Photo: Judy Wood

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Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews

A Conversation with Canadian Art Photographer Judy Wood

By Molly J. Anderson-Childers | Posted June 1, 2011 | Updated June 23, 2019

Judy Wood is a career artist, based in the Canadian prairies. She has worked in a variety of media, from batik to stained glass and glass mosaic, but photography remained a constant in the background of her artistic endeavors. Her current work is photo based, and ranges from art photography of various subject matter through to one of a kind mixed media works with photo elements.

Q: When did you first discover your passion for art and photography?

A: I don't remember ever "not" creating art and being very aware of the visual content and patterns of the world around me. I spent endless hours drawing as a child (almost exclusively horses, still a major element in my artwork to this day) and when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, would always answer either "artist" or "dog catcher." At that time I thought the town "dog catcher", aka animal control officer, got to keep all the dogs they apprehended, and that seemed like a heck of a good deal to my young self. As my understanding of job requirements evolved, I cut back to "artist" as my desired goal. I was fortunate to have the ongoing support of my parents and then of my husband to allow me the luxury of time and a roof over my head as I evolved towards "working artist" status, while raising a family.

Much of my art training has been self-generated. I took an art class here and there as a child, worked on my own through high school, and majored in fine arts at the university level. The main benefit of the university art degree was in exposure to a number of media I would not have tried on my own, studying art history through the ages, and an education in composition, design, and critical thinking as it applies to the creation of art. Being open-minded about art styles and media has served me well for decades — not just in my "one of a kind" media, but also as it applies to my work in photography. Since my university days (decades ago now) I have found I have the tools to teach myself anything I want or need to know, particularly with the advent of the worldwide web, where whatever you want to learn can be accessed online if you are dedicated to the process.

I came to art photography relatively late in my career, with the purchase of my first digital SLR less than ten years ago, and am totally self-taught in photography and in Photoshop, using the "artist's eye" and the knowledge acquired over a lifetime of work in other art media. I still think of myself mostly as an artist who uses a camera, rather than as a photographer.

Hunter's Moon © Judy Wood

Q: Which artists and photographers fuel your inspiration?

A: I can't point to any one particular individual or movement as a source. I have a broad and eclectic appreciation for a wide variety of artists, media and styles. Prehistoric cave painters, medieval artisans, Art Nouveau and Art Deco have all captured my attention at one point or another. The stylized and decorative paintings of Gustav Klimt have been an ongoing inspiration. I have an interest in abstract/non-representational works as well. Having come relatively late in my career to photography, I haven't (yet) taken the time to research the founders and inspirational figures in this world. I do have endless admiration and respect for the "pioneers" of photography, who trekked all over the wild and remote places of the world to capture their images, burdened by mountains of equipment and with glass or metal plates in tow, working to master a technically complex medium. Their work has stood up to the test of time for over a century now with a quality that modern technology is often hard-pressed to match.

Q: Was there one particular artist who influenced and shaped your work at the beginning of your career? How have your influences changed over time?

A: The main influences I recall at the beginning of my career (which would be in my art student days) were negative ones, or so they seemed at the time. I was an art student in the late sixties, interested in portraying animals, especially horses, in a somewhat realistic fashion. This was not a good time for those sorts of aspirations, and I was quickly made to feel that the words "horse" and "art" were mutually exclusive. At the time I was insecure enough to be persuaded that this must be correct so I toed the line and learned not to mention this odd notion I had about recognizable imagery in artwork.

I still remember the comment of one of my instructors, who announced, "If any of you want to be serious artists, don't get involved with horses." This came from his attitude towards a fellow faculty member who was both a fine artist (and who used horses in her imagery) and a fine horsewoman. My professor clearly felt that this fellow artist had compromised her art career by her preoccupation with horses, but in truth the two passions supported each other. The "horse" artist is still painting and still riding, now in her 90s! That's the career model I want to emulate.

Ironically, it wasn't until I entered the world of riding and horse ownership that my true artistic course was confirmed, and I was set upon the path that I follow to this day. Despite having loved and studied equines all my life, I didn't learn to ride or become active in the horse world until I was in my mid-thirties. I resisted the first few requests by fellow riders to create horse art for them (can't be art if it's got horses in it!) but eventually relented and came to understand that this was the direction I needed to go. By this stage, I really didn't care what others felt about what I was doing, or how my work fit in to the larger art world. This was what satisfied and excited me, and this was where I was heading.

Q: What's your favorite way to unwind after a long photo shoot or a grueling day in the studio?

A: Strangely, my best unwinding after a photo shoot out in the field comes at the computer when I download the images and relive my day, seeing what worked as anticipated, what didn't, appreciating the happy accidents, learning from my errors, and making plans for how I can play/work with the images in Photoshop.

My day consists of mornings in the studio, afternoons at the stables with my horse, then evenings in the studio again. I find I need that afternoon break from artwork in order to freshen me up both physically and mentally, so that routine works well for me.

On occasions when the photo shoot or studio have really wiped me out, nothing beats a good book in the comfy chair by the fireplace, with a strong cup of coffee and my dogs and cat nearby.

Q: What (if any) impact has your spiritual path had on your creative journey? Do you feel there is a connection between art and the sacred?

A: I have no spiritual path or "sacred" leanings in any definable sense, so this is hard to evaluate. I certainly revere nature and the natural world, and that is where I go to stay in touch with the realities that are important to me. For my work, nature *is* nurture, and the two are totally interdependent.

Q: Have you ever experienced a major creative block? If so, how did you power through it and keep on trucking?

A: When I was a younger artist, I used to worry that I had only a limited amount of "art" in me, and I would run through it eventually and that would be an end of it. Now I realize that we all occasionally hit slow spells, which are as much a part of the process as the active creation phases. I juggle a fair number of media, so if I hit an uninspired phase in one part of my art life, I will switch over to a different set of art materials and projects, and that does as much as anything to freshen my thinking.

Heading out the door with the camera is always an option, and it never fails to provide me with something new to think and get excited about. Another good way for me to get "unstuck" is to use the "down" time to borrow library books on different art media and processes and learn something new. I often read about art techniques and media that I will never actually work with, just for interest and because it all adds to my bank of knowledge of art and how it is created.

Q: What's the biggest obstacle you've overcome so far in your career? Tell us how you did it.

A: I've been fortunate overall in that I haven't had any "career-threatening" obstacles that I can recall. Mostly it's just been a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, and carrying on as if everything was going to be all right. I've certainly had moments or periods of discouragement, anxiety, self-doubt, fear of failure, fear of success, but I think these are all standard operating procedure for most of us. Persistence and just keeping on are vital to the process. In the road race of a life in art, I've definitely been the tortoise rather than the hare, but I'm still here working away at what I love. Understanding that most of the roadblocks we encounter aren't unique to us and usually aren't personal does help, as does breaking down big problems into smaller "bites" that can be analyzed and dealt with.

Flight of Fancy © Judy Wood

Q: What inspires you — makes you itch to paint or snap a photo?

A: I see "photo worthy" images everywhere I go, which is one of the reasons I try to take my camera with me as much as possible. As I have gone farther down the photography path, I find I look at everything in terms of patterns, values, and composition, as well as subject matter. Often my photos are just the start of the process, and are raw material rather than finished products. I do a lot of reworking in Photoshop, creating entirely new art images with bits taken from many different photos. I think of myself as a "walking eye" for my own work, and an "external memory" for my photo clients.

I can find beauty and interest in everything from a crumbling building to a bird in flight. One of my favorite shots of a year ago was taken at a horse show when I was there to photograph clients in the jumper ring. This turned out to be almost impossible due to the appallingly muddy conditions that prevented many of the classes taking place. Working on the theory that when the original plan doesn't work, you work with what you've got, I started a series of "mud shots" and came up with some wonderful tight-crop images of muddy horse feet and legs in the slop. Not what I originally set out to do, but it worked for me.

Q: You've achieved so much — what does the future hold for you, Ms. Wood?

A: I'm not much of a planner so I'm never sure what is in the offing for my art or my life. I tend to follow my nose and see where it leads me. My most recent explorations have taken me in the direction of mixed media works, mostly encaustic based, with collage and photo elements. While I love my digital photo work and the many hours I spend obsessing over images and reworking them in Photoshop, sometimes it's nice to work more directly and hands-on with "real" art materials that have a tactile element and that you work with by physically manipulating.

I hope to do more with my photography and art to support the valuable work of animal rescue. I have made some connections with local rescue groups, and am now a member of HeARTs Speak, an international organization of photographers who are united in their desire to use their photography to promote animal welfare.

Another new direction for my photo images is in the form of greeting cards. I have developed an extensive line of card images with a variety of subject matter that will be available for direct purchase or wholesale.

Q: Any famous last words of encouragement, advice, and inspiration for all those aspiring artists out there?

A: I'm a believer in art as something that is possible for most people if they are willing to work at it. Art techniques are learned, and anyone capable of applying themselves can learn the technical aspects. I do think that "feel" and "eye", what some would refer to as a "gift", are to a certain extent innate, but anyone who works hard at it and has a sincere approach can attain some level of achievement. Even with a propensity/gift for art, it is hard work that takes a lot of determination and application. Today's "quick and easy" attitude sets many people up for failure and frustration when they don't see instant success with their artwork. Anything worth doing is worth taking time over.

An open/inquiring mind and being devoted to the learning process are always assets. I have known "successful" artists who have settled into their niche (aka rut) and who don't want to be bothered with any further options or knowledge. They have developed a formula that works for them, and they don't want to be distracted by having to process more input. Being focused on your own work is necessary, but we need to stay fresh and aware of new ideas and concepts. This isn't to suggest that rushing after the latest fads or trends is desirable either, just that knowledge and awareness of what is going on in the bigger picture is usually a good thing. The whole world of art is out there to be accessed, and with today's technology, it is available to anyone who has the time and desire to access it. Go for it!

©2011 Molly Anderson-Childers. All rights reserved.

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Photo: Judy Wood