michelle of Michelle Abernathy Art: “Artist•Mother•Wife•Lover of Nature, Birth, and Living Liturgically”
Michelle is a precious soul who has inspired me since I happened upon her art on Instagram years ago. She created a beautiful commemorative painting for me, featuring my mother & I, and it’s a joy to see how her paintings are meaningful treasures in so many people’s lives.
Kristin: When did you develop your unique style/artistic voice, and what was that process like?
Michelle: I actually have a very distinct moment when my style happened, which I don’t know if that’s unusual or not. I did not set out to “find” a style, or practice anything in particular, it just happened. I was laying on a massage table, receiving cranial-sacral therapy during an intensive healing period, both emotionally, physically, and spiritually. As I lay there, I saw this image of an older woman cradling a grieving younger woman (me). They were faceless, but I had to paint them. It wasn’t my first time creating faceless women, I’d already had a series going that I called The Sisterhood Series – vibrantly colored, stained-glass-esque, oil pastel paintings depicting birth scenes. This time, though, it was watercolor, which I’d just been delving back into through an herb study. After I painted that first piece of the two women, it was like the floodgates opened. I painted as I healed, and my paintings became integral to my healing. I wrote songs that went along with my paintings. It was really a beautifully, intensive time for me. I painted hours each day on my living room floor, painting and grieving my heart out.
K: Do you plan out your work carefully with sketches, etc., or do you just dive right in?
M: Typically I do sketch my drawings out first. Since my paintings tend to be so figure-heavy, it’s important to get the Anatomy correct. Also, I rely on body language instead of facial expressions to portray emotion, so I really need to work out the details of where the fingers and limbs will be. It’s usually just a quick sketch in the sketchbook, though, with details reserved for the final sketch. Sometimes it seems like my favorite rendering is often the sketch, so I don’t put too much effort into those. I have tried to just dive in more and more, as my friend Bley has challenged me. I actually created my 2nd biggest piece this year without sketching my figures at all (and there were nearly 50 figures in that piece!). The only sketch was a circle. Sometimes my “sketch work” is physically getting into the position I’m trying to create and feeling it. That helps me get out what I’m trying to convey sometimes.
K: How would you describe the common thread or vision that runs through all your work?
M: The common thread is probably Mothering – in whatever capacity that might be: birthing, physical motherhood, spiritual motherhood, Nurturing each other, or even the more abstract mothering of tending a garden. At the same time, I don’t think my art or subjects are terribly cohesive. I have an entirely different style that I do with colored pencils that are strictly representations of bible stories, a watercolor series of Saints, and then the oil pastel birth art.
K: All your pieces are so timeless to me – flowing robes & open faces feel like they capture the essence of individuals. How did you develop that unique approach to painting people?
M: I think this question really is answered in the first one of developing my style. I’ve never really thought about why I ventured toward faceless figures (especially because I always leaned towards photo realism through art school, and I loved portraiture, even as a child). I wonder if it’s because my healing was so very visceral and physical, that I couldn’t put a face to it. It was all about the body. I also loved painting others’ stories, and by not having facial features the figures were like “Everywoman”. They reflected no one in particular, and yet everyone. I guess it’s a way of painting myself into someone else’s shoes.
K: You’re a busy homeschooling mom & doula. How do you weave your art into that very full life? What are your painting habits/routines like?
M: (Don’t forget gardener, church cleaner, and Sunday school teacher! 😂) I have absolutely no routines or even habits for my painting. I feel like there’s a seasonal flow, though. When Spring hits, my desire to paint wanes, as my desire to co-create with the Earth grows. Painting isn’t my only avenue for creativity. Currently, my new home is my creative outlet as I’m organizing and rearranging (and painting walls, stairs, and laundry chutes, too). Sometimes deep cleaning feels like creating. Sometimes it’s usurping another garden spot at my church. I guess the world is my canvas, and I don’t feel confined to just my watercolors – although I do love them so! Currently I’m in a place where I haven’t painted with my watercolors in over a month. I’m sure I’ll be picking up my brush once the home feels more rhythmic again, and it’s almost there. I have an idea brewing that does need to get out soon.
K: What are your biggest hurdles in regularly creating?
M: Some amount of reality of homeschooling two kids with a 3 year old, a frequent battle with worthlessness, and a general lack of clarity about what I ought to be doing. Perhaps all artist moms struggle with those things though? It’s intimidating being so connected with artists. On the one hand, I realize how small and obsolete my art is – which isn’t a bad thing, really. But that can make me feel like “why bother? Why try?” if it’s not countered in a healthy way. It’d just be really nice if God would just TELL me exactly what I should be doing. 😅
K: How do you integrate the sharing side of your art – sales, social media, etc. – into your creativity? What are some methods you use to find a harmonious balance between the creating & the social-sharing aspects of your art?
M: Ugh. The constant love/hate relationship of social media! I do love being able to share with my friends in this passive medium (passive as in, not bringing art pieces to a social gathering and saying “See what I made?”; friends can see my art without me shoving it in their faces). I also greatly appreciate getting to know and be challenged by other artists (like you!). Generally, I do not market or make any attempt to sell my art. I have tried in the past, but it became evident that’s not how I should be using that tool. So, as a personal rule, I no longer use hashtags or link to Etsy listings. Despite that, I generally have a steady flow of commissions. And I love doing mini freebie paintings. I have a social media rule of fasting on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. I think that’s been healthy for me. I had definitely been on social media entirely too much since quarantine began, however.
K: What do you see as being the benefits & risks of sharing art in social media contexts?
M: I do shamelessly enjoy the encouragement from friends and “admirers”. Who doesn’t? I had little support for my artistic tendencies as a child (and still face rejection in some ways from those who should have nurtured it most), so I guess social media fills that cup some. Of course there’s always the risks of random internet naysayers (especially on controversial pieces), generally being vulnerable to people I don’t know, and the temptation to equate “likes” or “shares” as a measure of value. This year I started sharing some of my poetry on my IG feed, and that is scary for me every time. Poetry is probably my earliest art love, even more than painting. Painting heals me, but poetry is the art of my soul.
K: What are the elements of your art life that you’re concentrating most on in this season – i.e. technique, developing a regular discipline, trying other media, etc?
M: This past year I‘ve had a major exploration of mediums – ink, book binding, leather-working, wood burning, and I’ve begun to learn embroidery (I have a huge embroidery project I’m taking on currently!). All of that was kind of an accident though. I started working on one secret project (a book), and then was inspired at a Renaissance festival, so of course the book needed a leather cover and to be hand bound….It was SO FUN. I also spent 10 weeks on the couch nursing a torn ligament, which enabled me have the time to explore all those things.
Many thanks to Michelle for sharing her creative journey with us! Be sure to visit her web site and follow her on social media:
For more Homegrown interviews, browse my blog tag: #homegrown
All of Michelles’s images are used with her permission and are copyright Michelle Abernathy Art.