So far in our Meet: journey, I’ve introduced you to those I’ve known for a while. This time, though, we’re venturing into new territory. Meeting a whole new friend! See, it all started when I was walking home from school. Picture it, me with my already giant purse, plus an even bigger bag filled to the brim with paint, brushes, bristol paper, cutting board, a copper etching plate, rags, etc, just lugging along. I looked up and saw a house, not three blocks from my own with great art hanging on the walls. That part isn’t unusual at all, it was the bright lights and an umbrella shade setup like they do in portrait studios, that’s what got me. Then I saw an open palette. Did I mention the paintings were positively enchanting? The closer I got the sooner I realized it. I had no choice but to climb the steps and knock on the door. I knocked, nervously, and who was on the other side, but Iris! She’s my kind of lady, and by my kind of lady I mean open arms and big smiles. Love it!
Turns out she’s a passionate painter with a lot to say about fine art. Oh, I’m so excited! Ladywomen, gentlefellows meet Iris!
State your name for the record, please.
Describe your work.
I’m a professional oil finger-painting artist. I wear latex or nitrile gloves [the unpowdered kind] and squeeze the paint directly onto my fingertips. I let all the mixing occur on the canvas. I work within a twelve-hour time limit for my particular style which is a wet into wet look. The paintings are finished the day they’re started. My work has an impasto post impressionistic look. I’ve been at it since 2009.
Would you say this is your preferred media?
Yes, I can do more with finger-painting than I could with a brush. It was like finding a new technology. Once I figured it out, I wondered why no one else does this. I also have a pretty strong background in watercolor, acrylic, oil pastel, charcoal, pencil, and traditional oil painting. You have to learn the rules before you can break the rules.
Agreed. How did you come across the brushless painting concept?
It was accidental. I’d graduated in 2009, paid off all my student loans, and instead of just jumping into the rat race I decided to go live in Asia for a year. I flew to Taiwan with a return ticket 365 days in the future. I bought some paint and just started painting without any other obligations. I didn’t really have a job, though I taught a few English lessons. I had plenty of time to paint. You really can’t expect to get good at painting until you’re painting a lot—everyday. I only air-conditioned one room ’cause that’s all I could afford. The kitchen was not air-conditioned and it was really boiling lava hot in there. When you’re comfortable and your clothes aren’t sweaty and you have to face getting really uncomfortable you’re like, neh-I’ll pass, so I elected to fingerpaint instead of cleaning my brushes and it was immediately obvious that I would never paint with brushes again. That’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. It was very clear. It was a lucky bout of laziness. Laziness isn’t all bad if you’re ready to seize an accidental discovery. I made a painting and it sold immediately on Facebook. I was renting that apartment for $100/mo, so that meant I’d just paid two month’s rent with a painting. It clicked that wouldn’t ever get a job.
[Iris was kind enough to host this interview as she worked. Peeking out from behind her in the photo above is a laptop with a picture of a dog.] I see you’re painting from a reference photo, but is there a specific process or ritual you do before beginning a new piece?
Yup! There are a lot of photos that could become the basis of paintings. They all want their turn, but it’s sort of based on the mood of the day. I got up this morning and today felt like a work day. I opened up Photoshop and went through several photos and decided this one was the one. If I don’t pull it off by 1am the paint will lock up and it’ll be destroyed. I’ll have to scrape it all off, so I try to pick a painting that I could truly visualize finishing by the end of that day. I could pretty much see the end of this one, but it’s a crap-shoot. Sometimes I just fail.
What’s the ratio of failure to total hotness?
There’s a spectrum. There are paintings that are home runs—I’d say only about 1 out of 20 paintings. 1 out of every 30 I have to destroy because it’s too terrible to share publicly. Pretty much everything between is acceptable.
Besides your twelve-hour time limit, how do you know a painting is finished?
In general it’s when nothing else looks like something I want to change. When I like looking at it and nothing else is festering. Normal painting is just damage control. I’m trying to solve all that’s wrong. That’s the first 8 hours. Then, the last 4 hours is the fun part when you’re making decisions.
Are you showing currently anywhere?
Mmhm! Year-round in downtown Edmonds at the Cole Gallery.
And always available on your website as well?
Do you have help for that part?
Yes, I have a guy who acts as an agent slash manager slash bookkeeper. He does everything that isn’t this [gestures toward painting].
Do you make your living in any other way besides painting?
No, I haven’t worked since those few English lessons. I thought I would be a 4th grade teacher. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Master’s in teaching because everyone said no one makes a living in art, that’s ABSURD. Turns out, actually, there’s plenty of money to be made in art. The key is to move to a cheap country and sell paintings really cheap so you can paint every day. You need to change how you spend money in the beginning and work your way up. I think what happens is Americans try to live on American budgets as a painter which doesn’t work. I couldn’t've done it. I never would have done it if it hadn’t been for Taiwan, I don’t think.
We were talking the other day about Jackson Polluck in reference to art history’s need for discourse. I definitely agree that a lot of the time the discourse will come after the painting is created and not necessarily before. What would you say an art historian would say about your work?
What a question! Never had that one before. Shit! Well, first of all an art historian is only going to discuss an artist that is established and successful. There’s already that little blip in the question. An art historian wouldn’t sit down and talk to a class about me. It’s too early. They might bring me up as an example of a local modern impressionist. Hmm. If I were an art historian I’d say: This is Iris Scott. She’s 30 years old. She’s an emerging artist. She’s an impressionist whose process of finger painting is a limitation in the medium that is an advantage both in marketing and effect. By the time she is 70 I predict she’ll be a museum artist. But I’m not a very good art history student. I’m horrible with history, geography and facts. I have a really simplified view of the world. I walk around in a bubble of visual thought. There’s no room for extraneous information associated with the history of something. I’m focused, I’m visualizing 24 hours a day that I want to become the best artist in the world. I’m 30, gonna live to be 100, I have 70 years to do it. So that’s a pretty long time. I noticed recently that if you set goals, you’ll just reach them. Then you’re like, now what? So I decided to set a ridiculously big goal. And I wake up every morning and think of that goal.
What artists have influenced you to push your limits?
Modern artists that don’t necessarily paint, but study an idea and document it, those are my favorites in terms of art appreciation. Then, in a classic painting way there’s Monk, Klimpt, Monet and Van Gogh. The classic post Impressionists are wonderful. I really like Picasso’s earlier work. Jeff Koons’ giant mylar sculptures—he’s one of my favorites. Damien Hirst. Caleb Winthrop. I saw his work in Chicago in person. It was so stunningly awful and wonderful at the same time. Hyper colored gigantic paintings of ugly children and fantastic fantasy environments. It’s really anti-fantasy art. I know artists that I hate…
Ooh name some of those!
Thomas Kinkade. Bev Doolittle. I mean I like them as people, but I hate the art. I hate cubism, hate minimalism, I essentially hate abstract painting [with some exceptions]. I’m kind of closed as far as tastes go.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Before I die I want to be the most famous painter in the world. That’s my goal. I have a strong background in art teaching including drawing and I’m curious about the way some people become artists and some don’t. Why do people quit, why do kids quit at ten years old? It’s a topic that’s really fascinating to me. I could go on an on about it. I’d like to create a large online education platform that teaches people how to become painters and how to be good at drawing online. That’s a 20 year goal, but I have started on it. I teach adult art classes in Edmonds once or twice a month. They fill up so quickly and I’m thinking that’s not good. So when I grow up I want to own an empire of online art education and I want to be the best painter in the world. No big deal.
I think you can do it! Let me know if I can help. Knowing that most art students no longer use their degrees more than five years after graduating, would you say it’s a worthwhile venture?
Problem #1, A lot of the time schools aren’t setting up students to be learners. They put kids in an environment and say be creative without true critique. No one wants to say anything’s wrong and that’s no way to get better. I was very unpopular in my critique classes. The problem with art school is that everyone’s trying to act like adults instead of being babies. We shouldn’t be making good art yet. We shouldn’t talk about it like it’s good art. It sucks! It’s not gonna stop sucking for years! You need to learn fundamentals first. You need to be able to copy the masters, especially realism, before you can break any of the rules because without the realism as a cushion you’ll continuously bite off more than you can chew and you’ll quit. That’s what happens. They quit. Problem # 2, being an art major is basically associated with being a slacker. If you walk up to someone and they say they’re a lawyer, you know there’s a threshold of work you have to go through before you earn that title. You can’t just say it. With art, there’s no expectation of a tremendous amount of work. I didn’t get better until I was working every day for years. Copy masters first and then go crazy. I don’t like classic painting, but the more I practiced it, the more I could do anything.
What advice would you offer a lowly art student today to stay motivated?
My advice is to spend $400 on really good paint. Skip student grade paint. Never, ever use it! Just skip it. Have good paint in the corner, and play with it. Assume it’ll look terrible. Then on a parallel trail be this other kind of person who is going to learn drawing which is mechanical work. Begin with photorealistic black and white pencil drawing. Then photorealistic color drawing. Then graduate to photorealistic paint. After that, you’ll be able to do anything you want! That’s gonna take a couple years, though. When you’re antsy, play. Feel the luscious qualities of the paint. Take two paths and they’ll eventually cross. When you start making rockin paintings, sell them for a couple hundred dollars. Don’t count hours at first. You’re a student, you don’t get to work hourly yet! Sell it for whatever it can sell for. Pour that money directly back into materials and raise your price 10% each time you sell out. Don’t cling onto what you could do yesterday. Cling to what you’re going to do. Use Facebook.
Do you have any answers in your head to questions I didn’t ask?
Some people ask if painting loses its excitement because it’s my job and I’m like, Bah! Because of course not! The alternative is working all week and having just a little time to paint. I really don’t work. I just live in la la land all day envisioning this super painting. As an artist, you shouldn’t worry so much about how you’ll pull it off, just cut down all costs and focus on getting good. Ask for sincere critique. Painting is just a game of whoever puts the most hours in. It’s not talent based. It’s all practice hours. It’s your duty to get after it because the alternative is a life of work. Live on the cheap for 5 years. It only gets easier. The paintings are only getting better.
See what I’m saying? It’s basically impossible to not fall in love with this lady! A big, huge thank you to Iris for letting Honeybee and I hang out and pick your brain. Good luck with those big goals! You can do it and you inspire me to do it as well.
Need more Meet? Check out all the past ones here and be on the look out for next month’s edition!