When I first came across the artwork of Angela Schwer, I fell in love with the natural, organic and feminine forms she creates. I've long been fascinated with the inspiration behind other artists' work, especially when their artistic creations so clearly mimic natural surroundings.
It's why I created the Nature & Art series.
Angela's sculptures are an absolute treat to admire. I particularly appreciate how she honors the clay's natural coloring by keeping it free of highly glossy lacquers and bright colors. She lets the medium speak for itself and for me, it speaks quite loudly.
Read on as she shares what brought her to create these exquisite pieces, what inspires her designs and motifs, and how she's come to embrace the process just as much as the result. I certainly can relate to that!
LCJ: Angela, if you had only 3 words to describe your art, which words would you choose?
AS: I'd say my work is patterned, nature-inspired, and evolving.
LCJ: I can absolutely see that. For those reading, can you briefly explain the type of art you create?
AS: I create sculptures that are generally nature-based. You know, see a flower, make a flower. But also, I enjoy making clay tiles with repetitive patterns of textures and shapes that really start with no direction and finish when something about them just kind of feels good enough for me.
LCJ: When did you realize that this is what you wanted to do? I'm curious what compelled you to get started to begin with.
AS: What compelled me to start was a drive to find a way to be home with my children. I knew that if I could turn what I enjoyed making into a source of income, however small, it would help buffer the dip in finances our home was taking without my working. This being the main focus helped me push through my fears of putting my work out there. I'd always been so self-critical of my art, even while needing to make it, that the idea of letting others have access to it to judge (because believe me, you'd think some people knighted themselves All Holy Art Critic) was terrifying. I had to make the decision, that no matter what, I wouldn't let potential low sales or the opinion of others be the deciding factor for whether I would pursue my art as a business. If I really wanted and needed this, I had to get behind the material and just start making.
Before I branched out on my own, I completed a yearlong internship in 2004 teaching art alongside my college professor. We taught elementary and middle school students in the Mill Vally, CA school district. This was the first time I got to play with clay. It was such a great experience, teaching and learning about all of the various mediums too.
LCJ: Nature is very evident in your work and you speak about its influence on you. What is it about nature, specifically, that inspires you?
AS: I'm specifically drawn to the patterns you find in nature. A flower isn't a flower, but a sequence of all its individual pieces working together to make up the whole. I will sometimes pull apart a flower* from each individual petal down to the center to see how each petal or seed has grown in a sequence of identical sections. It's pretty interesting to see how perfectly balanced nature is up close.
Aside from this, have you seen what designers and seamstresses can do with fabric manipulations lately? Wow! I could read about or look at fabric designs and sewing techniques all day long, and every now and then, it will spark an idea that leads to a new shop design. In fact, my Folded, Layers and Flow Tiles were all inspired by fabric techniques.
*No live flowers were hurt in this experiment.
LCJ: That's so fascinating! So, it sounds like clay is the primary material you work with. Can you tell us more about that?
AS: During my 2004 internship, I had the opportunity to explore different mediums and though I did enjoy using earthen clay while there, from a tactile perspective, it wasn’t for me. My medium of choice is polymer clay or a plasticized modeling compound. There's a different feel texturally to polymer, and while polymer and earthen clay work similarly in many respects, they have completely different malleabilities to them. It became clear to me that polymer was the material I would work with. It is versatile, easily accessible and has a resiliency that can withstand upsets during the design process. It is a material that begs manipulation and texture and is very responsive to change.
I also believe that using a medium that is easy to obtain is important today when art is being kept from the hands of some potentially masterful artists. Materials shouldn't be stuffy or exclusive, they should be easily attainable and uncomplicated.
LCJ: I fully agree. Can you walk us through the process of how you create one of your pieces starting from the inspiration to planning to application to completion?
AS: There are no monumental shadows playing over a canyon sunset that inspire a new idea. I'd actually have to have the time for that! There IS an occasional walk through a park or trail where a new plant will catch my eye because of its unique design that I hadn't looked at before. But most of the time, it's me, sitting in my living room and just playing with clay. I spend hours and days repeatedly playing with designs or textures, only to flatten them all back down into a ball at the end. At first, I felt defeated. So many hours upon hours with nothing to show for them. I'm pretty sure I could add up half a year of my life in time just spent building something, only to destroy it!
But once my perspective changed, and I realized time and failure meant experience honing a skill, that time suddenly became valuable. I know, now, the importance of doing something, even on days when you have nothing to give, for the sake of pushing through. And it's the possibility that this time something may happen that keeps me going. Failure has been good for me. You can't take yourself too seriously when your failure to success ratio is 15:1.
As for color in my work, I'm not a fan. It may have something to do with me being the world's worst painter (check my trophy shelf), but I just hate how much depth the pieces lose in color. White has a way of reflecting light pretty nicely, and the shadows that are created in the nooks and crevices of the pieces make them seem more lifelike and interesting.
LCJ: I genuinely love that you keep your pieces in their natural coloring. What sparks your creativity when you’re feeling uninspired? As an artist, let's just say I can relate to the moments when inspiration feels nowhere to be found. What do you do to get back into your flow?
AS: Creative mental blocks are an everyday battle for me. It's a full-time job being so successful at having nothing to show. I'm half joking when I say this, but honestly, the only way I come out of a creative fog is typically unexpectedly and after putting in the fail time. I guess the key to me is discipline. Even on days I feel brain dead and starved for an inspirational morsel, I still try to make something. Most of the time I end up scratching my head and wondering what I was thinking to make such a piece of junk, but every now and then, something makes the cut. Those are the good days when all that fail time was worth it.
LCJ: That's such a helpful reminder to any artist or enthusiast. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be done. What's your all-time favorite piece that you’ve made or maybe even one you're continuing to make?
AS: My all-time favorite piece has to be a knotted sculpture I made a few years back. It's currently homed at Zinc Art + Object in Edmonds, Washington. I'm pretty certain I'm the only one who likes it, but it was a lot of fun to make with differing knotted designs. It's pretty random and I'm certain I could never replicate it. So, I imagine it will sit on the Only One shelf all my life and I'll tell stories as an old lady about my favorite work being something that no one ever liked!
LCJ: I'd say that's awfully humble and most definitely unlikely!
A big thank you to Angela for sharing her process and passion with us. Her vision is evident and her pieces are truly remarkable.
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