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  • Meet Copper Corners By Mary-Catheryn


    Copper Corners By Mary-Catheryn Artist Interview Meet Copper Corners By Mary-Catheryn

    First things first: Copper Corners is an actual place. “Our first house we bought together, that we brought our first-born child home to, was on a street [in Michigan] named Copper Corners,” explains artist Mary-Catheryn Baker, who goes by Mary-Catheryn professionally. In addition to the street she and her husband moved to, copper corners are also a calling card for the artist, since she adds them to her paintings.

    Although she and her family no longer live on Copper Corners, the concept of home is an important element of Mary-Catheryn’s professional trajectory, including her artistic family of origin as well as where she spent her early years.

    “I grew up in Paraguay, in the middle of South America, with missionary parents. I came to the United States at age sixteen,” she says. “It was kind of rough. It’s a pretty important age. I had watched all the American movies about high school, so I was terrified of Mean Girls [the movie and the real-life kind] and I was terrified of high school. I actually home-schooled myself.” Mary-Catheryn wanted to keep her Spanish skills sharp, so she eventually became a translator, doing medical translation for a hospital in Grand Rapids.

    Mary-Catheryn’s post-high school educational background is in business management, not art. That’s because she didn’t necessarily think of herself as an artist, since artistic talent was common in her family. “I have always been artistic,” she explains. “Everyone in my family is an artist. My grandpa did a lot of comic-type artwork. My mom is really good at drawing profiles and people’s faces. What happens in a family of artists, or at least in my family, where everyone’s good at something it’s not that big a deal. No one really paid attention to it. I never thought anything of it.”

    It was in decorating her home that she recognized the extent of her artistic ability, when her husband was transferred to Florida. “When we bought a house it had those huge, tall Florida ceilings and a whole bunch of empty walls. I looked and looked and couldn’t find any [art] I loved. I thought, ‘I’m going to do it myself.’ I went and got a huge canvas and painted a cow, which was exactly what I wanted and couldn’t find. Our neighbor saw it and absolutely loved it and insisted on buying it. And then my sister-in-law bought one, and my neighbor’s sister, and my sister’s friend from work, and it turned into something.” She laughs. “This is what I do full time now” in Grand Rapids.

    The cow, the subject of her first big painting, is a favorite artistic theme for Mary-Catheryn. That’s because when she was growing up in Paraguay, cows were a part of day-to-day life. “Where we lived, farming is very different than in the US,” she says. Farmers in the morning would open their gates and let the animals roam. You’d be driving down the main street and you’d have to stop because there would be a group of cows. I loved the cows and the horses that really weren’t my animals but were my animals, in a way. Most of my animal art is inspired by that.”

    Mary-Catheryn has a studio in her home and paints primarily on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when a sitter arrives to look after her young kids. She works in acrylics “because I have no patience,” she says. “It dries fast, so I can keep layering over and over and I don’t have to wait.”

    Although Mary-Catheryn might not have thought she’d end up making her living as a full-time artist, in retrospect it all makes sense. And as for her family, whose own artistic gifts made hers seem more run-of-the-mill than they actually are? “Family is funny,” she reflects. They weren’t surprised [I became an artist] but were kind of like ‘really? You’re gonna do art?’ [My response is] ‘yeah, and you should too!’”

  • Kristin Llamas Draws Llamas!

    Kristin LLamas Draws LLamas

    For starters, yes, this artist known for her soulful llama portraits is really named Kristin Llamas. It’s her married name, she’s had it for fifteen years, and it’s pronounced “yamas.” The name came first, then the art subject, and the whole llama-in-art endeavor is very name-based, she explains. Her series of llama (and alpaca) portraits each bears its subject’s first name.

    “[Depicting llamas] started as a fun play on words,” she says, “and I was curious about first names.” Specifically, since we are named before we have a personality, Llamas was interested in how much a person’s name serves to shape his or her personality. She put a post on social media asking followers to tell her their own naming story, whether they were named after someone or something, and whether they identify with their name. Her intent was to produce llama portraits named after people who responded to the post. “I was only going to do twenty-five for a gallery show,” she recalls, “and I got them all the first day. I had over one hundred [responses] by the end of the week.”

    And so the llama portraits have continued, now number up to 250, and Llamas is taking commissions on her website from people who want their name, or a special person’s, interpreted as a llama. “I have a huge file of reference photos,” she says. “I follow lots of llama and alpaca farmers on Instagram. [For the record, she says that the two animals are often difficult for her to distinguish in close-up photos, so she acknowledges that an alpaca may slip through now and then into her art.] When I see a cool personality coming through I’ll put it in a digital file. When I get a name submitted lots of times I don’t even know the person or anything about them. But certain names give you a feeling. I’ll see a William as a strong and more traditional llama. Penny is a little bit more fun. I can’t pick just any name to go with any llama. The thing that takes me the longest is pairing a reference photo with the look and feel of the name.”

    Llamas the artist has come to appreciate llamas the animal for their individual characteristics. “I love the symbolism behind llamas themselves,” she notes. “There’s a feeling of community in the herd, and they’re loyal and strong, they can carry things on their back for a long period of time. But if you upset them they’ll spit on you.”

    Llamas, who lives with her husband and three daughters near Nashville and is building a second home in Colorado, draws many of her llama works digitally on a tablet. She also creates large-scale (non-llama-related) artworks on canvases, with acrylics and oils.

    As for the future of the llamas in her art, Llamas thinks they’re here to stay. “I love the llamas. I did not anticipate the llamas taking off so much and so quick. I’m just kinda running with it and seeing where it goes.”

  • Meet Nancy Bass!


    Meet Nancy Bass! Meet Nancy Bass!

    Sometimes art is inspired by life and sometimes life is inspired by art. In the case of painter Nancy Bass, the inspiration is literal and cyclical. Her paintings of cows are inspired by real cows, but some of the cows she’s painted were inspired by art. Literally. Bass raised cattle on a farm in Virginia for thirty-five years. The two herds she raised were inspiration for her art in the truest sense: they were bred for it. “I had various breeds to interbreed and create various colors and personalities to inspire my art,” Bass explains. “Our herd was really just based on the beauty of the animal, various colors, having good personalities. Other herds are bred based on their meat or dairy, but ours were bred based on their beauty.”

    Bass and her husband no longer have the farm, instead splitting their time between the mountains of North Carolina, near Asheville, and a little island off the west coast of Florida. She finds inspirations in those places, too, she says. “In Florida there’s the seabirds and the oceans and a lot of cattle. Just off the island we live on are cattle. In North Carolina we have bears. But the colors change, the light changes, it’s a different feel wherever I go.”

    Bass works in oils, always. “I just have always loved it and always come back to it. I love the flexibility of building up layers, and I can change things. I love the colors in oils. They’re softer than acrylics, which tend to be brighter. I like the traditional, softer colors of oil.”

    She took some painting classes in college but credits later workshops, working with artists she particularly respected, for really helping her learn her art. “That was really how I made progress,” she says, “that and going to museums. That really puts you up a level, to see the best work.” She still finds lots of inspiration at museums, she says, and notes that on different occasions she’s drawn to different artists, often because there’s some aspect of her own work that she may be considering. “When you go to a museum and look at work that inspires you, it’s always different work. There are things in your work you’re looking to that you may not even realize. I’ll come back and realize it’s something I’ve been pushing for in my work. The more you surround yourself with higher quality work than yours, the more you learn to see.”

    And Bass has been seeing, and learning, for her whole life. Her first art pieces were of animals, back when she was a small child. “I wanted a poodle in the worst way,” she laughs. “I must have been about three. I had a big box of crayons with every color and I learned how to draw poodles. I made poodles in every color. I made a pink one, which was the one I really wanted. I had no idea I would become an animal artist.”

    While she never got that pink poodle (she did eventually get other dogs, she says), Nancy Bass has been painting animals ever since. Her appreciation for them has helped her to create portraits that are more than just representations. Her work has the added level of truly revealing an animal’s personality, a skill she attributes to her affinity for them. “People look at my art and say they really feel they know the animal, it isn’t just something that doesn’t have a personality but is real; that I really understand the animals and captured what was real about them. If you love animals, you just kind of know. People who are animal people just kind of feel the animal. I tend to make things generally more beautiful, more loving. That’s just something that happens in the work. That’s the way I see them.”

    Bass is still surrounded by animals, including lots of birds and cows in Florida and bears in North Carolina. And when she needs even more inspiration, she still has a series of files on her computer of photos of each of her cows in Virginia to refer to. “I find my animals wherever I go,” she says.

    Bass is happy in her studios, one in Florida and one in North Carolina, and teaching workshops and offering private classes, sharing the art of painting animals. And speaking of sharing, she’s happy to have the chance to share her art through GreenBox Art as well, she says. “The point of doing work is to share it with people. When you’re an artist your work is only shared with whoever owns it. It’s not shared very often. It’s not like when you‘re a writer. So printing my work makes sense to me.”

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