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Creative Careers : Lynda Lehmann Interview

Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews

Artist & Writer Lynda Lehmann

By Molly Anderson-Childers

Today, I will be interviewing Lynda Lehmann, a fabulous artist and writer with some interesting insights into the creative process. Lynda, thanks for taking some time to work with me today. I know you've got a busy summer planned!

Q: What was your first job as a young woman?

A: Baby-sitting, of course. And a short stint at the local Dairy Queen, making ice cream sundaes…. After college, I worked at a large advertising agency on Long Island. I also worked as an artist in the in-house art department of a large corporation, for a local shopping magazine, and for a freelance designer with numerous accounts. More recently, I had a small medical transcription business at home. I had thought that working at home might leave me time to pursue my art and writing interests, but that wasn't the case.

Q: How did you make the leap from day job to dream job, and find this fabulous career?

A: I was employed as an artist in the jobs I've just mentioned, before our daughter was born. Afterwards, I chose to become a stay-at-home mom. I think that raising a child is the most important job in the world, so I wanted to devote myself to that. Now that our daughter is grown and has finished college, I have decided to actualize my dream of doing art full-time. Thankfully, I don't have to rely on art sales to eat or pay the mortgage.

Q: The art world is notoriously competitive. How did you "break in?" Any advice for young artists on presenting a professional portfolio to a gallery or competition?

A: My advice for artists who are just starting to put their work "out there," is to pay attention to three things. One is giving his/her art enough time for the process to take on a life of its own. Without commitment, you might as well take up a more conventional pastime. In my own experience, it's very important to create the time and space for a real process to develop. This means that you are involved enough with your art that one thing leads to another (or to many others, as the case may be).

This is opposed to working so intermittently that "process" doesn't have the opportunity to take hold and grow with its own momentum. (Many people have talked about both the joy and the productivity benefits of being "in flow." As far as I can see, the only drawback to this is that time flies even faster than usual. And it flies pretty fast at my age!)

Another thing is to think both locally and globally, in terms of exposure. Enter local and national juried shows, join the local art league, network with other artists. Put together a real-time portfolio. And of course, build a web presence.

But most importantly, I would tell any aspiring artist to find and embrace her creative core, her truest and deepest creative self. In doing so, she will have won the largest victory. All the small victories that come after that, will be the icing on the cake.

Q: Do you have a business manager, lawyer, agent, accountant, personal assistant, or other staff to help with certain aspects of your career? How much of it do you do yourself? Can you recommend any free or cheap resources for artists on a small budget who have to go it alone?

A: I do everything myself. I learn in spoonfuls, taking in tidbits of information when I need to learn something new. As far as affordable resources, there are many sites that give artists free space on the web, although the space they offer is limited. The idea is that once you have vested the time in starting a site with them, you will want to upgrade to their paid site, with all the bells and whistles. While it's good to have your work in several or many places to increase the chance of people finding you, it's important to have at least one paid site with a reputation for quality, such as I've heard it said many times that potential customers, be they corporate or private, will not take seriously an artist who has only free sites. Partly this is because a limited site will not let you exhibit a significant body of work. You can't show a body of work in just a page or two.

Many supportive artists' communities exist on the web. I think my favorite, for being the most cooperative and informative, is Worldwide Women Artists Online. The ladies there are both savvy and mutually supportive. Information flies back and forth in this group, at jet speed.

Q: When you're just starting out, how do you protect your own interests, strike a fair deal with a gallery or agent, and avoid being a sucker? Any words of warning or learning experiences you can share from your own career would be very helpful!

A: It's hard to give generalized advice on this, except to say, "Be careful, and get everything is writing." So many different scenarios can present themselves, and it's difficult to anticipate. There are some good books that give sound, practical advice and offer sample contracts and other resources for artists. For the sake of brevity, I'll just say here that I will be listing a few of these books on my blog, "Peripheral Vision."

I have also posted a few books which have more to do with piquing your sense of wonder. They're more or less about art, the creative process, or the nature of our existence in the cosmos.

Flower Songs © Lynda Lehmann

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work? Can you tell us why you enjoy it, and what keeps you excited about coming into the studio each day?

A: What excites me is the process itself, being engaged in it deeply enough for the process to take on a life of its own. Then it becomes self-reinforcing, as well as more demanding. The smaller corollary would be when you have gone into a painting with a tentative attitude, with perhaps some doubts and hesitation, and then you arrive at a point when the painting seems to call for this or that, seems to actually "tell" you what it wants to be.

The larger process is similar. The more one paints, the more one wants to paint, and the more ideas occur spontaneously. With me, it happens not in linear form, but in branches. This can be overwhelming as well as exhilarating. I am often awake at night with ideas, and still struggle with how to quiet my mind, once the creative wheels get turning. Their creaking can certainly interrupt a night's sleep! I try to jot notes before I go to bed, sort of a nightcap list of ideas I neglected to write down during the day.

But I'm not one of those people who can get up and write notes in the middle of the night. If I do that, I'll surely leave the bedroom and head for the studio. Pretty soon, I wouldn't sleep at all! So it's also important to get out and do other things, to balance the subjectivity and intensity we artists experience.

When people enjoy my work and say that they find one of my paintings beautiful or that one of my photos gives them a peaceful moment, that too, is very gratifying.

Q: What are some of the challenges inherent in this type of work, and how do you deal with them? Are there any frightening aspects to this work for you?

A: I don't recommend being an artist to anyone who is frightened of freedom. There are so many choices inherent in the creative process, that I think one really has to be of independent spirit. I always say, "When in doubt, don't sink in the muck of conflict — just grab the nearest branch and pull yourself up. In other words, just do something!"

Q: What is your favorite type of music to listen to while you're working in the studio? Which musicians, CDs or songs help you feel inspired, creative, juicy, and full of fabulous ideas?

A: I like folk music from the sixties, New Age, Celtic, Native American flute music, classical, and a little bluegrass and blues. A little of everything, really. But I rarely listen to music when I work as I am totally involved, and want to be totally involved, in the work itself. I like to listen to music when I'm doing housework, which is not as emotionally and intellectually demanding as doing art tends to be.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your other creative projects. Are you working on anything exciting and new? Do you enjoy experimenting with different types of media? Or do you prefer to focus on one and master it? What are your plans, goals, and dreams for the future?

A: I'm preparing for a large solo show next winter at the Alfred Van Loen Gallery in Huntington, Long Island. I would like to have a new body of work to add to the work that I've already completed. And my new blog, which I've already mentioned, is another project that I'll be paying a lot of attention to in the coming months. It's a perfect way to combine writing and image-making. I'm fascinated with the spiritual aspect of doing and perceiving art, and in my blog I talk about my perceptions of a particular piece or approach to art, and how the experience touches me. I think art is a great humanizing and civilizing force. I view our creativity as an outgrowth of the self-organizing principle of the universe. I see the creative proclivity of humankind as an expression of the endless bounty and potential of the universe. In these concepts/perceptions, I find joy.

I do have reservations about the kind of creativity that churns out violence and all forms of ugliness in video games and television and many movies, and will except those from my statement about art being a civilizing or transcending force in society.

If you would like to know how I believe art empowers us, you can read my article Art and Power or my other articles at Creativity Portal, or read my "Words, Not Pictures" page at Or you can read my blog, where I'll be posting ideas about art on a regular basis.

As for my work, I began painting in acrylics in January of 2006, and have fallen in love with the medium. It's been very liberating for me, since I had always worked in watercolors, always trying to learn and master new techniques. Finally I got tired of worrying about technique and paying homage to reality, and decided to paint all the abstracts I had dreamed about. Building up rich layers of impasto in bright colors, has been a very satisfying experience.

Each painting is an experience in itself, relating to different color principles, compositional elements, rhythms, techniques, and concepts. I never become bored with painting. I will continue to do photography whenever the opportunity presents itself, and the occasional digital piece. But for now, I'm content to focus on acrylics, mostly in an abstract expressionist style.

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