Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Morning Wash (by Majo)

Just One More Swing (by Majo)

Interview with Joanne (Majo)

One thing is clear from looking at Joanne's paintings and reading her blog: she will pull you in. It is impossible to take a close look at her work and not feel connected in some way to her Southern life. There is an air of sweet reminiscence in her words and imagery. Even the titles of her blog entries speak to times gone by: Looking Back, I Used to Play the Piano, Coca Cola Doesn't Taste the way It Used To. It makes you want to look...and linger...and think about places and people in your own past.

I met Joanne, known as Majo, on Etsy through the Visual Arts Street Team. I admired her shop from afar, so I am delighted she volunteered for this project.

Joanne is a self-taught artist born and raised in the southern United States. "I have always lived in Alabama and Georgia," she tells me, "I love both states! I paint from my heart and memories. What comes from my little brushes is simply--me."

Joanne chooses acrylics to paint with because it dries fast and suits her personality. With oil, it's just too tempting to keep "picking" at the paint and moving it around. "I would probably never complete a painting!"

Memories play an important role in Joanne's work. "No matter what I paint, there is a tiny piece of a memory locked inside."

Central to many paintings: an old house. "My maternal Grandparents were sharecroppers," Joanne confides, "They moved around from place to place, all their lives, tending crops for other people. They were as poor as church mice, but something interesting was always going on at the house!" As Joanne's Grandfather got older and became ill, he was unable to work. Her grandparents rented a little white house. "I remember thinking they had suddenly become rich when they moved into their first painted house."

Other paintings feature one person, speaking to Joanne's loneliness as a child. "I had two sisters, but I was the oldest and it seemed that I was always working. Now that we are older, I hear my sisters talking about playing in the yard when we were children but I don't remember playing very much. I remember working in the garden all the time and feeling very lonely."

Joanne has had many challenges in life, and is a strong person: a self-described "survivor, of sorts." After serving her time in the "corporation," Joanne sees painting as her salvation. "My husband has become very ill and, most of the time, I feel like a prisoner in my own home since I cannot leave for very long. But I always turn to my paints! I feel even more blessed when someone likes my work and buys a piece--now THIS is the part that is always amazing to me!"

Joanne loves all music. "It all sets my feet to tapping!" Her favorite movie is Paper Moon. "I can't see it enough! I used to be a technical writer--but now I love to read simple little books that take me back to my childhood. I'm reading Paper Moon again now!"

Her favorite shoes have always been "since I can barely remember" patent leather Mary Jane's. "I don't have any now, but I can close my eyes and see them so clearly in my mind! I think they describe the way I have always wanted my life to be--simple." Joanne wore high heels for many years--every single day--when she was working. "Now, I prefer Clarks--the slide-in-and-go kind. Simple comfort is my shoe of choice!"

Look for Joanne's books in the future. "I have written two books which are in the mail, making the publishing house rounds."

More about Joanne may be found on her blog and in her shop.

What Shoes Joanne Wears

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Burros (by Debi McSwain)

Lisanthus (by Debi McSwain)

Interview with Debi McSwain (Fine Art Designs)

Debi McSwain is a talented artist I met online through the Visual Arts Street Team. She's a prolific painter with strong ties to the earth and animals around her. Featured in her Etsy shop, Debi McSwain Fine Art Designs, are portraits, landscapes, flowers, birds, dogs, burros, donkeys and other animals. I admire Debi's straight-forward, deeply committed approach to work and life.

"No matter how much I wish it wasn't so," Debi tells me, "My work is about me--always about me and mine. What else could it possibly be about? That's all I know. My work is about my little life."

Debi lives in Valley Center, California, home of the Valley RoadRunner, the local newspaper whose February 6 issue lambasted the New England Patriots (a football team from my neck of the woods) for losing the Super Bowl. I laughed my butt off reading Dan Kidder's editorial "I Kid You Not: The Perfect Ending to an Epic Super Bowl." More seriously, Valley Center is also home of Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, which (at least for me) puts Debi's self-defined "little life" into a grander context.

The Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve is owned and operated by the County of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department. According to's brochure, the Preserve "is the only major protected open space in the Valley Center Pauma Valley region." The problem--and it's a biggy--is 155 central acres--"the heart of the canyon"--not yet part of the Preserve.

Debi's on the Board of Directors for Friends of Hellhole Canyon Open Space Preserve, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising money and providing educational services for the preservation of this vital wilderness area. Because of its tremendous variety in climates and environmental conditions, you'll learn by reading the brochure, this area provides a landscape naturally rich in biodiversity. Population growth and changes in the global climate put a tremendous strain on the area's flora and fauna. "San Diego County has more threatened species of plants and animals than any other county in the continental United States." These changes threaten to reduce or permanently eliminate animal and plant life vital to preserving the balance and vitality of this region in North San Diego County.

Along with the work Debi does for the Hellhole Canyon Preserve, she paints, rides horses and makes videos in Valley Center. "Most of my inspiration comes from my relationship with my animals," Debi says, "and the earthy work that caring for them entails. Cleaning horse stalls and feeding animals morning and night seven days a week without fail gives me a reason."

Debi hosts a Daily Painter Blog. "I've heard that it takes 50 repetitions for any act to become a habit," she says, "I guess I'm hooked! I love it and feel a little down if I don't get to paint and post. The ultimate art therapy."

Debi loves to read about Zen principles and philosophies and loves listening to bluesy earthy music: Van Morrison, JJ Cale, and most male country singers--George Strait, Willie Nelson, Randy Travis. "I literally can not paint without music to get me out of the thinking side of my brain."

As to what shoes Debi wears, she tells me: "I am my beat-up, worn out, hard-working, comfortable, brown, leather zip-up paddock boots."

For more information about Debi and her work, please check out her gallery, shop, and blog.

What Shoes Debi Wears