Interview by Monika Bullette
Welcome to the second interview of the 2018 Delaware Fun-A-Day Event. We talked to self-taught artist Pam Slaton about the mysteries of monochrome, tear-jerking commissions, the benefit of simpatico relationships, and JAWS! Thank you, Pam!
We like to know how people are connected to Delaware - are you a resident, born and raised? What has been your artistic path here?
I was born in Wilmington a long loooong time ago. We don't really need years, right? I lived in Stanton until I was 9 or 10. Divorce and remarriage took my mom and my brother and I to Seaford, De. It was a big change, going from being near a big city to in a bitty little town. The adjustment was difficult. Around this time I started reading a lot, and discovered illustration art. I became obsessed with the line drawings in books like "Misty of Chincoteague" and at one point kept checking out the American Kennel Club catalog of breeds so I could draw the dogs. This book was almost completely destroyed by the time I returned it. We moved again to Georgetown and lived there for a couple of years. I loved coloring. Still do. I remember drawing a picture of my brother that looked pretty realistic, it blew my mind. It was this point that I put down the crayons and started drawing my own ideas. I would write my own songs and draw these illuminated pages. Of course I was ten so they were, well, 10 year old quality. We didn't have a lot of money, so I had construction paper. Lined school paper was considered a premium supply and it was a divine surface compared to the construction paper, and I discovered shading and blending with my fingertips.
Throughout middle school/junior high I worked on reproducing artworks and remember my art and music teachers were the one's that encouraged me and mentored me. It was a terrible time in my life, my home life was very very difficult and I took to my art as an escape. Since we didn't have the resources to do classes or buy specialized art supplies, I was confined to #2 pencils and lined paper, so I worked more on just drawing.
We moved again in 1982 and I discovered theatre. That was a lot of fun, and my art teacher and theatre director was Eddy Seger, awesome guy! After high school, I married, moved to the southern US, divorced and moved back home. I played around with more crafty things for a long time. It wasn't until I met my husband, TJ, that my art life blossomed into what it is now and what it is becoming. TJ is a musician, and we are a lot alike. We were actually in a band together the first few years after we met. This experience helped me to reconnect with tons of old friends and open up my network much further.
My first commission was from one of my customers at the store I was running at the time, and I pursued that angle for a few years. I connected with a gallery through a customer and had my first gallery representation at the now defunct Thyme Gallery. The company I worked for went bankrupt and closed my store, and I suddenly found myself with a lot of time. I started doing more and more portraits and original art. I had even opened up a short lived working studio and art gallery with some other artists from Newark in the building next to Finley's Art. Joanne and Thayne are awesome, and were very supportive. I was able to pay for those expenses through commissions on portraits. Life brought about some need for changes and I had to pull out, unfortunately. I forget exactly how, but I connected with Valerie White of Bellefonte Arts. She has been and is the best. I have a space there along with some fantastic artists and makers and it has been great. I hold myself accountable to her when the routine of the daily keeps me from staying involved. I owe her a lot.
These days, though, I am setting goals to continually challenge myself, I am working on learning more and doing more, to allow my art a life within my life, if that makes sense. We have guardianship of my 13 year old niece and I am a full time retail manager, so things don't always go smoothly. I have vowed to not give up on my art so quickly, and it has been a beautifully fulfilling decision. My friends and family are incredibly supportive, and I have made so many friends in these past years. We bought a house in 2015, so now I have a dedicated studio. When I'm rich and famous I plan on building a studio like N. C. Wyeth's but until then the spare room is cool, it is working out well.
This will be your third year participating (you participated in 2013 and 2017)! Please describe your past Delaware Fun-A-Days? Any Artists you are hoping to see participate again?
The first year I participated I felt very clumsy. I was just starting a new job and worked a lot, so I found myself scratching out stuff on my lunch break and between domestic duties and work. I threw it all together quickly in the end, I definitely was cramming. The second time was much more organized, though I changed my mind a week after the project started and had to get caught up. It still didn't feel unified, so this year I am getting my mess together!
There are so many artists each year and it gets bigger and bigger. I love seeing the new artists, and how unique everyone's art is. SOOOO many different ways that creative urge is brought to fruition. Beautiful. That is what I look forward to. Maybe the people that haven't done it before, I think those are the artists I look forward to seeing. They inspire me even more to not be afraid and try different things.
Your work has mystery and a sense of the macabre and often a lot of teeth! What about black and white (and sometimes a pop of color) excites you?
Growing up, all I had really was pencil and paper, so that is how I learned to see things, in black and white. I like the garish look of a bold color behind a monochromatic image. It's almost cartoon or carnival like. Carnivals are kind of dark and creepy, though, as are circuses and religious rituals, and ceremonies and just the human psyche in general. I have a layman's interest in mythology, that and the influence of Heavy Metal magazine in my formative years. So all these things swirl together in my squirmy brain and find their way out sometimes in odd ways. And sometimes it's just something I like to see and look at myself.
As a self-taught artist, what online resources have you used the most to further your art progression?
I follow a lot of photographers on social media, and they are very generous in allowing me to use their images as drawing references. I can't always track down whose image I am using, I have to admit, so I probably just lost so many cool points by admitting that. Other than that, quite a few of my favorite artists have instructional or informational videos and post on Patreon. Posespace is awesome, as is Masterworks, as they post a daily model on YouTube for free. Mostly though, I just get the materials and play with them until I figure it out. I am in love with powdered graphite and had a tub of it for almost a year before I discovered how easy it is to use on clayboard. Now it's my go to. If I feel an artist block, I grab something I haven't used and just play with it.
Describe working with YUPO paper - some artists don't like the "accidents" that happen with the slippery surface. Do you agree?
This is what I was talking about when I said I just get materials and play with them. At first I used colored pencil, which has a hazy soft look. Unfortunately, once an erasure has been made, it shows up in any color that is laid down after. It is unforgiving with pencil mediums. One afternoon I decided to play with the India ink I had bought forever ago and had not used. So a match made in heaven for me. I found I could subtract from the black with a brush and water. I experimented with washes and scrubbing and subtracting. That is how "Meow" came to be. A creative block, a challenge that I had to overcome, a few problems to solve and voila!
You take commissions - what was the most difficult project you've worked with - either the client or the content? Which came the easiest? Change names for anonymity! ;)
There were actually two, both clients asked for an image that required pulling different references together to make one cohesive image. It was hard, as I have always struggled with composition. The tonal values were difficult to match, and proportion was a bear. I found myself erasing and damaging the paper. On one, I had to add a colored element to a graphite and charcoal drawing, it was awful. The customers asked for prints, and said they liked them, but it was one of those things were I was embarrassed to let them go out the way they did. I won't do those type of commissions again that is for sure.
I must say my most moving one was of a friend's father. I had blown out on Facebook that I wanted some random pics to draw from for practice. She had sent me this picture of her dad, and just when it was completed, we had prints made and I was arranging to meet her to deliver them. Well, her dad passed away as we began making the arrangements. We cried and embraced in the parking lot as I was turning them over to her. My husband will forever refer to me as "The Bringer of Tears" because there was a string of memorial portraits that I had done that caused people to cry.
Do you have believe in any superstitions? Which?
Actually, I am a hardcore atheist. I haven't always been. I grew up Roman Catholic, my immediate family started going to a Baptist (think the speaking in tongues type of services) church once we moved to southern Delaware, I fiddled around with some Wiccan ideals, then was born again and baptised in my early 30's after my first marriage fell apart. During this time, I really started studying the bible and the cognitive dissonance was so loud I couldn't continue. I have been an unapologetic atheist since. Superstition is fascinating though, it really is. The rituals people put themselves through for self preservation and protection is so diverse and disturbing in many cases. I have to thank my late high school anthropology teacher, Linda Gehling, for sparking an interest in human behavior through the ages. We are a puzzling species.
Name two favorite Spielberg films (one pre-2000 and one post-2000) and WHY!
Pre 2000: JAWS!!!!!!! I like how Spielberg was forced to keep the shark out of the movie for most of it because of technical issues, it added this tension to the movie that I found more valuable. This I guess goes back to my interest in superstition and mythology. There are "devils" everywhere, real or constructed, seen or unseen, that will get what they came for no matter what, mostly because we let them. We think we can overcome nature and I kind of rooted for the shark. Is that wrong? It was an intelligent and problem solving juggernaut of instinct, and it was hungry. Close Encounters was a really close second. Richard Dreyfuss had my heart when I was a young girl apparently.
Post 2000: This one is hard, because there have been so many, I loved the visuals in Memoir of a Geisha and BFG and the tension in War of the Worlds and Warhorse. So I guess if I have to chose just one, I would say War of the Worlds. Dakota Fanning's incessant screaming or Tom Cruise's weird ego doesn't even turn me off to it. I like monsters, I like being scared and get lost in movies. I ran a Blockbuster for 8 years so movies are a friend of mine.
Name 5 artists whose work you would like to own:
1) Allen Williams - I do have several prints already and met him at IX in Reading last year, I fangirled so hard it was embarrassing. I had pictures taken so my goofy expression will live on forever in the innerwebs.
2) Stephanie Law - My son has a print and I have two prints, also met her at IX, her booth was right next to Allen's. I also went to Krab Jab this summer while visiting a good friend and saw her work in real life. my goodness, so delicate and beautiful.
3) H.R. Giger - Because holy cow. The brain on that man was good and twisted and he did what he wanted with it.
4) Alphonse Mucha - His art was an early influence on me, the organic compositions and color, the technique of outlining figures shows up in my own art sometimes. His work is unattainable as far as originals, but I have amassed a nice collection of framed art and posters.
5) ANY OF THE BRANDYWINE SCHOOL ARTISTS - Officially more than one but Pyle and Wyeth are great influences. As illustrators they simplified their compositions down to be impactful while being reproduced, but their paintings in real life, I see them and am gob-smacked, their use of shadow and contrast, composition and color. When I grow up I want to be just like them.
What do you plan on creating for 2018 DEFAD?
I am actually doing beasts or monsters from different myths and stories around the world and throughout history. I just recently completed a work on clayboard of Huginn, Muninn and Fenrir from Norse mythology. I think animals take on our fears and are given identities based on the human mind's lack of understanding of the natural world, which gives birth to superstition. For instance, sometimes crows take on the identity of our fear of death and become harbingers, ingrained in our primal psyche, while in some myths, like with Odin, they are given a place of honor and respect. This is fascinating to me and fuels my art sometimes, well, more often than not. I am doing research now and working on some thumbnails to use for DEFAD and two other group shows coming up.