The Artist's Canvas
(photo by Brittany Sherman)
All images copyright © by Mickie Mueller and unauthorized duplication or display is unlawful.
TWPT: I understand that you just recently attended the INATS show in Denver. Did everything go well for you there? Why are these shows so important to an independent artist such as yourself?
MM: We had a great time at INATS (International New Age Trade Show) in Denver. Events like that are great when you can make it to them, it gives an artist like myself or anyone in the New Age Genre an opportunity to meet a lot of people in person that you might not have otherwise had a chance to meet. Last time I was there I made connections with both Sacred Source and Peter Stone, both of whom I ended up working with. Itís also great to meet with the other artists, many of them I communicate with on the Internet, but having that face time is really nice. We passed out lots of business cards and brochures to shop owners and collected many as well. I was there at the Peter Stone booth this year talking to people about my jewelry line, Peter Stones new beautiful and magical metal Nebula, and I also brought some special edition prints to sign for people. It was fun getting to talk to them and send them home with something special for their shop or office.
TWPT: You were exposed to art all of your life because of your parents and the artist community that they connected with in NM. Tell me how you felt about being around all of this art and how big an influence it was on your deciding to pursue art in your own life as well.
MM: Growing up in the midst of the New Mexico art community really fed my creativity; I soaked it all up like a sponge! There is a great art community in Albuquerque, lots of great galleries, art fairs, and talented artisans of many styles and backgrounds. The artists that I grew up around didnít really treat me like a little kid, they never talked down to me, and they were all encouraging. They were all funny, quirky, and creative, most artists I know are like big kids anyway. I was a curious kind of kid, so I got lots of impromptu art tutorials, and I especially loved being at the galleries. I always drew pictures for people, and I remember once sitting in on a watercolor class my dad was teaching. During a break I met the local TV weatherman who was also one of the students. He showed me his technique for drawing clouds! Seeing all the different art styles and techniques was always fascinating. Each artist had a unique way of seeing the world, and it made me open up to the ways in which I saw the world too. Art was a way of life, I guess in those days I just assumed that everyone went to galleries, had studios, and vended at local arts and crafts fairs. I hadnít really decided early on to pursue a career in the visual arts field, I had lots of other interests, but all roads seemed to lead me back to creating art, it was just a part of me, like breathing.
TWPT: When you first started to create your own images was there anything in particular that you felt drawn to in terms of subject matter?
His dad did engineering drawings, so thatís what kids do, they find their own voice. I have always found my inspiration from nature, but not necessarily what you see with your eyes, but what you find with your heart when youíre in the woods, on a mountain. I also love to do photography, so I guess my thought is that if I want to see whatís really there, Iíll examine it through my camera lens, but if I want to see beyond, I reach for the pencil to explore that. I often use my photography as reference material for my fantasy art to bring some of that realism into my magical realm.
TWPT: What medium(s) did you work with and what do you currently prefer to use to put your images down on paper/canvas?
MM: Iíve worked with many mediums since art class demands the exploration into different mediums and techniques. Itís a good thing because many artists find our favorite through trial and error. I experimented with oil paint, which was a mess for me, airbrush was an exercise in frustration and pastels were difficult for me to tame. Iíve actually done quite a few acrylic paintings on canvas that are hanging around my house. Those pieces are a totally different style that people are used to seeing from me.
I especially love to work with details, so colored pencil or graphite pencil has been my medium of choice for years. I combine my pencils with paint to create vibrant backgrounds and enhance the pencil work. My combination of choice used to be colored pencil and acrylic washes, but shortly after I finished The Hidden Path deck, I began to explore watercolor and fell in love with it. The juxtaposition of the control I get from pencils and the unexpected results that can come from watercolor was invigorating for my creativity. I prefer to work on heavy smooth illustration board, the smooth surface works great for getting lots of detail out of my pencils and holds up well to the watercolor. I also add magic to my art, I combine magical herbs corresponding to my subject into my watercolor. I find doing this little ritual helps to awaken my magical self while I create, and lets me channel energy from my higher power and the collective unconscious to create a truly magical piece.
TWPT: Tell me about your first showing and what types of images that you had created for the show? How well was it received and how did you feel about the whole process of putting your artwork out there for others to critique?
MM: My first show was in the 80ís, I was out on my own and creating art because I couldnít afford anything to decorate my little apartment. My dad was a member of the St. Charles Artistís Guild in the historic district at the time and both my parents encouraged me to enter some of my graphite pencil drawings in the upcoming Black and White show. It was a little scary putting it out there for people, especially because my dad had a great reputation at the galleries and I felt like I had a lot to live up to. I had been creating these highly detailed, very clean graphite pencil drawings of animals, a white tiger splashing in water, a reflective greyhound hood ornament, a row of zebras rears that I thought was fascinating and humorous, I called it ďZebras End.Ē They were very well received and I won an honorable mention in that first show, and sold the greyhound, so it was really encouraging. Shortly after that my parents presented me with my first set of Berol Prismacolor pencils, and next thing you know, I was entering shows all the time and often winning awards! I even chaired a few shows and was vice president of the guild for a term. Being involved in the gallery shows makes you realize that critique is really very subjective, different judges will select different winners from the same show, so while winning is an honor, itís not everything. It also makes you realize that all art has merit, and you donít have to be published or win awards to be a true artist, you just have to create!
TWPT: How did you come to realize that you had a ďstyleĒ of your own and was it natural to you that the style would end up being a fantasy art style?
The work I did for bands was all commission, so I had pretty specific direction being given to me on those projects. I was receiving very strong inspiration to do something more spiritual, and I was drawn to nature spirits, fairies and Goddesses. I had really developed much of my art style in my Rock and Roll years, during which I honed my skills and then shifted it towards the spiritual and fantasy subject matter that spoke to me.
The ďrock artĒ era of my life slowed and merged into the addition of a night job at a local pre-press company where I computer colorized comic books for titles like DC and Marvel. Having already loved comics, I was now involved in detail work with the art which rubbed off into my own style a bit. I actually began showing my fantasy and spiritual art along with Sandy Wright, another artist I met working on comic books. Once I started down the road of creating art that I loved, and of my own inspiration, thatís when my art career really began to move forward on a more national level. It just goes to show, do what you love and what speaks to you and the rest will follow!
TWPT: How was it that you delved into the magical world and how did it feed your imagination and allow you to create the images that you do?
MM: I worked magically in a very intuitive way for years before I picked up my first books on the topic. It was like coming home for me, discovering writings of a faith that encompassed magic, and I embraced it wholeheartedly and studied very seriously on my own for years. When I read books on the Craft, in dreams, or in my magical circles, I would get very vivid pictures forming in my imagination, and these images wouldnít leave me alone until I put them down on paper. I saw Goddesses, fairies, nature spirits, visualized rituals, and dragons in the sky. I guess Iím a visual person, so to me, this was the best way to explore my spirituality, and I researched (and still do) every topic extensively, so that by the time I finished a subject, I knew it inside and out. My studies in Wicca and also working with Reiki energy really helped open up my mind even more and explore those fantastic realms, they had become an even deeper part of my work.
TWPT: What was it about adding ingredients to your paints that made the art you created using those paints more magical or spiritual?
MM: I really believe in putting your own magic into everything that you do and touch brings you closer to Spirit. Iíve always been fascinated with the different vibrations of herbs and plants, so adding them into my art process just seemed to make sense. The addition of magical herbs corresponding with my subject matter is a way to awaken my inner muse. Your muse is simply the part of yourself that inspiration comes from. Creating in a magical way allows you the opportunity to ask that part of yourself to come out and play, it reminds the subconscious that creating is a magical process. I also find that itís a way to honor the beings that Iím portraying, whether fairy, Deity, or other mythical being,
TWPT: How important was the Internet in gaining your artwork exposure that it might not otherwise have gotten if you had to depend on local galleries and sales?
MM: One of the first Internet sources to do an article on my work was actually The Wiccan Pagan Times years ago! The Internet was and still is, truly the very best way to get lots of exposure. When I was doing art for local rock bands, the Internet was really new and hadnít really hit big yet, so all my exposure was local. My art had appeared in several local papers and magazines, and I was known at the local rock clubs and some galleries, but really no one outside of St. Louis had seen my work unless the bands I worked for toured, or the touring bands that came in town saw it, which did happen, but it was sporadic.
With the Internet, you can reach so many more people. One of my first print magazine cover was in England, for goodness sake, and that was because of having my work on the Internet. That was how I met Raven Grimassi, and did a few magazine covers for him, and eventually ended up doing decks with him. Itís amazing that once your art is out there on the web, you start getting emails from all over the world from people digging your work!
If there is one thing that I would recommend to any artist in any genre that is starting out and wants to gain national or even international exposure, I would say, get your work on the Internet, get a website!
TWPT: What goals do you have in mind when you start working on a new piece? Do you have some idea as to what the image needs to communicate or how you would like those who view the piece to feel? How do you go about translating that idea or goal into the image itself?
If Iíve discovered herbal associations from my research or intuitively, I use those herbs in the watercolor wash while Iím creating the piece. Then as I work, I try to open up and allow the spirit of my subject to speak to me, guide me as I go, and inspire the work fully.
TWPT: Tell me about your first big publishing job with Llewellyn? What did it entail and did this help to establish a solid foundation for future offers of work from them?
MM: Iím really blessed to have the opportunity to work with Llewellyn, The Well Worn Path deck was my first job I was contracted for with them. Raven Grimassi had worked with me in the past when he was publishing Ravens Call Magazine and had contacted me to partner with himself and Stephanie Taylor on the deck they had conceptualized, but needed an artist for. I had wanted to work on a Llewellyn project, and knew I had liked working with Raven in the past, so it was bound to be a good project. My preliminary work was approved by Llewellyn, we were contacted, and the rest is history! I had worked under a very tight deadline for a deck, I actually created the art for The Well Worn Path in about 9 months, while working a full time job at the time as well, I didnít sleep a lot during that one.
After finishing the first deck, and during the creation of the second one, The Hidden Path, I parlayed my working relationship with Llewellyn into other opportunities, writing for their online journal and their periodicals. Iíve contributed to their periodicals every year since, and was eventually asked to do interior illustrations for them as well. One of the keys to publishing whether youíre a writer or artist is getting your foot in the door. Often, a great way to get experience under your belt is do some work for smaller magazines and online publications to get exposure. These jobs donít always pay, but sometimes theyíll trade for an ad, which is always good. Then you begin to develop a name and a bigger publisher will take you more seriously.
TWPT: So what is it that inspires your imagination and helps you to enter in to the fantasy aspects of the work that you are trying to create? Do you actively seek out this inspiration or do you wait on it to strike you?
MM: Both really, sometimes my inner muse bashes me on the head with an idea and wonít leave me alone until I create it, other times, I need to play a bit to find inspiration. You never know when an idea will strike, sometimes when Iím occupying my mind elsewhere like driving or doing dishes. When I seek out inspiration I donít have to look too far. I venture outside to some natural wild place, and I look for fairies and spirits of nature everywhere. I ask, ďwho lives here, what do you do, how do you relate to these surroundings?Ē and often I get an answer in my head, in pictures or messages. The fairies I sensed living in the alpine mountains in Colorado were tough, wiry, and primordial. The ones in the hills of Missouri seemed lush but tribal. When you keep magic in your life, inspiration is usually not too far behind.
TWPT: What has surprised you most about how popular your artwork has become? Did you expect this many people to share your sensibilities in regards to the images you create and the feelings that they generate?
MM: It always surprises me to this day! I try to create that which speaks to me as an artist and a spiritual person, and when it touches someone else and they totally get it, thatís the most exciting thing for me. Creating these pieces is always a spiritual experience for me, so when I get to talk to someone or I get an email letting me know that one of my pieces is part of someone elseís spiritual journey, my heart just soars. I feel really blessed to have the opportunity to honor the spirits of nature and with my work and contribute something the spiritual paths of others.
TWPT: Tell me about the 1st tarot deck that you created the images for? How different is it to create all those images for the cards as opposed to working on a single piece for yourself?
Finding the balance between similarities and differences in each card is important, to keep it interesting, but still making it all go together as each single card is part of the bigger collection of work. Iíve also noticed that when creating a deck, some images seem to come forward and will also work as stand-alone pieces in addition to being part of the deck, while some work better only in their role of serving as part of the collection. It almost like making a movie, because youíre creating this magical world unto itself.
TWPT: Since the deck was a collaborative effort with Raven Grimassi how much control did you have over the images and what those images communicated?
MM: Part of working with someone else on a project is trying find a place of balance between the separate visions of creative people. I think Raven, Stephanie and I managed to do that pretty well, we saw eye to eye on most of the project. Going into the project, we discussed the overall vision, color palates, and the feel for the cards. We discussed every image in depth over the phone and then I got approval for the sketches from them as I went. Having done all that work with Rock bands previously really prepared me to be able to listen carefully to their vision and deliver artistically what they described verbally. Often they were pleasantly surprised that each image was more than they had imagined. I had lots of fun adding my own personal touches to each piece while remaining true to their concepts.
TWPT: Are you excited that you are going to be doing a 3rd deck of cards that will be based on your own concept, writing and art? How will this differ compared to the collaborative efforts that you have done with the first 2 decks?
MM: Oh, yes, the process was very different. For starters, I usually donít create a sketch that is quite as finished as the ones I did for the two previous decks. I also tend to change things as I go when Iím working on my own, making decisions based on what the piece is telling me. The concept of this deck was actually born before I had begun on the projects with the Grimassiís, so it camped out on the back burner for a long time before I revisited it. The idea was to create a deck based on the Celtic Tree Ogham, creating illustrations that embody the spirit of each tree and translate the concept of each trees teaching. I loved researching the myths, legends and the trees themselves. Iíve written many articles, and had great responses with them, but this was my first full book. So far Iíve gotten a great response from the art, Iím in the process of the editing with Llewellyn, and I canít wait to see this project come to fruition.
TWPT: Do you travel around to the Ren Faires during the summer months or do you have other places that you go to and set up your artwork so that you can meet those folks who are buying your pieces and get some face to face feedback? How do you feel about the one on one interactions that you have with your fans and how does it benefit future creations?
MM: I really love to get out of the studio and meet people. I do some events locally, Pagan Picnic in St. Louis, and sometimes Pagan Pride Day, Magical Hibernation and Spirit Awakening. I would like to travel more in the future, and plan to do some traveling when my new deck is released in fall of 2011, and in the spring of 2012. Its great to chat with people, get feedback, and itís also very inspiring. All those good people are a big part of what keeps me doing what I do, when they show appreciation, it makes me want to get back to the studio and create. Many people donít know that although I am a freelance fantasy artist, I also work full time in an office as a graphic designer for a display company, so unfortunately my travel is limited by vacation time and how far I can travel in a weekend.
TWPT: What display or use of your artwork in print or on the Internet has made you the most proud of what you have accomplished with your images?
MM: Iím really proud of them all, from the decks, statuary and jewelry, Iíve done to someone using my work on their blog or website. One of the coolest was one of the most unexpected things Iíve had an opportunity to do. My piece ďBlessings of the Triple GoddessĒ artwork was used in a school text book in Norway. This was a textbook for a class on spirituality and ethics, when they contacted me, I couldnít believe it. It was just such an amazing thing to know that my work would be in a mainstream textbook for students. The Triple Goddess has been an amazing piece for me, sheís also been made into jewelry, statuary, and much more now that my husband Dan and I are producing some of our own merchandise.
TWPT: How is it that you translate your two dimensional images into solid forms for the sterling silver jewelry pieces that are being created of your work? How does that change how you visualize a piece when it will have not only a front but also a back to design?
MM: Itís definitely necessary to look at an image differently to make it into jewelry or statuary. When I made the design for the Triple Goddess pendant for Peter Stone, I added an archway over the top to add balance and give support to the triple moons. When creating my Triple Goddess statue, I had never thought about what the back of that art looked like! Eventually, I embraced the idea of three trees on the back of the cloaks representing the cycles; it worked great and gave the piece even more depth!
For either jewelry or statuary, you have to make sure that the whole image is connected; nothing can be floating out there on its own, the way you can do it in two dimensions. You also have to think of the structure and balance. I recently designed an interpretation of my Bridget piece for statuary with Sacred Source. The sculptors noticed that there was a problem with one of the arms gracefully out at her side, specifically, the fingers which would not be structurally sound the way I had drawn it, they needed support. I quickly thought it through and sent them a photo that I posed for of a new position for that arm giving the fingers strength. These are the kinds of things that you have to think of, and Iím still learning.
With the jewelry, I do try to think about how a pendant or earrings will hang, and make sure that it hangs straight. Peter Koslowski the president of Peter Stone spent a little time with me after seeing my art explaining how you need to see it in three dimensions instead of two to turn the pieces into jewelry, and thatís just what I did.
TWPT: Where would you like to see your artwork take you that it hasnít already?
MM: Itís been such an amazing ride so far, that I almost try not to over direct it too much sometimes because you never know what direction life will take you. Sometimes itís in amazing directions that you never imagined yourself! In the material realm, publishing a full color art book would be a fun adventure, and I see a line of greeting cards in the future, plus I have new jewelry coming from Peter Stone any time now, and hope to do more statuary with Sacred Source as well. I donít know, calendars, another book, who knows? Definitely goals to travel more are slated.
On the spiritual side, Iíve committed to surrounding myself with positive energy, and I feel like Iím really living and creating right now on my own terms, which is really empowering. The fairy realm/elfland has been very persistent in reaching out to me lately, so expect to see an explosion of creations in the next year or so reflecting that area of subject matter. They seem to be coming out of the woodwork so to speak, but working on getting ideas firmed up take a real conscious effort when working with fae folk, so Iím trying to keep a small sketchbook to jot down ideas or simple sketches and impressions before they flit away.
TWPT: How do you see your spirituality manifesting through your artwork? Is this intentional or does it just flow out naturally through your hands?
MM: To me, creating is a spiritual process, so it seems to just work together naturally. As to whether itís intentional or not, on some levels, I think itís both. Sometimes when creating art, I seem to kind of ďzone outĒ and get lost in the work. When that happens itís very magical, and usually Iíll eventually zap back to planet earth and look at my art table wondering, ďWow, where did that come from?Ē Looking over what Iíve created, and not sure I remember the whole process by which it came to be. Iíve also heard of other artists reporting the same experience, so I felt less weird about it. I donít think itís uncommon, I think itís the place where art and Spirit meet. Being an artist is kind of like those dreams where you can do anything, only youíre awake, and you know you can do anything within the canvas or art board. You get to create your own world, or express one that you sense exists.
TWPT: Finally, do you have any thoughts youíd like to share with your fans about your creations or about the creative process that allows you to create your art?
MM: Oh, the best thing I can tell them is this: everyone is creative in one way or another. Sometimes people get bogged down in the concept of having to be talented at playing music, writing poetry or painting to be creative. The truth is that people evolved because of their creativity. We figured out the best way to hunt a mammoth, build a house, and negotiate treaties because people are naturally creative. All that means is thinking outside the box, or getting a new angle and applying it to the situation.
One of the most creative people I ever met was kicked out of art class in school because they told him ďhe couldnít even draw a stick figure.Ē This man has the most impossible garden Iíve ever seen, it looks like a mad outdoor museum of plants and vintage kitsch. Instead of giving his grandkids a check for their birthday, he tapes $1.00 bills together in a row and rolls it onto a T.P. roll, or wraps each one around a piece of candy and fills a big jar! Creativity is part of everything he does, and he still canít draw a stick figure!
When you can apply magic and creativity to any aspect of your life, it will enrich everything you do, and all that you are. Never let anyone tell you that youíre not creative, if youíre human, you are. Tap into it, release it, let it sing and play, and see where it will take you!
TWPT: I know you are always very busy with your artwork and getting that next project done and I wanted to thank you for carving out the time in your schedule to do this interview and to work on the seasonal banners that now adorn the pages of TWPT. We are happy that we were able to be a small part of helping to bring your artwork to a larger audience through our pages all those years ago and we hope that you will continue to create inspired and inspiring images in the years to come.