Artist Interview with Lynette K. Waters-Whitesell (Mixed Media)

I’m a Midwestern artist working in mixed-media on canvas and panel. I find inspiration in the photos of yesteryear juxtaposed with digitally manipulated vintage snapshots. Think old-meets-new. I experiment with old photos in Photoshop® and then print the images to a digital transfer paper. I use traditional hand painting techniques and collage underneath and atop these digital transfers.

I was born and raised in a tiny town in East Central Indiana. I graduated in 1998 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Ball State University, majoring in Visual Communication/Graphic Design. For the last 20 years, I’ve designed, directed and illustrated in East Central Indiana. I began my professional career by creating menus for restaurants all over the United States and Canada. The next 14-years, I worked as a creative director for small design and print agency. In 2014, a Midwestern bank contacted me to become their art director. This bank was creating an in-house, mini-agency. I’ve found it has increased my creativity in the studio for my personal mixed-media art.

I’ve designed for international and U.S. domestic companies. During these last 20 years, my design work has won local, regional and national visual awards. As for my personal mixed-media artwork, I’ve exhibited in art shows and galleries throughout the Midwest, mostly. I also have art in both public and private collections.

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'You never run out of creativity. You’re just simmering on your next work.' - Lynette WhitesellClick To Tweet

Lynette K. Waters-Whitesell (Mixed Media)




Career Summary

As for my personal art career, I’ve entered juried shows since 1994. As of 2005, I exhibited in galleries in solo, duo and group shows.

I grew up living in a funeral home. My father is a mortician. Our family of seven (Dad, Mom, and five children) resided in the second-floor apartment above the funeral home. This funeral home — my childhood home — is a beautifully restored, century-old Victorian house my parents purchased when I was four-years-old. I remember being quite young, probably around age five, and not understanding that my home was standoffish to others. I knew that the “person in the box” (my term as a small child) would not wake up. I remember my parents’ conversations about how hard my Dad worked to make sure families could have time together to visit the family member they lost. One thing that still resonates with me today is that I believed the funeral flowers had personalities. Some flowers appeared to be sadder than the others, and other flowers seemed happier. I felt the flowers sat vigil with their loved one until the family could come back the next day. As an adult, I channeled the emotions of the flowers onto canvas. This body of acrylic artwork is displayed on my website and is entitled “Flourishing Affiliations”.

I was honored with two Individual Artist Grants from the National Endowment for the Arts through the Indiana Arts Commission; one in 2007 and the other in 2010 to experiment with my digital transfer methods onto traditional paintings. I made translucent transfers and then adhered them to the panel. In 2009, I was invited to exhibit my art from the first grant at the IAC’s Governor’s Arts Awards.

By 2015, the Lieutenant Governor of Indiana recognized me as a “Hoosier Woman Artist.” This title is given to only a handful of female Indiana artists each year. One of my works, entitled “The Culmination of Amy,” hung in the Indiana Statehouse for a year. Later that same year, one of my works was selected as part of the Incite 3 – The Art of Storytelling: The Best of Mixed Media. The following year, my work appeared in the next rendition of the book entitled Incite 4 – Relax, Restore, Renew: The Best of Mixed Media. Most recently this winter, I completed artwork for a cover and interior spread for Earlham College’s Alumni Magazine entitled Earlhamite and within the last week, Earlham reached out and requested I paint another season of the same periodical.

Working Environment

My art studio is set up in our home. My husband Dennis and I have three children: girl, boy, girl. With raising children, attending art school, or working full-time, I only time dedicated to my painting and creating came after our kids went to bed. I would start painting around 9 pm and burn the midnight oil into the early hours of the morning. Most nights I wouldn’t go to bed until 2 or 3 am. I was born an insufferable insomniac.

The challenges of my in-house studio are not having enough natural light and poor ventilation. Any use of caustic chemicals – either in the media or as clean-up, could trigger my asthma. I’ve always been in love with encaustic work, but because of the poor ventilation, I’ve never had the nerve to attempt this art medium. Instead, I experiment with different acrylic mediums to achieve that translucency and matte look of encaustic work. Usually audiences assume I work in encaustics. When I tell the views I’m a mixed-media artist, they become more intrigued with my creative methods.

Method and Approach

Why do I create digital transfers of old photos? I needed to find a way to utilize old photographs without using the actual vintage image. The first mixed-media piece I created, I glued the original picture down to the canvas. Adhering the only image caused a bit of animosity with a family member. They didn’t see my art as a tribute to the person in the photo. That photo was the only copy and became unavailable to place into a scrapbook. So, I started thinking about how I could use old photos without damaging the original.

I bought a high-resolution printer with the grant I received in 2007. I found if I dampened the print outs, the ink could be removed as one piece of stretchy, melted-cheese-like film. I could transfer the image onto a panel or canvas, and the image would spider-web and warp more than it stayed a crystal-clear photo. This transferring of the photo made me want to find other ways to transfer snapshots.

I realized adhering the original image wasn’t probably in the best interest of a family photo that still had some love around it, so I started looking for abandoned vintage photos on EBay, Etsy, and other online stores. I spent time in antique stores and flea markets looking through black-and-white photos. Even a few friends would give me old photos they’d find. I felt like I was giving these old, discarded photos a home. I imagined and created new storylines for the characters in these vintage photos. Sometimes an image jumps out at me and I know what I want to paint, and other times I purchase or am given a picture and realize I need to “sit on it” a while for the inspiration to come to me.

I scan photos into my computer and digitally manipulate the image – perhaps cloning out a person, adding another person or deleting oddities in the background. I then print the photos onto a water-slide transfer paper. After allowing the prints to dry overnight, I use any number of trial-and-errors to transfer the image onto panel. I’ve tried using chemicals, printing onto water-slide paper, and acrylic mediums to transfer photos. I found that I could paint on the panel before adhering the transfer, and then again atop of the transferred image. I loved the idea of contrasting the old photos of yesteryear by using contemporary digital photo editing software. After printing and transferring the photo back onto a traditional substrate, I add more color and new life. I found including other ephemera, like old newspaper clippings or sewing patterns added to the layering method that resembled encaustic art. I also realized that the acrylic mediums made a substantially thicker piece of transferring imagery that I could also sew.

Much of my work focuses on traditional roles and social expectations of women and children in the years the images came from – mostly from the earliest years of photography up to the late 1960s. I found that color photos felt too new, and didn’t have the contrast that the black and white photos had. It was hard for me to communicate “old meets new” with color photographs because so much of the world views color images daily. I also wanted all the colors to come from my paints. By including sewing in my paintings, I make visual commentary on what kind of art counts as “women’s art.” Fiber art like quilting, sewing and tatting were more “women’s work” rather than painting in a traditional art form.

My mixed-media art takes a little longer to complete than I’d like for two reasons: the layering of my work needs to fully dry before I can add another layer, and simply making the time to paint. I’m finding the older I get, the harder it is to stay up to 3 am. I calculate that it takes me a month to create a piece from starting on the computer to a finished work. Our two oldest children have flown the nest, but we spend much of our evenings chasing our youngest around to ballgames or an occasional band concert, so painting time is scarce most days.

Marketing and Promotion

Luckily, with a degree in visual communication and working in the advertising business, I have a solid grasp on both company and product development, so self-promotion isn’t a far stretch. Finding the time to market my art is again, scarce. Many days I work on my lunch hour designing materials or browsing online for exhibition opportunities. I wish I had more time to apply to exhibit!

My website premiered in 2005, and I use many social media channels to promote my work. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are the main ones I utilize. I believe in having print collateral as well. Business cards are the easiest and least expensive, but I also have postcards, note cards, brochures and what I call mini-portfolio books. I used to send the mini-books to galleries, but although I included pre-paid envelopes to return the mini-book, they weren’t always mailed back, unfortunately. Since the mini-books disappeared, I now just send note cards stuffed with a business card and ask if the gallery is interested. The note cards are less expensive than the mini-books, and I know I won’t be getting those back – so no disappointment there. I try to direct interested parties to my website, although it’s hard to keep adding new pieces to my site. My art needs photographed properly, cropped and saved to a specific pixel dimension and uploaded. I would say keeping my website up-to-date is difficult. The digital space is not my first love, so I force myself to do it. I’m on a computer all day at work, so the last thing I want to do is get back on one during my personal time. I’d rather be painting!

I have entered some art fairs in the past, so I also have signage for my booth. However, I find art fairs take a ton of work for little money.

How much time does it take to do my marketing? More time than I have, unfortunately. I could make self-promotion a full-time job. However, my job as an art director pays the bills. I say I have a professional job and a passionate career. The first is art direction to design, and the other is my personal artwork.

Exhibitions and Shows

Currently, I show my work in the United States Midwest. Somewhere within traveling distance in a weekend and back, because we still have our youngest in school. I’d love other exhibition opportunities! I’ve spent a good amount of time online looking for exhibiting invitations and portfolio submissions but have not applied. I’ve had a few works in online exhibitions, but an artist never really knows how a piece is received since there’s little opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation with a viewer reacting to my work. At a gallery show opening, viewers will approach me and want to talk about the works.

Obstacles and Challenges

I’d say the hardest of obstacles I face is living and functioning with severe clinical depression (also called major unipolar depression.) I was diagnosed with postpartum depression after the birth of our oldest child, but after our second child was born, the diagnosis was I’d never “bounce out” of what I call the abyss. Of course, that means my mornings start out with a cocktail of medication to help me through the day. It’s a diagnosis that was hard for my husband to acknowledge. He had difficulty listening to me talk about my condition. Since my diagnosis over 20 years ago, he’s learned to accept my mental and emotional challenges. His initial reaction was ironically, like the treatment of women exposed in the old photos I use in my artwork. Keep quiet. We don’t want anyone to notice your weaknesses.

I speak freely about depression. Knowing that many artists currently suffer (or have suffered) from depression make me feel as though it’s a part of creativity. Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Alan Poe, Virginia Woolf all battled depression. To me, depression is no different than not having enough insulin, like a person with diabetes. I lack norepinephrine and dopamine. I need medication to help me balance brain chemicals, just like an asthmatic needs an inhaler to help them breathe. When viewed as any other medical condition, the stigma of depression will disappear and hopefully start a conversation about the struggle.

Tips and Advice

Keep your hands busy. All artists experience dry spells, so I’ve always found it helpful to keep working on some form of art. For me, it could be illustration, sketching, watercolors, woodcuts or even knitting. Keep pushing. You’ll get out of the dry spell before you know it. I find that a dry spell are just a break to let our mind rest. You never run out of creativity. Have patience with yourself. You’re just simmering on your next work.

Brand yourself. Whether you seek out a professional to design a logo or you prefer your signature, you need to have a visual brand and don’t just count on “they’ll remember my work.” Think of branding of yourself as a visual reputation. Pretend you’re a company. If you have a sloppy or rather ugly look to your website and marketing materials, you’ve already lost your audience. They will assume your work is sloppy or ugly, too. Every piece of art, collateral, or outreach needs your brand for consistency. My logo happens to be my signature found on my paintings. That’s an easy connection to my audience. If you look professional (again, like a company) and can sell yourself, you can push through many cracked doors. Appearing as a professional is encompassing the idea of being a professional artist. It can also work oppositely. Look like an amateur in your branding – or lack thereof; your art will appear amateurish.

Surround yourself with other creatives. Have a network of friends or acquaintances you can talk to about art. It doesn’t have to be other visual artists, and you don’t have to talk only about visual art. One of my best friends is a writer and teacher, but she can put her thoughts about my work into words to give me helpful criticism. Honest feedback and critique is always better than hearing “I like it” or “I don’t care much for it.”

Creatives are 50% more prone to depression and 18-times more apt to attempt suicide than the general population*. Find professional help. Chat with friends. Again, keep your hands busy. Go for a walk and clear your head. I would say most of us use the act of making art as a form of therapy. If the act of creating artwork relieves your hidden pain, I believe you’re meant to create.

Don’t ever believe the lies your mine tells you. Your work is worthy and deserves to be out there! If your heart tells you that you must make the art, and you feel it needs to be viewed by others, don’t allow your head to talk you out of the vulnerable act of exhibiting. Your heart may be too sensitive or in pain, so don’t listen to your heart. Listen to your gut. Always go with your gut over any other infallible organ attempting to keep you from sharing your art.

*http://www.mindshare.org.au/creative-people-prone-depression/





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About the Author:

Hey there, I'm Ashleigh Dix, a self-taught mixed media artist born in Zimbabwe and schooled in South Africa where I worked in the domestic and commercial art sector after which I spent a few years travelling around the world before moving to London and finally settling in Kent. Welcome to my mixed media art website and my blog where I regularly interview artists from around the word.