Grab a cup of tea because you’re going to enjoy today’s featured artist. Michelle Armas not only creates art that fills you with happiness, but she also has the dreamiest studio. When you think of that perfect studio with lots of space and light, packed with paintings leaning against each other everywhere, works in progress on several easels and a lovely sofa to rest a tired back – yup she has it. It’s gorgeous. And of course, she deserves it as she’s wildly popular and works hard for her success.
Based in Decatur, Atlanta, Michelle was another Instagram found! Now, we give each other support and encouragement which is so important for artist. As she wrote in an email “I always fall into an easy pace with fellow artists, we are all in the same club,” which is so refreshing to me. I long for that community and friendship of other creative souls.
Michelle tried her hands at the corporate big league in the New York branding world before quickly realizing it was not for her. She kicked her fast-paced graphic design job to the curb and headed back to Atlanta to make it as a painter. Fast forward X years and her life is now filled with deadlines, but the kind that fulfills you: deliveries to galleries, filling and shipping orders, photo shoots etc. And she shares her painting life with her husband and two dogs. (oh and if you want a reality check on how you go from being a non-artist to selling plenty of paintings through galleries and even anthropology, check out her very honest post here).
Let’s talk about your studio. Girl, it’s money. How important has it been to have a studio outside of your home? What is the difference? I have a studio in my own home which serves me well at the moment since I have a day-job, and studio space is hard to come by in the gray landscape of Washington DC.
Ha! I love my studio so much, it feels like a huge blessing. I loved working from home, but having a studio has let me buy more things in bulk, and be messier and also segment my time better. Some weeks I hardly go to the studio, others I basically live there. Every time I walk in the door I can’t help but smile and breath it in, I am very aware of how special it is, how precious this time in my life is and I am making sure to enjoy the hizzle out of it!
I’m all about details, so I deeply admire your abstract ways of forming such beautiful pieces. How do you start your pieces? Does the composition come first? Colors? What else do you use in your pieces than acrylic and oil? Those lovely scribbles, what are those made with?
You are all about details! I often wonder how you can keep your focus to do such intricate, life like paintings! I would just roll over asleep. I start with a huge swath of color, just laying it on and being free and loose with it. First comes color, always. Composition evolves as I keep having a conversation with my brain about colors. I use oil pastels, chalk pastels, charcoal, graphite and colored pencils. I love layering and I love the different textures that each medium offers.
How do you view/see/feel your art?
Hmm. I don’t have to try to not take myself seriously. I really don’t take anything very seriously so I tend to be casual with my relationship to meaning with my work. I see each piece as a little product of my hard work, and study it and try to improve on the next one. I guess because I studied branding, and graphic design I have a kind of business like, technical attitude. I try to look at the work as if I didn’t paint it. When I have deep feelings about a painting its because, usually some technical achievement. Like if I actually am able to create the painting I envision, or if I associate a particular painting with overcoming a block, or negative thinking (which is a constant struggle for me!). When I look at one of my paintings, say in my home, I see the energy of it staying inside of the constraints of the canvas. My eye moves around and around and around, and that for me means that the energy bounces around in there and I can feel it all the time.
What’s your goal with your art?
I have had so many goals! When I started my goal was to create something good enough to get me online, and noticed by people I admired. Then my goals became about creating work that I personally am proud of. This has been a constant goal: for me to feel good that my paintings are something that I would want. Once I had a design professor tell me that he met his idol one day, and the Idol asked him for a sample of his work, but the professor didn’t want to show him any of his work, because he didn’t think it was good enough. He told us this story to bring home the fact that you wear your work on your body like a tattoo! And you have to be ready to show it around, all the time, so you better be proud of it, and ready to let it represent you. That is my goal, to have that kind of integrity with my work.
What do you need to paint and while you’re painting? Music, tv, coffee, wine? Silence?
No silence. I like books on tape (for a while there it was only Harry Potter, all the time, it was like my safe place to paint). Now any book, music (I like Metronomy station on Pandora), or I even play movies or shows in the background sometimes if I don’t have to think too hard that day.
Are you a lover of routines or do you prefer to go with the flow?
FLOW!! I can’t ever, and I mean ever stick to a routine. One of the hardest, most important reasons that I had to be successful working for myself is that I can’t have any one else’s routine on me. I feel like its a too tight jacket and I kinda can’t breath just thinking about it. I have always been this way, in grade school, when I was a small child, always. Of course I have always been told to change this about myself, I was called, even by my own family, a scatter brain, a loopy loo, and warned against my inability to follow a plan that isn’t mine. One of my greatest joys in life is maturing and for me maturing, and evolving as a person means accepting those things that are integral to yourself and instead of fighting them, diving in and letting them help propel you upwards and much higher than you could have ever gone without your unique perspective. I try to set up some rules in my life to help me meet other’s expectations. I ask everyone to email me anything they want me to remember, and if they don’t email me (this took a while for some to embrace, they seemed to think that telling me should be enough but I would just say “did you email me? No? Well then it didn’t get in my brain, its your own fault for not respecting my system.”) I do keep a schedule for galleries or commissions, but I just can’t fulfill everyone’s needs, so I do my best and thats that.
I know you have one or two assistants, and have mentioned you can’t with people around. Can you paint with your assistants being around?
So sweet, a question only a fellow artist would think of! I have been blessed with three amazing assistants in my time, and they have all been lovely women who I truly enjoyed being around. For my first time, it took a few weeks, but I just loved her, and still miss her. My second it was easy because she was a free spirit and a goof off like me (and she loved Harry Potter as much as I do, so we would listen together and dork out big time). Now, my assistant is just as wonderful, she is smart and efficient and sweet and funny. I like having her around so thats how I can paint around her. Sometimes, if my mood is off or something, I will just take stuff home to paint alone, but mostly its not an issue once I kinda break it in.
Why do people think you can’t be an artist and a business woman at the same time? It takes SO MUCH to run your own art business.
Well, its basically because most think art is totally emotional, an unharnessed talent that rules the artist and hijacks their brains and souls and lives and dominates the way they see the world. For a lot of torchured geniuses thats exactly the case I suspect. And there are artists out there who are so talented they could change the way the world understands art, and emotion. But maybe they don’t have the ability to share their genius. Its like that saying about singers that you hear only the very few who happen to sing ok, and look amazing. Imagine all of the mind blowing singers who will never be successful because they don’t have the “look” that a record label can sell. Or imagine all of the incredible art women have been making in the western world for centuries but because our culture has been so sexist, pretty much only men are in museums now. So some artists are able to run a business and sell a lot of work because they happen to excel in that area as well as interpreting a desire for something in the market, and filling that hole. If you sell a lot of art its because of that, not because you are a better artist that someone who has never sold a thing.
What motto do you follow? Spread your art as much as possible? Let everyone feel your amazing energy and get happy from your art?
I love business, and marketing and that stuff. I make money by selling prints but more importantly I offer an affordable item for someone who can’t buy a large piece. Remember when I said I don’t take my work too seriously? Well I think prints are great, and so do my customers. If I can support myself by selling prints so that I can keep evolving and creating work that makes other people happy then I am happy. For me prints are this moment: A young woman is home alone, maybe studying for her law exams and she takes a moment to look up and see my print pinned to her wall and it makes her smile for a moment and he brain can shift gears and relax for a little bit and be soothed by color and form that is totally open to interpretation. That small connection and that small joy she has felt is just as beautiful and meaningful as it is for someone who sees a huge, expensive painting and buys it in a gallery and puts it in pride of place in their lives. I was that girl for a long time, and I want to still connect to that part of everyone’s life.
“It’s none of your business what other people think of you” was life changing for me in my life and as an artist in terms of daring to showcase my work. Those, somewhat harsh words, has helped me, and of course the “practice makes perfect”- show your art to thousands and thousands of strangers and eventually what people say to you and about your art won’t feel like they are taking your heart and wringing it out like a wet rag. What do those words mean to you?
Once I told someone at a party that I was an artist (he is a film maker ok) and he said. You earn a living? Yes I said. You just paint? Yes. You can afford a studio? Yes…He said. Fuck you. It was hilarious! I really liked that answer, it was so honest. So I either get that answer, or an uncomfortable nod b/c they assume I make hideous scrawlings of sunflowers in my garage and tape them to the fridge call myself an artist. I think everyone shares their heart in life, in small ways or big ways. Its hard for everyone and a seminal struggle for us as humans. I can imagine Earth from space, and it makes me feel small. I can imagine people who lived hundreds of years ago who are exactly like people are living now but who’s embarrassing problems, or struggles are lost forever and it makes me more fearless. When your pride is offended by something another person says about you, its your ego puffing itself up. The best way to be strong is to not let your ego do that. I have said it before, and I will say it again. Almost every single effing time that someone, including my own family members, have criticized something of mine when I look at where they are coming from I can clearly see that I fundamentally disagree with their point of view. Everyone I know who is very judgmental of others, are very hard on themselves, and not very happy with themselves. Soooo, sucks to be them don’t ya think?
When I paint, I feel completely connected to the universe/god/higher being/where I came from, and totally in the now. I’m working on always being connected and in the now. What about you? Do you feel the same?
What a beautiful way to see your time in the studio Erica! I love that. I agree that its a time to be present but mostly I let my mind wander and I think about all kinds of things and just sort of escape. My painting time is sacred and I treasure it. I am always working on my spirituality, and I think letting my personal creative time feed that part of my life would be a big-ass breakthrough for me. I tend to be very in my head and when I consider where I come from its always humbling to imagine the stars and the infinite space and energy around me and inside of me. For me, the stars, time, space, energy and love is god.
Painting is just what I do, and I would be doing it if I had another job, and I have been doing it with all of my spare time since I was a small child. I don’t know how to be without it. Well, there were times when I wasn’t painting, but I was always creating. I am not sure what you mean though I think?
What has been your smartest business move?
My smartest moves were: Blogging. Making Prints. Using Social Media to engage the public with the creative process, and gain insight into my life and personality. Collaborating with third party licensors to generate passive income.
How do you celebrate a sold painting? A finished commission? A call for a request of a pop up shop?
My friend Jessica Durrant has been so good about reminding me to do these little rituals where I stop to think about how much success I have had, or when I reach a goal. I tend to just keep going and then I sort of tire myself out. She always encourages me to spend a day out having lunch, chatting and shopping and eating chocolate of course! Now when I look in my closet I can say what earrings were for what achievement, or what amazing designer shoes or what special dress. Its so wonderful to have friends who help remind you that you are awesome. My husband is also a business owner, so if either of us has a huge victory we like to go have a superlative dinner and get nice and swooshy on martinis!
Michelle is represented at the following galleries: GreggIrbyFineArt.com (Atlanta, Ga.), Stellers Gallery (Ponte Vedra, Fla.), Cos Cob (Conn.) and Serena and Lily. Visit her website to see her full body of work, and catch glimpses from her life via her instagram feed.