Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Interview & Studio Tour with Artist Julie Benoit

Julie Benoit

Masters in Fine Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art
Native of Baltimore
Currently in Longmont, CO
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Oh goodness, I wanted to be a teacher. I always wanted to teach art. I went to college for my bachelors and I was an art education major and a year in I decided that I wanted to be an artist, so I switched it up. I think I'm going to go back to school this summer (if I can get someone to watch my kids for me) to teach Montessori. So, now 41 years later, I am going to do what I said I was going to do when I was tiny. Teach. 

I also entertained the idea of becoming a vet.
It sounds like you've been interested in art and teaching since you were a child. Did your parents encourage that?
They didn't exactly encourage it, but I was one of six kids. I used creating and art as a way to get away from the hustle of a busy family. If they were watching something I didn't want to watch, I'd go sit by myself and make something. 
When I was going away to college, my dad said that he wouldn't pay for me to go to art school because he thought I'd never get a job. After high school, I completed my AA degree then took two years off to start a dog walking business in Baltimore (which I still have). After the two year break from school, I was back in college working toward my bachelors. At that point he didn't really care what I was going to school for, just that I was back in school. So I earned a bachelors in fine arts, and I kept my dog walking business. When I went to get my masters, my dad didn't understand why I wanted to go back to school. He said, "You have a great dog walking business. Why would you want to get your masters?" The whole thing switched, which was kind of funny!
Even now, my dad is funny, he has these big ideas of paintings I should make. I tell him he should take an art class and HE can make his idea.
It sounds like you had an inner drive to create art. Making seemed like a sanctuary or refuge for you. 
Yes, totally. When I was in high school there was this guy named Angel who was the most amazing illustrator. He drew the most amazing people and characters, they were always really dark and I was so impressed by his skill. I was never that kid. Once I figured out where I was good, then it all made sense for me. It was fun being back in school for my bachelors after taking a few years off, because I was a print making major and I was the first print making major in 9 years at my liberal arts school. I felt like being a masters degree, since I was the only print making major I didn't have structured classes. I had a lot of direct instruction and independent studies from professors. So I spent a lot of time printing and figuring out my voice. 
What called you to the idea of being a teacher?
I always liked kids. I have even taught at a university in Baltimore. I just really like learning, and learning from other people. My favorite method of teaching is an active environment to learn, my students would teach me many things. I have a desire to learn and to suck it all in, and then share the things you learn. 

How has teaching art affected your own art?
I feel like I've learned so much from my students. When I was teaching art, I would always give projects based on things I was interested in learning more about. Then it became a large research project, it's always worked that way and has been so fun!
I see the sparkle in your eyes when you talk about teaching.
Totally, yes! It is so fun! 

In moments of self doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
So, grad school kind of ruined me as far as art goes. It jaded the heck out of me. I was making decorative work and I got stuck with a very conceptual mentor. Grad school made me think, and over think, and think even more about what I was doing and why I was doing it. It got to the point where it took the fun out of making art. But now I can look back on the work that I was producing during grad school and learn from it. 

To answer your question, keep doing whatever it is that you want to be doing. Even if you're making crap, or total crap, and even if you think it doesn't make sense. Whatever that thing is, keep doing it. Because it might not make sense now, but when you look back 1 year, 5 years, 10 years from now you might find the answer. Just keep making, you're making for a reason. Even if you never show it to people, you're doing it for the process.

Looking back at all the work I did from youth, through bachelors, through masters, to now, I feel like I've come full circle with my art.
It feels good. The work that I'm making now, I'm making it just to see where it takes me and leads me. Not a set purpose. That feels good after the contrast of being jaded after grad school and feeling like I was done with art being so elite and brainy. Now I'm making quilts to be hung on the wall, and it feels really good. I actually emailed my old professor picture of quilts I made for my girls, thinking that he would hate them because they are not conceptual, but he really liked them. I'm really excited about them too, I want to make them and I look forward to it. It feels good to be making something and being productive. 

When you get ideas for new art pieces, what form do they take? 
I feel like there is a little mason jar in my brain with ideas. When I get an idea I throw it into the jar. Sometimes I'll sketch things out or draw on a napkin when an idea comes, especially when I'm with my kids I sketch on whatever is handy. I'll tack them up or throw them in a drawer. Recently, I've been using index cards to jot things down because they're quick and easy to keep around. 
Making these quilts is a lot of math, which has been really fun. I'm constantly working with numbers and fractions, it is so exciting to me! I refuse to use any kind of pre-made pattern in my quilts, so I go through a lot of trial and error. For example: I try to figure out how to make as many triangles as I can, with as few cuts, that are all the same size, or how to make these 45 degree angles. It has been really fun.
When you are in need of inspiration, where do you turn?
I look at fabric often.
Mostly I find inspiration by taking a break, going outside, going to stores, playing with my kids. I love fabric, and patterns, and colors. Inspiration could even be found going to a store and seeing a pattern on clothing that might give me an idea. I also love the simple patterns that exist in nature. 
Do you have a favorite quote or saying that inspires you to do what you love?
"Walk so slowly the bottom of your feet become ears." Pauline Oliveros

What tool, object or ritual could you not live without in your day?
My eye sight and a pencil. My awareness is important; looking and listening vs seeing and hearing. 
Presently, what is your artistic intention? Your current calling?
I want to create this body of little wall hangings. This mathematical problem solving is the intent. I'm following what feels good and what is fun. 
It feels fresh to be making work that I don't have to over conceptualize and be overly theoretical about. 
After grad school I decided that I was only going to make work if it was fun. I went on to teach my art students that lesson as well. 

If it is not fun, don't do it. 
Life is too short to spend time on something that isn't fun or interesting. 

Connect with Julie

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Please share this interview!
Read more about my project here and send me a message to nominate a woman you know who is living their true intention.

I love seeing what is on an artist's desk...enjoy some more images from Julie's home studio!

Keywords: studio tour, artist studio, art space, home studio, art interview, following passion, art teacher, fiber artist, quilting art, interview, female artist, pursuing passion, living with intention, girl boss, female business owner, art school

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