Briefly describe the work you do.
My recent studio work centers on a series of still life paintings done in oil that are intended to explore the boundaries of representational art. The paintings feature small-scale sets that contain ceramic figurines and hand constructed landscapes that are painted from life.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
As a kid, my family moved a lot. Art was a source of stability and a way for me to meet and connect with people. It was also a great way for me to deal with the disconnect I sometimes felt when trying to assimilate into a new place. Both of my parents worked, and I had the luck of spending a lot of time with my grandparents who encouraged our creativity – we would play outside, make sculptures out of scrap wood, and take sewing lessons with my Grandma. I was taught by my Grandpa how to draw at a young age and was further encouraged by my art teachers in each of the places we lived.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
When it comes to the practical side of art making, I’m a fairly meticulous planner, and have a constant to-do list of both physical work (painting, drawing, framing, building canvases), and paperwork (proposals, grant writing, taxes,etc.). I think that sometimes people imagine artists as constantly painting or drawing in their studios, that the business end just magically gets done. One of the reasons I’ve started blogging and sharing my work via social media is to show all aspects of what I do from the magic of working in the studio to the nuts and bolts of building canvases. Being an artist is hard work, and being self employed is even harder – I think when people see that firsthand they are less likely to brush off what you are doing as an artist as a hobby, or as something they can easily devalue.
There are many times when creativity doesn’t come easy, and I need to get out of the studio and look at art, or go to the thrift store, or get outside and go for a run. Sometimes ideas strike at strange times – in the middle of a long run, sitting by a bonfire, or talking with friends. I always have my sketchbook, or my phone with me so I can jot down ideas and concepts at a moments notice. I’ve stopped mid-run to write down notes for a painting.
I don’t really draw too many lines between my art-making time and my non-art making time. My studio is a bedroom in my house, so it makes it easy to access on a whim. I can also pull out a drawing and work on it on my porch if I want to too – I’ve found having my studio adjacent to my living space has really increased the time I spend working on my studio work.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
Blogger and skill sharer. I was 10 when we first got a computer with internet connection and it was a game changer for me. I could research things that I never had the opportunity to see or experience in the small rural towns we grew up in across Wisconsin and Minnesota. I always had a passion for DIY culture and an insatiable curiosity for how things work, so surfing the internet for tutorials and inspiration became second nature fairly quickly.
I really enjoy sharing the things I’ve learned with others, and think that’s a characteristic a lot of artists possess. It may also come from being an educator the last 7 years. On my blog, I post a lot of tutorials and tips for artists along with sharing both my triumphs and failures. Everyone needs a support system (especially when living in a somewhat isolated area), and I’ve found a lot of mine online via blogging and social media.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
I look at my schedule each week and decide which evenings I’m going to spend in my studio working and put them in writing on my calendar. I like to work in long stretches in my studio. I tend to start at about 4pm and work straight through until about 2am. This works well with the way I paint because I can get one layer painted over the whole surface in that time. I don’t work well when I’m working in tiny chunks of time – I feel like it takes me a little while to find a rhythm with my painting sessions.
I love working late into the night. I’ve never been a morning person – I don’t think it is part of my genetic makeup. There is nothing better in my mind than a cup of hot tea, total quiet, and the stillness after about 11pm. There is something about those magic twilight hours that make the brush move much more easily across the surface.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
Five years ago, I’d just finished grad school at Northern Illinois University and I moved from DeKalb, Illinois to Madison, South Dakota, where both my husband and I currently teach. My work really shifted after my MFA work – I’d been working on a project where I renovated a dollhouse into my dream mid-century modern home – documenting the entire process from start to finish with drawings, photographs, and gouache paintings. It was a project that had a definite ending.
After the dollhouse series was completed, I took some of the elements I’d enjoyed from that process like staging and lighting photographs of miniatures, and started to make small staged pieces involving figurines and hand-built landscape elements. I switched from working with photography to painting – working directly from life, and became more interested in pushing and exploring the space between the genres of still life, landscape, and portraiture.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
I think my artist, musician, and writer friends, along with my former teachers, really have had the most impact on my work. I’ve been so lucky to have such great mentors and peers throughout my schooling and my art career – I think their encouragement paired with many bouts of tough love have really pushed me through a lot of tough times and struggles as an artist. When I’m talking with my current students, I always make sure to point out that I’m tough on them because I care about them. One of my professors in grad school told me that and it was one of those moments that really stuck with me and propelled me to take more risks and commit to pushing myself harder.
Living in South Dakota for the last five years has also been a game changer. We knew no one when we first came here, but we quickly made strong friendships with some driven and talented artists who really cared about their communities. Because of there being fewer venues and fewer artists coming through, I couldn’t just cherry-pick the exhibits I went to based on what I already like. It pushed me to attend virtually everything, and give things a chance that I might have previously pass on. I’ve found some inspiration in some really surprising places and gotten to have experiences I’d have never imagined being a part of because of this. We’re now picking up and moving again this summer – this time we’ll be going back to Oshkosh, Wisconsin – and I’m sure it will be a whole new adventure.
Teaching at the college level has also profoundly transformed my work and the way I think about my studio work. Thinking about how students learn effectively and trying to craft lectures and assignments that encourage students to take risks and find their voices has also helped me clarify the things that really excite and interest me as an artist. In my classes, I really try to get students to rely on each other and to see each other as collaborators in their education even when they are working on independent projects. Whenever possible, I try to jump into collaborations with other artists. For me it has led to some really important breakthroughs with my studio work and has connected me with some excellent artists.
Lastly, having a musician/educator for a spouse is really great. We’ve been together for almost 15 years, and through that time have taken turns supporting each other through our educations and our professional and creative careers. We occasionally collaborate, but always make time in our lives for our creative endeavors. Most of our vacations are planned around travel mini music tours or art exhibitions. Having someone who understands the demands and strains of creative work can be such a huge relief and support.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I’ve wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. I started out getting my BFA in Art Education, but promptly switched to studio art after deciding I wanted to either be a full time artist or teach at the college level. I’ll pick up freelance photography gigs and work on illustrations and commissioned pieces from time to time, but thus far I’ve been pretty happy working directly in my field.
My other interests outside of art making are fairly varied. I love cooking and growing my own food – I’ve got a massive garden that grows larger every year. I could spend my entire summers outdoors camping, fishing, running, and hiking. I’m a completely curious person, and love learning new things too – over the years I’ve picked up knitting, sewing, restoring furniture, photography, and filmmaking. I’m all for learning new things and engaging outside interests – things I learn on a whim always have a way of sneaking themselves into my studio work.
Cassie Marie Edwards is a Painter and Educator based in Madison, SD. She holds a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Painting & Drawing from Northern Illinois University, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Painting & Drawing from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. She works part-time as an Adjunct Professor at Dakota State University teaching in the Digital Art and Design program. Prior to teaching at Dakota State University, she was an Instructor of Record at Northern Illinois University.
Her paintings have been exhibited in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Sioux Falls. Regionally, her work has been exhibited at the South Dakota Art Museum, the John A. Day Gallery at University of South Dakota, the Visual Arts Center at the Washington Pavilion, The North Dakota Museum of Art, The Dahl Arts Center, and the Isaac Lincoln Gallery at Northern State University.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.