1. When did you decide to become an artist?
I loved art from a very young age. I had my own sketch book and loved art projects in school. In junior high and high school, art was always the first elective I added to my schedule and by my senior year, it was four of my seven periods. I took an aptitude test in my careers class and scored pretty average in math, English, and science. But anything art-related was high. The choice seemed pretty clear, and off to college I went with my major chosen from day one. I loved studying art in college, but I went through a crisis wondering how I would make a living. I debated other majors, but it made me so sad to think of switching to something else. Being an artist was part of my identity. I decided to stick with art and figure out how to make money later. After college, I was burned out and didn’t feel like I was as good as some of my classmates. I took different office jobs to support myself and put art away for a while. Two years after I graduated, I met my husband. He loved that I was an artist and was sad I wasn’t pursuing it more. He gave me paints as a wedding present and encouraged me to try again. Thanks to his support and some great workshops from generous artists, I finally found my voice as an artist. It’s been a thrilling and wonderful ride ever since.
2. Tell us about a piece that is especially important to you.
While a college degree gives you some clout, there’s no specific moment when you become a professional artist. You just have to choose to treat yourself like a professional and go forward. I started buying professional-grade paints (instead of student-grade), got a website, printed business cards, entering competitions, and watched what other professionals were doing. I painted a painting around that time when I was really transitioning called Train to Boston. The reference photo was from a picture I took at a train station in Boston on our honeymoon. The painting was so meaningful to me, because it was one of the first times I was actually painting the way I wanted to, and it came out the way I saw in my head. There’s also something about trains that I always find so metaphoric. I felt like I was that train, leaving the station, taking on new adventures and being brave enough to go see what was out there. I don’t keep many of my paintings, but that one I couldn’t sell. It reminds me regularly that I can do great things and to keep steaming ahead.
3. Which artists are you inspired by?
Cezanne has always been my favorite master painter, but there are so many great Impressionists from that era. I really like Van Gogh as well, especially Café Terrace at Night. I love the looseness and color these two both use and the way they don’t have to define every single thing in the painting. Impressionism really speaks to my heart (way more than realism). Years ago, I came across a painter from Park City named Carole Wade and fell in love with her painting style. I was lucky enough to take a workshop from her and it changed how I paint. I love finding and following contemporary artists that inspire me, like Karin Jurick, Carol Marine, Pam Ingall, Mark Lague, Patti Mollica, Brian Harvey, Kim VanDerHoek, Michele Usibelli… I could keep going on and on. There are so many great artists out there! We’re lucky to have such a great local art scene in Utah, too. I have so many great friends who are doing such interesting things in their work and that constantly inspires me to push harder in mine.
4. Tell us a little about your process for creating a work of art.
My paintings are rarely staged concepts, but rather, my response to the life that’s happening around me. I love photography and use it as a tool to compose and capture ideas, colors, figures, and, my favorite of all, light and shadows. I edit and print the photos at home and then create drawings from those. I’ll move things in the composition or remove distracting elements until I have a strong blueprint, and then I transfer the drawing to a gessoed board. When the drawing is down, I’ll begin with an underpainting in the opposite color of what the final color will be (a blue sky will start orange, a yellow cab will start purple). Next, I block in the darkest shadows and lightest highlights to make sure I keep my values where I want them. And last, I paint the top layer (or several layers) of colors. I try to start with the part that scares me the most, because once that’s over, the rest is easy. Some paintings come together very quickly and some require several layers until it’s right. But I love acrylic paint because it allows me to keep playing until I feel good about it and nothing in the painting bugs me too much.
5. What questions do you hope people ask themselves as they look at your art?
My goal is usually a very simple one: I want people to feel happy when they look at my art. There is so much ugly and negative in the world, and my goal for a long time has been to be a light. If I can remind people about the good in the world and the joy and beauty that is all around us, I feel successful.
6. What’s your advice for how to interact with and appreciate art?
Because art is so emotional, I think one of the strongest tools you have when you look at art is your own gut. Sometimes you see something and it takes your breath away. You stand in front of it and can’t stop staring, moving your eyes all around, discovering more and more that excites you. It’s like falling in love. Sometimes you stand in front of art and it does nothing for you. Either way, I love reading the descriptions and bios of the artist and why they created it or what they were trying to accomplish. Often, that makes me appreciate the work more. But if it still does nothing for me, I find something else that does. There is so much great art in the world and when you fill your life or surroundings with art that you truly LOVE, they’re the gifts that just keep on giving. Prints are nice, but when you’re lucky enough to stand in front of original art, put your face up close. Take a deep breath. Enjoy the textures and brush strokes you can see from certain angles. The artist leaves a little bit of their DNA in their work and it’s so fun to stand right where they stood as they created it and enjoy the life of an original piece.
7. What advice do you have for people who are just getting started as artists?
Malcolm Gladwell spoke of the “10,000 Hour Rule” in his book Outliers. The idea is that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is needed to be world-class in any field. I think the best way to get better as an artist is to set aside regular, dedicated time and make yourself keep working and working and working. When I started working professionally, I was pregnant with my fourth baby in four years (the first two were twins) and hoped I would just work whenever I could get to it. You can imagine how well that worked, I never painted. I changed my tactic and instead set aside specific time in my day that I would show up and paint, just like I was showing up for a job. There were days I had to be flexible, but more often than not, I was in my studio painting at all those times, six days a week. It made a difference. I’ve had to adjust when my hours are over the years according to the needs of my family, but I’ve kept to this plan of consistently painting and practicing. If you wait for the deadlines or external motivation to push you, you won’t get better and you’ll always be stressed. If you work hard consistently, you’ll build a body of work and find that your work improves tremendously as you go along. I love the quote by Chuck Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs—the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
Stephanie’s show will be in the children’s section of the Orem Library through July 22. Learn more about Stephanie’s art and how you can purchase it at stephaniehock.com.