Lydia Burris Interview
Ambrosia Arts - So tell us how you got started in art originally. How and when did it begin for you? Was it an immediate passion? A lifelong love affair?
Lydia Burris – Absolutely. I came from an artistic family - both parents were artists. My mother was a main inspiration. She used to debate with my aunt who gave me the first crayon in my highchair. As a kid, I was always drawing and getting distracted by doodling. Mother also had a morbid sense of humor, and loved horror movies. She would always let me watch horror scenes, and we would have scream contests (living out in the country, this was ok) - I remember being very very short when she first showed me Hieronymous Bosch's scenes from “HELL”. She has since passed on.
Ambrosia Arts – So sorry to hear that. It's wonderful when an artist is born into such a supportive nurturing family. Did she teach you mostly or were you more self-taught? Have you had professional schooling for your development of craft?
Lydia Burris - Thank you. She passed in February of 2011. Mother provided the inspiration and the tools, the horror and fantasy movies, the paint brushes, the canvas, the words of wisdom, but let me do my own thing, and move at my own pace. I did get training. First there were the art classes in HS of course, some occasional private inspirational workshops with artist friends of the family, but I did go on to focus on art in college - I did a double major - one was 'fine arts' and the other was an independent major that I called 'illustration of mythology' and eventually my MASTERS of FINE ART, at a school in Norwich England. a full intense 1 year program.
At IUBloomington (undergrad) I was trained how to paint from life. flesh tones, light and shadow... but they poopooed my interest in fantasy and illustration. I hid my scary drawings in my sketchbook. Then to England where I learned how to defend my work with words, but they didn't really get interested in my work till I put the paints down and began to make installations. I often tell people 'I entered England as a painter and left as an artist"
I had to retrain myself before I felt comfortable getting my favorite subjects onto canvas
Ambrosia Arts - Truly an experience. So your art has literally taken you places. Explain how you did that, retrain yourself.
Lydia Burris - After getting trained in so many different directions, I had the skill to paint, and the confidence to create in any media, including 3D environments.... But 'fantasy' and 'horror' was always seen as 'sub' art or 'cheesy', not as 'valid' as other fine arts. This is bullcrap of course, but it’s an opinion that still persists in many circles - although in the last 10 years, dark art, illustrative and narrative, fantasy and horror have really risen in level... Anyway, I felt this pressure, almost GUILT that my fantastic subject matters were somehow less valuable. Even though I knew this, it was like a muscle memory left over from school. It took a few years to shake this off, and experiment with subject matter, and getting my odd drawings onto larger formats and out of the sketchbook.
I just kept forcing myself to let my imagination take the foreground.
Every time I got my 'oil' paints out, I was compelled to use a visual reference, I felt blocked from painting directly from my imagination. I just had to keep trying it and eventually I was able to merge my imagination with the skills I had acquired.
Using other mediums sometimes helped. I am a huge fan of mixed media these days.
Ambrosia Arts - So what do you feel thus far as an artist has been your greatest experience or greatest moment?
Lydia Burris - There have been a few moments. Traveling overseas to commit to a year in England on my own (2004, 2005) My First Convention in 2007 where I truly found my creative family, (Wizard World Chicago), The day I was able to quit being a waitress and move to all art related jobs in August of 2009. Another great moment was this past GenCon, August 2012, realizing that I truly have fans.
Also, receiving a residency to get a free studio for a year in downtown Indianapolis was a pretty exciting moment in my professional/independent art experience.
Ambrosia Arts – Wow now that is incredibly exciting. Tell how you feel about your art. While you’re creating, the message you send through your pieces, what you feel you portray to the viewer.
Lydia Burris - Usually for my own personal art - not a commission, not a fan inspired piece, etc, I begin randomly. I tend to have 2 methods, both begin automatically.
Method 1: super experimental - I begin with emotions and colors. These can change as the work develops. I add shapes and sometimes layers of text. I rub away colors and add more in. I write words and cover them up. I use an unexpected array of colors. Eventually I decide to add figures or faces, or found poetry.
Method 2: tree people: I begin automatically with shapes and subdued colors - eventually forming part of a face and/or body - I let the random shapes extend outward to form branches and roots. Eventually I end up with tree people.
Sometimes I try to combine these methods, and something’s the 1st method changes depending on what medium I am using. I love to experiment and not know the outcome of works. I love mixed media, and I love to combine reality and the abstract. A face from life that extends into abstraction.
Ambrosia Arts - As far as personal aspirations go, there is no greater feeling to me, then when you have the freedom to do what you absolutely love in life to its fullest
Lydia Burris - I always think of the 'bohemians' from Mulin Rouge - Truth , Beauty, Freedom and LOVE! True words for an artist, the most important thing, but it is definitely a HARD PATH. A struggling path. a Financially uneven path.
Freedoms of the soul at the expense of the pocketbook sometimes. But I am confident that if I stay on this path and go full speed ahead (as much as I am able) then after a while, I won't have to worry about the money
*I'd rather not be making tons of money from something I love than not making tons of money from a job I hate.*
Ambrosia Arts – Where do you see yourself and your work in the next five years? Is there anything else you would like to try professionally? Another medium you may be exploring? Do you have a dream goal to reach with your art? A special gallery you'd want to get into perhaps?
Lydia Burris - I would LOVE to get into film, and I am currently working on my own graphic novel. I have tried narrative work in the past with others and (quite frankly) failed. Things were left incomplete. I was never satisfied. I am trying my OWN project and vow not to try any 'comics' until I do my OWN. I have also written a script for a short film. I want to get into stop motion animation (I have played with this) - I am always open and willing to try new mediums and find that father time is a CRUEL master.
In 5 YEARS:
I see myself doing similar to what I am doing now, but with more success in sales, bigger projects under my belt, and a few books published at least. Art books, but also writing. Another medium I play with, but I do not share as much.
My goal is to have the freedom and ability to travel with my work without as many worries. I want to work with big names. I used to think that meant the big names of now, but if you look at those big names, most of their partners started at the same place: the bottom. - so I look to people in my same situation as partners and accomplices - there is so much creative energy in the air, so much potential - I say to all my creative friends and partners in crime: Let us grow into greatness together. Don't stop, don't give up. Someday we will look around us and see that we have already made it.
And one of my favorite quotes: Dive off the cliff and build your wings on the way down. This is how I view my art career.
Ambrosia Arts - Well you are one we will certainly all be watching for great things to come. Including your novel, could you give us any insight into it or any other big projects you have coming up soon?
Lydia Burris - Projects coming up: I am currently working on book covers for Nathan Squires's Crimson Shadow series, Creating my own graphic novel about madness, and a slew of new dark fantasy artworks for a show in August called 'Conjure' - details to be announced at a later date. My convention and gallery show schedule can be seen here: http://lydiaburris.com/updates.html
Closing thoughts from Lydia Burris: I'm honored to share myself and my art with this interview, and I make a plea to all the dreamers to keep dreaming, and to keep creating, and to keep reaching. We inspire each other - and by our lights, we find each other. Stay bright friends!