For this blog post I have decided to feature an amazing portrait artist that has worked with LAAFA for many years now, Christina Ramos. Christina specializes in figurative realism and her work has been shown in places like the Santa Paula Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of the Living Artist, and many more galleries and museums throughout the United States. This fall quarter, Christina will be teaching a Still Life and Portraiture Painting class in acrylics. Normally these types of classes are done with oil paints, but it wasn’t until I was having a conversation with one of Christina’s former students who was looking to sign up for her class that I realized how much of a big deal it was that Christina was using acrylics for the class. Even though the main reason may be because of its affordability, the manipulation of textures that are created in her artworks with a fast-drying type of paint is what fascinates us the most.
Below is a set of interview questions that I have asked Christina so that we can dive deeper into her creative mind and techniques:
Tell us a bit about yourself, when did you first know you wanted to become an artist?
When I was five, and painted in my kindergarten class. They only allowed us to use only one color, mine was yellow. I painted a sun. I was horribly disappointed in my lack of color selection. I always wanted to be an artist, however, I always compared my skill, or perceived lack thereof, to everyone around me. When I was young I was I felt I was pretty good but by the time I reached High School, I felt inferior to those around me, and began to concentrate on drafting instead.
What is your preferred method or medium?
I never picked up a paint brush until I was 30 years old and at home raising my four children. In high school and college, I only drew. Once I started painting, I knew I had found my passion. Drawing was always so tedious for me. Using such a small tool was so time consuming and results were slow. With painting I could cover so much ground in such a short period of time and quickly see if my concept was going to work.
You will be teaching a class with us this Fall Quarter titled, “Still Life and Portraiture Painting in Acrylics.” Why did you choose acrylics as opposed to oil paints?
In the beginning, it was a matter of convenience and affordability. It is much less of a financial commitment to just buy paint and not have to invest in the mediums and solvents that oil painting required. It was also a lot less intimidating to just use paint and water. But now, I choose them because I have become so accustomed to their fast-drying time and have learned to manipulate the medium to look and feel like oil without long drying times. I can literally finish a painting and have it varnished and framed two days later. I always tell my students the thing you either love or hate about acrylics is the fast-drying time. Now however, companies like Golden have created slower drying acrylics that can give you up to a four-hour working time instead of the usually three or four minutes. It’s a great alternative for people transitioning from oil to acrylic.
What role does imagination and creativity play when you approach a new figurative art project?
Although I paint what I see when it comes to my models, I usually like to transform the environment using my imagination, or inspiration from other sources. Although there is no comparison to working from life, my models rarely have time for more than a session or two so I use photography in conjunction with life, to bring my paintings to their completed stage. I like to use natural light, so often my model is sitting on the air conditioning unit in my backyard, where the lighting is best. I have transformed that unit to everything from shipping containers in train stations, to peaks in the High Sierras. New costumes options also play a big role in creating the perfect look, as well as inspiration for the painting itself.
What are some projects that you are currently working on?
For the last twenty years I have always utilized my kids as my models. As they are now getting older and are less available to model for me, I have recently started painting my 84 year old mother. I became my Moms caregiver three years ago after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. I think it’s important to “bloom where you are planted” and as my life and circumstances have changed, I have had to learn to adapt. I want to portray her in fun and whimsical ways. She gets bored during the day, and after we started dressing her up for her modeling session, she has found a new sense of purpose and joy. The first in this series is currently on my easel. I am also working on a series of paintings of my youngest son. Sidelined from a promising career in football after a concussion, I recently submitted the portrait I did of him to the Outwin Boochever Prize addressing “Post Concussion Syndrome”. I think it’s important for us as artists to use our art to not only create beauty, but to reflect our own reality. Inspiration is all around us, we just need a way to express it.
Has there ever been any challenges for you in the figurative art world?
Every day is a challenge. You cannot be in this business for any other reason but that you absolutely love art, love creating, and would do it even if you never made a single dollar. There are so many obstacles in this profession. It is not a straight path. Discouragement and self-doubt are the constant companion of the artist, yet with each small success you continue to move forward. You could wallpaper my house with the rejection letters I have received over the years but I think it’s important for our failures to motivate us to dust ourselves off and try again. It’s important to not take rejection personally. Art is subjective, and what one person may dislike, another person may love. Many people think that you have to be talented to be an artist. On the contrary, I think what you need is to be a hard worker, and to not give up. In my class I always say that my favorite art book is Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Outliers”. In fact, this book has nothing to do with art, but it does have to do with various paths to success. There is a chapter called the 10,000 hour rule. It says that anything you put 10,000 hours into, you will be good at. I think that is the key, as artists we need to put in the hours.
What advice do you have for current or future students of LAAFA looking to make it into the art world?
Art is a solitary profession. Most of us are locked on our studio 15 hours a day, and don’t have a lot of interaction with the outside world, but now with social media, that is no longer the case. It used to be you had to have a good gallery to represent you and get your art in front of the right audience. Now with the internet we can be our own PR person. We can have hundreds if not thousands of people seeing our art without ever setting foot into a gallery. Networking both on the internet, and on a personal level is your greatest asset when trying to get your work “out there”. Patience and tenacity is the key though. You have to believe in yourself before anyone else will believe in you. Continue to hone your craft and take risks, both with your art, and with yourself.