In the Studio with Lynn Heinz
What would life be like without art?
I think of that question in two different ways. My life without art wouldn’t be meaningful. Art gives me direction and a path to investigate my life and my self. When I was working 9 to 5, my job gave me a false sense of structure and meaning. But I knew that, while it paid the bills, it wasn’t really me. When I stopped working I foundered a bit, unsure of how to structure my days. I realized then that making art full time was what my life was all about. I’d wanted it and dreamed about it and now I had the time and resources available to make it real. Life in general without art would be, I think, unlivable. Art both reflects us and guides us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. We create the art which in turn creates our humanity. Culture began with ritual and ritual is art—painting, music, drama, poetry. These are what make us human.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I’d tell younger me that it gets better. As long as you are willing to do the work, things start to find their place in your life in much deeper ways and things get easier. Things that seem very important when you’re young, can turn out to be pretty insignificant in the long run. And you will learn so much along the way, even from the painful parts. You can’t avoid them but they help you grow if you lean into them. Just keep working and speak through the work.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
When I was in high school, my art teacher was Betty Edwards—it was about 10 years before she published “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” and she was in the process of developing and refining those ideas. I was having trouble drawing the face of a figure and she advised me to stop thinking of the person I was drawing but rather at the shapes that I saw. It suddenly made so much sense to me — I was drawing a classmate and was trying to draw everything that that person was. To make a successful drawing, I had to just look and draw the shapes and lines that I saw. This was a revolutionary idea for me and began to make drawing so much more of a natural process. I began to understand the importance and beauty of the act of just looking and seeing, and that has become a treasured part of my life everyday. Throughout my artistic life as well, I have returned to the using the figure over and over to express my artistic ideas. If you can achieve a certain amount of comfort with a technical skill, it can free up your resources to develop your ideas.
If you could change anything about the art world, what would it be?
I feel like the art world is very personality driven. Artists who are more extroverted and have livelier personalities get more exposure. I am a very shy and introverted person and my art is quiet and subdued. I feel like because of that, my paintings don’t get noticed as much.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
I like to change up my process, tools, and my focus frequently. I follow a lot of online workshops and demos. I love to watch other artists work and see how they make decisions while constructing a picture in any medium or style. If I continue to learn, I continue to enjoy my time in the studio. If I am able to successfully incorporate a new technique into my process, I enjoy seeing how it can make my work evolve. I feel like I am constantly moving toward an artistic voice that is authentically mine and I continue to explore different processes and methods to get there.
If you had the chance to live during a different artistic movement other than now, which one would you choose?
In college, I read “The Banquet Years” by Roger Shattuck. Focusing on four artists from different disciplines, he explores the beginnings of the avant-garde in Paris during the early 1900s. It seemed like a really exciting time to be an artist. There was so much energy and excitement in the avant-garde art world and a snubbing of the impulse to commodify their work. They gleefully broke down the old rules and norms and crowned the artist’s vision the king of all art-making. These artists set the groundwork for all forms of avant-garde and contemporary art, making it possible for us to do what we do today.
Has personal experience influenced your creativity?
I think my art is inextricably linked to my personal experience. My mother was a painter and I knew that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. I even grew to love the smell of turpentine because it meant that my mother was painting and in a good place. I was super lucky because anything I did that involved drawing or painting, really any kind of art-making, was encouraged and praised. However, like many of us, I had to work to pay the rent and it was too easy to let my art fall by the wayside for many years. Having come back to it later in life, I think I have a deeper appreciation and love for it. My time in the studio is precious to me and I never forget that. I also bring the perspective of having more past than future and that informs my art. I’m currently working on a series of paintings that interpret old photos, trying to incorporate the haze that surrounds our memory of how people and environments really looked. Our memories are so subjective. The subjects in these pictures are my ancestors or people who may as well have been ancestors. I am intrigued by the way that these old photographs actually drive our personal narratives: we remember events or times in our life based on the photos of them that we’ve looked at throughout our lives.
What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in your field?
They would be words that I myself need to listen to: I’d say learn and master the basics; learn to draw, draw from live models, learn the basics of color, different color wheel theories, experiment with different palettes, learn the rules of composition. Then forget them all. You are the artist and you make the decisions about what you want the viewer to see and how you want them to experience your work. Those basic skills you have gained will come into play through the subtlety and nuance of execution.