Return to Play in Your Art Practice - VAS Interviews, Part 5
[00:00:00] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Well, hello. Hello everyone. Welcome to the fifth and final installment of the Virtual Art Summit Teacher Interview series. Yep. I can't believe it, but we're kind of coming up on a close already. I am Kellee Wynne, and I am your host of the Made Remarkable Podcast where we. Interview, remarkable people doing remarkable things, hopefully inspiring you to your most remarkable life.
And today, of course, as always, it's no exception. We get to talk to two remarkable artists, and I am forever grateful to them and to all of the artists who have participated in the Virtual Art Summit. It has been such a pleasure to. Really bring some of the best quality lessons that we've had so far.
Each and every one of them have impressed me. It's been such a pleasure to talk to them, be inspired by them, and watch the community grow and return to play, just as I had hoped. That was the whole point of the summit this year. It was really my big. Goal for the summit is to really bring back that playful spirit that maybe we've been missing over the last few years when things got a little hard.
I know that hard times are still upon us because that's life. So amongst all of those ups and downs, it's time for us to find our creativity. It's to find ourselves in community and in play, and enjoy again. And I think the summit's doing that for everyone. I just wanna let you know that it's, when you support things like this that we do with small business and all of these artists is how we keep going.
It's how we can keep providing for you both paid low cost and free offers. And each and every one of the teachers who have participated have requested that you sign up for their free offer or for their email list. To follow them on social media, give them a big cheer. They need your support just as much as the Virtual Art Summit.
Need your support. So thank you, thank you. Thank you for listening to the podcast. Thank you for following along. And for those of you who have already purchased a ticket, extra kudos to you because that's how we keep going. Honestly. We've got a big bonus still coming up. So if you haven't gotten your ticket, now's the time it's on sale from, its down from its regular price and you can join because on June 17th, we are having a huge co-create.
That means we are all getting on Zoom together for 10 whole hours. Well, you don't have to stay the whole time. Pop in when you can, but each hour a different artist is gonna be taking this. Spotlight and giving you more than they've already given you, already teaching you, guiding you, answering your questions, and we're gonna be.
Playing and creating for one whole beautiful day together. If you can't make it through the whole thing, we will be recording it. And if you haven't gotten your tickets yet, come on, come and purchase one. You'll be able to keep all this content, learn from these amazing artists, participate in the co-create.
And one last bonus I've thrown in. A $50 gift card to most of the content in the Color Crush Creative vault of lessons that you may have had your eye on. And when you support the Virtual Arts Summit, that's how I can also offer it to those who don't have it in their budget to go free. And on top of all of that, every year I like to give away 20. Scholarships to those who really need the extra support, who maybe have not had the ability to have the tuition for high quality in depth art training. And I love being able to give away those scholarships and watch people's lives light up and have, give them a chance to learn and be creative as well.
The scholarship applications will be opening probably next week. We'll be announcing it. So if you're a candidate, if you feel like you fit the bill, we have a space for you too.
And now on with who we are talking to today, we have Robin Olsen. She's a mixed media artist from Portland, Oregon, and I love her juxtaposition of her. Painting and paper and stitching. She really brings it all together. She says she's inspired by both the nature of where she lives in Portland and the city, and so I can see how that hard and soft goes together. Even in her work. She was a joy to talk to. Very inspiring and. Teaches us a little bit about how she plays in her work. And the second artist we're listening to today is Sareka Unique, which I was introduced to via Instagram in 2020 during the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer that year. It was very apparent that I needed to do my job and to teach the algorithm how to be more diverse for me, and that's when I came across Sareka and also learned how to be more diverse in a lot of my online.
Teaching and education. And that's really been an eye-opening and a lesson for me. She's talented in and of her own right, and her work really appeals to me. Bright color. She comes from a background of illustration and surface pattern design and. You can see that when she transitioned into painting that she still kind of had that flare for surface pattern design.
I would love to just see myself in a dress covered with her painting cuz it's really that fun and playful that really is that pure joy of return to play. And she's such a delight to talk to. You're gonna love this conversation. So let's move on with today's podcast.
[00:06:16] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Well, hello Robin. Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast for the Virtual Art Summit. How are you doing today?
[00:06:24] Robin Olsen: I am great, and thank you for having me, Kelly. It's fun to be here.
[00:06:28] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Well, I was just saying how much I've admired your work for so long.
I feel like there's so much to learn from you, so it's a real honor to have you in the Virtual Arts Summit, and I'm really excited about it.
[00:06:40] Robin Olsen: Thank you. It makes me happy to hear that.
[00:06:43] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Yes. I know that everybody who's participating is just gonna, have their whole mind expanded from what you have to offer.
So I just wanna get to know you a little bit, like where you're from, what you do, what your story is, and how you ended up as an artist.
[00:07:01] Robin Olsen: Okay, well, I'm getting a little older, so the story's getting longer and longer, so I'm gonna try to keep it condensed, but, now I'm in Portland, Oregon.
I grew up in the Bay Area in California and spent, much of my life there and have been in Portland for about the last 20 years. Love the Pacific Northwest, love gray skies and rain and all of that. It's totally my environment. So that's why I am, I love it too.
[00:07:25] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Just so you know. I love it too. I'm a little jealous of you.
[00:07:29] Robin Olsen: It's rare to find the people who do, so That's nice to hear. So like probably most artists, I was one of those art kids. I loved just making things, if it was a box in fabric scraps or I did a lot of drawing, but it was mainly more, crafts and. Sewing and anything like that. I was always doing and loved it.
So when it came time to go to college, I saw a commercial art program and one of my big goals was to support myself. And so I saw that. I thought, oh, that's perfect. It's art and there's jobs connected to it. And it was called commercial art then it's probably a cross between an illustration and a graphic design program now.
I went to that and got a really nice foundation and it was a technical school that we went to five days a week, six hours a day. And the first term was all drawing. The second term was black and white design. The third term was color theory and design. And I just loved those.
It was just total immersion in those things. So that's my background. Comes from that. But as soon as it started switching over into the commercial side, I was like, done. I had no interest in typography. It was all done by hand Back then. It was very tedious. It was logo design all, no, no, no. So anyway, I left that, I ended up going to regular college and
I'm gonna make a big leap just to keep things faster. But I ended up getting a PhD in English and teaching at uc Davis. I taught writing classes and literature and so I kind of left art behind for all that, but it kept. Nagging me in the background, I was always drawn to it and just for my own sanity, I started taking quilting classes while I was in the PhD program and I just fell back in love with color and pattern and design and I just played with it.
I never got great, I never became a great art quilter or anything, but I just played with that for quite a few years. So I have a lot of background in textile arts and then as time moved forward, I was home with my young kids and I had this urge to paint, which I had never really done like with a blank canvas and I found this book, I hope I get the title right.
Life Paint Passion. I think it was called by Michelle Cassou. And it was all about intuitive painting and so I just did that for like a year of just putting cheap kid paper up on the wall, cheap kid paints and painting every day just cuz I love doing it. And then it hit a point where I thought, you know, these just aren't really getting much better.
I'm having fun, but it's nothing I really wanna hang on my wall or anything. So then I transitioned over and started taking more painting classes and doing the whole traditional still lifes and painting cardboard boxes and, all of that. And another big leap forward.
I did all kinds of mixed media art during that time and finally, It's probably been about 10 years ago, I started finding a way in abstract art that I could bring together that love of intuitive painting while let loose, be free. But all that design element that was still in my background and it was the first time, as soon as I started doing that, it was just one of light bulb things.
So for the last 10, 15 years maybe. Now, that's pretty much been my focus is abstract art, and that means mixed media, acrylic painting yeah. I mean, so that's, that's a lot of years thrown together there.
[00:11:04] Kellee Wynne Conrad: I love that you had that foundational time in college where you were learning the, the good stuff, the fun stuff, and that you were able to honor your spirit and not go down the route of tedious commercial work if that's not what you were interested in. Although I find English to be a rather creative field anyway, so that must have been pretty fascinating nonetheless. But I hear that story often with women, with their kids or young, and it's like, I just need an outlet.
I'm desperate to have that outlet, and I can see the strongest work from artists is when I hear that they gave themself time to play and explore. And the fact that you just spent that year making a mess without having to think of it as any finished product is just brilliant in all honesty. That opens you up to being a better artist in all honesty.
[00:11:59] Robin Olsen: I totally agree with that. I think it was such an important, Foundation for me, almost as important as all that design work was right. To have that freedom. And it's still every day, I'm pulling back on that.
[00:12:13] Kellee Wynne Conrad: You can still give yourself that permission to the process, the exploration, the play.
You know? Are you a full-time artist now?
[00:12:22] Robin Olsen: Well, yes and no. I mean, I'm retired, so I'm not doing this for an income. I'm not full-time professional that way, so I'm a full-time "love it" artist, I feel like I'm down in my studio.
Several hours a day. That's definitely not full-time by any means, but art is just, I'm constantly reading art books, listening to podcasts, blah, blah, you know? So it's kinda full-time art in all.
[00:12:48] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Yeah, no, no. I consider that full-time for sure. You don't have another career that you have to bring in. No. You get to spend your time.
I mean, most people aren't gonna, even if you're a full-time artist, aren't gonna spend eight hours a day painting. If you are, you're lucky, that means you have a lot of help. But the fact that you get to paint regularly, that you get to absorb yourself in art and just show up fully, I hear that often how much people just look forward to that time where they can really be in it all the time, making it part of their daily life. And it's wonderful that you do so then what does your art life look like now? Are you teaching classes? Do you go take workshops? What do you like to do? Do you sell your work in galleries or online?
[00:13:35] Robin Olsen: Well for selling, which is a very minor, minor part of my art. I do have a gallery up in Bainbridge Island. Very nice gallery that's right outside of Seattle. So I have that gallery and I just had a show, that ended in January.
And I do sell through Instagram, so I do sell some, but I have to say that is so, so minor, and even though you know as, I don't even know how to say this, but I would just say keep a day job is all I would say's I, if I had to make a living off of this, I would drive myself crazy because I think unless you get into teaching or some other avenue, It's very, very hard, even with a gallery, even with Instagram.
I have sales. I'm really thrilled every time I have one, but it's certainly not enough to live on. So, that's the sales side of thing for me. I taught for years and the last time I taught, I was teaching at a homeschool resource center and I taught everything from kindergartners to, I designed a whole course.
In art and design for high schoolers. That was a three year program and I adored doing that. It was so much fun. I loved working with teens especially. It was really fun. I stopped maybe about five, seven years ago because when I'm teaching, all of my energy goes into teaching and it doesn't go into my art that's like way down the line.
So I just decided I'm stopping that. So now I'm not teaching, at all. I'm just gonna say at all. I'm not teaching now
[00:15:14] Kellee Wynne Conrad: except for our pleasure in having you at the virtual arts summit.
[00:15:17] Robin Olsen: That was exciting to me, I thought I don't really wanna do my own online class. I just don't wanna do it, but I thought it was.
Fun to get a chance to step back into teaching. I really enjoyed that. So it was good for me to have that little avenue to get back in. But I really wanna focus, I'm at a stage in my life. I wanna focus on doing my own art when I wanna do it. So that's kind of where all my, energy goes. I was taking a number of workshops before covid, and now I've switched.
To online workshops and I now am very spoiled by online workshops. It's like, oh, I don't really wanna schlep my stuff across the country. So I do still take some online workshops, enjoy that, and it's just any place I can find art through memberships, I've got several online art groups that I'm involved with.
I feel like my life is pretty much immersed in art in lots of different ways like that.
[00:16:12] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Having community makes a huge difference. And even for many of us, long before we had a pandemic shut us all down from being able to do things outside of our home, we were taking advantage of this beautiful online community that's just connected throughout the whole world.
I wouldn't be able to have done what I was doing without it, and I know that I found most of the people in my circle through Instagram, which is really great. Cause traditionally painting is a very solitary endeavor. And so having like that outlet You know, I love to just sit and just talk art, talk about the last art I saw in person or a new painting process or whatever and just see what other people are doing. And so I feel so grateful to the online community and, and it makes a difference cuz we're not doing it alone anymore.
[00:17:07] Robin Olsen: I know. I love that too. It's really been great.
[00:17:10] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Tell me a little bit about your process. I know it's harder to talk about than to actually see, but sometimes just that process of how it all comes out. I'd love to hear some of the things that inspire you. Tools you love to use, ways in which you like to make your work.
[00:17:30] Robin Olsen: Okay. I do jump around with different media a lots, so there's not like one step way, but , I'll stay like with my acrylic abstract paintings. I always start with playing whatever size I'm working on. a big canvas or a small piece of paper. It always starts with play and that usually means mark making to me.
I often incorporate writing in those first things because I'm a big journaler. I do morning pages. I've been doing morning pages for like 25 years now. I just love to. Get my thoughts out that way. So that first layer is always about play. And then so are probably the next six layers. I just keep playing.
I mix different media. The paint comes in and then there comes a point where it's just is that big, wild mess. And that's when I can step back and that design mind comes in to start saying, I need some composition. I need to think about how the eye moves. I need some breathing space. So I will be in that mode for a while.
More analytical but I never end in that analytical mode. I always wanna flip back to the play again, where the markers come out and there's some big final marks on it, that it just feels like that's where it needs to end with that playful spirit coming through. I don't want it to end up too tight, too controlled.
Too, like, oh, she thought about where to put this and that and that. I don't want that to come through. I want my paintings to look free, easy. I want them to look like they just fell out of me, even though they often take months to do. I want them to feel effortless. Play is huge in that.
[00:19:12] Kellee Wynne Conrad: That's really important. Do you have an idea of at least like maybe what colors, what direction you're gonna go when you start with your play? When you start with each piece? Or they, does that just happen intuitively as it as it evolves?
[00:19:27] Robin Olsen: Kind of all of the aboves. Sometimes I do like to have a limited palette and I do really like a limited palette, so I often will think of that along the way, but I find it's more exciting and those very initial stages to usually just let go with anything because it's that little tiny spark of rust color through the blue and green painting that just. Brings it alive. And so even though I think you can probably see one behind me, that's all ocean tones.
There are flecks that come through from a little bit of mustard over here and that's what I like. Yeah. I think that just gives a little spark to things. Yeah. So I go back and forth with that rarely do I have a, anything goes color-wise, painting all the way through. I really like to bring gray colors in to tone it down more. So my colors usually are pretty focused.
[00:20:19] Kellee Wynne Conrad: That's really great then that you can leave yourself to play and explore and then you still, have some sort of focus in it just enough to make it. I wanna say make sense, but art doesn't have to make sense, I guess. It just has to feel like it's all coming together, but, It's good when you think of that last mark, it's gotta be still some sort of wild abandon. Mm-hmm. Cause it's easy to make our work too precious when we overthink it and overwork it.
So I like that disruption. Sometimes when I get too tight or precious, I'm like, I just have to scribble on it and like make some so that I can disrupt whatever that energy is and get it all playful and fun again.
[00:21:02] Robin Olsen: Yeah, exactly it's such a hard line to hit because I do want a sense, that there's a feeling in my work of.
Ways you can move and ways you can relax, and ways you can be energized. And it's really hard to find the line of not over controlling that and, keeping it alive with energy. it's a hard line there.
[00:21:23] Kellee Wynne Conrad: It is. But that's where you have many years of play and experience to know that you can do that.
Right. Whereas a newer artist, especially a lot of people who are participating in the virtual arts summit, May assume that there's like a start to finish process in a logical order for creating a painting when the truth is. There doesn't have to be any logic to it. Those foundational principles will make it stand out.
But it's all in that tapping into yourself and how you wanna express yourself, that would make a painting interesting in the first place.
[00:21:59] Robin Olsen: So true. And I like what you're saying that, There is not a set way. I could remember being in that mode, like tell me what I need to do next step.
And it's like, no, there's no answers to that. And the answer is play. Yeah. The answer is play. Keep at it and play. That is so true. When I was getting interested in abstract art, one of the first artists that really popped for me is De Kooning. And I just thought, oh my God, that's how I wanna paint just these.
Free big brush strokes and going wild. And I thought, oh, that's exactly how I wanna paint. And I read his biography. And one of the most significant things in my whole art career, I think was hearing him say that woman one, which is just the loosest, freest painting I can imagine, took him three years to paint.
And I was stunned because I really thought as an artist, you must just go up and. Those free kind of things, you just must put paint up and maybe it takes a couple days, but that would be it. I just thought it fell outta you that way and. It was such a valuable lesson for me because, you know, some of my paintings, six months later, they're still like, uh, still not thrilled with it.
And I think that's important to know that it doesn't just fall off your brush and even when you're playing, it's like, that's super important, but that doesn't mean you're gonna totally love what falls off, you know, it's a back and forth process for me.
[00:23:31] Kellee Wynne Conrad: I find that quite often, like. For every one successful painting, I might have three or four completely. Like guess it's time to paint over again.
[00:23:42] Robin Olsen: Oh yeah.
[00:23:43] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Things that take three years also lead to the next painting, taking two days. Yeah. Like sometimes that's what happens is like you, it's a struggle through certain works.
And then something magical just. Like all that learning comes out of you in the next piece, and it's not so hard, but as soon as you think it's gonna get easier, then it gets hard again. And as long as you like are rolling with it and not putting pressure on yourself, it's no big deal. But if you bring yourself back into the process instead of stressing, did I make a finished product, then that's the whole point of doing it. Right?
[00:24:20] Robin Olsen: 100%. You said it,
[00:24:22] Kellee Wynne Conrad: And I think that's why we undervalue sometimes artists who can paint paintings quickly, those who have, made it all click and that so great. And I've even gone through this guilt before. I don't know if you've ever felt it like that one painting that just took you one hour and you're like, how?
How did that one painting just take one hour? Can I charge as much for that? Is it as valuable as the ones that took me three months? But. I think Picasso said it when a woman came up and said, will you do a little sketch on a napkin? And he goes, yes, here, it'll be $20,000 or something like that.
And she's like, but that only took you five minutes. He goes, five minutes in my whole lifetime.
[00:24:59] Robin Olsen: Yeah.
[00:25:00] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Yeah. All the learning that took you to that point to be able to do what you're doing. And so if anything you need is just more hours of play, play, play, play, play. The more I play, the more fun it is and the more I discover.
What I'm doing anyhow. This is like exactly what I get all excited about, making art and why we need community to talk. Because a lot of times our partners are like, especially my kids, they're like, mom, please stop talking about art. I get it. That's why we need our art friends For sure.
So what advice, we've been talking about it a lot, but if you can give any other advice, some, maybe some exercises or things that you can think of for everyone listening that they can use to get motivated to play and not take their work so seriously.
[00:25:51] Robin Olsen: Oh boy. I actually on the Virtual Art Summit, I go through some of the exercises that I like to do just for Mark making and loosening up and drawing and writing and different things like that, which I come back to them anytime I wanna have fun.
I'm gonna go back to those kind of things. One thing that was very useful for me in the beginning was using cheap paper, cheap paint. I painted for a year using the stuff I bought for my toddlers, which was, tempura paint in the. Cups with the spill proof lids and big fat brushes.
And I say don't get caught up in the materials thing. You buy those beautiful goldens paints and every time you squeeze it out, you're seeing $5. You can't do that either. If you have those materials, you've gotta let that go. Or to start with cheap materials and play with them and. Just get the feel of paint going on a canvas, one layer on top of another, and not try to make it into something you know, just take the stakes down really low, I guess is what I would say for getting started.
[00:26:57] Kellee Wynne Conrad: It's funny because I used to be, On my soapbox, my high horse, if you will, saying Stop using cheap paints.
That's the reason it's so hard for you to paint, but that barrier to overcome is exactly why you should use cheap paint, and I changed my tune. Several years ago, I'm like, whatever you can get your hands on, if all you can do is scribble with crayons, just see how it comes out of you.
[00:27:23] Robin Olsen: Yeah, exactly.
[00:27:25] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Eventually there's a time for upgrade, but now's not the time. You know what I even do sometimes is paint in magazines. So if I have a leftover palette, especially because then the shapes and the colors of the magazine kind of, inform what marks I end up wanting to make, I end up throwing it all out.
I don't keep it, but it's just for that, what would happen if, how would this mark feel? What is this picture that I'd have? You know? I mean, it's a catalog, who cares? It's furniture, but maybe there's texture or something coming out. So that idea of going to like the lowest. Cheapest form is actually the totally the freest way to, to create.
[00:28:07] Robin Olsen: I love that idea. That never occurred to me before. I love that idea.
[00:28:10] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Yeah. Before you throw it out, when you get the next catalog in the mail. I get catalogs for fancy clothes and fancy furniture. I don't buy any of it, but I scribble the magazine
[00:28:20] Robin Olsen: I just started the a hundred day project and I've only done it once before and. And my project this year is to stay more raw in my work and not tighten up, not polish. And one thing I've been doing for the first couple weeks in it is I've been painting blindfolded or mark making blindfolded.
And I have been having the best time and just putting a big sheet of paper on, closing my eyes, grabbing something and making marks and drawing without seeing what I'm doing. And then the next day I add another layer on top of it, blindfolded again, not knowing what I'm doing, and it's turning into a big, old, ugly mess.
But the point is, I'm totally free. I'm breaking a lot of the habits that I noticed I have when my eyes are open of like, oh, balance your colors out and it lets me go and get back to the basics. And so that would be another great way to start with just put a blindfold on.
You can't judge anything if you have a blindfold on.
[00:29:23] Kellee Wynne Conrad: So now we're like making a good list here of all the fun little hacks for creating without worry. You know what I keep resorting to? Okay, let's keep this idea flowing, resorting. To, so I don't always have energy at the end of the day to come into my studio and paint a lot.
So I just put a big bucket of acrylic markers and all of my scraps from my Gelli plate print that that didn't turn out as something I'd wanna use later. I just bring them downstairs and I'll sit and listen to a podcast and use my acrylic markers and just doodle scribbles on top of 'em, and it's just so.
Therapeutic and freeing because I know I'm not creating anything for any purpose at all. I don't share 'em on Instagram. I don't do anything with them. Maybe one day I'll collage with them, but right now it's just like this is play.
[00:30:15] Robin Olsen: I think that's so important to find some way where it is totally play.
It's like, I know these layers blindfolded are not turning into anything. Maybe a bit of collage paper later as I tear it up. But it's taking that whole finished product out of it and really getting back to play. I think in whatever form you can do it is so important.
[00:30:36] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Then that informs later because there will come a time where you wanna finish work, but all that play is gonna make it so much more fun and honestly easier to get to that point.
[00:30:47] Robin Olsen: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
[00:30:49] Kellee Wynne Conrad: You know how crazy I was when I came back to art? I did art a lot as a teenager in my early twenties, and then I took a long break. Like almost every woman I know with the kids, they're small. And then I came back to it and I started reading books on how to make brush strokes.
I was like, look at that. I look at that book now and I'm like, you seriously wanted to read a book about how to make brushstrokes over actually making brush strokes? What the hell? That's ridiculous.
[00:31:22] Robin Olsen: That sounds like me. Yes.
[00:31:24] Kellee Wynne Conrad: How to ride a bike? Let's read a book about it. No, just get on the bike.
[00:31:30] Robin Olsen: Oh, that sounds so much like me. If I could research it for like six months before I do anything. That's great.
[00:31:37] Kellee Wynne Conrad: So we've gotta just, I wanted to actually ask you more about morning pages cuz it's coming up with more artists and I haven't done it, but I know that it would be so helpful. Tell me how you made it, your practice and how it informs you now.
[00:31:54] Robin Olsen: Okay. Let me just give a bit of background in case anybody doesn't know what they are. It's from Julia Cameron's the Artist Way, and one of her major exercises is you do what's called Morning Pages and it's three pages of longhand writing. You can't use the computer in her world.
You have to, write by hand. And, it is just, Flowing writing, whatever thoughts are in your head, go on the page. And so I mean I often have no thoughts, so I'm just writing over and over. I have nothing to say today. Nothing to say today. Nothing to say today. Oh, I should take, the dog to the parklet.
You know, something will trigger after you do that for a while. So I started when my sons were young and it was just that. Private space for me to have that time. And you're supposed to do it first thing in the morning. I usually have a cup of coffee first. But you're supposed to just get those first thoughts out on the page and the whole purpose is just to empty your head of all the bazillion little things we have to do.
And often interesting thoughts pop up, ideas do come through in that. And if I was just doing it the other day and. A lot of mine is, you know, don't forget, you wanna pick up some asparagus at the store today. You know, they're as mundane as you can imagine. They are so boring and, I've lost any interest in knowing my kids or my husband will pick 'em up and read up, cuz I'm sure they have at some point in my life.
And they're so boring, they would never pick them up again, is all I can say. but anyway, so I have started when I do these things and I get a little to-do, like pick up asparagus, I just put a little mark in the margin so it's outta my head. And later after I've done all my writing, I can come through and see what the to-do list is and pull those things out for later.
But as I'm writing these boring things all at once, I'm looking over at one of my. Paintings that I have, my new paintings I rotate through and I'm thinking, wow, I love just black and white with a little bit of color. And I think, why am I not doing that more right now? Because that's what I keep coming back to is that's what I really love.
And that thought just came, and then I kept writing about that and thinking of ways like, okay, I've got this big canvas. I need to pull that and start putting some black and white collage on. So it does sometimes tie in with painting. There are many, many days that has nothing in the world to do with painting, but it cleans my brain and gets all that stuff out of there.
Some days it's super angry. Somebody made me mad, I'm gonna about that. And so it's whatever is in my mind, it just seems to give me a real calm way of starting my day, cuz I've cleaned all that out. Yeah. And I am absolutely addicted to it. I cannot not do it now.
[00:34:41] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Well, so then what do you do with all of the books filled with your words?
[00:34:45] Robin Olsen: I have kept them all, and it's funny because we've got this closet we don't ever use, and so they are stacked up in there for 25 years worth tons of them. And we were gonna clean that closet. And last summer I told my husband, I said, I think it's time for me to get rid of those things.
I said, I guess I'll just burn them. And I pick them up and I don't read them again. They just go in the closet. And I picked them up and I started opening some randomly and it was like, oh, that's my life of when my children were little and the details and people I had forgotten along the way. And you know, somebody, woman I met at the park who was really inspired by, and it was like, oh wow, my whole life is there. And I told him that. I said, I feel really weird about just like burning my life and my children's, little funny things they said and all that stuff. And he said, then don't just let 'em stack up. And so my instruction, now I have two sons and I told them when I die, here's your instructions.
If you wanna read through those, you're welcome to. There's gonna be times when you're gonna find out, I hated you at that moment. Be prepared. That's all out there. And I said, I don't want anybody else to ever see them besides you two. And then when you're done burn them. and if you don't wanna read 'em, burn them.
So that's, that's how I've kind of come to terms with my whole life being written down.
[00:36:07] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Yeah, that's a good point. Well, I sometimes say the same thing about my artwork. You know, if it's not gone outta the house by the time I'm not here, then you know, have a bonfire. Yeah, exactly. Not obligated to keep it all.
So I love to end my podcast by asking what is your big audacious dream? I feel like it's one of the joys of living is to envision what big, wonderful things that we could imagine for ourselves. And I'm kinda curious what is it that you're dreaming for in the future?
[00:36:46] Robin Olsen: The thing that comes to mind, I have not been traveling since Covid. , just little things. and I, it's funny cuz I hadn't really felt a huge urge to travel either after Covid it's kinda like, okay, I'm settled in. This is good. But just lately, the urge has been coming back and one of my big dreams a friend of mine did this tour of Japan. And it was a total art focused tour, and it was quite expensive.
It was a small group, but it was completely designed for art lovers. So they went to museums, they went to art studios. They went to the old craftsman who's been doing the pots for a hundred years and, you know, wow. All through Japan. And it's like, it, it was very spendy. I don't know if I could ever do that particular one, but something like that.
A very art centered tour particularly of Japan. I went there once on a kind of whirlwind, tour of it maybe. Five years ago, and boy it hit me totally. It's like, I need more of that. So I think that would be my big dream right now.
[00:37:54] Kellee Wynne Conrad: I love that dream. In fact, I saw a tour like that once too listed on, I can't remember the company that ran it, but like, you got to go learn about Shori dime. Techniques, that's where they fold the fabric and dye it and blue. Yeah. And then Japanese painting styles, just like you said, and a lot of it was taking you out of Tokyo and into the more rural areas. Mm-hmm. Wow. Those ancient traditions that we don't even talk about as much.
Being Westerners, we really focus on Western art history, and yet there's just this richness in Japan. That would be amazing. And I would say we, we, not you and I together, but we as anybody chooses to go to Japan. Wouldn't it be lovely to go in spring when the cherry blossoms are at full bloom?
[00:38:41] Robin Olsen: That would be fabulous. Yeah. Yeah. No, that sounds perfect. Yeah.
[00:38:47] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Thank you so much for joining me on this little fun conversation. Where could everyone find you?
[00:38:54] Robin Olsen: First thank you. It has been fun. I'm on Instagram a lot, @robinolsenart, and my website is robinolsenart.com. And, I write a blog there that is quite popular, so it's something you might wanna check out. It's all. Totally art focused, of course. And I send out a newsletter every quarter. I'm gonna say I keep meaning to do every couple months, but you know how it is. So I do do that and that I always try to include some tips for artists or some recommendations. It's not just like, oh, here's what I'm doing.
There's things of value that people seem to really like. So those are kind of the places I'm at mainly.
[00:39:34] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Fabulous. We will link all of them in the notes and in the course so that people can find you easily and I hope they do because I love following you and seeing what you're up to. So I appreciate this conversation so much, Robin.
[00:39:49] Robin Olsen: Thank you Kelly. I've really enjoyed it. It's been fun. Alright, bye Bye.
[00:39:55] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Welcome, Sareka. I am so excited to finally be talking to you, and I'm so grateful to you for joining me for the Virtual Art Summit.
So I'm gonna just get to know you because I don't know you very well, except for I know you're a beautiful art and very colorful art when it comes through my feed. So how are you today?
[00:40:13] Sareka Unique: I'm good. Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited to be here and really excited to share.
[00:40:20] Kellee Wynne Conrad: So tell me where you live.
[00:40:21] Sareka Unique: I live in Ypsilanti, Michigan. It's between Ann Arbor and Detroit. It's a little, little town outside of Ann Arbor that's similar to Ann Arbor, but it has its own creative feel to it
[00:40:31] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Nice. How do you keep yourself busy through the cold winter days? Do you get to spend all of your time painting? Is it your full-time work
[00:40:39] Sareka Unique: well, I was working in, I was a designer for a home decor company.
I was a product designer, so I was doing that for a while. And then back in 2001, I left my job to pursue my artwork full-time. But in the meantime, I'm so busy all the time. I have a lot of things that I have my hands in. I also am a marketing manager for, a couple small businesses as well.
So, okay. That takes up quite a bit of my time, more than I expected it to do. Like it's kind of grown and it just keeps growing and I'm like, wait, I'm just supposed to be doing art now. This. But I love that too. So
[00:41:20] Kellee Wynne Conrad: it worked out. Why don't we just start, like how you became an artist in the first place.
I mean, so 2001, that's long enough time now that you've got a lot of years under your belt being an artist and creating as your main focus of income.
[00:41:37] Sareka Unique: Yeah, so I've always been creative my whole life. But when I went to school, I went for graphic design. So I have a graphic design illustrator background. I have a graphic design background and surface. I got into doing surface pattern design, I'd say about 2016. 14, somewhere around there between 14 and 15. And for a long time I didn't think that I was a painter. Like I didn't even really wanna call myself an artist cuz I was like, oh, I'm a designer, I'm an illustrator, I'm all these things in the design world, but I'm not an artist.
But I kept feeling a tug in my heart to try painting, but I just kept pushing it off and ignoring it for a little bit. And one day I was just like, you know what, I've got this little. You know, they have the little paint sets that come. I was like, I'm gonna play around with it.
And then from there, it just grew to me wanting better paint and bigger canvases. And I haven't stopped painting ever since. and that was probably around 2017 that I actually started painting, but I've been doing graphic design and illustration for a long time prior to that.
[00:42:47] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Okay. so that piece behind you, I have to say, is quite gorgeous.
I love your use of color and that's why it's stands out so much to me in the feed and whatnot. There's something really exciting about how you put it together, but I saw a, some sort of a storefront. Do you sell your work in a gallery or in a decor shop or something?
[00:43:09] Sareka Unique: Yeah, so there's a few places around Ypsilanti. There's a store called Stone and their sister store is Stone and Spoon, there's Unicorn Feed and Supply, which is a very fun name. It's a very fun, colorful store. They carry stickers and notebooks I've created. Mm-hmm. And then in Ann Arbor, there's a store called Four Directions, where they sell a lot of my paintings and my prints.
they mainly sell a lot of like rocks and jewels and jewelry and gifting of that nature. So it's a lot of fun. And this piece behind me was actually on exhibit at the University of Michigan Hospital. Oh. Inside of their main lobby area. I had. Seven pieces of artwork there.
So, and I just brought 'em all back home. So they're different places around my house. I have a home studio
[00:44:01] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Yeah, I know my house is filled too, and it's like, it's a museum. it's a overwhelming like, all right, mom, do we have to have all of your art on the walls? I'm like, well, I mean that's the safest place to store it, so
[00:44:15] Sareka Unique: Right. Like welcome to my gallery of my whole house.
[00:44:19] Kellee Wynne Conrad: My whole house. Well this is from 2012.
[00:44:25] Sareka Unique: My mom would love for me to store paintings on her walls as well, so,
[00:44:30] Kellee Wynne Conrad: some of my family members have managed to inherit some days I wonder, I'm like, am I giving him a gift or is this the booby prize? Because everyone has different tastes.
No, they're usually grateful, but I would imagine like, Having that artwork in a hospital would be really uplifting for the people who were there. So it's too bad it wasn't a permanent display
[00:44:48] Sareka Unique: yeah, it was their gift of arts program and they switch out every three to four months, I believe. You have other artists throughout the whole hospital.
[00:44:57] Kellee Wynne Conrad: That's exciting. So what inspires your work? Like what is it about, like the direction that you decided to go with painting? How does it relate maybe to the surface design, how does it relate? And then like that use of color, I'm really curious because it's really hard to use really bright colors and do it well, but you are one of the few people that I see use, right?
Like the whole rainbow. Yet it works really well because most of the time I would say, Uh, not quite. Not quite, but your like, I just is like on point each time. So anyhow, that's my compliment too, because I do love your work. Oh, thank you. But I'm curious how you balance it from, like what you wear of the inspiration came from everything that you've learned, and then how you've translated that into your paintings.
[00:45:42] Sareka Unique: When I create patterns and stuff, when I first started everyone would say like, your work is so bold and vibrant. So I was using bold colors then as well too but I noticed, like, I felt. I wouldn't say a little stifled, but the direction of companies who want to manufacture bright and bold patterns and who I wanted to work with necessarily, maybe that wasn't what was trendy So I was just like, oh, but I like it, so I'm gonna keep doing my thing.
[00:46:12] Kellee Wynne Conrad: I'm so glad you stuck to your own vision. That's important.
[00:46:16] Sareka Unique: Definitely. And so when I started painting, my process with painting is like completely different because it's all intuitive. When I start painting, I have no clue what I'm gonna paint.
I don't really. Have an idea every now and then I have an idea of a composition I might wanna start with or how I wanna start playing on the canvas. But I just let it all flow out of me. I guess it's more of a intuitive thing. Mm-hmm. And I noticed that when I am using a lot of colors, I do try to. Find colors that are between two colors that kind of helps bring them together. I don't know if that makes sense.
[00:46:56] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Yeah. Well, I hope more people will be able to see this video as well as listen. And then you can see you're right, you've got a transition by using a analogous color next to it.
Mm-hmm. So I like that makes sense. Why it. It's so harmonious.
[00:47:12] Sareka Unique: Yeah. And I definitely, when I'm mixing colors, this painting is one of the only paintings that has a lot of red in it. I don't use red a lot. Even when I'm mixing colors, instead of using red, I'll use pink. And I love like the variations of like purple it brings out, pink is one of my favorite color. Turquoise is one of my favorite colors and you probably see 'em in all of my paintings. I'm like, I, that's great though. Sometimes I can't help it
[00:47:36] Kellee Wynne Conrad: well there is something about that red that looks pink to me because of the way you've matched it, so it still works. Great.
[00:47:44] Sareka Unique: Thank you. And I'm just, inspiration comes from everywhere, like music and I love home decor. I love beautiful homes, and so my home is pretty, it's getting pretty colorful up there. Good. I'm inspired by other people that I see around me and I'm inspired by just moments, moods, and feelings.
It's kind of hard to describe as a abstract where emotions come out, huh? Yeah. It all comes out on canvas. Sometimes I step back and I'm like, what did I just get?
[00:48:19] Kellee Wynne Conrad: It's amazing because it would then, if it's a lot of you that's coming out, it would seem that you're a pretty joyful person.
And happy. However, even our darkest emotions can come out in wild colors. Hence Vincent Van Goghs, colors were bold and yet he was still struggling. So I don't wanna make any assumptions, but from the looks of it, it's a lot of happy emotions.
[00:48:43] Sareka Unique: Yeah, for the most part. There's happy emotions. I know. The whole pandemic and everything we went through was kind of dark and during that time I kind of did.
A series of paintings with more of like a black, darker background with pops of bright colors. Because even in the darkness you can find moments of joy. There was different situations that people were going through, but you can still find a little bit of happiness or Just a little bit of joy that comes out of even those dark, crazy situations.
Like maybe it's just spending more time with family or, whatever it may be
[00:49:19] Kellee Wynne Conrad: having less busy life. Mm-hmm. And some of that's carried on. It was also a really challenging year in 2020. But because of the challenge, because of a real strong attention to rights for black people or minorities.
There was a great movement for, I don't know how else to say this, but like on Instagram, like, let's diversify just who we follow on Instagram, and that's how I found you, and I was really grateful for that because I have a bigger array of friends and connections and colleagues of all different. You know, you don't even realize that Instagram is tailoring how like white my feed was.
And it's like, no, we really need to find a way to have more diversity. And so I found your Black girl Magic line and I did my best to shift even how I was looking at things. And so it was really nice because during that time, I made a lot more friends at Wider Diversity, and I've been able to grow my business with a better viewpoint for more people.
[00:50:21] Sareka Unique: That's awesome. I love that.
[00:50:22] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Yeah. I mean, I feel honestly, I feel a little bit ashamed that it took. 2020 to make a more aware, cause you don't realize how unaware you are until it like smacks you in the face. Right?
[00:50:34] Sareka Unique: Yeah, yeah. Right. So that's with anything, yeah.
[00:50:38] Kellee Wynne Conrad: You're like, I'm a pretty open and accepting person.
But it's that like what we learn is that's because I'm coming from a place of real privilege and comfort here and I wanna change that for everyone. And so I always try to turn Virtual Arts Summit into a place where I can. Hear new voices. So even though I don't know you that well, I knew like I love your art, so I'm gonna give it a chance and see if making an art course for our virtual art summit would be something you enjoy and it's not something you do very often.
So I feel very grateful that you said yes and you're sharing your talent with us. And our theme this year is all about play. So how would you give advice for incorporating play into your work?
[00:51:25] Sareka Unique: Well, I'm so excited to do the course and share because it's, a different way of sharing that I've never really tapped into before.
A lot of my artwork is play a lot of times. I have this practice where I'll just grab a sheet of paper and just start playing with marks and getting out of your head and not really. Thinking so much it, I think it helps loosen you up and it helps when you go to the canvas to paint.
It helps on the different type of marks that you make. And me and my best friend, just last week we were in Michael's and we were in the pen aisle, and you know how they have the little books that you can test out, pens on? One of 'em was completely finished. And so we flipped through this book and it had all these marks from different people and everyone just, you know, their little scribbles.
And I was like, I just love this book so much. It's so beautiful. And then she was like, we should start making our own little Mark books. So now we have little sketchbooks that's just for. Making random marks and just having fun and playing and scribbling on whatever comes to mind. And I'm like, this is gonna be so helpful for my art practice because it's just so playful and it helps to loosen me up and it helps me experiment with new mark making techniques.
[00:52:41] Kellee Wynne Conrad: I'm like, sitting here going. Yeah. I love that. I've been obsessed with markers lately, especially acrylic markers, because they're opaque. You can layer them and they almost feel like paint and I'm like making designs and then on the side I'm doodling to like, make sure the, the ink is running and I love that.
Those are just as beautiful. Like how much fun is that? But I like that idea, just making a few marks here and there until they all grilled up. And that's part of, uh, steal a couple of those pages out of the outta Can I just have your book when it's done? When it's full
[00:53:15] Sareka Unique: please?
Nope. You have to create your own notes.
I did a flip through of the one at Michael's and I'm like, I want this. Can I have, it's like, and it was just such a mashup of other people doodling on top of other people's work. And so when we got home, she has a eight year old even. She got into doing it and. Once we worked on it a little bit, we would pass it around the circle.
So I would give the intro mine, I would take my friends, and then we would doodle in it and just keep passing it around and then,
[00:53:45] Kellee Wynne Conrad: oh my gosh, I love it. I love it. That's safe. There's the most fun, playful way because you don't have control over the what the person before you did.
[00:53:56] Sareka Unique: It's a good way to just let go.
And then I kept having to remind my friend, I was like, you're thinking too hard. You're thinking too much about it. Because she was like, you've done like three pages and I'm still working on this one. I was like, cuz you're thinking too hard. You just gotta. Keep going, and then if you wanna come back and add more to it later, you can.
It's not precious. I know sometimes we get so precious with like our sketchbooks and stuff, but this is a different way to just have fun with it and you get new discoveries and, different way of thinking. When I. Comes to your artwork.
[00:54:30] Kellee Wynne Conrad: I love it. That is so much fun. So what projects are you working on right now other than the Virtual Arts Summit?
What else do you have going on like in your art world that people would love to know about other artists? Lives and how they, how, what they get to do and what projects they're working on.
[00:54:50] Sareka Unique: Well, right now I'm hoping to be exhibiting a lot this summer at different art fairs. We have a major art fair that happens in Ann Arbor every year, every summer.
So I'm gearing up for that, getting a lot of new artwork done. I haven't created as much as I would like during the winter months. I moved into a new studio in November, and so getting acquainted to a new studio I didn't realize would be as difficult as it was just getting used to creating in a new space.
So now that I'm in here, I just been working on, I have a lot of ideas that has built up over the time that I wanna start creating a few new collections. I just did a interview for, W B G U, PBS in Ohio. Mm-hmm. And they came out here and filmed my house. And so I'm gonna be on TV on pbs.
So that's exciting. And that's should air around June or July.
[00:55:49] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Oh, yeah. Well, we'll wanna hear about that because even if it's after the summit has launched, we can still add the link in later so that people can find it.
[00:55:58] Sareka Unique: Oh, awesome. Yeah, definitely. And then, As I've been working on making new pattern collections, I just launched a collaboration with geometry.
They make towels of all kinds, tea towels, bath towels, beach towels, and they make 'em out of recycled plastic bottles. So that's been really fun to be able to work with them and to see some of my patterns come together on their work, on their towels that are great too. They're very absorbent towels.
[00:56:30] Kellee Wynne Conrad: So was it because of your experience before with Surface Pattern? You've just been able to make relationships with these different companies that you can continue on creating new lines with them?
[00:56:42] Sareka Unique: Well, so because I started off with Surface Pattern Design, I was building.
My brand around that for such a long time. I only had like a few licensing deals in the past, so it's not, it's actually something that's fairly new and they found me on Instagram. They reached out to me but I've been working on building my brand so that. I can share the artwork that I wanna share and let people know that, hey, people like this stuff, they'll still buy it.
So it's profitable for you to collaborate with me. Type deal.
[00:57:14] Kellee Wynne Conrad: I love, that's a really important point, is that you continued to build the work that you wanted until you were established enough that they came and asked for what you wanted rather than always creating for. Whatever the call to action is, because it changes the whole energy of what you're making.
When it's like, okay, well they're looking for bunnies for Easter, now I gotta paint bunnies. Like no one really wants to have to create that way. Some people do because that is their job and like, yeah, you at least get to do something creative. But that's such an important point that keep creating the work that you love to make and eventually that then you get to make what you love when you're selling it.
When you're collaborations, surface design, whatever it is, then it's your voice that's shining through. So definitely that's really good point that you stuck with that.
[00:58:07] Sareka Unique: Yeah. It was a long journey. And of course still a lot of sleepless nights. I still did my full-time day job while doing artwork on the side.
Yeah. So it takes a lot of balance. So family time, I don't have kids, so it's just me. So I know there's a lot of other factors that people have to take in consideration when trying to. Do that as well.
[00:58:31] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Yeah, exactly. But we all find our path. Sooner or later, we figure out what works best for us.
But I've always encouraged artists to stick with their vision and their voice and keep honing in on it. Because the longer you do it, the more recognizable your work is, like your work, which is very recognizable. If anybody hasn't already started following is it Sareka Unique unique on Instagram?
[00:58:55] Sareka Unique: Yes. Sareka Unique, everywhere. Unique is my middle name. So when I started painting and, oh, have fun, creative, I was like, I'm just gonna go with Sareka Unique. Like, well,
[00:59:06] Kellee Wynne Conrad: that's Kellee Wynne, Wynne is my middle name too. I think women do that. Like we want our alter egos, but not too far from our real ego. It's good.
It's good. I have one last question. I love to ask this for everyone I get to interview for the podcast and because I find it really fun and inspiring to dream big, but what is your big, audacious dream for your future?
[00:59:32] Sareka Unique: Oh, I have so many. No, just, no.
[00:59:35] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Give them all t to me? I mean, we're not in a big rush to get off here because if you've got some good, wild ideas
[00:59:41] Sareka Unique: I do want to paint bigger. I'm hoping to do a mural, at least sometime this year. I've applied for a couple mural contests. That's something that's really been on my heart is to paint. Bigger in a more public space. So, my artwork is so bold and happy that I think it would benefit people to be able to walk by and just be inspired by it.
I also would like to have my own like, Public studio space. Mm-hmm. Slash like gift shop. That's been one of my big goals for a really long time. So that's probably the biggest one. That's a great one. Having a brick and mortar space where people can come in and not only buy things that have my design and artwork, but also other artists and mm-hmm. Designers.
[01:00:30] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Yeah. And not necessarily as a studio space, but more as like a. Um, all kinds of creative it items. Like gift type items?
[01:00:41] Sareka Unique: Yeah, like gift and home decor. I really have a heart for home decor. I love making a beautiful home. Yeah. Pillows. I have way too many.
[01:00:50] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Great though. So then if anyone wanted to, Make their home brighter and more colorful and beautiful than I'm assuming if they go to sarekaunique.com, they'll be able to purchase some stuff, right?
[01:01:04] Sareka Unique: Yes, yes. I have home decor, I have blankets, pillows, I have like a connection to like my spoonflower shop where you can get, a lot of different home decor items, wallpaper, fabric. You can do curtains, all of that kind of good stuff.
[01:01:20] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Oh, that's awesome. I love it. And I am just so excited for you to be in the Virtual Arts Summit and I appreciate it so much.
So Sareka unique everywhere on Instagram and her website. Go check it out. Of course, we'll be linking everything in the show notes and in the virtual Arts summit. So thank you for joining me. It has been such a pleasure to meet you and to talk to you Sareka.
[01:01:45] Sareka Unique: Thank you, Kelly. Thank you for having me. It was very, I'm so excited to share my course and, to meet everyone and talk to people who have taken the course and see what they create.
[01:01:55] Kellee Wynne Conrad: Yes. All right. Awesome. Talk to you
[01:01:58] Sareka Unique: Talk to you soon. Bye. Bye.
If you'd like to listen to or learn more about the podcast visit https://www.maderemarkable.com/blog for our show notes and links to the main players.