Today we’re chatting with Liese Chavez, artist and illustrator who runs a couple of Etsy shops, each with somewhat different points of view, but both spectacular. Give it a read and if you have any questions for Liese, post them in the comments. Enjoy!
Liese, how about starting with a little background. Where are you from, born and raised?
I lived in Massachusetts until about 11 years ago, when a cross-country trip landed me here in Colorado. I now live and work in Manitou Springs, it’s a great little artsy town at the foot of Pike’s Peak.
How did your creativity start? How old were you when you started doing art, how did it begin and flourish?
I’ve always made things. As a child it was mostly to entertain myself or make my Mother smile. When I got a bit older I created most often because I was too broke to buy people gifts. heh.
I’ve only been painting since 2005, but I’ve gotten more serious about it in the last few years. The narrative work I’m doing now didn’t really begin until the start of 2010, I finally feel as if I’ve found a way to express things that suits me. I’m self-taught in all the media I use. There is a wealth of information in books and on the internet these days, thank goodness.
What were you doing before you started selling your art? How did you transition from that to selling on Etsy?
After 6 years, I had been laid off from my position in retail management after being injured on the job. I was in a brace from hip to ankle and painting was something I could do sitting down. I wasn’t about to sit there and collect unemployment, so I searched out gallery representation. I wound up working at the first gallery that represented me and I learned lots from the job about what people need from the artwork they buy. When I paint something that really speaks to people, I feel we have communicated in a private way. I think that is my favorite thing about still working at a gallery, getting to meet the people that buy my art in person.
My introduction to Etsy was a crash course. In January of 2009 my husband’s job had done cutbacks, so we really put the effort into the first Etsy store I opened, Deadpan Alley to pick up the slack in income.
You have at least two shops on Etsy that I know of, Pale Preoccupation and Deadpan Alley. First, what is the difference between the shops, and second, where do you get off being so talented? How about leaving some for the rest of us?
PalePreoccupation is my place for prints of the work that is most demanding. The store was a natural offshoot of the paintings I started in 2010, the inks and such. The work was so different from my cartoon-y drawings on DeadpanAlley, it really needed its own shop. The mood is sort of story book-ish. I plan to sell prints of the new oils I’m doing on there, too. As soon as they are dry…*sigh* I typically only sell original paintings in a gallery, I feel that people usually need to see the piece in person to make that kind of investment.
DeadpanAlley is where you can find prints of my Deadpan Girl paintings and all the spontaneous work, small original illustrations, things I don’t fuss with or agonize over. I like being able to offer original work that anyone can afford. Goodness knows, my own art collection has small beginnings. The things you love don’t always have to cost a fortune. I’m thankful I have my husband Kris to help run both stores. We both still work regular jobs part time, so it would be impossible without him.
Gosh, how does someone reply to compliments like that? Thank you! That is probably the best place to start. I do feel strongly about the “practice makes perfect” thing, though. I was really frustrated by my lack of drawing skills for years until I really buckled down and practiced every day. Hard work, it tends to make you look good, don’t you think?
Aside from Etsy, where else to you sell your work? Any venues you want to try but haven’t, or ones that didn’t work for you?
I sell original paintings on Facebook from time to time, so please feel free to call “dibs” on anything you love even if the piece is not complete yet. Otherwise, I have my hands full keeping the walls covered at Mountain Living Studio in Manitou Springs, it is my home gallery and if the owner keeps giving me more wall space I may never get the chance to go anywhere else! heh. I do shows occasionally in the area and I always promote them on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve tried showing at restaurants and coffee shops with not much luck, but have had great success at Swirl Wine bar in Manitou Springs. I think it has more to do with the person running the places you show. If they are into your work, they’ll talk about it and engage people.
Really I’d love to get in at a place like Masters Gallery in Denver or Vail, but I haven’t gotten the stones to apply to them yet. I’ve been rejected by lots of places and I guess I aim high. I usually get decent feedback from the places that say no if I ask, like for instance if they don’t have a history of doing well with watercolors, I need to apply with oils next time, right? That’s the way I take it, at least. Never close a door if you can help it.
What would you say was the tipping point for your success? Was it a gradual success or can you pinpoint a certain series of events that launched your business?
I did alright selling flower paintings and other pretties for a while, because that is what I thought I needed to do to be practical. But things really took off for me when I decided I needed to try to paint things that pleased me. Well, things that pleased me that I thought other people with unusual taste might enjoy as well. And I wanted to paint them as well as a dead artist that I admired. I’m still no Arthur Rackham, but it set me in the right direction. The reaction to my new work was overwhelming. All of a sudden I find myself in the local papers, people are asking me to to openings and interviews. And people are excited. And I’m excited. It’s still growing. Now I want to paint skin like Bouguereau. I’m plowing through 4 books on oil painting right now and watching all the demos I can find on the internets. I probably will never master that perfect soft skin in oil. But I’m damn well going to try.
Can you talk a little about your inspiration for the different series’?
The Deadpan Characters are all about humor and taking a chance for me. I love the dry expressions paired with bright colors and cuteness. The drawings themselves I attempt to do with no corrections, straight pen to paper, just going with the flow. I want a monkey. Can I really draw a monkey with no reference image? Will he look like a strange naked human with a red butt and make the illustration wind up in the trash? Let’s see now … The acrylic paintings in that style are more involved, but they usually start with a simple drawing as well.
The Pale Preoccupation series is more influenced by my childhood. fairytales, fables, flights of fancy. I like creating a fantastic world for myself and everyone else to share. I love twisting things I hear or read into a visual story. It is the storytelling that really sucks me in, it’s all I can think about these days. I go on and on about it. I’m a terrible bore to know, trust me.
Who or what inspires you most to create? Do you have any rituals?
My husband and I share ideas a lot since he is an artist as well, so I would say he is my best sounding board. I also really want to impress him, so that plays a factor as well. Ah, love! Looking at the work of artists I admire also inspires me to try harder to be better at what I do.
I don’t know if I have rituals, exactly. I know I’d be nowhere without the book I put notes and sketches in. It keeps the things I don’t yet know how to say visually nice and safe while I wait for my skills to catch up with my ideas.
If you had to give up your art today, what would you do instead?
What a horrible idea. Do you mean I couldn’t even make art on a day off? I don’t think there is an “instead” for me anymore. I’ll do anything necessary to keep doing what I am doing. If you take my fingers, I’ll hold the brush with my teeth. I believe that is what makes me determined enough to make this work, the NEED to continue. I know that for some artists their art is a torture. For me it is my personal path to happiness. Art is fulfilling. It allows me to connect with people in a better way than I typically can socially. It gives me purpose, it gives me something to feel good about. It makes me try, makes me study, makes me desire to be better. Sometimes it makes me a little bit angry with frustration. It is my passion. I think without art I’d lie around in bed all day being morose. What a drag I would be then! No, I’m not the person I want to be without it.
What does the future hold for you and your art? What projects are on the horizon?
I intend to keep having strange ideas and learning new painting techniques. I intend to keep striving to be better until my last breath. I intend to be insanely happy creating tiny worlds forever.
I have a show coming up in June at Domino in Old Colorado City, Co. It is fairytale themed. One of the pieces I intend to do is an anamorphosis. I will paint the piece, distort it to be viewed reflected in a mirrored cylinder, then paint it again in the distorted form for a tabletop installation piece. I know it sounds confusing, but don’t worry, I’ll post pictures on Facebook. My husband has also written me a very short story that I plan illustrate for the show. Tiny books will be available. I think that’s all I can handle at the moment.
Give yourself a break, Liese, at least long enough for the rest of us to catch up. Thanks for sharing and your time. Readers can find Liese’s work on Etsy at Pale Preoccupation and Deadpan Alley. You can also seek her out on Twitter and Facebook for updates.