Interview: Neva Rossi Smoll

Neva Rossi Smoll

Describe the time you first realized that creating was something you absolutely had to do? How old were you? Who or what inspired you at the beginning of your art life?  Who or what inspires your art life today?

I was seventeen years old and a senior in a small south Texas high school.  A hobby shop opened up in town and my mother and I spent many hours in there doing various crafts.  The owner was a friend of ours and one day she asked me if would like to try oil painting.  Of course! I painted a colorful sunset.  A couple of days later, some random (and very good-looking) young man came into the shop.  He purchased my painting for $15.  I was thrilled.  And hooked.

Today, I am inspired by many contemporary artists—Casey Klahn, Dawn Emerson, and Aline Ordman to name just a few.  What inspires me about their work is its loose simplicity, its authenticity, and their obvious lack of fear.

Why do you make art?  What are you trying to communicate with your art?  What element(s) of your inner spirit is reflected in your art?

I make art because I have to.  I have to be creative in some way, even if it is just baking a cake.  Art, creativity of any kind, takes me out of my silly little mind-made problems to a place of “no mind.”  I am immersed in my moment, everything else fades away, and I am left with my intuition and freedom.

In my art I try to show people that thing they have missed while they were too busy to see.  I want my art to make the viewer feel the vulnerability of a portrait subject.  I want the viewer to look at a café scene and imagine themselves in the story.  I want to communicate that “edge” in a scene — that precipice where the mundane is left behind and what is revealed is a hidden emotion. 

An element of my inner spirit — hmmm.  Perhaps it is simply an attempt to look beyond the evident and see the beauty in all things.

Is the atmosphere or design layout of your creative space/studio an important element in your creative processwhy or why not?  Is there somethinga keepsake, an inspirational quotation, a photographyou keep in your studio for inspiration or motivation?

The atmosphere of my studio space is very important.  I do my best to keep the energy positive and free-flowing.  No negativity here!  (The struggle is real, folks.) If I feel it needs a cleansing, I light sage, or use essential oils.  I find it is equally necessary to keep my own energy positive and free-flowing.  So when I catch myself having a negative thought, I do my best to reverse it.  As for design or layout, it is essential to have a dedicated space.  Layout and design will have to come later when I build my studio.

I love quotations, and I have quite a collection.  The one I have taped to my computer at the office says, “Paint What You Love.”  Another favorite is “Do not doubt when you ask, for then which will the Universe answer?”  But my all-time favorite is this one by Uell S. Andersen, “Choose to think only of that which you truly desire.  Refuse to entertain thoughts of what you fear, and you will find you are unerringly guided to your goals by a power greater than you are.”

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What kind of routines or rituals do you incorporate into your creative time? If you have one element or principle of art you enjoy working with the most, please describe it? 

I do have a ritual.  I meditate for a few minutes to clear my mind and then I ask the painting to tell me what it wants.

I love the element of color and enjoy using vibrant colors with lots of contrast.  I like to combine large color shapes with distinctive mark-making.

Currently, which creative medium do you work in? What, if any, other creative medium would you love to pursue?

I currently work in soft pastels.  I find them to be immediate and very forgiving.  It is easy play.  I also love oil and would like very much to further pursue oil painting.

What is your most important artist tool?  How does this tool factor into your art making?

My most important tool is my camera.  I use only my own photographs for inspiration and reference.  On an equal level is my iPad Pro and the Snapseed App.  I take thousands of photos, download them from the camera card onto the iPad and begin the process of cropping and adjusting until I get a design I like.  I also use the ArtSet Pro App to try different backgrounds or color palettes.  It helps to eliminate the unnecessary and distill the design.

How do you keep yourself motivated?

I motivate myself with photography and plein air painting.  When I am particularly un-motivated I will take a piece of paper, tape off 3 or 4 six-by-six squares and paint trees using different colors.  Playing with color motivates me.  Sometimes I splash vibrant watercolors on the sanded paper as an underpainting.  If I am really blocked, I do something different, like making monoprints with Intaglio inks and various flora from my gardens.  Lots of fun and very freeing because I have no end result in mind, yet I always get something interesting.

What one piece of advice would you give to an artist just getting started?

My advice to a beginning artist is this:

Everyone can learn to draw.  Everyone can learn to paint.  But you have to DO THE WORK.  Find artists you admire and study their work.  Buy their books. Take their workshops.  As Lawrence Block says, “Talent is something that is accessible to everyone who takes the trouble to find access to it.”  So just do the work…

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For what one thing would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as being fearless in putting my work out there.  I would also like to be remembered as someone who was willing to share knowledge.  There is enough success and abundance for everyone.  Be happy in your own success.  Be equally happy in the successes of others.

Describe yourself in one word.


Susie Kelly FlatauComment