Artist Interview

Mary Didoardo at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts

April 5, 2016
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Mary Didoardo Studio Visit

Mary Didoardo Studio Visit


Back in July I wrote about stopping by to visit my friend Mary Didoardo‘s studio. At that time she was painting up a storm.  This past week, I took a quick trip to New York for her opening at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts.  

And, while you are checking out her fabulous paintings, read her interview on the Markel Fine Art blog.

The gallery is located at 529 West 20th, Suite 6W in Chelsea.

Her paintings are on display from March 31st – May 7th, 2016. Hope you get a chance to see the exhibit.



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Interview with Karen Stastny – Contemporary New Orleans/Asheville Abstract Artist

February 28, 2016
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What do a native of New Orleans and a native of Brooklyn find in common while volunteering at a Food Bank in Asheville? Painting!

Meeting Karen Stastny was like reconnecting with an old friend. While packing bags of rice and pasta, we chatted about this and that and discovered that we had so much in common, including our love of painting and our love of a good belly laugh.

Karen’s spontaneous gestural abstract paintings are full of life and energy. Each painting contains a glorious palette that conveys the pure expression of her creative spirit with a sensitivity to blending color, form and texture. Enjoy the interview.


Karen Stastny in front of CHARTING A PATH, acrylic on canvas, 48" x 48"

Karen Stastny in front of “Charting a Path”, acrylic on canvas, 48″ x 48″

Why did you choose abstract art and what is the most challenging (and best) part of working in your medium?

I chose abstraction because it is the art I respond to most.  At some point it dawned on me when I was looking at realistic work, that the pleasure I derive from it is when I could distill it down into an abstract construction. Overall, I am usually looking for a feeling, an emotion, a why did I paint this painting.

Since acrylic paint dries quickly, I can change my mind. I paint very intuitively.  It also allows me to add different media like charcoal, pencil, oil bars, etc. I can also draw into and on top of the work. It’s just very flexible. I also like that I don’t need to use toxic solvent with the medium.

How does living in Asheville influence your art?

I am certainly closer to nature in Asheville, than in New Orleans, and the weather permits being outside a lot more. I think more nature elements will creep in. I also think the palette will change a bit, as it usually does with me in different seasons.

What does having a physical space to make art mean to your process?  Describe your studio space and how, if at all, it affects your work? How do you make your space work for you?

My physical space definitely impacts my work.  The Asheville studio is very light, and large and spacious.  I feel like I can breathe.  The paintings from here reflect that lightness of being.  The New Orleans studio is great, but snaller.  I feel more closed in there, so the paintings are not as loose and free feeling.

How long have you been an artist and how did you get started?

I have been an artist for about 15 years.  I have a degree in Fine Arts.  When I was thinking about quitting my job to paint full time, my husband told me he thought he could support me if I could buy my own paint. I started teaching children’s art classes out of my house in order to pay for my supplies.  Eventually I ended up teaching adult classes at both the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts and the Jewish Community Center.  I am not very aggressive.  Each gallery I have ever been associated with, have asked me to join them.  I have been very fortunate, and I have very good working relationships with the galleries I am with.

Describe your working routine.

My work routine varies.  Generally, I like to put in between 3 to 5 hours a day at a minimum of 4 days a week.  I don’t usually paint on the weekends.  I also like to set a goal for myself of painting a painting each week.  I just like having a set goal, other than just putting in time.  However, if I am not painting on a regular basis, I feel very out of sync, just not right.  That studio is everything.

What are the key elements in creating a good painting?

My personal strengths are in color, line and a fluid gesture.  Those are the primary building blocks  in my work. Aesthetically,  I like harmony, with some dissonance.  I want to live in the piece, whatever it is, and I want to keep coming back to it.  Overall,I want to feel something.

Call and Response is an acrylic on paper by Karen Stastny, a New Orleans and Asheville Painter.

CALL AND RESPONSE by Karen Stastny is acrylic on paper and measures 22″ x 22″

What inspires you?

What inspires me – looking at art that I love – it makes me want to get back in the studio and get to work.  Also, working inspires me.  Work comes from work.  I am interested in the process, and one painting usually has a relationship with the former and then the next one.  There is a dialogue there that I don’t like to interrupt.

How has your style changed over the years?

Initially my paintings were abstract, based on the figure.  They are now totally non-objective, although I think there are landscape/water references in some of them.  They are also now much more fluid and loose.  I think that just came with time as I settled into my self.

How do you navigate the art world?

I don’t.  I’m not good at it.  I don’t have a web site, I don’t try to network.  I do have a number of good friends who are also painters.I have two galleries that I have been with for years and I am grateful for that.

DAY DREAM by Karen Stastny is acrylic on paper and measures 22" x 22"

DAY DREAM by Karen Stastny is acrylic on paper and measures 22″ x 22″

What are you currently working on?

I just recently finished painting for a solo show.  Whew!  Right now I am just working on some smaller pieces on paper and enjoying the process of painting and experimenting.

What’s next?

I will  be attending an abstract painting workshop given by Steve Aimone, my mentor, in the spring in NOLA.  I would also now like to develop a body of work with which to approach galleries in the North Carolina area.

What advice would you give to other artists?

Keep working. Be disciplined.  This is your job, and your gift.  Nurture it and be grateful for it.  Be generous – help others.  Support other artists.  We all benefit from it.

What are you currently reading, listening to, and looking at to fuel work?

I am reading “Keeping an Eye Open / Essays on Art” by Julian Barnes.  I also use Pinterest and Instagram to look at other painters work.  When I see work I like, it always makes me want to get busy painting.

Anything else to add?

Barbara, just thank you for this opportunity.

Barbara: It’s my pleasure and thank you for taking the time to share your art and your process. To see more of Karen’s work please visit Cole Pratt Gallery on Magazine Street in New Orleans.

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A Visit to the Studio of Russell and Ann Jones, Eastern Shore Potters

August 14, 2015
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When you meet Ann and Russell Jones you are immediately drawn in by their enthusiasm, playful spirits, and love of artistic pursuits.  In this interview they discuss how they found their way to pottery, sharing studio space, and their upcoming exhibit.

Russel and Annie Jones in their ceramic studio.

Russel and Annie Jones in their ceramic studio.

Why did you choose ceramics and what is the most challenging (and best) part of working in your medium?

Russ: Throughout our marriage of 43 years we have admired and collected decorative pottery. Our exploration of various art forms has taken us throughout the U.S. and inevitably included at least one if not more trips to someone’s pottery studio.

Many years ago we thought we might be able to convert an old barn on our property to an art gallery and studio space. Although that venture didn’t come to fruition, during that time, we learned a great deal about the vast differences and variety of art mediums. I was interested in exploring pottery and Ann expanding into fiber arts, hand work and sewing which had been a hobby of hers for some time.

Ann: Discovering Seagrove, North Carolina over 20 years ago was perhaps a turning point for Russ. He’d taken other opportunities to watch pottery demonstrations but in Seagrove the potters had their studios and kilns adjacent to their homes. In 2006 after we retired Russ had the opportunity to take a class with Elizabeth Hunt, an amazing ceramic artist who lives in our town. The challenge was the frustration in the once-a-week scheduling of classes. It was difficult to keep the momentum going in the learning process with that schedule. At the time we were renovating our home in Onancock and decided to add a “project room” — now studio for each of us. My sewing machines have been safely tucked away after I also started working in clay almost two years ago. Once again, we find ourselves working together as we did for many years in business. Now, however, we simply walk out our back door and explore new and fun things about clay.

How does living on the Eastern Shore influence your art?

Ann: The Eastern Shore of Virginia has some wonderfully talented artists as well as several art organizations that promote their members. We have been supporting members of the Artisans Guild for some time. A number of years ago Russ’s work was juried into the Guild. The Eastern Shore Art League Gallery was the first to show and sell his pottery. Now both the Red Queen Gallery in Onancock and the Ellen Moore Gallery in Cape Charles carry both of our work.

This year the Artisans Center of Virginia helped to organize an Artisans Trail Network on the Eastern Shore. The kick off for the Trail will happen this year and will include the largest number of trail sites to date.  Since Russ is a juried member, our studio is a site on the Trail.

What does having a physical space to make art mean to your process?  Describe your studio space and how, if at all, it affects your work? How do you make your space work for you?

Russ: When we decided to change the plans for the renovation of our home to include our studio, it was more of a way to give us the luxury of having our own spaces rather than of necessity.  However, it has proven to be the best means by which we can explore pottery. The ease of having the space directly out our back door is invaluable. The wheel and kiln are in one room, a table for slab work in the next. It’s truly not an issue to work on something at anytime necessary. We have come to the point that we can “multi task” home chores while waiting long enough for something to dry so it can be trimmed out a slab to cut. Laundry and yard work certainly gets done in a more timely fashion!


Ceramics in the kiln.

Ceramics in the kiln.

Describe your working routine.

Ann: We find our work routine to be not as structured as it might be. However, this winter Russ organized a number of workshops with some other potters in Onancock. We explored surface treatments with slips and stains, spraying, and an especially fun barrel firing. This kept us a bit more structured. Now the summer demands have started and we find we are working more. Recently we’ve been in the studios each day. Russ usually works in the mornings and I head out to the studio in the afternoons.

What personal narratives are related to the work? What inspires you?

Russ: I named my studio Useful Pots and that says it all about my work. Functional bowls and dishes are the bulk of what is created on my wheel. For the most part, my pieces are named to denote their purpose. Munch Buckets and Pails are bowls with handles so that you can carry your snacks and drink outside with one hand. Batter Bowls have a handle to make pouring easy and Walk-Abouts are bowls with a handle that make hot foods easy to handle on the move.  Recently, I’ve expanded my repertoire to include pedestal pieces and free-form dishes.

Russ's works in process

Russ’s works in process

When Ann decided to try making pots she quickly transitioned from the wheel to slab work. Her background in sewing and crafts formed the basis for understanding some of the construction techniques. Her pieces have a function but are rarely plain. Texture and decoration of some kind are on incorporated into each piece. Boxes are a favorite-each one different and distinct. Because she enjoys flowers and baking, vases and casseroles regularly come off her work table.

Ann's works in process

Ann’s works in process

The two forms compliment each other. We now call the studio Useful Pots – by famous unknown potters. We enjoy trading ideas and encouraging each other to try new techniques and designs.

How do you navigate the art world?

Ann: Since the business we sold in 2005 was a technology based firm with no link to the art world at all, navigating the art world is a rather new experience for us. Certainly the aforementioned Artisans Guild and Art League have been more than helpful locally as have the galleries that carry our work. In addition, we have attended a number of classes at the Penland School of Crafts in Penland, NC. Taught by potters whose work we admire and often discovered in books and online, exposure to this level of craftsmanship is inspiring.

Is there something you are currently working on that you are excited about that you can tell us about?

Russ: We’ve been talking about collaborating on a few things. I’d like to make some bowls and have Ann “dress them up.” Recently Ann has been taking a class with Elizabeth Hunt in slab, coil and pinch pots. As a result, there are new ideas each week after class. Stay tuned!

What’s next? Are you involved in any upcoming shows, workshops? When and where?

Ann: We will be the featured artists at the Red Queen Gallery in Onancock for the Art Walk, 2nd Friday on August 14, 2015. In addition, each year the Artisans Guild sponsors a two day show on the weekend following Thanksgiving and this year our studios will be a featured site for that tour. Of course we are also very excited about the launch of the new Virginia’s Eastern Shore Artisans Trail. You can follow the progress of the launch at

What advice would you give other artists?

Russ: Just like Simon Leach says — “keep practicing!”

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at which fuels your work?

Russ: We constantly refer to books we’ve accumulated. One Ann has recently gotten that has lots of great tips on slab building is From a Slab of Clay by Daryl E. Baird. Ceramic Arts Daily. Ceramic Arts Daily also is a great resource and has an endless stream of videos and books from which to choose.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Ann: Pottery is a relatively new part of our lives. We feel like it’s something we can do and continue to explore for many years. We love visitors and love to talk about the fun we are having in the studio. Please visit us at Useful Pots or come by to see us sometime in Onancock.

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Interview with Mary Farmer – Asheville Encaustic Artist

May 15, 2015
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Mary Farmer is an accomplished and passionate artist whose journey with encaustic painting began in the 1990s. I recently visited Mary in her studio.

Mary Farmer in her studio.

Mary Farmer in her studio.

Encaustic is a Greek word meaning “to heat or burn in”. It is the oldest form of painting in use today, and one that has always fascinated me.  Mary melts beeswax adds color pigments, creates a paste then when molten applies the mixture to a panel. Her command of the medium is evidenced in her luminous and sensuous surfaces and her seductive approach to color. She creates a sense of depth and texture in her paintings that is unlike any other medium.

Walking into Mary’s studio is like walking into an alchemist laboratory. There is an eclectic mix of frying pans full of wax, tins ablaze with colored wax and harnessed with clothes pins; heat guns, many pounds of beeswax, hand torches and her in-process paintings.

How do you navigate the art world?

Mary: I actively participate with the galleries who represent me–I deliver on time, I keep their inventory updated, I have shows when asked, etc.

I love cultural events, plays, museum shows, and musical events. I went to Paris in February to see Sonia Delaunay’s long overdue retrospective and I plan see the Frida Kahlo exhibition that will examine Kahlo’s appreciation for the beauty and variety of the natural world, as evidenced by her home and garden as well as the complex use of plant imagery in her artwork at the NY Botanical Gardens. I have already been to her home outside Mexico City and seen those gardens.

Recently, I’ve decided to blog (had a very successful blog, The Steinberg Farmer Report, with Gail Steinberg in Northern California) again. It was fun, I enjoyed doing the research and I look forward to the new release any day now.

Not What It Used to Be, encaustic on panel, 38" x  30" Mary Farmer -Interlacing flowers are intricate. Pretty and highly feminine; they make me feel lavish, even special. They are also angelic yet slightly devilish what with all that twisting and twining. It gives a taste of what’s underneath but not the whole thing; that mystery is always a good thing.

Not What It Used to Be, encaustic on panel, 38″ x 30″ Mary Farmer – Interlacing flowers are intricate. Pretty and highly feminine; they make me feel lavish, even special. They are also angelic yet slightly devilish what with all that twisting and twining. It gives a taste of what’s underneath but not the whole thing; that mystery is always a good thing.

Describe your working routine.

Mary: The two questions I answer as I begin each painting are: what do I want to say or paint and how am I going to get there? Thus begins my studio day.

What (What?) am I thinking about? Is it pink tones of a beach sunset, dappled light in a forest, or fleshy light reflected from a firm rump? How will I express these thoughts in a well-executed piece of art?

Will I struggle? Will I engage in battle with the piece? Is it a fight to the death? Probably not, since as painters we are the luckiest of humans to get to paint and make art. How cool is that? It’s my job to paint. Each day I wrap my head around “Art is my job” as a guiding principle.

Then the process kicks in. Just how do I make art? Simply put, I am dedicated to my studio practice and embrace each step of my art making process. It all begins with solitude. It is my belief that arranging the mental space and accepting that I absolutely need time to think about my work is a major force in my creative process. Without it, I flounder and flop about.

When given proper time to think, ponder, question and debate, I tread a much smoother path to the How? Beginning, facing that bare panel or that white surface can be the most daunting of tasks (it’s almost as difficult as “Is the piece finished?”). As I begin, I shed any notion of where this will end; else I get tangled up in silly bits. This is discovery and I become willing to take the journey and find the outcome.

I do not preordain the outcome.

As I work new questions always pop up and sometimes, those queries require me to back up a few paces to consider what is being asked of me. For example: am I happy with the depth, do I need more going on between the layers, will a glaze work here and how’s the surface holding?

Then, you are speeding along, fusing with glee — and boom, you hit a snag. You slam right into some painterly quandary. Aren’t you glad you took the time, upfront, to think about the work on your table? This early prep always helps me overcome panic and sanely address the difficulty: is it too light, is there enough paint, does the passage work, is it stagnant, is it too floral, and is it not floral Enough and so on.

Yes, there is the occasional “accidental opportunity.” We all get a few of them in our painter’s lifetime. You cannot count on them to pull you out of trouble day after day. It won’t happen. Many non-painters believe that we do just that: go into the studio, sling paint and a masterpiece suddenly appears. You and I know it ain’t so.

It’s here where I take a breath, take some long looks at my painting and assess what’s going on. I begin to formulate answers to these questions:

  • What am I compelled to look at, where does my eye stop?
  • Why do I care?
  • Am I doing a proper job of executing this work?
  • Is there a construction problem with the composition?
  • Are my perspectives shifting appropriately?
  • Am I able to embrace the process or have I too tight a grip on the outcome?

As I explore the answers to these questions, I am able to rein in my wandering focus. No short cuts here. If I disregard any piece of this I’m probably going to fail. This means I’ll be scraping off layer after layer of wax because I would not fully engage, or sometimes I just feel smarter than the process. Again, it ain’t so. It’s so liberating to reject indecision and press on with the luxurious indulgence of moving the paint into a piece of work that makes you feel like, “I’ve done it.”

Is there something you are currently working on, excited about?

Mary: Yes! I have moved from my ethereal florals to a more impressionistic landscape. I have been stewing over my work for several months; it has to do with seeking protected and sheltered spaces. For a personal development project I’ve been mining the past and have discovered that my work revolves around the creation of a space that is liberated, unassailable and welcoming. I want the viewer to feel secure, seek sanctuary and know they are free from the daily fray in this space.

Endless Possibilities, Encaustic on panel, 40" x 40", 2015,  Mary Farmer

Endless Possibilities, Encaustic on panel, 40″ x 40″ , 2015, Mary Farmer

What advice to give other artists?

Mary: Make your own work, make the best work you can and continue to challenge yourself.  Make sure to show up everyday.

Why did I choose encaustics?

Mary: Initially, I thought oil painting was my calling. During my last year at Georgia State I was able to design my own semester (I had exhausted all the other painting classes) and wanted to develop my (you how it when you are sick of art school) work. During a final critique it was suggested that my painting was too good. I know! It sounded ridiculous to me, too. The committee wanted me to expand and grow, they felt I had reached a high level and wouldn’t challenge myself.

I had to find a new medium to explore and develop for myself. At that time few were working with encaustic. I’d heard about it, been introduced to it via a gallery friend and thought, “What the heck?”

So I set myself up in a studio to work out the details of painting with wax. I was so amazed by the depth, luminosity and fusing aspect. It hooked me right off; I had been glazing and thinning oil paint in an attempt to get the depth I suddenly was able to achieve with encaustic. It hits you like that – it’s like you’ve been put under the spell of Stupefyin’ Jones. Nothing would stop me from using this wax paint. That was 15 or so years ago and I’m still enthralled by encaustic.


Mary Farmer studio1



Encaustic tools



Wax on heater Mary Farmer studio

Mary’s studio table together with pans of wax pigments and a large fry pan full of beeswax.

Every time I teach I see the same thing – someone becomes captivated by encaustic paint.

It’s damn exciting to fire up a butane or propane torch and make art; knowing how much or how little heat to apply keeps me sharp. There is little margin for error when the flames are present. I can safely say, “Pfffftt! and your painting is lost.”

Mary’s painting journey began early 1990s in Atlanta GA where she studied at Atlanta College of Art and Georgia State University. Her final year at Georgia State, under the tutelage of Cheryl Goldsleger, is the turning point where Mary gave up oil painting and focused on working with encaustics. Upon graduation from Georgia State, Mary moved to Northern California where she became a founding member of West Coast Encaustic Artists (now IEA). Since her move to Asheville NC in 2008, she happily paints amid the majestic Smoky Mountains.

Mary’s work can be found at these galleries. And, you can follow her on Instagram.

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Interview with Lee Wolfe Asheville Potter Extraordinaire

April 27, 2015
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As a painter I am drawn to Lee Wolfe’s colorful and delicious ceramics. She has been wildly successful in selling her pottery exclusively online. I am pleased that she has taken time from her busy schedule for this interview.

Lee Wolfe Asheville NC Potter

Lee Wolfe Asheville NC Potter

Lee has been a studio potter for 35 years. Her ceramic work emerges from the organic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains where she lives in Asheville, North Carolina. Lee’s work is vibrant, unusual and exploratory with voluptuous forms and woodland creatures. She creates beautiful, original functional stoneware pottery dinnerware, serving and home décor pieces. After all these years, her greatest joy is to enter her studio with a head full of new ideas.

Arabesque serving bowl by Lee Wolfe

Arabesque Serving Bowl by Lee Wolfe

Why did you choose ceramics?

Lee: I came to pottery making the way good friends come into your life; you begin a conversation that never seems to end. There is always something more you could say. As the years go by, the relationship deepens until it’s an integral part of who you are. But there was no moment when I chose to be a potter as a lifelong career. I just started and didn’t quit.

At first it was a hobby I pursued while teaching middle school in upstate NY. The school had a ceramic studio in which I made sculptural pottery in my spare time, storing pieces in the teacher’s lounge. Other teachers asked to buy pieces, and then their friends asked, and then one week I made more money not trying to sell my work than I’d made from my paycheck.

What is the most challenging (and best) part of working in your medium?

Lee: The best part of my work is that most of it happens in a state of flow (“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) or optimal experience. I’ve had to reject 90% of the wisdom people offer about how to manage a profitable business because I’ve made keeping the experience of flow my number one priority, not to be sacrificed for profit or prestige. That’s really just a high minded way of saying what most potters say: “I just wanna make pots.”

The most challenging part is the high level of chemistry required to formulate and fire functional pottery and achieve the aesthetic appeal of your inner vision. My prototypes are in development for literally years, struggling to get the look I want along with something that functions as intended and is also food safe and durable.

Arabesque dinnerware place setting by Lee Wolfe

Arabesque Dinnerware Place Setting by Lee Wolfe

How does living in Asheville influence your art?

Lee: The sheer number of galleries was a vital support for me before I sold online. And the creative culture, pervasive throughout the city and surrounding area, is warm and welcoming. But most of all, the mountains and woodland creatures infuse my work with totemic symbolism.

What inspires you?

Lee: I’m driven by a discontent and rebellion against those soulless objects manufactured in oppressive working environments for corporate profit with which we are supposed to serve lovingly prepared food, create and celebrate meaningful family traditions, and gift to people we love. I love pushing the boundaries of my own skills and imagination as a designer and maker. Since the words “handmade” and “artisan” have been co-opted by industrial manufacturers, I enjoy the quirks in shape and glaze that could not be easily copied and reproduced in molds.

What are you working on in the studio right now?

Lee: My newest series is Arabesque, thrown vessels altered into a quatrafoil shape. I’m exploring the way nesting bowls of this shape radiate in arrows outward, and the way they create interesting negative shapes in side by side placement.

Neon Sea Nesting Bowl Set by Lee Wolfe

Neon Sea Nesting Bowl Set by Lee Wolfe

What advice would you give other artists?

Lee: I’d like to advise older artists and artisans to seriously investigate the new frontier of online art sales. I’ve found an unprecedented freedom in being able to design, make and list for sale what I want in the present without line sheets, gallery buyers, or someone else’s perception of  deserving.

I would advise young and emerging artists to use the freedom to market trough social media and e-commerce sites with wild abandon.

Thank you Lee!

Follow Lee on Instagram to view more of her work, read her poetic writings about life, her process and finished pottery, and to stay current on here restock dates.

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