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11 Questions: Amy Soczka

1) Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

For some reason, this question is the hardest for me to answer. I am someone who always has a to-do list running in my head, I still use a day planner and a pen, I am intensely curious about other people's inner lives, I am terrible at remembering names, I embarrass/delight my children by dancing and singing at inappropriate times, I dislike talking on the phone, I only in the last few years have been able to call myself an artist even though it is all I have ever been.

2) What first Inspired you to begin painting?

I have been pretty dedicated to painting and drawing for most of my life. My mother was very encouraging and had me in classes at the art museum or set up with summer artist mentors starting at 11, and before that I spent a lot of hours drawing with my sister. I went to an art college and although I took some painting courses, I tried to focus on the more commercial side of art and went into graphic design. I worked as a designer for 10 years, but I continued to practice fine art and eventually started a small stationary business, selling at art fairs and wholesale. I think the transition to painting really happened when we moved and had a lot more space. I grew into my new space by making larger work, and I took some time to experiment with my ideas. I went from small pen and watercolor drawings on a desktop to 9-foot tall watercolor and ink paintings. I learned that the watercolor ink I was using was not light-resistant, so I got into acrylic and continued to experiment with the opacity of it to get the effect I want.

3) What is your studio like? 

We have a pole barn on our property, built to store the vintage car collection the previous owner had. My studio occupies a quarter of it, and the rest is an open space that we use for music events and recordings. The concrete floor is stained with motor oil and paint. I have no running water, but that is a very minor inconvenience that I am happy to deal with! We have woods and a creek behind us, and the barn is surrounded with raspberry bushes that push through the cracks, along with mice and snakes. I don't love the mice, but I can handle the rest. It's my favorite place to be.

4) What are some of your rituals in the studio to get the momentum going? Do you listen to certain music, podcasts, require a nice cup of coffee? 

Yes, all of that. I do have rituals, but I never thought of it like that until now! Sometimes it takes a good hour to get going. I make a coffee in the house, gather my washed brushes and whatever else I commuted, and I head out. It takes maybe 30 seconds to get to the barn really, but sometimes I try to stretch that out because I know that once I am in there, I am not coming out for 6 hours at least. The barn is like a time warp for me - I set multiple alarms for different things when I am working because what seems like a few minutes can be an hour. So I get in there, set my alarms after reviewing my checklist, check the email, make notes of stuff to do so I don't worry about them while I paint and then on to the arduous task of selecting something to listen to. I try to listen to music, but I get so distracted by it. I typically listen to podcasts like This American Life, RadioLab, Jealous Curator, or sometimes just NPR. I also listen to TV shows, ranging from crime shows to stand-up comedy specials. I check my in-progress paintings and decide which to work on first. I used to only work on one at a time, but now I usually have 3 or 4 going so that I can rotate when I get stuck on one. Then I stare at them. I have learned to accept that part of the process, even though it goes against my 'do it do it do it now' pace. There are some parts that are a little more formulaic, like patterns in lace, but most of it is improvised and unplanned. I guess the ritual of it is like a warm-up, complete with stretching and appropriate footwear.

5) What do you do when you are not ‘feeling’ a painting in progress? 

How do you overcome ‘failure’?

When I am doubting a painting, I try to move on to a different one. But sometimes, I get very frustrated and that translates into a stubborn need to work the painting through the ugly stage until I am happy again. This happens with every painting, sometimes more than once. I have sometimes challenged myself to not go to bed until I solve that problem, which has led to some late nights. I have also turned a painting around in an effort to move on from it, but I always come back eventually. I really think the only failure with painting is not painting.


6) What is the most inspiring place you have been to?

I spent most of a year in Italy while I was finishing up my BFA. It was before smartphones and I didn't own a laptop, I was broke all the time and constantly lost. But I did get to travel and read and make drawings that I can see now were the seeds for my paintings. I love going to art museums and galleries - I get a huge rush from seeing art up close and just be in a space with it. One of my favorite places to visit in Wisconsin is Dr. Evermore's Forevertron. It makes me intensely happy to be surrounded by art in that way, like walking through someone's dreams.

7) Other than painting, do you have any other interests or hobbies?

I have two young children, so if I am not in my studio I am with them. One project I have been working on for them is a playhouse next to my studio. I have never built anything and have been learning as I go with YouTube and DIY blogs, so I would say that is my main hobby outside of my studio right now.

8) I saw on your CV that you have done some licensing. Could you explain for everyone a little about what that entails and what made you decide to pursue it?

Licensing was a really cool part of my work, and I hope to do it again at some point. I loved seeing my designs on products and at a larger scale. In both cases, I was approached by the respective companies for work that I already had produced, so for me it was great. There is a nearly unlimited number of choices for almost anything a person would want to buy, so when they choose something with my artwork on it, I find that really satisfying. 

9) What are the biggest challenges you have faced as an artist? 

The business side of it. I have limited studio hours right now, so I have found it difficult to make time to do the background work because of course I just want to paint. After that I would say my biggest challenges are guilt over how much I love working but also wanting to be with my kids as much as possible, not having a consistent income, having a waterfall of ideas and not nearly enough time to produce them all, balancing all the roles. I am also pretty solitary and have to talk myself into attending events and socializing. I would almost always rather be in my studio, but I still have to be a person and invest time in the people who are important to me.


10) What/Who are influences for your work? 

As a child I was really into the stacks of National Geographic my aunt had. I loved the photos so much and wanted to be a photographer for them someday. I also loved Gustav Klimt after seeing a poster of "The Kiss" somewhere, and I think I imprinted some of that palette into my consciousness along with the 80's explosion of Lisa Frank neon. That was all before I was 10, and although I have studied art for over 25 years, those childhood sparks are what come to mind. My biggest influences are the things I am surrounded by, the people I observe, the process by which we all filter the millions of images we interact with throughout our day.


11) What are you working on right now?

I am working on a new papercut piece that will be installed in a way that allows the viewer to walk all the way around it, experiencing the light filtering through in a dynamic way. It's a big shift from painting but I think working without color and with a focus on positive/negative shape interactions will serve my next series of paintings. 

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