Q&A #17: Michal Wilczek

West Coast Tour 2014


“Mikee shares his journey as a photographer, his love for Batman, the importance of being humble, and a quote from LOTR”



Leigh Lim: Hi Mikee, thanks for taking the time to do a Q&A!

Michal Wilczek: Hi Leigh! Thank You for taking Your time on preparing these questions. I was really touched by Your in-depth research and re-discovered some pictures that I haven’t seen in a while – what a journey it has been for me :)! I just came back to my home in Krakow, I spent some time abroad and on out-of-town projects. Here we go.


LL: Looking at your photo stream, I noticed a bunch of Batman related photos! Are you quite the fan?

MW: I’ve been a Batman Fan since I was 3. To this day I remember my uncle bringing over a Russian VHS version of the Tim Burton classic. The opening sequence haunted me for years to come. Batman opened my eyes to the “terrifying” world of darkness and comics. From then on it was a great experience – 2 years later I got to see Batman Returns and got hooked on Batman – The Animated Series.

The rest of my Bat curiosity was set in motion and every year I found some new Batman related stories that I still love to this day. I actually shared all of the cowls on my Flickr – I have the highest respect for all of the Batman films that came out – each is special for its time period, the people behind the camera, the producers and the actors. I think every actor that had to put the “cowl” on did a phenomenal job – Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Kevin Conroy (the voice of Batman the Animated Series) and Christian Bale – love their work and dedication.

I have high hopes for Ben Affleck’s take on Bruce Wayne, I’ve been a great fan of his classic work in “Good Will Hunting” and even more respect for his return in “The Town” and “Argo”.


Easter / 2014



LL: Do you think part of you sometimes switches to the point of view of ‘Batman – The Animated Series’? I know it’s likely a coincidence! I just couldn’t help thinking about the cinematic (and dark) vibe of the series when looking at these two photos: the cheeky ‘Which way to the food court?’ and one from the West Coast tour.


MW: There is a part of me that does not want to leave the wonderful and inspiring moments of my childhood behind. Some call it a “condition” :), but I a strong believer in the power of nostalgia on who we are today.

Whether it is the wonderful colours that where amongst Leonardo, Donatello and the rest of the gang from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the rapid action and detailed “Centurions” (Power EXTREME !! 🙂 ) or the dark corners of the dangerous and mysterious Gotham City from Batman the Animated series… I’d say.. “yeah” :), the cinematic vibe is totally in my head when I am thinking of the mood I want to achieve in each published frame.


LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with Photography?

MW: I didn’t have the resources to go with even an entry-level SLR when I started taking my first pictures. Luckily enough I was able to “borrow” my dad’s Canon AF-1 with a 28mm f/2 lens when I was still in elementary school. From time to time I would take my gear to school to joke around with my friends. In high school I decided to keep a low-profile and focus more on scanning and post-processing the pictures.

One of my greatest personal achievements of that time was having my older brother carry some of my printed work on his notepad to school :).

My break through came in 2003, when I got into Clear Lake High School’s Photography classes and was guided on SLR work with Mr. Caldarera. The creative freedom and fundamentals I learned during that year were the core of what my work is today.

I looked up photo work on the web, magazines, store posters, banners and tried to replicate the process in my head, guessing what lens, exposure, iso, post-processing method was being used and after a while “my-mental-hard-drive” needed some cleaning, which I usually did by giving an extra-personal-touch to my work.

The biggest milestone occurred, when I got my first prime lens.





LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has never consciously paid attention when taking photos before, so they could have the capacity to capture photographs at your level and skill. What would it look like?

MW: I guess time is the biggest factor. That and being humble. Learning about Your mistakes, taking criticism and learning from it too. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, especially amongst people who share the same hobby as You do. As You get older, Your skills and perspective will change, You’ll look back at Your work saying “My God… what was I thinking??” but that’s part of the learning process.


As for monetisation – I made myself a promise when I bought my first DSLR: ‘that I would never, ever let my creative work make me think that it’s okay to look down on others. It would be great to be part of the photography business and make a living based on telling stories with photos, so let’s try to get there some day. So far, things have been great – but if one day the phone stops ringing and the offers stop coming in – I will still be happy that I spent a significant time of my life on taking photos for others :).



LL: For those wanting to learn how to get this effect in photos, where should they start?

MW: I guess it’s all about finding what makes You happy. Some people like fashion photography, some like documentaries and some like taking stills of landscapes. I tried taking pictures in almost every category there is out there and after 8 years I can say that my top 3 are – animals, portraits and documentary.

Once You find Your niche, You can explore the possibilities of framing, effects, colouring and so on. I tend to mix-up styles and most times it looks really bad, but again – that’s part of the learning process and it’s always better to try than sit on your ass and not do anything :).




LL: Favourite time of the day to photograph?

MW: My favourite time is usually…when I have the time. Everybody loves the possibilities the golden hour gives, but sometimes – You just can’t take pictures during that time of the day.

I started loving outdoor photography, when I learned to use my flash+softbox as an extra light outside. That way, even in the most harsh sun, I would use the sun as a counter light and the electronic flash + soft box as the fill light. This technique allowed me take all of my Malawi portraits in less the 4 hours time. We were basically chasing the sun to make sure there is enough lighting in the background.

Eventually we also took some night pictures to imitate a studio shoot for one of the local musicians and to this day, I consider those pictures one of my greatest achievements.



LL: Do you plan when you take photos?

MW: I love being spontaneous, but only during my personal time :).

I love my job and the opportunity that life has given me with this kind of work. Therefore, I am very serious on getting ready for the task that is given to me. I brief the customer, ask about the tastes in image framing, colouring, set up a pre-meeting to get to know my project on a personal level and try to create a story based on the given task.

The day before the shoot I clean my lenses, buy extra batteries, check the wireless transmitters, clear the memory cards, prepare the soft-boxes and tripods. Preparation, with the time needed for charging, is about 30 minutes.




LL: Do you use wireless for all remote triggering (like flash) and as well as for transferring image data?

MW: I have two flashes fit with wireless receivers that had taken quite-the-beating these last two years, but whenever I am in the situation that I can control the lighting to achieve a desired effect, I definitely go a flash combo. Some people will get fussy about using flash, as a way of limiting natural light coming into a frame, but I beg to differ.

I set the flash to “compensate” the lack of light within an environment and point it at an angle, never directly – even when I “hot-shoe” the flash, I have to bounce it off a ceiling or wall (or a piece of cardboard 😀 ) but never directly on the model – I just don’t like that effect.


LL: How would you describe your style of Photography?

MW: I was never big with words (that’s a skill my brother has), therefore I can’t find the word to describe my work. I spend less time describing and “just get out there” to do my work. The less time I spent on thinking what my work represents, the more time I have to learn some new tricks and explore for some new inspirations.




LL: Are you learning something specific at the moment?

MW: Recently, I was invited to take some shots of airplanes flying into Krakow Balice Airport by my friend Tomek. The night before I saw, by chance, the intro to Michael Bay’s “Bad Boys”, which features a commercial plane flying over the Miami sign – not bad for an overnight inspiration. My work should be available sometime in the next two weeks.


LL: What’s your go-to set-up?

MW: Minimal setup: Canon 6D | 24-70mm 2.8L | 64GB SD | 35cm light bouncer | Monopod

I used this setup during my one-day report in Paris, where I was limited to only 8kg of luggage including clothing and gear.

Optimum setup: all of the above | 50mm 1.2L | 70-20mm f/4 IS | 430 EXII | Pixel King Wireless Flash | Softbox+Tripod combo

I used this set for my work in China and Macau. It proved perfect for its weight and reliability.

Perfect setup : Minimal+optimum | Canon 5D Mark II | 14mm 2.8L II I 2x430EX II | 2 x Pixel King Wireless Flash | 2 x Softbox+Tripod combo

This is my setup for domestic photo projects. With this setup I am ready for most challenges given to me by clients, lighting and time.




LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the kind of set-up that you like?

MW: Trial and error, all the time. I’d look up some work on Flickr, reddit and then try to recreate an idea. Sometimes I would set up these “cheat sheets” with various pictures linking the idea I wanted to capture and most of the times the final composition was a mixture of a couple of concepts.


LL: Has your equipment undergone customisation?

MW: I did a little “tuning”. I updated the firmware and picture profiles to give me a better idea of what the final result might be. Due to massive usage and a couple of times in the rain, I decided to put some “duct tape” on my trusted 5D, which now serves as my secondary camera.


LL: Do you have a piece of equipment (or software) that you thought was a good buy at that time, but you eventually didn’t use it as much as you hoped?

MW: The only time I sold my gear, was when I was switching to Canon from Nikon. At that time I wanted my trusted lenses to go to someone, who would not only take care of them, but also use them to document stories and family life, and they still do to this day :).

My first film lenses were actually my fathers old PL-mount lenses, which I still use to this day.



LL: Have you been always mindful of ergonomics each time you shoot?

MW: I try to carry my backpack on three straps at a time, using a chest mount, a stomach mount and the standard shoulder straps. That way, the excess weight is evenly distributed on my spine and I have less stress on my back. For those extra heavy work days or usually on the third consecutive day I put on my basketball shoes, which tend to be better for my knees.


LL: What shoes do you usually wear?

MW: Mother nature blessed me (and cursed and the same time) with a pair of large and wide feet (shoe size 45 – 45.5) – therefore it was always easy for me to swim a bit faster :), but at the same time it was difficult finding shoes that would resist the amount of “inside” pressure from all the movement I was giving them.

Luckily I started skateboarding at an early age and I have been wearing skateboarding shoes for almost 16 years.


LL: Equipment Maintenance and Storage?

MW: Sensor cleaning every 2-3 months, lens cleaning before every shoot.


LL: Do you keep prints of your photos?

MW: I print my favourites, share them with my family and friends. Whenever an exhibition is finished, I tend to distribute the “left overs” 🙂 amongst those that care about my work and would like to have it in their home.




LL: Can you share a bit of how some of your photos came about?

MW: Jasio Wolfy – This is a photo of my brother’s son, one of my favourite shots – I guess it was his first smile for my camera. That kid is going to flood my photo stream soon.

Cookie, summertime 2014 – This is an “Action” shot of our dog Cookie, [she] makes the most awkward poses when she wants to play [with] all the other dogs.

Myslecinek // Walking in the rain –  My significant other on a walk with my dear Mom. I was fortunate enough to get the right focus on them while running towards a puddle.


 I’m 10 today – My dear Uncle Jasiu’s 10 year old cat that likes to sit in the dark. I caught it looking at some pigeons flying over my uncles house.

Odd one – While visiting the local cemetery in Yang Zhou, my dear friend Mei showed us the only “Christian” grave there.


Mr. Tim Roth [in Krakow] – I had the unique opportunity of meeting the great Tim Roth while he was visiting Krakow in 2011. I even had a brief chat with Mr. Roth on his work with director Quentin Tarantino, which made the meeting even more memorable. Great guy.




LL: Do you have a favourite self-portrait?

MW: I tend to point the lens at others. Sometimes I manage to squeeze in via a reflection, but that rarely happens.

As for my Gramps, well – he’s my “dziadzia” and I’ve been looking up to him for almost 30 years now. We share some great moments together and ever since I convinced him to “be himself” and not worry about me taking my camera everywhere with me, he’s never been happier. I usually have a “same-day” delivery arrangement with them, whereas my Grandma downloads the pictures on her laptop and shares them with the rest of the family.





LL: Do you have a regular schedule of posting photos?

MW: As You can tell, I haven’t posted to Flickr for a while, but that will change. I used to have a rule of posting at least one photo-per-day, and I have about 80 photos waiting to be uploaded. I’ll prepare the proper description and then flood my photostream :).


LL: What would you like to learn about next?

MW: I recently discovered a new method of retouching skin tones, without destroying the skin structure – one of the biggest improvement to my work. I also am learning the power of using color-foil filters on flash and will be posting more pictures featuring both of these methods to my photostream.

LL: Are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about?

MW: Nostalgia, old-but-good movies, puppies/kittens and backgrounds that remind me of a cinematic universe somewhere out there :).


LL: Are you a big listener of music?

MW: I was never too big on the “you-probably-never-heard-of-them” movement. I usually grabbed my musical inspirations [from] my fathers records, then my older brother. In the times of Napster, Myspace and Youtube it became relatively easy to get the music one wanted to hear at a given moment. If you look at some of the playlist I have made for myself on Youtube, it’s hard to define one genre or artist that motivates me on a daily basis :).


Author’s Note: Mikee has provided a link to playlists — you can find them here, here, here, here, and here.




LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new things?

MW: I spent a lot of time on Reddit and treat it as one of the most reliable sources for inspiration, learning and entertainment .



LL: Where do you go for inspiration?

MW: I usually scan through random photos on Flickr, watch a late night movie or scan through some old comic books.


Cookie // First snow in 2015


LL: What helps you focus on your uniqueness?

MW: My family, dog and significant other :).


LL: What makes you smile?

MW: A good joke, my dog doing some random shenanigans, a phone call from an old friend, sunrise when I’m driving for [an] early project, the smell of spices my grandmother uses for cooking, an e-mail from my mom or the smile of my other half.


LL: What’s your view about social media?

MW: One of my good friends, who is one of the top social media experts in Poland, brought me into this strange world of clicking, likes and sharing – and sharing my work has never been better. The idea of spreading your thoughts and work, to those that care the most with a click of button is still stunning to me :).




LL: What are your favourite sites at the moment?

MW: Reddit, Cracked (though I miss the “old cracked.com”) and a few others.


LL: Do you currently post at any forums?

MW: I have a few Flickr and Reddit forums I post to, photography related. Usually it’s about technique, the right gear or just plain “great job!” comments and upvotes to support the person on the other side of the screen :).


LL: Are there websites that you like to visit just because you like the design?

MW: Not really, its the content – though I am a big fan of visibility / ad-free – and Reddit delivers :).

LL: What would you do when you need cheering up?

MW: Play a map of Heroes of Might and Magic 3, go with my dog for a walk, take a ride in my car, call my brother – some options are always available.


LL: Would you be open to collaborating with other artists?

MW: One Greek philosopher once said that we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak – I try to be listener amongst collaborations and give my insight, when asked for it. There are areas, where my creative ego wants to take over, but I try to keep it in the closet for those “we-have-24-hours-to-publish-this” moments.


1.2, further testing.


LL: Are you interested in technology?

MW: I wouldn’t call myself of tech geek, but to keep this area short – I work on a Mac, edit videos in FCPX, photos in Lightroom and Photoshop CC, shoot on Canon cameras and lenses.

LL: If you were asked to pick from your photos, which one would be your favourite?

MW: Either my father or Ben on the tracks.



LL: For someone seeing one of your photos for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?

MW: I guess the overall message its that, so far, for me life is set of random stories from various places around the world- and that the one thing linking all of these stories, is the person behind the camera. The older I get, the more I notice how many things I forgot and how much more I remember thanks to those extra clicks on the camera.

Go out there, shoot, edit, publish – You’ll thank Yourself in 10 years time :).


LL: What makes your soul sing?

MW: I’ve never thought I would directly use a quote, but this best illustrates my everyday motivation:


Sam: It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.


Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?


Sam: That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.


Editor’s Note: You can find that scene in the film version of the Two Towers.




LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with people who admire your work?

MW: Definitely sending and replying to individual messages via my Facebook Fan Page. After a video project last Year I responded to over 300 emails, each individually and thanked all the people that wrote me with this.




* Michal Wilczek is a photographer based at Kraków. You can find out more about him (and see more of his photos!) via Flickr or Facebook.


So, here's me. // Macau '12


Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (September 2014 – January 2015) between Michal and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.

Leigh Lim is a musician based at Sydney. You can find a sample of her music here. To reach out to Leigh, you can do so via this form or a direct message through YouTube. Curious to find out if she’s your kind of person? You can check out her tweets and personal entries.


  • If there are things that you’d like to know about Michal that I have not covered, please do leave a note (using the second form gives me the opportunity to share your request with the WNE community and also to give Michal the option of answering).
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The Quote Jar: Fifteen

Following each Q&A session I post a separate entry including quotes from various sites and publications from the web. Clicking each of the links will open a new window containing the full article or video (if publicly accessible).

The names below were mentioned by Emily during her Q&A.


“They eventually stopped telling me to go to medical school.” – Ira Glass, This American Life (Slate)


“…these days we mix for headphone listening rather than speaker listening.” – Jad Abumrad, Radiolab (Ghostly)


“Sometimes you have to take time off this to do that and that to do this.” Ani Difranco (ORIGIN Magazine)




  • Corrections and additional information: Spot one? Let me know!
  • Q&A Suggestions (individuals or groups) and feedback (specific or general) are always welcome!
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  • WNEQA is also on Facebook! 🙂

Pick one of the forms below and I’ll get back to you. 🙂



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Q&A #16: Emily Page


* Emily gives us a glimpse of her journey as a painter, how she is able to make some of her brushes last a long time (20 years!), and how swapping gratitudes with select people helps.


Leigh Lim: Hi Emily! Thanks for taking the time to do a Q&A. I’ve noticed in one of your posts, you mention that you had to recreate 22 paintings in 48 hours. How did you manage that!?

Emily Page: For my sip and paint studio, Artistic Abandon, we do consulting to help other sip and paint studios open without them having to do a franchise. Part of the consulting package is that we allow them to use 50 of our copyrighted paintings, and we provide those 50 physical paintings for them to hang on the wall.

Normally, I have several weeks to come up with all 50, but we had a studio opening in Maryland within a couple weeks and my husband was going to be driving through that area in a couple days anyway, so we decided he should just deliver them on his way and save them the cost of shipping. Luckily, we had several of the images already painted (every time I teach a class, I’m recreating the painting for the students to follow along with), but there were 22 paintings that I had to get done within a couple days. It was madness.

The paintings that we teach at the studio are designed to be taught between a 2 and 3 hour period, so they take me 30 minutes to an hour and a half to recreate if I’m not waiting for students to catch up. So if we average an hour per painting, that means it took me approximately 22 hours total. I pretty much formed an assembly line of paintings with similar colors and would work on one painting while another dried, then go back once it was dry to do the next step.

My hand just about fell off at the end of it. I wear a wrist brace when I paint because I’ve got tendonitis and it definitely earned its keep over those couple days!


LL: If you were to explain the ‘Sip and Paint’ concept to someone who hasn’t encountered before, what would you say?

EP: Basically, customers can bring their own wine, beer, or nonalcoholic beverage and any snacks they’d like to class, and we’ll walk them step-by-step through creating their own version of one of our paintings.

Everyone in the class does the same painting, and we break it down so that, even if you’ve never painted before, you can walk away with something your proud of. You can follow along exactly, or put your own personal touches on it (we’ll help you do that, too, if you ask). It’s a social event with people laughing and chatting while they paint, but if you want to take it more seriously, you can.

We have customers that have been in over 50 times, which I never thought would happen. We work really hard to come up with paintings that are both good, and teachable, and to make sure that everyone is having a good time, too.

LL: What approach do you take when having to ship your paintings?

EP: I’ve gone back and forth between FedEx and UPS. I’ve never used any of the big art shippers because they’re so crazy expensive. I suppose if my work started getting super expensive, I would switch over. My strategy is just bubble wrap bubble wrap bubble wrap. Way more than you think is actually necessary. And I add an extra layer of cardboard in there, too.


LL: Can you give a quick summary in terms of how you got to where you are with painting?

EP: I started drawing when I was little and my parents always encouraged me to explore (mostly because it kept me occupied and quiet, I think, during the many hours we spent touring the country and chasing trains in a VW camper – yes, my parents were dirty dirty hippies). In high school, I did an independent study with a family friend, Tim O’Kane, and he introduced me to several different media, including oils. Check out his work at http://www.timokane.com. He’s amazing and continues to mentor me unofficially.

I fell in love with oils and ended up being an art major in college, focusing on painting. There’s such a satisfying gush. I’m big on textures. I tend to get hooked on a style and do a ton of work in that style, and then I get restless and want to try something new. I mostly figure out how to do new stuff myself, but occasionally I’ll consult books or go online if it’s a new medium. Tim recently gave me some panel to experiment on and I’m totally obsessed with that now. It’s allowing me to get very detailed and precise, so I’m doing a series of realist paintings at the moment, sprinkled in with some other work.


LL: Are there any challenges that come to mind during your learning process?

EP: The hardest thing about learning is accepting that you’re going to end up with something that you’re not happy with. You want it to be perfect the first time. But I’m learning to let go and know that I’ll probably have to sand down and gesso over a few pieces and reuse the canvas when I’m at the beginning of a new style or medium.

Making something that ends up being something you consider sub-par is okay – no one needs to see it and you’re going to learn on each piece what works and what doesn’t work, and the next one will get better. That was particularly true when I started doing portraits. Let me tell you, I have butchered some of my loved ones’ faces! Luckily, they’ll never know. I also know that sometimes a piece needs to sit for a few months and then be revisited when you’ve learned more.

I’ve even shown works that I wasn’t thrilled with and a year later gone back and totally reworked it. If a piece isn’t working, you can’t be afraid to go way off course and screw up the pretty parts to get to somewhere new and fresh. Some of my best pieces are works I hated the first time around and that are kind of accidental.

LL: Do you have specific books that you keep within reach that you regularly refer to?

EP: I don’t really consult books on a regular basis, but in my studio, I do have The Artist’s Handbooks (1 by Ralph Mayer and 1 by Ray Smith), and the Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Park. They’re sort of for just in case.


LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has never painted before, so they could have the capacity to draw at your level and skill. What would it look like?

EP: I don’t think there needs to be a set path for learning to paint. The key is to not be afraid to make mistakes and be willing to practice daily. You WILL make mistakes, and that’s okay. Just learn from them. I believe in having a strong foundation in drawing, because it teaches you how to really see what’s there, not just what you THINK is there. If you can’t draw, you can’t paint.

But really, learning to create art is just like anything else: the more you practice, the better you get. When I give private lessons, I assign homework that both lets you explore and requires you to practice. If you have a good artist to guide you, that’s really helpful, because they can help you see in ways you didn’t already. I would also say that any chance you get to watch a really great artist work, do it. I’ve learned so much by just observing.


LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are as an artist?

EP: I was not disciplined when I was younger and it has taken me a long time to get to where I am. I’m not sure how much being more dedicated would have helped me get here faster, or if my brain just needed time to develop and mature and work things out. Even now, I don’t think of it as discipline – I look for ways to keep myself interested, which is why I have such a wide variety of art and styles.

Don’t force yourself to do more than 10 minutes a day as you’re beginning. If you’re enjoying it, do more. If you’re not, stop. Art should be a release. It should be fun, and if it’s not fun, you’ll lose interest quickly. I tend to work in spurts, where I have dozens of paintings in the works and I wish I had more time to paint, and I have phases where things slow down.

The lulls used to panic me, but now I know that’s just my pattern and that soon enough, inspiration will hit again.

LL: How important was it to have someone help you learn a specific technique?

EP: I can’t think of specific examples of times a teacher has helped me work through a real problem or learn a new technique, but as I said, people often give little tips that help you along the way – like Tim O’Kane giving me a couple pieces of prepped Masonite for my realist work.


LL: Do you plan when you paint?

EP: I do plan when I paint sometimes. I’ll work out composition on paper first, but I rarely make any studies in paint first. It really depends on what I’m working on. If I’m using any photos as reference, I’ll print them out in black and white before I start painting so I can see values without hue.


LL: Do you have a mental (or written) checklist that you go through, before each work is finished?

EP: I don’t really have any kind of checklist. It’s more intuitive for me. I think if you have a solid enough foundation, you can let go of the technique and interpret your way through. If I’m struggling with a piece, or if I’m not quite sure if I’m done, I’ll ask my husband. He has no artistic training, and I like getting the layman’s opinion, because they don’t care about technique.

And generally buyers are not artists themselves. He’ll just look at a piece and say something like, “I think it needs more red over there.” He’s often right, and even if he’s not, he sometimes makes me think of something that I hadn’t considered before.

I do like having photos as reference – whether it’s of a color palette I like, or a pose I’m using, or even another artist’s work that I like the mood of, I find photos helpful.

View this post on Instagram

First layers. Such anticipation.

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LL: Description of your style?

EP: This is a really tough one for me, because, artistically, I call myself a restless spirit. I tend to like bold color, but, of course, there are exceptions to that in my work. I swing wildly between styles – some of my work is fairly abstract and expressive, other work is tight and realistic. I tend to be drawn to figurative work in general.

I often have a theme of subject matter that I’ll focus on for a while, then back off and switch to a new subject, then go back as more ideas arise.

LL: What are some misconceptions you find about you as an artist?

EP: People assume that I’m naturally talented and that it comes easily to me. They assume they could never do it because the stuff they’ve produced so far hasn’t been “successful.” Wrong. Yes, I do have some natural ability, but I’m good because I’ve worked hard at it.

Paint seriously for 20 years, and it’ll get easier for you, too. And I firmly believe that everyone can produce something of value with the right guidance. That’s the thing that I love about the sip and paint studio: it allows people to try painting again even though their 2nd grade art teacher told them they couldn’t do it (that drives me crazy by the way – never EVER tell a child they’re not gifted at art. If they’re struggling, it’s your job to find their unique ability). We let them sip wine while they paint, so they relax a little, and then we walk them step-by-step through creating a painting.

With the right instruction and having each paint stroke really broken down for them, they can walk away with something they’re proud of and that they never thought they could do. Again, it’s like anything else, the more you practice, the better you get.


LL: Favourite time of the day to paint?

EP: I like painting at night, but that’s not generally an option these days. Because I have to teach classes at night and I’m usually worn out afterward, I’m often stuck carving out a little time during the day to paint.

I try to reserve Fridays to work on my personal art, but it doesn’t always happen. What’s also hard is that some Fridays I’m just not in the mood, and there are other days when I desperately need to paint but can’t. Finding the time for my personal work is a real struggle, and because it’s in the same space as the business itself, I often don’t want to come in on my days off because it feels like I’m returning to work.

I’m looking forward to the future when I have my own dedicated studio space at home away from work so I can work at any hour of the day and don’t feel obligated to do “real” work.


LL: Are you learning something specific at the moment?

EP: I’m working on realism right now, and trying to learn some glazing techniques. I’m also doing a lot more underpainting in acrylic and then taking oils on top. I like the speed of doing an underpainting in acrylic and then having the leisure to work in oils.

I’m also about to start sculpting with foam for the haunted attraction my husband and I are building. I’ve never sculpted in foam, and I haven’t been able to find anyone to teach me, so I’ve been watching a lot of videos online.

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My kind of Sunday

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LL: What’s part of your kit at the moment?

EP: My favorite oils are actually Utrecht. Good quality, not too pricey. I don’t feel like I have to be stingy with it because it’s so expensive. I usually use some kind of quick drying medium like Liquin or ResinGel (I used to really like Oleopasto, but they stopped making it). I’ve also been doing some mixed media work, so I’m tearing through Matte Gel Medium.


LL: How would you describe your go-to set-up?

EP: If I’m painting plein air (find a good site include as a link), I bring my pochade box, some quick drying medium and turpenoid (I use little baby food jars for carrying the turp), and plenty of water/coffee/snacks to keep me going. I bring my phone, too, because snapping a quick picture can really help me double check my composition and flatten the space before I start sketching. I’m not a purist, whatever helps me get there is fine with me.


LL: Did it take awhile for you to settle on the kind of set-up that you like?

EP: I’m STILL not settled on a set-up I like. Sometimes I stand when I paint, sometimes I sit, sometimes I kneel. Having a good adjustable easel is important for me for that reason. I usually get out all of the colors and supplies I think I’ll need before I paint because having to stop and get more as I go frustrates me.


LL: Have you been always mindful of ergonomics each time you start a project?

EP: Ergonomics is really the constant battle, isn’t it? I have a number of health conditions that sometimes affect my set-up. I guess that’s why I don’t have just one way that I paint. If I’m really achy or I’m working on a small realist piece, I like a low chair, if I’m working on an expressive piece, I prefer to stand so that I can have good range of motion.

I’ve even been known to use those exercise balls to sit on. Having enough padding on the floor is key (and again is one of my big frustrations because of the limitations of the sip and paint studio space). Honestly, I know it’s crazy, but a carpeted floor with a drop cloth on it is my favorite.

LL: Do you have a piece of equipment (or software) that you thought was a good buy at that time, but you eventually didn’t use it as much as you hoped?

EP: I have some high end lights I bought for photographing my work when it’s done, but they’re such a pain to set up that I keep them in storage now. I’ve found that photographing my work outside on a cloudy day gives me the best chance at capturing the real colors in a piece. I also have been known to give away media I don’t care for to other artists (I was once gifted an amazing encaustic set, but didn’t find encaustic to be a satisfying medium to work in, so I gave it to a friend. Why sell when you can gift to another starving artist who you love?).

LL: Would you recommend buying consumables in bulk?

EP: If you can buy in bulk and have the storage, hell yes! But don’t clutter your studio space with extra stuff if you need to feel like you have room. I make that mistake a lot – I want the good deals, but I hate feeling like I don’t have the space I need to create.

Clutter is kind of inevitable for me, but periodically I clean up because I feel so much more open in a large, clean space.


LL: Maintenance and Storage?

EP: I’m religious about cleaning my brushes and palette knives. Religious. Brushes are so expensive, and it’s not that hard to take a couple extra minutes to clean when you’re done. I have brushes that I’ve been using for 20 years.

If I love it, I want to be able to keep using it and not have to hunt down a brush that they may stop making in a couple years. I have canisters for my brushes so I can store them bristle up. They’re sorted by style and size (though I’m pretty loose about that) so I can find the one I want easily.

People being cruel to brushes drives me absolutely loony. That’s the hardest thing about owning a sip and paint studio – people are abusive to our brushes, so we have to replace them on a regular basis. It’s painful!


LL: What approach do you recommend for using and maintaining brushes?

EP: If you’re using acrylics, the key is to always leave the brushes in a cup of water when you’re not using them. People always think that, because they’ve rinsed it and it looks relatively clean when they dab it on a paper towel, that it really is clean. It’s not. Paint gets way up in those bristles and hardens when it dries. Once it’s in there, it’s going to make the brush stiff and frayed. For oils, you’ve got way more time, but I still clean my brushes after every painting session.


If you know you’ve got to clean your brushes before you can even start the next day, it can stop you from ever starting. Take away those kind of excuses so that you can come to each session fresh.


People are really heavy handed. A light touch takes practice. I rest my hand or pinky finger on the canvas when I’m painting to help me steady my pressure, and I usually hold my brush pretty close to the bristle if I’m doing anything even vaguely detailed. I use what dentists call the Fulcrum Grip, lol. . I don’t change brushes to change colors. I just clean it well in between. I’m attaching a picture of what our brushes look like when they arrive from the store and what a couple weeks of use by our customers does to them.



LL: Can you share a bit of background on how some of your paintings came about?

EP: When I start a new piece that isn’t really part of a series, it’s because I’ve seen something that has just stuck in my brain and won’t let go. For the Drippings Triptych, I had the color palette in mind and it kept badgering me to come out. We had a painting we teach at the studio, and about a third of the way through, it looks like a lovely piece of abstract art and I just loved the colors.

(I’m attaching a photo of the studio’s painting so you can see. When we first start we just do the background color and some of the trees, and that’s what really set me off and running I had been doing some really tight work and wanted something more abstract and free, and had a wall at home that I wanted to change out the art for).

I had just been given those pieces of Masonite to try, and liked them and had purchased more for myself and had them cut so that I could make the triptych from some of the leftovers. I had done a couple other drippings pieces, and oddly, those had stemmed from a computer glitch. I had tried to print a pic of one of my paintings, and the printer screwed up and created this box within the painting and I liked how it looked. So I set out to do that intentionally on canvas.

The triptych was an extension of that. The only down side was that I was planning on doing something a little looser to give my hand a break, but I had forgotten that in order to have clean edges around the boxes, that you’ve got to get really tight and controlled in the clean-up of the lines. Murder for the hands, but I love how they came out. Serene.



LL: Have you received referrals to take your classes as an antidote to writer’s block?

EP: I haven’t, but that’s a really interesting thought. I think most people just view it as a fun night out, but I have some regulars that often say to me, “hey, it’s cheaper than therapy,” so obviously it helps them in some way. That’s really what art should be.

We all have this need to be perfect, and people are really hard on themselves in class sometimes. They forget that I’ve been painting for 30 years. If I came to their job, I wouldn’t be good at it right away either. And if it was easy, they wouldn’t need my help in the first place.

I ring a cowbell during class reminding them to take a drink or to breathe. Even when I’m working on a tough painting and it’s not going well or I’m finding it kind of stressful, it’s still good for me because it makes me stop thinking about my “real” life. I think that’s true for my customers as well. They stop thinking about job stress or home stress and they’re truly in the moment for those couple of hours that they’re painting.


LL: Are there any misconceptions about you that you’ve had to clarify?

EP: I’ve never really been pigeon holed as an artist (at least, not that I know of) because I do so many kinds of work. I think the hardest thing for me to get past is people not taking me seriously because I’m a petite “young” woman. I’m still called a young woman, but I’m 37, and I wonder when you stop getting called that?

Granted, I take it as a compliment that they perhaps think I’m younger than I am because of how I look, but I do think that I’m often not taken seriously because of it. When I was in art school, I was advised not to sign my paintings with my full name, because buyers won’t pay as much if they know that you’re a woman. I just sign with my first initial and last name. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but I don’t want to take my chances. I do think men get taken more seriously as artists than women do, even in this day and age.

LL: Are there some questions you find yourself answering multiple times?

EP: Why the dancers? Why the elephants. They’re honest questions, though, so I don’t mind answering them.


LL: Do you have a regular schedule of posting entries?

EP: I’m trying to post on the days that I’m already in the studio (Tuesday through Saturday) and give myself a break on Sundays and Mondays. This is mostly so that I’ll rest my hand and help the tendonitis ease.

But if I’m really excited about something, I’ll post more frequently. I’m still new to the whole blogging thing, so we’ll see if I’m able to maintain that rhythm.


LL: Were there instances when you hesitated about posting/sharing something?

EP: I’m a pretty open and honest person. I sometimes question whether readers will get my humor, but I’m viewing the blogging like I view the art. You have to let go of the response you’re anticipating and do what makes you happy.

This is REALLY hard to do, because I’m a people pleaser, but I find that when I let go and just be creative, people generally respond well. The only time I censor is when I’m talking about someone else, like my dad. I don’t want to betray anyone’s trust. If I do talk about someone, I try to keep it in a positive light. There’s enough trash talk out there, I don’t need to add to it.

With my dad, because he can’t advocate for himself anymore with the dementia, I try to think about what he would have been comfortable with sharing, but he was a really open person, too, and decided early on not to hide what was happening (my mom embraced the same attitude, luckily).

If we can be honest about who we are and what’s happening to us, it can be therapeutic for other people reading it. That’s really what support groups are, after all: people saying, “I’ve experienced this,” and other people saying, “Yeah, me, too! I thought I was the only one!”

LL: What would you like to learn about next?

EP: I’d really love to learn a new language. I was pretty good with French for awhile, but it’s been so long since I’ve had to use it, I’ve lost most of it.

I’d love to learn Spanish, just for its usefulness.


I’m also going to have to learn special effects makeup for the haunt, and I’m pretty excited for that. I don’t really like creepy things, but I love the thought of getting to do prosthetics, etc.


LL: Are you currently mentoring someone?

EP: I don’t know that mentoring is the right word. I have a friend who swaps “gratitudes” with me once a week. We each keep a gratitude journal – just stuff that makes us happy day to day, and then we email each other everything once a week.

I have a really strong history of depression (something I haven’t talked about in the blog yet, but which I undoubtedly will), so making the effort to see the good in life is vital. Emailing each other holds us accountable, and I find that, even if I’ve had a really crappy day, at the end of emailing my whole list of gratitudes for the week, I feel better. And then reading hers makes that even better, because it alerts you to things you didn’t know make you happy. It can be really simple things like the crunch of ice when you step on a frozen puddle, but it makes you see some good when you might otherwise be cranky about freezing your butt off.

I have another friend who’s daughter is about to turn 10 and is struggling with self esteem, and I think is tending toward depression. So I sent her a gratitude journal and asked her to be my pen pal and trade gratitudes, too. I really want her to get in the habit while she’s young, because it could make a difference in her teenage years.

I’m also trying to be more cognizant of who I surround myself with. I’m looking for people that believe in me and push me, and I try to reciprocate as much as possible. We need to work harder at being of value to each other’s lives. Let’s grow together.

LL: Are there certain things you ‘geek out’ about?

EP: I watch FRIENDS religiously. And HGTV. I freakin’ love makeovers (home or beauty). And Harry Potter is kind of awesome, I have to admit. That being said, I’m not really someone who goes and looks up every fact that ever was about something I like. So I don’t know if it qualifies as geeking out.


I’m also really fascinated by medical stuff. I have several conditions that have required me to be my own advocate, which means you have to learn about the science-y stuff. I used to run a local support group in FL through the Endometriosis Research Center. And I worked for awhile as a paralegal helping people get their disability benefits, which meant that I had to be able to write coherently about their illnesses. I really enjoyed that work. If I had better memorization skills (as an actor, I was good at remembering lines, but holding minutia in my brain was never my strong suit), I probably would have become a doctor. Ooh, or a surgeon since I have steady hands.


LL: Is there a topic that would get you talking endlessly?

EP: Anything that’s not “fair,” lol. I have an overdeveloped sense of justice. I do have to be careful though, because if I play the “ain’t it awful” game (as my dad called it), it puts me into a negative mindset which makes me more susceptible to falling back into a depression.

I will say that I’m kind of obsessed with public radio shows right now. My top 3 faves are This American Life, RadioLab (I love the random science crap I learn on that show – I just wish I could remember it to spit it out in conversation later), and Serial.

LL: Are you a big listener of music?

EP: I actually used to be a radio deejay for WTJU (wtju.net) with my dad (he was a jazz sax and clarinet player). We played jazz, jazz, and jazz. It was called Nick@Nine, Monday morning jazz to make you feel good. I love all types except smooth, which makes me want to cut my ears off and shove them into the soprano sax to clog it up and make it stop.

I’m a jazz singer (I know, I act, I sing, I paint – I’m good at everything that’s exceptionally hard to make a living doing), so I lean more towards vocalists. My favorite jazz vocalist is Carmen McRae, though I love Nnenna Freelon, Stephanie Nakasian. If you don’t know about Stephanie Nakasian, you need to. She’s probably the most underrated jazz singer and can scat like Ella.

I was fortunate enough to be her very first voice student. Her husband is Hod O’Brien, one of the greatest piano players of our era. Really amazing. My cats have all been named after jazz musicians (Ella, Satchmo, Dizzy, and Frankie – because he had blue eyes like Frank Sinatra). I had stopped listening to jazz for awhile after we put my dad into a dementia care facility, because it was just too painful for me. But I’m starting to be able to listen again and enjoy it – still depends on the day, though.


My favorite non-jazz musician (though who does often have a jazz vibe to her work) is Ani Difranco. I looooooooove me some Ani. I sing and sing and sing to her. She writes the soundtrack to my life.


LL: What are you reading at the moment?

EP: I’m reading a novel right now that isn’t really all that interesting, so I won’t bother plugging it. I’m one of those people who can’t stop reading once I’ve started, even though I’m not enjoying it. My favorite book of all time is Fugitive Pieces (the first half is incredible). I just read The Art Forger and was absolutely fascinated with the descriptions of how to recreate the aged look in art. I also really like The Goldfinch, though I was a little disappointed when I looked up what the actual painting was. Not as captivating as the book described. Tracy Chevalier’s books are a little romance novel-y, but I love that they include some really interesting stuff about how art was made way back when.

I like books about World War II. No idea why. I also really love Wally Lamb’s writing. He just sucks me in. I have my mom’s old Kindle, so lately I just read whatever she’s downloaded – which means I’m reading a lot of mystery books.

In terms of blogs, my favorite is http://thebloggess.com/ (If you haven’t read her book, you need to. Right now. I’ll wait.) I also have a friend from college with a great blog, http://www.lilblueboo.com/ I like their blogs because they’re both honest and look for the bright side of things. And they can get twisted. Twisted is good.

LL: Do you go out of your way to discover new things?

EP: I’m actually really horrible about keeping up with the art world. It does stimulate me when I come across good art, but it also can block me. It can make me feel unoriginal, or like someone is doing it better than me. I love discovering new musicians, though.


LL: In what way do you approach motivation and inspiration?

EP: I don’t actively seek it. I prefer to let it come to me organically. By surrounding myself with people I admire and love, they tend to feed me inspiration without me having to go looking for it. I find that the universe gives it to you when you’re ready. I think I mentioned before that I go through dry spells. Kind of like writer’s block, and that that used to panic me.

These days, I trust that it’ll come around again and I’ll have more ideas than I know what to do with.

LL: What makes you smile?

EP: I love bad puns. My dad and I used to trade them. It’s one of the reasons the Muppets are so genius (watch the Muppets Christmas Carol this year). I love irreverent humor (for an example, go to http://www.lilblueboo.com/category/elf-on-the-shelf-2). I love musical humor (like Victor Borge). These two things [‘Data’s Life Form Song’ and ‘Peter Catching a Bullfrog for Chris’] also always make me crack up.

Editor’s Note: for the link to the second clip Emily mentions — put in your request here.

LL: What’s your view about social media?

EP: I wasn’t keen on it at first, but now I love it. I’m connected to so many people that I wouldn’t otherwise still be in touch with. I’m so grateful for that. I know it can take over your life, but you just have to exercise a little self-discipline and limit your time on it. It’s also made opening a business and promoting my artwork so much easier.

I have to admit I’m not a twitter fan, because brevity is not my strong suit, but I love Facebook. And blogging has been an unexpected surprise. I thought I wouldn’t have anything to say, but that’s clearly not the case.


LL: What are your favourite sites at the moment?

EP: I’m still getting into reading blogs. My go-to remains The Bloggess.


LL: Do you currently post at Forums?

EP: I don’t do Forums. Haven’t really explored that yet. I do sometimes participate with the Endometriosis Research Center, but way less frequently than I used to.

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Studio window snowflakes

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LL: What would you do when you need cheering up?

EP: I don’t really try to cheer myself up. Sometimes I just need a little pity party. I’ll snuggle with my cats and husband and hide for a little bit. But if I do it for too many days in a row, I try to kick myself in the ass and focus on the things I’m thankful for.

And I’m learning to reach out to my friends and say that I could use a little help. I have hilarious friends with an arsenal of bad puns to make me smile. My mom is also an incredible support, and I can be honest with her when I’m getting depressed.


LL: Do you enjoy collaborating with other artists?

EP: I haven’t really explored that option either. I would really like to try it, though. I think it could foster some really interesting stuff.


LL: Are you interested in technology?

EP: No. I’m a luddite. I’m grateful that the internet and computers exist, and they make my life easier in many ways, but I hate learning how to use everything. I’m about to try learning how to use Pinnacle, but it’s under duress.

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Lead soldiers that my grandfather made.

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LL: If you were asked to pick from the pieces you have created, which one would be your favourite?

EP: Wow, tough question. I’ll give you one in each style: From the Dancers, Vogue is my fave. From the Still Life paintings, I like my tomato paintings. From the Fractured Memories, I think the Happy Elephant Singing Emily will probably be the one I’ll keep.


LL: For someone seeing something of yours for the first time, what is the message you’re hoping they’ll take with them?

EP: As much as you can, let go of the outcome and don’t be afraid to experiment and make bad art. And enjoy the process of playing with whatever medium you’re using. Relish that gush of paint. Look for the pieces in a painting that you really like and figure out how to do it again.


LL: What makes your soul sing?

EP: Music and laughter. When someone I love laughs, it’s like heaven on a sound wave. When my dad laughs, it’s like when a really little kid laughs – incredibly precious and something that sustains me. If I blow a raspberry noise at him, he cracks up, and it makes my whole day.

The right song can have the same effect. There are some things for which there are no words, and music and art can convey those.

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Gravestone in Marblehead

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LL: What do you find is the best way to connect with people who admire your work?

EP: I think replying to comments and emails is important. It lets people know that they’re as important to you as you are to them. We all need to feel special and we can only feel that way if people are as generous with their love as we are with ours.


LL: What kind of opportunities are you looking forward to?

EP: I think my top priority is to find buyers for my work. It’s hard to justify making more art when you’ve got a storage unit full of it – not that that stops me, but it would stop my husband from grousing, lol. I love commissions because it allows me to make a piece and know that it’s got a home waiting for it.


LL: In what way do you enjoy helping others?

EP: It’s the little kindnesses that I think make the most difference. I’ve organized Random Acts of Kindness Days at my studio and encouraged my customers to participate.

I’ll be passing out holiday cards to the Walmart staff next week to say thank you for their hard work. People get so little appreciation for the work they do. I’m good with illness and death, so I used to volunteer with Hospice doing 11th Hour care and respite care.

I grew up volunteering at Camp Holiday Trails, a camp for kids with special health needs. I’ve done some murals for free for sick kids. These days, I have so little extra time to volunteer, and my husband and I have been talking about how much I miss that. We do monthly fundraisers for local charities, and that’s great, but it doesn’t really feed the soul in quite the same way.

I need to find a way to carve out more time for actual volunteering, because nothing makes you feel better than giving without expecting anything in return.


* Emily Page is a painter currently based in Raleigh. You can learn more about her via her blog or her Instagram feed. To purchase her work, you can visit this page.”


Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (December 2014 – January 2015) between Emily and Leigh. Content has been edited for length, and the final version has been reviewed and approved by the interviewee.

Leigh Lim is a musician based at Sydney. You can find a sample of her music here. To reach out to Leigh, you can do so via this form or a direct message through YouTube. Curious to find out if she’s your kind of person? You can check out her tweets and personal entries.


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