On being an artist

I have been drawing and painting and creating since I could pick up a crayon. I would spend countless hours engulfed in my own thoughts and visions as a child creating anything and everything. I would draw and color for hours and hours on paper, wood, the slates that covered our patio in our backyard with chalk or other stones. That was fun. When I discovered that I could draw on the slates with stones and then wash it all off with a hose and start again it was like discovering fire for me. And I loved our backyard as a kid. I was raised in rural Pennsylvania on a 1/2 acre of beautiful land surrounded by woods and big trees. When I was not drawing I would be in the woods climbing around, imagining fantastic worlds and woods creatures and then I would come home and draw them.I dreamed of working for Disney and making animated films and creatures that came alive in cartoon and on the screen.

This creativity and way of seeing the world around me has never ceased. I definitely have a creative and inventive mind. I can systematically deconstruct and reconstruct arts and craft projects in my head and then construct them. I have done this my entire life turning  trash to treasure. Most everything in my house or yard is something I have put a hand to and it makes life unique and colorful and most of all mine.

I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from California College of the Arts in the Bay Area. I graduated a long time ago with High Distinction (their version of honors) but yet had no idea how to make a living with a fine arts background. You see they never taught us how to turn what we did so well into cash or a business. That is one thing that education completely lacked. They should have enforced business classes on us as requirements. I would have been better for it, although I would not have traded any of my life experiences either. I went crazy when I got to college. All I had ever done was 2D. I had been drawing and painting my entire life and when I got to college and saw that I could make art with wood, plaster, jewelry, weaving, and ceramics… I went bonkers! I had no idea what to major in but I took advantage of it all and gave myself a very well rounded education.

I ended up focusing on ceramics and loved that studio more than anything. I loved the smell of the clay. The fact that this substance came from pure earth, was an ancient medium, one of the most durable and functional of mediums yet you could make something totally non-functional as well. I loved it. I could make furniture, sculpture or simply a tea pot. It was endless possibilities and all I needed was my hands. This also fed into my absolute obsession with Native American artwork and designs. I love Native American pottery. I love their symbolic play on nature in all that they create. I am fascinated by the constant connection of nature in not only medium but subject matter and functionality. I found myself doing the same by no small accident.

As I continued along my career path, even with no business training I did in fact make my living doing various types of artwork. I taught myself how to use a computer and learned Photoshop, Illustrator, a bit of Flash and web design. I continued to educate myself and land jobs using all of these skills. And I finally landed my dream job as well. I hounded Disney Feature Animation and interviewed for a year before I got a position doing Digital Compositing for the films. Although I was not drawing I was part of the process. I loved it. I loved every day of it. I loved the “Hat” building I worked in in Burbank in the shape of the Sorcerer’s hat from Fantasia – my favorite movie! I loved the process of making the films from beginning to end. The building full of artists and creativity oozing out of every foot of it. It was like going back to art college only I was getting pad for it. I have credit on many films including Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur, and many more. I learned so much in my time there. But I also learned that being in a Union was a nice protection but it was also quite stifling and would not allow me to continue in a career the way I wanted to. So as hard of a decision as it was, I left to pursue other avenues.

Since then I have had many different positions with many different companies, all utilizing my creativity and art. I am very fortunate. There are not too many fine artists who can say they live well by their craft. Very fortunate. But one thing has always remained a constant… my own artwork is always around me. I have continued to create beautiful things and simply will always continue to do so. And this brings me to what has inspired this latest writing…

About a year ago I was driving through my neighborhood and came across a yard sale. There was a wrought iron tiled top table being sold for about $20. Done! I love wrought iron anything. It has to do with my love of New Orleans but that is another story for another day. So I took it home and soon realized why they were selling it so cheap. The table top was rotted and obviously not water resistant. it was falling apart. It was a constant clean up out by the pool and pieces of tile were constantly getting everywhere. So I took the top off and threw it away. The wrought iron base also had a piece missing but it was not very noticeable and did not detract from the coolness of the iron. So for about a year now I have had a topless table base sitting in my backyard holding beach towels or gardening tools or whatever. Finally I had had enough and went on a mission to find some wood to make into a new top. I found some at Lowes and although I had planned on a mosaic, I thought it would make it too heavy. So I painted it.

This is a design inspired from Maria Martinez the San Ildefonso potter. I love her work and could never afford her pottery although some day I hope to have one for myself to cherish. But her designs are very typical Native American and simply gorgeous, and her symbolism is so appropriate for an outdoor table being that my yard is filled with birds. The feathers are a tribute to them.

I am not quite finished with the table yet. as I sit here to type this my hands are covered in black enamel paint as I just repainted the wrought iron to brighten it up a bit and seal it for the new table top that I just also sealed with a polyurethane coating. I need to attach the top after all is dry and then add one more coat of sealant to the wood.

I have an umbrella to go in the middle of the table… Now all I need to find are some chairs!


Update! Table is done! Finished it this afternoon!


~ by Michelle Sammartino-Zeto on June 11, 2010.

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