What’s your ritual to get prepared, or in the zone, to create?
It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m going out shooting, I don’t need much. I pack up my camera, clean out my car (because I’m a packrat), and put on good music. I pretty much keep everything I need in my car. I keep a kit of some essentials for shooting, including useful things like reflectors and extra memory cards, as well as just about anything you might want if you happened to get stranded in the Sahara. There’s bottled water, sunscreen, and a First Aid kit that includes plenty of Band-Aids. I’m pretty sure there’s an extra outfit somewhere in my trunk too. Now, if I’m working in my studio, I put away everything on my desk. All the spare notebooks, all the markers and thumbtacks, all the books. Everything gets tucked away so that I have a clean desk—at least to begin with. There’s potential in a clean desk and room for projects to grow. Plus, it keeps me from getting distracted. I don’t even like music when I’m first getting started.
Tell us about a time you failed.
Isn’t failure just art that’s not finished yet? Okay, so that’s not Edison’s exact quote, but close enough. Failure is part of the process. You start with an idea and inevitably it doesn’t work, so you adapt. In terms of a specific example, I suppose the most recent would be a piece that was in my senior show. “Portrait” was supposed to be a hardbound book of images, specifically an alternative photographic process called solar plate, which is a cross between intaglio printmaking and darkroom photography. I failed a lot at that project. The plates for the images wouldn’t make. They weren’t getting good contact during exposure. The negatives weren’t quite right. The plates were sticky for no apparent reason. It got to the point I had spent as much time, money, and energy as I could on that process. I was frustrated, angry, and more than a little panicked!
Fortunately, we have a great community here at Watkins and after an hour or so of talking through my options, I moved on to making the images cyanotypes instead. It lost the physical texture of an intaglio print but echoed the blues in other pieces. Best of all, the process develops in water—an important element in my show. Suddenly, things started working again. The prints were coming out beautifully. Then another disaster struck. It was almost impossible to get a clean print on a page. I ended up with all these stray marks all over my paper. I didn’t have time to invest in reprinting a single page five or ten times, so I cut the images out and let them stand on their own. And you know what? It worked. If I hadn’t tried and failed at solar plate, then I wouldn’t have moved on to cyanotype. The images might have been fine, but they wouldn’t have had the same resonance. If I hadn’t tried to make them into a hardbound book, I would have never thought to let them be loose leaves. The resulting piece was stronger because of the mistakes I made in the process.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you want to do professionally?
I think I might become an interpreter. I have this infatuation with foreign languages; I find there’s a secret magic to them. In particular, I’ve always wanted to learn American Sign Language. It has a certain beauty and elegance that I’m drawn to. As an interpreter, I would be helping people and facilitating communication. If I couldn’t create, I’d want to do that.
Favorite addiction or guilty pleasure that keeps you inspired?
Fanfiction. I’m a horridly avid fanfic reader. It’s mostly awful stuff. I mean, some things can never be unread and I’ve found a few of them. But fanfic gets a bad reputation. People hear the term and assume it’s porn. There’s plenty of that if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but that’s not all there is. In fact, the cool thing about fanfic is the sheer variety you find. It takes remix and questions of authorship to all new levels, in a very self-conscious way. I find that things happen in fanfic that can’t in regular literature. It adapts to the medium, usually online journals or archives, and exploits it in unexpected ways. Things get really meta or even really experimental in ways that work. I’ve stumbled across perspectives that I would have never considered before and even shifting narratives that alter the very way you read a story. Besides, who doesn’t like to indulge in a melodramatic bit of angst every now and then? Some people watch the Kardashians. I just like my romantic pentangles with fictional characters and snarky one-liners.
Name the one place in Nashville you go for inspiration or rejuvenation.
There’s not one place that I go; I just drive. When I feel stuck or need a break, I like to get in my car and go. I’ll pick a road and drive until I reach the end. Sometimes that’s in Nashville, sometimes it is somewhere entirely new. The best is when it’s late and there’s no one around. Driving in the dark when things look strange and foreign is so relaxing. It gives me room to think.
What does success look like to you?
Success to me is about being in a position where I enjoy my life in its entirety. It’s producing work that I care about. It’s having a single job I choose to work at, that pays all my bills. It’s owning a real house. It’s having the leisure and the freedom to travel if I want. Success is having the security of a steady paycheck while constantly being challenged to accomplish more. I think the only way I could really fail is if I ever stopped reaching for something new.
What advice do you most often give yourself or other artists?
Take a breath. Sometimes when we’re entrenched in a problem it feels like that’s the entirety of our world, but we’re such a big community that all you have to do is ask. There will always be someone who can help, even if it’s only to let you bounce ideas around for a few minutes. Stepping back gives the problem a bit of perspective and can help you see where things aren’t working and why.
Which one quality do you think the world most needs from artists?
Bravery. It is our job as artists to see the world differently. Part of that is constantly being open to learning and experiencing new things, to allowing our perspectives to shift. That’s where inspiration happens. It can be uncomfortable. Sometimes it can downright suck, but ultimately it means that we continue to make work that is meaningful.