For those of us who are meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get started?
I have been painting, drawing and making things my whole life. My dad taught me how to paint, and we had a craft room when I was a kid where we had a sewing machine, glue and all kinds of things, paints and pencils and everything under the sun! I have a masters of branding and graphic design and I moved to New York to work in corporate branding but it was long hours and stressful work so to blow off steam I started painting and then I thought "hey, I can sell these!" The rest is history.
Your paintings are so vibrant and full of movement, what is the motivation behind your artwork? What inspires you?
I am inspired by the energy of the south, and living in such a diverse, bustling city. I draw inspiration from anything and everything including photography, fashion, even history and travel. I am motivated by a physical need to compose, and painting is such a quick and easy way to express what I am trying to see because I can create it right then and there. I am always composing in my life, my home, myself, any surroundings I am in are always being manipulated by me. Its impulsive and essential to my thought process.
When you begin a painting, what does your process look like? How long can a painting take to complete, and how do you decide that you're finished?
Thats a big question because its always different. Sometimes I sit down to paint something and an hour later I have something I am super happy with. But thats super rare. I just begin by sketching out the composition I feel like seeing, with whatever tools I have on hand (all kinds of paint, pastels, ect) and what colors I want to see. Then I begin the conversation with the canvas and its a series of problems to solve until I feel like the painting is resolved. At my studio I listen to books or play episodes of things in the background that I don't look at. When I have a work station set up at home I can come home from dinner say, and without any pre-amble just begin to paint. If I get in a flow I keep going, but sometimes I can't get my brain and my hands to communicate so I stop. I can't tell you how many paintings I have painted over!! Soo many.
What has been a challenge that you’ve faced as you’ve established yourself as an artist, and how did you overcome that?
Oh boy, so many. When I first started it was how to I get myself out there? I started a blog, and made it personal and intimate and honest. Then it became how to I keep clients interested who reach out to me? I started tagging any incoming emails and added them all to a news letter with special discounts just for them. Then later on it became how to I deal with the fact that every time I look online I see paintings that I think I may have painted, but I am not sure? Basically lots of people biting on my style, some even offering tutorials on how to rip off a "Michelle Armas" painting. Thats an issue that really tormented me, and I have only recently realized that I reacted the wrong way at first. I felt so disgusted by what I felt was an intrusion that I became more experimental and tried new painting styles (like I always do, and this is a good thing!) but I moved away from my signature style because it felt so used and stomped on. Now I know that I should never have done that, I should have simply ignored the other work and made what I wanted to make anyway. I learned that my pride was hurt, and that made my ego take over my brain. Nothing good will ever, ever come of that so now I put my ego back in her place and am storming ahead with work that I feel good about in my heart and modifying my social media habits to allow more sacred space in my work process. I used to post almost al the work I made, for example. Now I don't do that, and I like having fewer eyes on my intimate work. Of course until those pieces go to galleries, or I am ready to sell them! I have had a lot of issues, or made a lot of mistakes, or handled situations badly and have learned from each experience. I love the feeling of moving past a problem so much I kind of want the next problem to come at me, but not really. What I am saying is that finding a way to overcome an issue, sometimes an issue that just eats me up, is one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had in my work. I don't look at those mistakes as lost productivity, or "going down the wrong path," I see them as an integral part of my growing process. Thats how you succeed, by putting experience after experience behind you, and those hurt sometimes.
Your work is represented by several galleries, is there any advice that you would give to emerging artists who are approaching galleries for representation?
Sure! Make sure your work is original, and not similar to other work the gallery already represents. Most galleries will only take one or two of similar styles of work. Successful galleries anyway. Try everything and anything and don't take rejection personally because there are many reasons why a gallery may say no to you. Ask your friends who are also artists! I found out about my beloved Gregg Irby Gallery through a friend, and it has been such a fulfilling relationship. Only work with gallery owners who you like personally, trust me on this, its key. Honestly I haven't ever solicited a gallery, I have been lucky enough to be approached by the galleries I so enjoy working with so from my experience I would say the best thing to do is to make a lot of work, and put it online and get eyes on it.
Aside from painting, are there any fun side projects that you’re working on?
Um, always! I am meeting with contractors this spring to begin a huge remodeling project on our home to incorporate my studio in our home. This is huge, I can't wait (while also dreading the inevitable stress that remodeling brings). I am working with metal fabricators to begin a series of paintings that have coats of armor on them in brass and copper, and as usual I am traveling a lot and planning a ton of adventures for my family!
Thank you for sharing your story, Michelle! Be sure to keep up with her on social media and check out the paintings and prints in her shop.