Q&A #26: Todd Casey


Todd shares his journey as a painter, how running helps him work out problems in his painting, and the importance of not putting a timeframe on things.



Leigh Lim: Hi Todd, thanks for taking the time to do a Q&A! While on your site, I noticed that you have some prints for sale. Did it take awhile for you to decide how your paintings are going to be captured as images as well as the printing process?


Todd Casey: Hi Leigh, thank you for taking the interest in interviewing me. It did take me a while to make the decision to sell prints. It’s a new venture and a few people had shown some interest so I figured why not.

There is always something lost in a print as in relation to the original. Its one of the reasons that held me back from making them earlier in my career. I also feel that I have something that is marketable in drink painting and cheese painting. Who doesn’t like wine/beer and cheese?

In terms of how it was captured, I’ve been able to find a few photographers that do a really good job of getting the color and subtleties in the photos. The paper that the images are printed on is a good quality thick paper so it lasts.



LL:  Why do you think you do the things you do?


TC: I feel that if my paintings can touch one person in anyway then my job is done. It is my intention to give the world something beautiful and add to it with great things. In the words of Thomas Mann “Be ashamed to die until you have scored some victory for humanity.” or of Neil DeGrasse Tyson “I fear living a life that I could have accomplished something and didn’t.”






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


TC: My artistic journey of how I got to where I am now plays out like a long novel. To sum it up, I started out at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston MA where I got a BFA in Illustration. I then moved to NYC to pursue a career in Illustration in which I failed miserably. I then decided to go back to Graduate school and enrolled at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where I majored in Animation.

I wasn’t satisfied so I found myself back in the Illustration Department where I met Warren Chang. This led me to move back to NYC and pursue studying under a master painter and found one in Jacob Collins.




LL: Sounds like it took awhile for you to find ‘the painter you’.


TC: It did take a while to find that I wanted to be a painter though I probably would have taken it up in college had they offered a program where I would have studied the figure instead of abstract painting.


I initially went into Illustration because I wanted to do paintings like Norman Rockwell and Illustration seemed to be the only place to do stuff like that. Little did I know that illustration had evolved into more of a super stylized art form or something that was closer to design work.


I’m glad that I went through the illustration and then the animation to get to painting though as I feel I was able to pull all that knowledge into painting. I was able to also appreciate all forms of art as well. Too often now I will meet a painter that is so narrow minded its kind of sad. I love all forms of art, even abstract art but it just doesn’t mean I want to do it.






LL: Is there a Connection between Warren Chang & Jacob Collins? (Even not directly…did meeting Warren Chang steer your towards finding Jacob Collins? Or was it more the move to NY that triggered the events? And Warren was able to give you a different kind of insight?)



TC: There are multiple connections to Warren Chang to Jacob actually. I took Warren’s class in grad school called Heads and Hands. Its an illustration class that they make the animators take so they know how to draw.


Both Warren and I have a love for Rockwell so we would just talk before class began and after about art and names. The method of drawing that I was learning seemed like a long time to do one drawing and I remember him saying “If you think this is long, check out Tony Ryder, they take 60 hours to do a drawing” and that concept just blew me away as we were doing a 3 hour drawing and I was amazed.



So that conversation kind of opened the book for me to start looking around. We continued to talk before and after class and he also loved the work I did in his class. He was the first to bring up the names Jacob Collins and Max Ginsburg. Being a good student, I wrote them down in my sketchbook and looked them up. I was definitely fascinated by their work.



Months later I had moved back to Massachusetts to take the summer off from grad school and was staying with my parents. There was something about grad school that made me not want to go back. One was the idea that I had changed my major from 3D animation to 2D animation and then to Illustration within a year. I didn’t feel focused and I couldn’t understand why a school would allow this to happen. I also didn’t want to walk out of grad school with a huge amount of debt. I decided to take time off of grad school and move back to the east coast.


So, I did this big cross country trip with my buddy I met in grad school. Our plan was to make it back to San Francisco to get our stuff and move to New York but along the way visit as many artists and their studios as possible. It was quite the enlightening experience. Warren was one of the artists that we visited and he gave us a bunch of names to look up, mentioning studying with Jacob again.


When I finally got back to NYC and settled in, I emailed Jacob. He emailed me back in like 10 minutes, it was really bizarre. I interviewed for his school and then he sent me on a mission. (The story continues into the next question)





LL: How did you know that Jacob Collins was the person for you?


TC: When I interviewed at Jacob’s studio he greeted me at the door. I thought he was a student because he looked like a big kid but I said, is Jacob here and he said yep and said come with me. Then I realized he was Jacob.


Jake’s studio was in the back of the school which was in the garage of his carriage house on the upper east side of Manhattan. During that walk through, there were about 15 students standing around a model painting the figure.  Each students painting was so good, I knew right there that I wanted to do this. I figured, even if I was the worst student in this school, I’d be super happy.



When we got into the back where his studio was, he asked me a lot of questions. He challenged me to ask why I wanted to do this, who I had studied with. I showed him my work and he was not impressed but he said something like “eh, there maybe something there”.


So, he sent me on a mission. He said, go study at the Grand Central Atelier with either my student Nick Hiltner or Camie Davis. Do a cast drawing and show bring it back to me when you are finished. I called the GCA that night and enrolled in the night class.


It was crazy, it was every night from 6:30 – 9;30. I remember walking in to a full room of students (of all ages) and looking at their drawings. I asked a ton of questions like how long did this take you to do, and what materials they were using etc. What blew my mind was that they all were working on one drawing for about 3 months.


Initially I was like, yeah this may not be for me but I figured why not give it a shot. I thought there would be no way in the world I could draw a plaster cast that slow, what were they doing with all that time???



But Camie was a fantastic teacher and she really got me to slooooow down. As each day went by and I did the drawing, I started to see how this could be the foundation for what I had always been looking for. This was the link to that Gerome painting “L’Eminence Gris” I had seen in my undergrad at the MFA Boston. So, I just took my time and did the drawing at the pace that Camie had guided me through.



I was happy with my drawing and I let Camie know my intentions. She gave me a recommendation email to Jacob and we scheduled a second meeting.



When I showed up for that second meeting I had a bit of confidence. He asked to see my drawing and I showed him. He wasn’t overly impressed with it though. All I kept thinking was: ‘What was he seeing that I was not and how can I see like him?’.


The second interview seemed to be going terrible in my eyes. He was asking how old I was and then he would say that I was kind of old to start this, that you have to really want to do this and that it takes 10 years to build a career as an artist. He would look at my work then go over to his email that I sent with the images I sent. He was making sounds like he wasn’t’ sure what to do.



It was a Friday and he just said, “show up on Monday with a pencil and paper.” I remember saying: ‘Wait, What? Am I in?’. He said yes, show up with a pencil and paper. And that’s where it all began. Honestly I felt like someone kicked me in the balls and then gave me a prize. I felt so indifferent about the whole thing.





LL: Looking at the time you’ve invested in those two degrees, can you see now how both have helped shaped you as a painter? (you wouldn’t change a thing? Or if you would have a chance to tweak a few things…you might have just gone straight to private lessons under someone like Jacob Collins and skipped doing both degrees)


TC: I wouldn’t do anything differently honestly. I love all forms of art and I had the chance to try them all out. I almost double majored in Illustration and Graphic Design in undergrad because it’s so hard for me to just pick one thing. Although, studying with Jacob in those early days of Water Street would have been nice.


Just to clarify though, I did not finish my Master Degree program. I only have a BFA, I’m about half way through a Masters program.




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

TC: I love to read and always have a few books that I’m reading. My top 3 that are always are in reach is The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo, The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle.

In terms of art books, I always have Emile Friant, John Singer Sargeant and Andew Wyeth close.






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

TC: I am always challenging myself as an artist, I’m never at rest. As I feel I gain a new skill I’m always looking to build somewhere else. I’m always doing portraits from life because I feel that as an artist it is probably the hardest thing to do. It took me a while to get good at them. I’m still learning though and continue to always try to keep my sword sharp.



LL: If you were to put together a ‘learning plan’ or practice pack for someone who has yet to attempt to craft their first painting, so they could have the capacity to paint at your level and skill. What would it look like? (Would you want them to go through the same journey as you did?)


TC: I would let them know to take it slow, very slow. I think that the journey is the best part of any goal that you are trying to achieve, although the end is always nice. When I found Jacob Collins he told me it would take a good 4 years of just study under him and then another 6-8 years to build my career. It didn’t phase me as I knew.





LL: What does building your career mean to you?

TC: The idea that it takes 6-8 years to build your career is a bit arbitrary and organic. Some artists catch a break right away and some have to build their careers over time. I’m not looking to get into a big gallery but to get into the right gallery for me. Some of the bigger galleries have so many artists in them. I’d rather be in a smaller gallery that promotes my work, more of an intimate experience. But, some people feel that if you are in a big gallery then you made it.


At this point in my career its about making the right moves and building relationships to push my career forward. A lot of decisions in art are risky like entering competitions but sometimes they help you. You never know where you will be planting a seed so I always give something a shot.



For instance this past year I became a member of the Salmagundi Club. It’s a lot of money to join, 750 dollars a year. But, it’s a prestigious club that has been around a long time and there are many shows that you can be in as a member where they award prizes. Its definitely a lot of money for an artist, I’m still trying to figure out if its worth the money though.


I do think that finding the right gallery to promote your work is key to a successful career. I am blessed that I found a great gallery and great family in Rehs Gallery. They are a family and they are all about having a personal relationship with their artists. I go there so much that the front desk guys calls me one of the Rehs.




LL: Artists are known to be very protective of their work. What would you say to someone who can’t seem to let go, and share their ideas/work — while it is in progress?

TC: That’s hard to say as I share all of the stages of my work. I love to pass knowledge down to anyone that is interested. I get the reason that an artist would want to stay protected. I think that giving students all of the answers at the beginning of their career could be detrimental. I think the journey is really important for any student.






LL: Would you say it was discipline that got you to where you are as a painter?

TC: I would definitely say that it is the discipline that got me to where I am. I always say that its like the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” when Andy says that he is going to dig his way out of the prison and Red says “It will take a man 600 years to dig out of here.” So later on in the movie we find out that Andy did it in about 20 or so by being patient and just chipping away piece by piece at the stone.

Patience is a big part of getting to our goals as well. Take the time and set realistic goals and also be relentless.


“I remember thinking when I got him that gadget back in ’48 that it would take a man six hundred years to burrow through the wall with it.” (Link to Shawshank Redemption Film / King Novella)


LL: It’s interesting that you used that term (relentless). Was it something that you had to build on? (I sense that you’re the kind of person that knows what he wants, and will keep going for it. Which might have made it easier for you maybe to say: ‘nope..this isn’t for me’ when you were going in the direction that you thought wouldn’t bring you closer to where you wanted to be as an artist. Do you feel like there is little room in your life for discouragement? Because you know it would be so worth it to be on the right track again?)


TC: I’m definitely into the idea that slow and steady wins the race. We are an ADD generations now with instant gratification. I think that really taking the time to slow everything down is key as it helps you to really focus on the things that you really want, not just something that instantly gratifies you.


I took time away from art to really think about if I wanted to do this or not. I decided to just kind of walk away from it for a while to test myself, see if this was a thing that I loved or something I had been pushed into. The good news was that after taking that time off, I just had to come back to it. I knew it was my calling. So, here I am.


I think that discouragement is part of being an artist. I think to a degree we all are trying to change and morph, to grow in thought and also art. The unhappiness is sometimes a fuel for the growth. I think that the artistic journey is in all of us, we just have to go along for the ride. As Joseph Campbell says, “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us”





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

TC: I feel strongly that the Academic approach to painting was what I was searching for the whole time in my career as when I found it I knew I that this was what I wanted to do. Jacob Collins’ method is based off of years of traditional that go all the way back to the Renaissance and peaked in the French Academy’s in the 20th century.

For inspiration I still keep in touch with all of my old instructors and visit their studios or speak with them on the phone frequently.



LL: What are your guidelines to joining artist societies? (You mention that you had recently won gold at the Allied Artists of America, and was wondering if you limit your memberships — and even limit the contests you join annually. If you’d like to also share how the gallery fits in all this — maybe there have been times that they have suggested you enter your work to be considered for a specific award)


TC: I try to support the societies and organizations that I feel are doing the right thing for art. I’m not a fan of organizations that feel like they are money making endeavors. My gallery, Rehs Gallery is behind me building my career through these organizations as well. Howard Rehs is always open to lend me a painting for a show at one of these organizations he knows that awards and recognition will help me build my career.





LL: Favorite time of the day to work?


TC: I’m a night owl so I always work best after the sun goes down. If I could I would start at 8 every night and paint until about 4 am or longer.




LL: How much do you plan before you start a project? (Or the main things you bring along with you when you are working on a project when away from your favourite working spot? For example, if working with a client there’ll be lots of sketches, nothing digital yet, vs if you were just doing a project for you, for someone to invest in — or pieces to go on sale to the public.)


TC: I feel that painting is visual poetry so I let the ideas and come to me and then come to fruition when they are ready. One of my paintings took 5 years in the making to have it all come together and be ready to paint. You never know and I hate to rush any painting.






LL: Can you tell me more about that painting? (is there a link to a publicly accessible image? If not you can mention the instances when you spent time on it, and knew that it wasn’t quite right. Then the difference when it was)

TC: I feel that paintings should come together when they come together. I hate the idea of doing a painting within a deadline although sometimes I have to. Working out a good idea takes time and to make a story feel rich and authentic is the key. Whether that takes a day or 5 years or anything in the middle, I like to let the seeds sit and come to fruition naturally.

The painting that I referred to was the painting “The Shamrock” that I did in 2014. The idea began when I was working at Ralph Lauren and saw this beautiful blueprint of a yacht on the wall. It was just stunning, there was something about it. So, I had asked my boss if I could borrow it for a painting and he said yes of course.


Then later on that year my brother got married in Nantucket MA. My wife and I toured the island and when I was in the gift shop I spotted a model yacht so I bought it. Sometimes I’m looking for objects to compliment an idea and sometimes the ideas just come out of where I visited or what I saw. When I got home I put the two together but it just felt staged. I wanted that story, that authenticity to the image I would create, that wonder of what is this? That was in 2008.


I left it alone for a couple of years but it was still there in the back of my mind. Along the way I had come into some beautiful old books and also a compass. The books were from my wife’s Aunt who had passed away but it felt like it was complimenting the story and the scene I wanted to create. Around the same time, my wife’s grandmother had given me her old box of paints from about 1970 that came in this beautiful box.


All the elements seemed to be coming together. I began doing a few studies to see what the big image would be (6×8 small paintings). I really wanted to develop this character so I added a stack of letters I bought off ebay and set the scene up as if the character was writing something to someone, perhaps a loved one. The glasses and the binoculars acted as an idea of searching for something.





LL: How long would you say it takes, for you to complete a painting?


TC: My small paintings, around a 6 x 8, take me about 3-5 hours to complete. The bigger stuff takes a lot more time and planning, anywhere from 40-80 hours. The small paintings I always feel are just beautiful little studies that don’t tell a big story. The larger paintings however are always about a story.



LL: How would you describe your style?

TC: Realist Painter






LL: What are some misconceptions you find about you as a painter? (particularly by other painters. You could also mention some misconceptions that people have about artists in general — which have been directed at you.).


TC: I would say that some big misconceptions are that artistic ability is born naturally, that I was born with this talent. To a degree I feel that there has to be some drive inside you that makes you an artist, a different view of the world.

BUT I would also say that from a technical stand point anyone could get good at this. What you have to say is just a different conversation.


In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outlier’s” he brings this up, that the idea of genius is a bit of a misunderstood concept. I believe that if you keep working at something you will be good at it, to some degree. And if you do it for a lifetime you will separate yourself and master that thing. If you put love in there with that thing you do, that is even better!



LL: Are you learning something specific at the moment?

TC: I always feel that I’m pushing towards new ideas and directions with my work. I feel good about my technical ability but I am never satisfied with where I am. Lately I’ve been working on putting a narrative in my work so it’s not just a painting of a thing. I try to create a character and put elements around that would support the story.

I’m also reading a lot of classical literature that can add to my stories. In addition, I love science and I would love to bring some of that curiosity into my work.





LL: Can you share three approaches you take that helped you become a better artist? (can be in your work when teaching too — or even reading a book that doesn’t have anything to do with painting!)


TC: One approach that I took to becoming a better artist is to not put a time on anything, to take things as they come and to stop comparing myself to others. Another approach is to be relentless and just keep working on your craft.

I feel that a lot of artists are interested in the field but give up to easy. If this is the thing that you have to do and it makes you happy then you will keep doing it. The last would be to be inspired by all the arts and be open-minded. I have met way too many artists that only think in one way and don’t appreciate all of the arts. The world is your oyster as an artist.



LL: What usually is the sign you look for that will give you the signal that a piece is finished?

TC: It’s always hard to tell when a painting is done. One thing is to step back and say “is this what I envisioned” and if that is a yes then maybe you are done. I don’t have a physical checklist or anything, I just let my feelings tell me when something is done.





LL: What’s your go-to set-up when painting? (You can be as detailed as you want! You can even share your set-ups for previous work. For example, if it is a particularly busy month, you might work on doing the base of the design…then build on each element as the month goes on. I appreciate that on your site you’ve shared a bit of your process. Is there anything else that has changed from that set-up?)


TC: I love dark paintings with a pop of color. The dark background usually makes the color pop even more. As for objects to paint, I usually go with whatever touches me deeply, perhaps on a visceral level.



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

TC: My setups are always based on a visual poetry of objects. Typically I have one strong light source, objects that interact and complement each other but always a strong sense of design. Eventually, I am going to try to work more with a cooler light source to make it feel like I am painting from natural light. Natural light is usually a little less dramatic and the colors tend to be cooler.






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

TC: I don’t use all that much technology in my process. Normally I will do a drawing for a painting and then I scan it, and blow it up to the size I want to transfer to canvas. Other than that, I do tend to create fake vintage items. Mostly because they cost way too much, so I will print them out and doctor them to look older than they are. Same with the drink painting, most of them are coca cola or water instead of mixing a cocktail.


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?


TC: The only technology I have is a bunch of different lights that are warmer or cooler and wider so smaller than what I use now. I use the computer to scan and print out a drawing to scale. I’ll sometimes doctor things in photoshop but that’s about it.







LL: Have you been always mindful of ergonomics while in the process of finishing each of your pieces?

TC: I wish that I cared more about my posture while painting, haha. I do exercises outside of painting as I play basketball and run a lot. I find that running helps me with working out problems in my painting, it really helps me stay focused as they complement each other.


LL: Equipment Maintenance and Storage? (Is there a specific part of your kit that you are extra careful in transporting and handling? If you own a Mac, there is a saying that Mac users tend to clean their computers more often…so it’ll be interesting to hear your response about that!)


TC: Haha, I do have a Mac but I don’t clean it all that much.

I clean my studio all that time, it’s actually a routine that I do almost every day. I don’t try to ever hide the fact that I’m a painter and sometimes wear my painting clothes out to dinner with my wife (where she always says, why are you wearing that?).

I’m also really bad at cleaning my brushes at all. If a brush is bad I throw it away but sometimes it becomes a new tool to paint with. I love accidentally finding new things out like that. A crappy brush could come in handy sometime in the future!




LL: Goodness! So…instead of the bits of paint that gets stuck in your fingernails (and maybe some bits that gets missed on your hands and arms), you opt to wear the clothes! Is this ‘Rebel Painter Todd’? (‘Painter Represent’? Or could it be a mindset thing? The clothes build the mindset? So when you’re back from dinner, you can go straight to being a painter?)


TC: Haha, my idea of clothes are more about comfort.


I am not a fan of faking who you are or even hiding what you do. When I was at Ralph Lauren they were all about wearing these fake costumes and pretending to be a certain kind of person. I don’t pretend to be anyone other than myself. Sometimes the shoes of a fisherman can tell a story in themselves of where the person had been.


I am who I am, I don’t hide it and I love what I do.


LL: Any learnings you’ve picked up through the years when transporting your work?

TC: I hate transporting my paint gear but it’s always worth it to get a good painting. I often go into New York City to paint the model with other artists or at the Art Students League. It’s always a pain, my gear is big and clanky and I try to be as small as possible but when you have about 20 tubes of paint, brushes, turpentine and also an easel, that is a lot of stuff.





LL: Do you keep some of your originals either on display on in storage?

TC: I normally send all my work to my galleries. However, I do have a few that I will never sell because they mean too much to me. I have a still life in my living room of all the elements from where I proposed to my wife in Bermuda. I could never sell it. If paintings sit at the gallery for too long, sometimes I’ll just take them back and put them on my wall or move them to a new gallery.


LL: I notice you don’t put watermarks on the photos you share of your work. Is that because you’re just trusting that people are inherently honest? (and if someone does try to pass your work as their own — it would be quite difficult to do?)


TC: Great question, honestly I don’t think all that much about it though. There is just a huge difference between an original oil painting and a digital representation of one. If it moves someone to download it and put it on their desktop then by all means they are welcome to.






LL: Can you share a bit of background on how some of your paintings came about? (You can choose your own, though I’m particularly keen on hearing about: ones that you haven’t done an entry about! Also you can include a bit of your ‘subjects’ — are they items on loan? Do you specifically seek them out?)


TC: A lot of my paintings come out of a song, a book or an idea that I’ve been pondering for a while. For the painting “Another Story”, I was obsessively playing the album by the Head and the Heart and was just captivated by the song with the same name. I try to paint what I feel though so it’s not just a literal translation. It’s my own poetic interpretation of the song.

I hope when someone sees the painting that it makes them feel the same way that I do when I hear the song. Almost all my props are bought as I mostly paint from life. I like to spend time with the objects and study them. The violin for “Another Story” was bought on craigslist for like 100 bucks. I bought the violin way before I liked the song and then it just all came together, though they used their violin as a fiddle in the song. I would listen to the strings in the song, which are a minor part of the song, and then it just kind of all came together. The background was from a palette that I had out by the shed for over a year that I pieced back together. The elements just all came together and it just felt right.


LL: It’s the first time for me listening to the song. And after looking at your painting, then watching the lyric video, somehow the line: ‘Can we go on, as it once was?’ jumps out. Would you say the painting is representative of you wanting to always have a place to find shelter (when life gets crazy)? (You mentioned that the background was from a palette that you had out by the shed that you pieced back together. It reminds me of a desolate but peaceful place…with a shed with a similar palette, that I could stare at for hours…and just feel…safe, and peaceful. Kind of like staring out into the ocean, and instead of the smell of the sea, you smell the foliage nearby. Maybe more like a cabin in the woods…where all the people you love are gathered.)


TC: Yes, a lot of the lyrics in that song ring true for me. I do think that the song brings peace to me. When I’m inspired by a song I try to capture the mood of the song and how it makes me feel and then convey that into a painting.


I try not to over think it or be too literal, though it got a bit literal in this one as the song has a violin that is used perhaps a bit more like a fiddle.




LL: Have you ever considered selling the elements and the painting as a package? (For example for ‘Another story’ — maybe not all elements…just the violin…or even the palate you stitched together as a separate item.)


TC: I have considered selling some of the elements though most objects that make it into a painting are very special to me.


I don’t know if a collector would ever buy the object and the painting though, it would definitely be a new spin. Although, I’m sure a few of the commissions that I’ve done for friends or clients are hanging near the object of theirs that I was asked to paint.



I did a painting named “Birth of a Kamikaze” for Howard Rehs as a commission from his wife for their 30th anniversary. Howard absolutely loved the painting and still tells me all the time to paint more like it. He loved all the props and asked what I was going to do with them so I gave them to him. I think he has them set up under the painting at his home.


LL: What approach do you find is the best way to serve your clients?


TC: I like to work with a client to find out why they want me to paint the thing they are asking for. From there the best I can ask for is a collaboration of ideas and not to paint what they want. Then I usually will do a poster study or two (small oil paintings sketch) of the setup.


I’ll show it to them so they can see the composition and color and if they are good with it, then I’ll pull the trigger and go for the big painting, or whatever size they want. Sometimes its as simple as sending them a photo of the setup to have them approve the composition and elements in the painting. Sometimes its even the client saying you paint me what you would like, so it depends on the person. (I have examples if you want any small poster studies).






LL: With your website, what process did you go through?


TC: I used to design my website as I know some basic HTML coding. I like to present myself in the spirit of what I imagine. I did this for about 12 years but it got to be too time consuming so I now use a template driven site.


I like it way better now as I have more time to paint and its easy to upload images.


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


TC: Here are a few commonly asked questions:

When do you find the time to paint?

Where do you want to go with your artwork?

How do you choose the things you paint?




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


TC: I actually gave up on posting on my blog. I wanted to offer something to an audience about learning but found it to be too much about me. I love to offer my work to the public and share art but blogging felt a bit egotistical. I’m not one to talk about myself unless its for an interview. Although, I love to tell stories and give anecdotes for others to learn from.

My newsletter is aimed at building an audience that is really interested in my work. That ranges from collectors, students and family. I find that if you take the time to sign up for my blog then you are really interested in what I have to say.


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


TC: I normally take a day or two to write a post. I reread it like 50 times and then have my wife read it. She’s my proofreader and editor as she is way better at writing and grammar than I am. She did not edit this interview though, haha.


I am always open to ideas about what to add or take out of a newsletter though. I’ll always ask my students or family what they thought of my post. Critical feedback is always important.





LL: What’s the one thing you have to put time on —- but have been putting off?

TC: I definitely have to clean out the basement of my house! I also need to work out more. I kind of brushed working out to the side when I started my atelier training.


LL: Are you currently mentoring someone?


TC: I work with 3 students that live in my area. We meet every month to work on still life paintings as a group. They have grown over the years into better painters. I prefer to work in smaller groups and I am always in contact with them.


In fact, one of them is more like a second mother to me. She is always helping me with my career and suggesting me to do things here or there and is always telling all of her friends how good of a teacher I am. She offers me to teach out of her studio, its really a blessing to have met her. She found me about 3 years ago when I was in the Artists Magazine.


She saw that I was close to her and asked if I would teach her privately. So, I said sure. We talk, text and are always in touch.


I also have a student come to my house 2 times a week for private study. In addition, I teach workshops in my area regularly.


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Happy Inktober! #pen

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LL: What do you do when you come across something that annoys you?

TC: If it is in a teaching scenario or painting scenario I’m always one to try to fix what is wrong. Painting is challenging and if the light stinks or there is something off, you’ll constantly think about it and it on your painting being back.



LL: Are there certain things you can’t help but ‘geek out’ about?

TC: I have an addictive personality (as my wife says). When I get into something I usually immerse myself in that thing. Most recently it was reading books by Joseph Campbell, then it was the books of Neil Degrasse Tysone (and lectures) and now its Michio Kaku.


I’m always searching for a good album that will just suck me into it, though it’s been a while. The Head and the Heart was the last album that did that. I listened to that album for almost a whole year, every day (I know that sounds nuts).


In addition to loving music and to read, I love to watch sports. If my teams are doing well I put everything aside to watch them. It’s kind of the only TV that I watch but I do watch 1 hour of TV with my wife a day. We love CSI or shows like that.




LL: Got any peers you’d like to mention?


TC: I’ve always been fascinated with Eastern culture and thinking. I think because I’ve grown up with western culture and thinking. I don’t look too much at what the contemporary painters are doing, I’m almost always looking back.


Today’s art is lacking spirit (in my opinion) and also the technical prowess that all the 19th century French guys had. Not to generalize as there are some great contemporary painters. If I could I would study with Odd Nerdrum or something as his approach to painting is much different than mine and he also paints his subconscious (being a big fan of Carl Jung).

I also have to mention that I meet up with one of my best friends quite often to talk about everything. He is a poet named Jose Canon. We talk about books that we are reading, politics and everything. We always exchange books when we finish reading them.


LL: What were the last 5 things you pre-ordered?

TC: I never pre-order anything but here is the last 5 books/dvd’s I have ordered:

Michio Kaku – Beyond Einstein

Michio Kaku – Physics of the Impossible

Neil Degrasse Tyson – Death by Black Hole

Wilhelm Hammershoi – Hammershoi and Europe

The Teaching Courses – Philosophy as a guide to living




LL: Are you a big listener of music? (You mentioned one of your paintings being inspired by a track you listened to. Does your music library reflect your work? In a sense, maybe you can grab random albums from your collection and bring it to the gallery, and somehow…it would fit? Can you share some of the artists that you absolutely dig, and are surprised that others in your circle haven’t heard of? songs/albums that you cannot get enough of? Or maybe if you were to pick a track/album for someone to listen to while viewing your work? Alternately, you can also share things you like reading about or listening to —- or even your favourite non-musical artists: painters, dancers, sculptors, poets…)

TC: Yes I listen to a ton of music. I’m always looking for something that will just catch me and suck me in. sometimes it’s a lyric, sometimes it’s the mood and sometimes it’s the album.

It’s a fun idea to bring the music to the gallery but it would take a joint effort on their part to want to do that. Most galleries don’t have music as it may get distracting when a collector comes in to buy art.

Here is a small list of artists in no particular order:


Radiohead – In Rainbows (Nude, All I Need, Reckoner) also  Decks Dark off the new album


The Head and the Heart – Lets be Still (10,000 Weight in Gold, Another Story, Gone)


Matisyahu – King without a Crown, Got no Water)


Gipsy Kings –  Greatest Hits (Bamboleo, Baile Me, Volare, Djoba Djoba)


Wu Tang Clan – Enter the 36 Chambers (Tearz, Clan in the Front, Wu Tang aint nuttin to F wit)


Delta Spirit – Bushwick Blues (EP Version), Salt in the Wound, Streetwalker, Strange Vine, Hold my end up (acoustic)


Guster – Keep it Together (Come downstairs and say hello, Long way down, I hope tomorrow is like today)

Beck – Sea Change (Golden Age, Guess I’m Doing Fine, Lost Cause, Ship in the bottle)


The Killers – Hot Fuss (whole album but love All these things that I’ve done)


The Shins – Wincing the Night Away (Australia, Phantom Limb, Sea Legs, Black Wave, Split Needles)


Jack Johnson – In Between Dreams (Whole Album)


Tchaikovsky – Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake


Yo Yo Ma – Bach Cello Suites nos. 1, 5 & 6



IamamIwhoamI – Bounty (Y)




Bjork – Greatest Hits


Kings of Convenience – Riot on and Empty Street (Love is no big truth, I’d rather dance, Homesick, Cayman Islands)



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Live and let die #fineart #vanitas

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LL: What are you reading at the moment?

TC: Michio Kaku – Beyond Einstein

Robert Frost – Selected Poems

Joseph Campbell – The inner reaches of outer space

The Origins of Species – Charles Darwin

Space Chronicles – Neil DeGrasse Tyson


Bill Nye – Undeniable

Caveat Emptor – Ken Perenyi


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

TC: I love talking to people about their top 10 lists. Books, Music, etc. I don’t go out of my way to look too much for books and such. Just like art, I like to read the classics. If I go to a bookstore I usually sit in the café and draw the people while I drink coffee.


I would love to hear your list of books and music though.




Editor’s Note: Prepping a link to list of books and music (TBA!)



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

TC: Painting can be tough at times. I like to go visit an artists studio and just talk with them or see their work to get inspired. Art inspires me but not just art. Listening to lectures or intellectual conversation motivates me to read more and dig deeper into my artwork.


If I can’t find an artists studio to visit I will go to a museum to see an old masters work or a show that is coming through the city.


LL: What makes you smile?

TC: I love romantic comedies on television. Any time they are on I’ll end up watching them. Also, comedies like Super bad or funny movies like that. I also like stand up comedies as well as I love to joke around, a lot. I also love motivational stories like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2IU1h9sG7U

And also the movie “Finding Joe” by Takaya Solomon I watch a lot of Joseph Campbell’s “The Power of Myth” interviews with Bill Moyers all the time


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Samurai Todd, digital. #arte

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LL: What’s your view about social media?

TC: I am not a fan of social media. I was not on it until my gallery convinced me to do it for my career. If I was not in that gallery I would not be on social media.


LL: What are your favourite sites at the moment?

TC: I really only go to sports websites and Art Gallery websites. I do also go to youtube and watch a lot of lectures, mostly science ones though. Also, lots of Radiolab (podcast). I’m always interested in hearing something I HAVE to listen to though, what are your favorite sites?


Editor’s Note: TBA for fave site list link!




LL: Do you currently post on other sites?

TC: I try not to post onto any sites, not even facebook. I’m on it and tempted but there are so many people that are negative on sites, that troll it. I try to read articles (mostly sports) and then not read the comments. I don’t like negative energy.


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

TC: Haha, not really. I like to spend time looking at art, in person. Looking at art on the internet is usually a totally different experience.



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Pedro, oil on board. #art #arte #pintor #painter

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

TC: I usually go for a run as I can usually work through a problem. Inspirational movies are always good too like “Finding Joe”. I’ve seen it like 20 times.


LL: Do you enjoy collaborating with other artists? (via YouTube or specific collaboration websites. Or would the collaboration be more about co-hosting a podcast…like the video of ‘The Guys and A Chick Flick’ you have on your site’s media section?)

TC: Haha, I love that you saw that on my site. I find that to be such a funny experience. I mean, I say “My mom loves my stuff” lmao. Normally the only time I want to collaborate with an artist is to have a show with them. I have a 2 man show with David Palumbo this May.




LL: Are you interested in technology?

TC: I’m interested in technology but I’m also not. It fascinates me but our generation is too addicted to it. I hate that everyone is glued to their phones, it promotes an ADD generation.

I have a mac computer with a Wacom tablet for doing graphic design. I do a lot of random graphic design jobs.


LL: With your blog entries, are you looking to write the same kind in the future? Or are you looking to do different things?

TC: I don’t write enough honestly and I wish that I did. I’ve kind of given up on the blogging. I post to Facebook and Instagram only for my art or to show that I am teaching somewhere or showing somewhere if anyone is interested in going. Other than that, I have a sketchbook with notes and ideas for what I want to do.




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

TC: Great question. I don’t’ really have one. I like certain aspects of a lot of things that I have done. I guess I like the ship paintings the most, they feel complete and deep and have a story to tell.


LL: Are you the type of person that finds it easy to start something?

TC: No, I’m quite the opposite. I like to take my time to build a great idea rather than just hop right into something. I paint when I want to paint and if I don’t then I don’t paint.




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

TC: I hope that my paintings touch them in some way, to add more deep and richer meaning to their life. To quote Horace Mann “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”


LL: What makes your soul sing?

TC: People who want to make the world a better place makes my soul sing.






LL: You mention your wife earlier and also in your episode with Danny Grant. How important do you think  artists’ take their time to choose their life partner? (It’ll be great to hear how you think your partnership with your wife has made you a better artist. Also, if you had the kind of qualities in mind that you were looking for in a spouse in mind, before you even met your wife. There are some artists who feel like sustaining a relationship takes too much of their mental energy, and they would prefer to expend it on their work, so they’d usually not make it a priority in their life.)

TC: I think it is very important to find your life partner. It should be the yin to your yang. Your partner should complement you and balance you in every way possible. My wife is an artist as well, she’s a graphic designer but we went to school for the same thing so she understands it. She has always been supportive of my career.


LL: What’s the best way to connect with people who admire your work? (sending and replying to individual messages via email or social media? or via your mailing list? For those interested in supporting you, what would you want them to know? Is there a specific social media platform that gets the most engagement with your network/circle? How did you meet your biggest fan? Alternately you can mention how have you managed to find the people who resonate with the same things as you — and as a result, they resonated with your work. Maybe a lot those that currently support your work have found you through your blog entries compared to finding you via a Gallery? Or Maybe within 6 months of winning a specific prize, you’d get an influx of inquiries and among them people who ended up following your work until now?)

TC: I prefer that anyone interested in my work to contact me through email or through my gallery. I find it a bit more personal. For those interested in supporting me, there is no better way to support an artist than to buy a painting or commission a work.

Most people interested in my work have emailed me but some contact me through Instagram or Facebook which is fine. It’s not my preferred way of communicating as I don’t check them as much as my email. I have received emails after publications, shows and also awards so yes all those things are great ways to get in the public’s eye.




LL: Have you found your tribe yet?

TC: I would say that my close friends, family and especially my gallery have been the best tribe I can have. They are all so supportive! Finding the right people to support you is tough but I think that if someone senses that this is a true passion of yours that you have to pursue then they will be behind you.

Being relentless in your pursuits helps as well. Find like-minded artists who show at the same galleries or shows that you would like and talk to them, reach out to them, visit their studios. Artists all love talking art with one another, I do.

Creating art can be so isolating at times so having a visitor to a studio is nice.


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

TC: I’m interested in adding even more depth to my work. I’m a big fan of reading classic literature and using that as a source to say things. Perhaps even delving into the subconscious. I believe that art is visual poetry and adding that layer to my paintings is always important to me.

I also want to keep evolving to never stay stagnant, be like a sponge. To quote Bruce Lee “You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water may flow or it may crash. Become like water my friend.”





LL: In what way do you enjoy helping others?

TC: I love to help anyone who is truly looking for what I have to offer but they have to really want it. I offer a lot as a teacher, sharing funny stories and also a lot of things that I’ve learned in all of my training.


I find that in smaller groups I work better with students and feel more comfortable. I’m not one for attention so I don’t’ like big groups. I find I’m able to connect more with smaller groups as I like a one on one experience.


LL: Looking back through your journey, are you amazed at what you’ve accomplished so far?

TC: I love the journey and I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished but the journey is not over. There is still more room for growth and much more to achieve.


LL: How can we support your work?

TC: My goal is to keep painting and provide for my wife and I through my art. The best way to support an artist is to buy a piece of art from them. If you want to support me buy some art http://www.rehs.com/Todd_M_Casey_Bio.html or a print http://toddmcasey.com/Prints-for-Sale.





* Todd Casey is a painter based in New York. See things though his eyes via his Instagram feed. You can pick his brain by reading his previous blog entries, via his newsletter, or by attending one of his workshops.



Source Material and Notes: The material posted is based on correspondence (August – December 2016) between Todd 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 out of Sydney. You can find a sample of her music here. To reach out you can do so based on this post. (Curious to find out if she’s your kind of person? You can check out her slightly cheeky FAQ.)


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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.

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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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