August 7th, 2015
Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff
Interviewer: Terry Henry
Brenda Swenson is the artist/author of two books, Keeping a Watercolor Sketchbook (Award of Excellence Finalist) and Steps to Success in Watercolor. Her paintings and sketches have been featured in Splash 11, 12 & 14, Artistic Touch 4, Watercolor Artist, Watercolor Magazine, Watercolor Highlights, and numerous other publications. Brenda has been awarded signature membership in Watercolor West (WW), Northwest Watercolor Society (NWWS), San Diego Watercolor Society (SDWS, and she has won numerous awards for her paintings. An active participant in the arts community she has served on the board of directors for the National Watercolor Society and Watercolor West. She is in demand to teach and demonstrate her painting and sketching techniques to groups nationwide and abroad.
CJAS: I watched a demo on your website last night in preparation of our meeting and was intrigued by your interest in classic trucks. http://www.swensonsart.net/demo.html
Brenda: That’s a 1946 Chevrolet that has been restored. There is more detail about my love of old trucks in a video at https://vimeo.com/66869642.
CJAS: That’s a great video and leads me into my first question: When did you first realize you were and artist?
Brenda: I realized that creativity was a core part of who I was when I was eight years old. I remember thinking that it seemed like everyone knew what they wanted to be except me. I wasn’t an artist at that point but I realized when I first sat down to draw that it was something that made me complete. Because I was more or less discouraged at that young age to pursue art, it wasn’t until my late twenties I began to take art classes.
CJAS: According to your schedule you teach about 15 workshops a year. When you begin a workshop, what are your goals for the class?
Brenda: I started teaching on a regular basis about 18 years ago and that has become a bigger and bigger portion of my life over that past ten years or so. What I try and accomplish is to assess each student’s skill level and find something concrete that each of them can take home with them. I cover a tremendous amount of information but in truth if you you can take two things that you can really apply in your daily work, the workshop was more than a success for that person. I feel that many people come to a workshop having had their artistic feet knocked out from under them and so one of the first things I do is build their confidence and create a safe place to create.
CJAS: You talk about art being your “voice” and has there ever been a time when you felt that you lost your voice?
Brenda: In fact, there probably has been more than one time where I felt that I lost my ability to paint. None of us get through life without getting some dings or feeling hurt. In my case there was a period where I began to feel like I didn’t have anything positive to say or anything pretty to offer so I just needed to be quiet and that meant being quiet with my artwork as well. It wasn’t anything dark or deep I was going through but when I realized that I used art as a way of expressing how I felt I began to heal that part of me. Art definitely has the ability to heal us and brings healing to other people as well. People often tell me that my paintings “lift” them up and I even had a person tell me that they would like to live in one of my paintings. Art has been used throughout the ages to bring light into our lives.
CJAS: You talk about negative painting and light in your video; could you explain this a little more?
Brenda: Negative painting is a really fun process because you are really aware of the white of the paper from the very first stroke. You don’t save a lot of white but what you do save becomes precious. Traditional painting is like a sculptor working in clay and building an image whereas negative painting is like carving away at a piece of marble. Each layer of a negative painting is a carving away process of building up transparent glazes.
CJAS: How many different styles do you work in or teach?
Brenda: In addition to teaching negative painting this week’s class is called sketching techniques with watercolor and involves a lot of drawing whereas there is hardly any preliminary drawing in negative painting. The next technique would be stained paper collage with watercolor which is a very different look. I also teach plein air painting.
CJAS: One of the reasons that I wanted to interview you is to introduce you to our Cheap Joe’s family and I think we have, along with the links to your website and videos, done that. So, the last question would be to relate a story about your relationship to Cheap Joe’s.
Brenda: I have had so many wonderful experiences with Joe personally and am very grateful for his friendship. We became friends through me loving his book, “Joe’s Journals: The Art & Tales of a Sojourner”. I sent him a letter written on a sketch and he called me at home and we ended up having this wonderful friendship that built out of that. It wasn’t until about seven years later that I actually taught a workshop here. He has been a friend and we have had a lot of fun sketching trucks. I never know who he is going to be when he calls. One time he was the curator at the Metropolitan Museum and another time a state trooper. He loves to have fun. What he has created here with the outlet and the workshop space is far better than any place I have ever taught. It’s a long way to come from California but everybody at Cheap Joe’s treats me and my class in a very special way. Southern hospitality taken to a whole different level.
CJAS: Any last words for all the budding artists out there?
Brenda: Most importantly, find someone who is encouraging. Encouragement is the greatest teacher. People who are negative or critical are people to avoid.
CJAS: Great last words. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you.
Brenda: It’s been great. Thanks Terry: see you next time.
Some of Brenda’s Work: