Briefly describe the work you do.
I work primarily in oil and watercolor. Once in a while, I will concentrate on encaustic. I use acrylic when I travel and work has to dry. I always draw. I recently gathered all of my sketchbooks and have about 40. I saw a demonstration given by Colette Odya Smith and am now also rather hooked on soft pastel. Yes, I like oil pastel and sumi ink too. I also write. I am a list maker. What do I care about? What interests me? What am I sick of? Then, I decide what to paint next. I dream about painting and have awakened and painted the painting I was working on in my dream. I choose my medium according to the idea. If the idea is about pure, perfect veils of color, I will use watercolor.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
A lifetime as a teacher continues to influence me. When I see something interesting, usually as a process, I will take on the role of student to learn how to do it (egg tempera, for example). I either teach myself or seek out the teacher. Anthony Suminski worked with me in egg tempera and Fujie Moses in sumi ink. At 12 years old, I would go into my bedroom to draw and would not come out for 8 hours. I am still rather like that
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
I do toil away alone in my studio. I take breaks to play with and pet my cat, to nap, waste time on Facebook (but meeting good people and a lot of artists) and I do spend time with my husband. It’s all about balance. When teaching, I thought I’d never find balance. I needed more hours. I still haven’t found out how to do that.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I see the artist as a communicator and educator even if not trained as a teacher. People get what they will from what they see in the art. They become curious or engaged. Just the presence of art in people’s lives helps them to see differently. I never thought my making art could have a deep effect on someone else when they never met me. That comes through the way art communicates.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I never work in the morning. I like to sleep late and dream. I have been writing my dreams down in a whole other set of books, for 40 years. Then I read my e-mail and go on Facebook to see art until I feel I am awake. At about 1pm, I feel ready to work. I will paint continuously until about 6pm, then eat, read, and spend time with my husband. Sometimes, I go back to the studio after he has gone to bed or in the middle of the night if I am really motivated. When I feel blank, I draw. I scribble and see what comes out of the process. I go into a mental zone and the ideas flow.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
During the last 5 years, I had all I could do to squeeze in my art practice. Someone told me my art was really a second job. She was right. Since I just retired in May 2014, I am making much more work. I am working so much that my employed money maker partner is concerned with how many supplies I need. Art supply stores are like heaven to me. That is the same. How I get ideas and conceptualize meaning is the same, rather random at first, but then I discover connections. Now I have more time to think. I think while I write and even while I read fiction. A sentence will stand out to me and I will think, “That would be a good title for a painting.” I plan to spend quadruple the time on art.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
Facebook friends who work and show what they do influence me very much. I see that they can put out that much work so I think I can too. They are not lazy. They are driven. I feel guilty taking a nap. Family prefers me to be around, not in my studio. One particular family member gets rather annoyed if I don’t come down from the studio and spend time with him. Going to exhibitions and seeing intriguing, and even boring, work, influences me. I vow to not make the boring work. I examine what intrigues me about Odd Nerdrum, El Greco, Velazquez, Marlene Dumas, Jenny Saville, Pam Hawkes, Vermeer, Byzantine art…I could go on and on. I buy a lot of books, sit in the rocker (my favorite place in my studio) I nursed my babies in, stare at a blank canvas and get lost in images. When a painting is not working out so well, I sit there and stare at it. When I don’t know what I’m going to do, I sit and stare and a blank white canvas or piece of paper. Sometimes, I start with no ideas at all. I just make marks and go with the flow. Paul Klee wrote a great book I can’t remember the name of and Paul Gaugin wrote Noa Noa. I concluded from Klee that art grows like a seed (so, just start) and from Gaugin to do what I want. You only get one life. I get a lot of ideas from reading authors like Haruki Murakami, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Kafka, Thich Nhat Hanh, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Oscar Wilde, H.G. Wells, and John Muir. I get color juxtaposition ideas while I walk. That’s when Muir and Thoreau influence me.
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I would have a hard time choosing between archaeologist, art historian, and writer. I love searching and finding. New discoveries fascinate me, thus archaeology as a choice. As an art historian, I could choose one thing that fascinates me and spend my entire life on it. Are the San Francesco Upper Church frescoes by Giotto? If now, who painted them? Travel around and compare styles, materials, and chemistry. I used to contemplate writing. I’m a better reader than a writer.
Nancy Lamers retired in 2014 after 24 years of teaching as a full professor of art at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Prior to that, she taught K-8 Art in Lomira, Wisconsin and Grades 6-8 art in West Bend, Wisconsin. She taught drawing, painting, art history, and international study courses. Nancy Lamers received her MFA degree in Painting and Drawing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Areas of specialization include watercolor, oil, acrylic, and encaustic paint media. She has exhibited widely, both nationally and internationally (Italy and Japan), and has received many awards for her painting. She has served as a consultant for university art curricular development in the United States and China, has participated in many panel discussions and presentations, and was the keynote speaker at several national and international art conferences. She also served as Southeast Chapter Chair of Wisconsin Visual Artists. Interests are in ongoing personal development as a painter, continued travel and study of art and history/culture worldwide, and making new connections with artists.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.