An Interview with Dawn Waters Baker - Artists of Texas
STREAMS OF LIGHT
How old were you when you realized you were an “artist”?
My first memory of really wanting to DO art was watching my father paint. He finally got out a little canvas and said, “Come on up here and do it with me!” I never looked back. I must have been around 6 or 7 years old.
Who or what inspired you to make art in the beginning?
My parents were always so encouraging. They bought me the materials and praised my work. They also gave me good critiques.
What is your background in art?
My father taught me how to paint. When I was in Middle School I enrolled in some painting classes with Rudy Herrera who was an avid fan of John Singer Sargent. I majored in Fine Art in college with a focus on drawing and painting. I always wanted to be a “real” painter.
What role do you feel an artist has in society?
For me, I feel that the role of the artist is to open the window for the culture to look into the real things of life. In a world that is quickly dissolving what true beauty is I feel the role of the artist is to keep pointing to it in a sincere and real way. I see my role as an advocate in a sense for the real, good, beautiful and true.
Do you have a vision or a reason for the art you create?
Nature has always been the “metaphor” for me to God. I tell people that my work is the emotional landscape. Not so much the true visual landscape that we all see. What I’m trying to get at is the feeling of a place. The awe, wonder, even fear we feel at the sight of great storms or huge canyons. This to me is the window into our Creator. He gives us glimpses of who and what He is like. My paintings are trying to just touch on the mystery of that.
What part of you do you see in your artwork?
It’s basically my emotions. They are my diary of the feelings and prayers of my life spilled out in paint. They are very personal.
How do you know when your art is complete or finished?
When I have gotten at the feeling (I’ve touched on it). I try to back up, stop and not push it any further.
Today, who has had the greatest influence on your work?
I admire Makoto Fujimura. He is an abstract expressionist that uses the Nihonga method of painting. He speaks and works to advocate for artists and art. Mostly, I love his humility and the way he takes seriously the hard work of bringing your “best” to the art. Mitch Albala helped me to click a few things in place (for my palette and my focus). I also love Robert Marchessault as he brings such emotion to his trees. He inspires me.
Name three artists you would like to be compared to:
Georgia O’Keeffe, Emily Carr and Robert Marchessault.
What is your artistic medium of choice? Why?
I paint in oils using layers of glaze over time. I like the wet on wet feel you can give as that lends itself to cloud, mist and rain. I love the way it mixes (the buttery feel of the paint). I like the darks you can get with oils (as opposed to watercolor). It suits me as it takes time and I need to slow down the emotion and the landscape for the viewer. Oils help me breathe it out layer upon layer.
Whose work do you relate to most? Who inspires you?
I love Georgia O’Keeffe. I like her smooth style (she didn’t have a great deal of texture it was the image and the viewer, nothing else). I did an assignment where I copied some of her paintings (not to sell but to understand her thinking). I found that she likes bold colors (not a lot of neutrals) and put them together in a pleasing way. She is incredibly gifted with knowing how to balance a painting. Her work is sensuous, dark, joyful, filled with awe. You don’t have to wonder what it’s about. You can feel her work. Less is more.
What food, drink or song inspires you or gets your creative juices flowing?
“Sun Racer” by David Helpling and Jon Jenkins is probably one of the few songs that really makes me want to paint and paint and paint. I love the build up in the song and the way it moves across a landscape. It’s completely instrumental but you feel it.
Has your art evolved or changed in the past ten years? If so, how? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I hope my art will always evolve. I don’t want to paint the same thing over and over again. I think I would be so bored! I started out just wanting to learn how to paint a sky. I have finally figured out some of it. I haven’t “arrived” by any means. I am good at getting the light. I need more work on my neutrals and letting certain high key colors just sing in the painting. I need more time to paint en plein aire (outside) so I can learn more from nature.
VALLEY OF LIGHT AND WATER
Do you have a favorite piece of art?
Just one?? Red Hills and White Flower by Georgia O’Keeffe
Do you find the artistic life lonely? How do you counteract the solitude?
I love to be by myself. I guess as a Mom of three girls I relish the time I get to paint. When they are off to school I get in the studio! I don’t get lonely. I suppose I am an introvert and get my energy by being away from people. That’s not to say I hate being around people! Not at all! I really enjoy that too. I just find that I need solitude to be able to do my work to the best of my ability. If people are around I feel I need to be with them. I try to leave work alone once my family gets home.
If you could picture yourself 5 or 10 years from now, where would you be and what would you be doing?
I would still be painting but I would be outdoors at least 2 times a week and doing much larger work. I would love to have my own studio separate from the house (where I had to walk to it) and have it big enough to teach small classes. I would like to live around more trees but be close enough to the city for shows and connection to the new art. I really love to speak about the relationship of art to culture and the spiritual (I didn’t realize how much I did) and would like more opportunity to inspire others to see the windows into real beauty. I would love to be a better painter and have more tools to pull from. I don’t want to stop learning how to best say something in paint.
What is the best piece of advice you could give to an artist just getting started?
Humility goes a long way. Be humble enough to take criticism well and to accept it as a help to your skills. LISTEN and be slow to make a judgment on anyone else’s art. You can learn from the most skilled painters but you can also learn from the risk takers too. Be kind and use your art to love. There is a scripture in the Bible I try to live by: I Corinthians 16:14 “Do everything in love.” Stop comparing yourself and get over yourself (stop dwelling on you and your failures and stop dwelling on all your accomplishments just get on with it). Paint because you love it not because you love recognition. Paint because that is your language not because you want to “arrive” at a certain level. Success will find you if you are willing to work really hard. Make sure you have defined success for yourself (i.e. what is success? What makes a person successful?) Don’t forget to help the hurting world. It needs beauty, love, grace. Not your big fat ego.
Getting to know you Q & A
How long have you lived in Texas?
I’ve lived here for 19 years. This year marks my life right in half 19 years in the Philippines and 19 years in Texas.
Where in Texas do you live now?
I live in Garland, Texas (a suburb of Dallas).
What is your favorite restaurant in Texas?
My husband and I love Ali Baba’s which is a Mediterranean restaurant. We go there on date nights because the kids hate it. Ha!
What color is your bedroom?
Soft blue with a touch of green.
What book are you reading this week?
I’m reading Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey and Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting by John E. Carlson.
Do you have a favorite television show or movie?
I love Ken Burn’s documentaries. My favorite is The National Parks. I also like Big Bang Theory because it reminds me of my husband.
What is your favorite color? What color do you avoid?
I tend to love the cooler spectrum of the wheel the blues and greens. I like most every color. There isn’t one I avoid.
What are you most proud of in your life?
By God’s grace I am growing some very sweet little girls (three). I am proud of them and the kind hearts God has given them. I’m not sure I can take credit for that but I feel great joy over watching them grow.
What has been your most embarrassing moment?
My soon to be husband was leaning over to get something and I thought he was going to kiss me and I just puckered up and waited and nothing happened! I realized, “Whoops! He’s doesn’t want to kiss me!” Talk about embarrassing! Thankfully, we got past it. Ha ha!
What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
After college I worked as a Paralegal for three years. I took a job after that being a housekeeper, dog-nanny for a sweet woman in Highland Park. She took me to Paris and Rome to help watch her dog! I also worked as a receptionist for the last year before I got married. I tried to always pick jobs that left me with time to paint at home and enough money so I could eat.
Do you have a passion or hobby other than painting? What is it?
Yes, my husband and I love to backpack and hike through woods. We did that on our honeymoon 13 years ago and still do that every anniversary. We love nature and being out in it.
Who would you love to portray in Mixed Media or paint?
I really don’t have a “who” for this question. I don’t like to paint people. I love to portray nature and the feeling that I get from it.
If you were stranded on the Texas Prairie and could only take three things what would they be?
Paintbox, map and backpack full of food (ok that’s cheating).
If you could live anywhere in Texas, where would you live?
I’d love to live near enough to Big Bend to be able to hike it and paint it. I love the sky so anywhere is really good for that. Really, I think I’d pick Dallas as it has become a city I truly love.
Share something with us that few people know about you.
I volunteer once a week to help in Juvenile Detention with girls in an RDT program (they have been trafficked into Dallas and have also been caught with drugs). We teach them life skills and art. It’s one of my favorite things to do in the week.
Name something you love and why.
I love good conversation over a cup of coffee. There are few things in this world more enjoyable to me. I guess it’s because my mind is engaged and my heart and body are warmed by the fellowship and coffee!
Describe yourself in one word.
What is one thing you would like to be remembered for?
I would love for my art to not just be something people collected but something that was generative. What I mean by that is it grew in them a spark to carry on beauty, goodness and truth. I would love to encourage young artists to seek for the good of their cities and open the eyes of the blind culture. I would love to be remembered as a window into a deeper world (for me, the spiritual world).