By Molly J. Anderson-Childers | Updated June 9, 2018
Lynda Lehmann is an abstract expressionist painter and digital photographer who has shown her art in numerous juried and solo shows in the New York area. She also is a writer with some interesting insights into the creative process. Read Lynda's art and creativity articles on Creativity Portal.
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 creative 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 absolutearts.com. 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?
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.
Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your work? 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, albums, or songs help you feel inspired, creative, and full of 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.
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.
Q: What makes you laugh and shine inside?
A: What makes me laugh and shine inside? When I'm deeply involved in artistic process, I am lifted above all the daily problems of the human condition, my own included.
What else makes me shine? The thought of a world at peace, though I probably won't see this in my lifetime. I'd like to see a world in which the quality of "virtue" has reinvented itself, a new paradigm in which people again believe in doing things for the common good. I think that Hollywood's dependence on the darker things in creating what they call "entertainment," like graft, greed, betrayal, adultery and murder, indicates an underlying lack of creativity. They could be doing so much to alter and enhance the collective unconscious, rather than wallpapering our lives, and our kids' lives, with images of ugliness and destruction.
Q: What helps you to bounce back when you're in a creative slump, feeling blocked and stuck in the muck, and just plain lazy and unmotivated?
A: Strangely, I rarely feel stuck and unmotivated. I usually have the opposite problem, feeling like a boiling cauldron that will spill over if I don't relieve the pressure by creating. So motivation isn't a problem. For me, the problem lies more is choosing which creative project to do at a given time. Ideas are usually simultaneous for me, so I constantly feel I'm navigating down the rapids of a roiling river. Occasionally I have to bail out and crawl to shore, just to get out of the stream. Many people feel a need to be with friends all the time or to be entertained. For me, solitude is equal to freedom. It's when I most own and am at peace with myself. I rarely enjoy being "on." While I value my solitude, I do value and like to see friends at intervals.
Q: How do you keep the creative sparks firing? Tell us all about your favorite ways to inspire yourself and keep yourself going.
A: Giving myself enough time to stay in the process, keeps me inspired and motivated. I don't waste time with things that are less meaningful to me. For me, the greatest challenge is quieting my mind and making enough time for a good night's sleep. Of course, we are all more productive and efficient when we're rested.
Q: How does travel inform and inspire your work? It sounds like you're getting ready for a summer vacation!
A: Our summer in Maine will be more of a construction marathon than a vacation, as my husband rebuilds a cabin into a proper house. Building walls, installing plumbing, heating, and electrical systems, as well as kitchen and bath, is not easy. Still, we take every opportunity to enjoy a hike, swim in the lake, or canoe at sunset. We both feel very much in harmony with the universe in a setting where human excess has not yet vanquished the peace and beauty of uninterrupted landscape.
Q: What do you like to do just for fun, just for you, when you're not hard at work on another painting?
A: The word "fun" would be replaced by "joy" in my lexicon. To me, joy is a more powerful experience. I would almost always rather have the challenge and excitement of painting than more external activities. If there were more hours in a day and more days in the week, and resources were not a factor, I would snorkel near coral reefs, hike in the rainforest, photograph the glaciers in Alaska, and see Macchu Picchu. Although there are many things I would like to experience that I may not be able to, I never feel bored or unhappy when I'm being creative.
Q: What is your favorite way to relax?
A: I love to hike, swim, canoe, and on rare occasions, lie in a hammock gazing through the overhead branches of a majestic pine. I also love to read books about the nature of life and the cosmos, about human thought, aesthetics, and perception.
Q: What is your favorite moment of the day?
A: Pulling up the shades in the morning to see the bight dawning of another day, and getting my coffee! My second favorite moment is walking into my studio in the knowledge that I may have a few uninterrupted hours on my hands, in which to paint.
Q: What is the most challenging, scariest part of this work for you?
A: Knowing that it's not a standard career, nor guaranteed to reap profits enough to pay for all my materials or offset our other expenses.
Q: How do you confront the shadow side in your work? How do the deep, dark places of the soul inspire you?
A: On the news, in the media, everywhere in the world there is human suffering on a grand scale. I rely on my art to move me into a state of joy, when the tragedy of the human condition gets me down. I think that part of me is naturally very positive and optimistic, because I rarely find myself in a state of mind in which darkness or pessimism manifests in my work If I'm in a really bad mood or upset about something, it must be of a serious nature. At those times I usually put my energy into trying to solve the problem, rather than attempting to paint. I learned when I was in my twenties, to face and embrace my darker emotions, and ride them out. If you don't let yourself own them, you're depriving yourself of feeling the full range of human emotion. If you try to hide from your darker feelings they will find you again and again, each time with added power. Generally, I feel that doing art keeps me feeling positive about life.
I think the job of the artist is to put forth new forms of beauty into the world, and these new forms can lead to new paradigms. I wrote this on my "Words, Not Pictures" page of my site:
In a world torn by political, ethnic and religious conflict, only art has the power to unify, inspire, elevate, and heal .
Art, both the making and the viewing of it, encourages us to see the world in new ways, as well as to look into ourselves. A world without art would be intellectually and spiritually barren. Imagination makes all things possible, and art is the most profound outgrowth of the human imagination that is not subservient to external purposes (although of course, there are exceptions). Therefore, even in its all its confusing flux and diversity, art is perhaps the "purest" phenomenon among human endeavors.
Works of art create new relationships, new paradigms, new ways of viewing the world. Art creates vision. At its best, it has the power to create hope.
Q: Who forms the sticky strands of your support web? A lot of artists would be lost without the support of partners, friends, family, and other creative artists and professionals.
A: I am grateful to my painting teachers/mentors at the Long Island Art League. Both Sal Tortora and Stan Brodsky have been very supportive of me and of their students in general. My comrades in art, my fellow painters at the art league, are also part of my mutual support system. My husband and family have been supportive of my work. And I'd also like to thank the wonderful people I've "met" on the web, like Chris Dunmire at Creativity Portal.
Q: How do you indulge yourself? Treasure yourself? Treat yourself like a queen? What are your favorite luscious "guilty pleasures"?
A: Chocolate chip cookies for indulgence. Meditation, prayer or a good book about the cosmos for putting things in perspective. And my "guilty pleasure" is loving what I do, and the fact that I finally have enough time in my life to be able to call it a "process." Even if it means being delinquent in the garden or kitchen.
Q: Do you spoil yourself often enough? I find that many women myself included! have a hard time with this. We feel we don't deserve it, or worry about being perceived as selfish. Is it difficult for you, too?
A: It was always difficult to call myself an artist. To even entertain the idea of pursuing it full time was out of the question, until I had breast cancer four years ago. That experience, coupled with the fact that I'm in my late fifties, gave me the determination to call myself an artist and act on it.
Q: If you could travel back in time to visit your thirteen-year-old self, what advice or words of wisdom would you want to give her?
A: Believe in yourself. Feign confidence, even if you don't feel it, because practicing it will help you develop it.
Q: What is your greatest source of inspiration?
A: The bounty and beauty of nature and the endless, infinite stream of human creativity. Art in all its forms.
Learn more about Lynda Lehmann by visiting lynda-lehmann.pixels.com.
Next Interview: Linda Dessau, Music Therapist
©2007 Molly J. Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.