In the studio with Lynette K. Henderson
What does a day in your art practice look like?
That’s a great question. I like to sort of “set the stage” for working – if it’s a day where I get to have a long block of time, I first go into the studio and turn on all the lights; I bring a bottle of water (and coffee if needed), and of course the cell phone for background music, which connects to a speaker. If it’s cold in there I’ll turn on the space heater to let it warm up a bit, I put on a working apron and surgical-type gloves, over the years I’ve learned to protect my hands from absorbing toxins in the materials, a common hazard for artists, I think.
I then survey all the work in progress, from little items to the largest canvases, to see where I want to begin; sometimes I will have done the survey the night before so I know what exactly to start with. Generally, I will start with the pieces that are closest to being finished, and then work my way backwards through the “in-the middle-of-it” work, to the newest pieces just begun. It’s not always that linear, however, especially if I’ve got an idea that needs to get out right away, or I noticed something that absolutely must change before I can move forward! Once I’ve decided what to start on, I’ll move the easels and objects to allow convenient access to everything for working. I have two rolling carts on which reside my currently in-use brushes, paints, palettes, jars of water and other tools and materials, so I’ll position those according to my starting point. Then I just begin, moving from one piece to another, and back again.
I have to have a number of pieces going at one time, otherwise it’s too easy to overwork something and kill it! Having a lot of pieces to work on prevents that (most of the time, lol).
What would life be like without art?
I can’t imagine not having the visual world to live in, and I don’t mean just completed art objects, but viewing the world as one giant amazing work of art – colors, shapes, textures, spaces – it’s all so fascinating, and then there’s all the actual artwork to look at that people make, totally icing on the cake, I salivate when I think about good painting, probably grosses people out, but true!
What is the hardest part of creating your art?
There are a couple things that are hard – the first thing, like most people who work for a living, is making the time; at this point in my life, it’s easier to do that than in the past, but a lot of times in my younger years I had to prioritize the job, never happy about that, but did it to keep the wolves away, a working-class reality.
The second thing is – where do I want to go next? when I’ve finished something I’m happy with, I rest on my laurels for a few seconds, then if I haven’t already, I start thinking about the next step, the next level, what do I want to say that’s slightly different and new. What should I continue with and what should I leave behind – those are the big questions. Sometimes I’ll talk over ideas with a painting colleague to see if what I’m thinking about is a viable path, that can be very helpful.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by two things – nature and other artwork. I live in the big city to be close to work and whatever I need materially, but it’s nature that feels like the most important thing about living for me – animals, plants, rivers, lakes, mountains, oceans, stars and sky; I have windows open all the time, even when I lived in cold snowy places during the winter, so I can be closer to the outdoors.
And viewing really great artwork, art where you can see the artist is really engaged and communicating with their materials, especially really good painting – I get a tremendous boost from that. Even artwork that isn’t so finished or developed, I still get something from all of it. I always tell my students that even in a class they don’t like, or with a teacher whose methods they don’t like, for example, it helps identify what is meaningful; the same is true for me with art.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Well, that question brings tears to my eyes! I would tell myself not to be afraid, not to worry so much, to do it anyway even if the end result isn’t clear. I took things way too seriously when I was younger, I try not to do that as much now, I guess that’s a constant struggle that does get better over time.
Who would you most like to collaborate with? Why?
At this point I’d really like to collaborate with a group of people who do different things – sculptors, installation artists, other painters, people who work across mediums. That’s because I feel it would be good to open up and see all the ways to connect across types of art, it would make me view my own work differently, help crack the boundaries of my points of view. And it sounds like so much fun!
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
The best advice I was ever given (from many different directions) has been the hardest for me to follow, to stop comparing myself and my work to others. In some ways I find comparisons are helpful, for example if I want to learn something I’ll look around and see who does it the best, like who is the best dancer in the room – I’ll see if I can dance with them so I can learn. That’s a good use of comparison, but there’s the other type where it’s just competitive without learning anything, that’s more of a negative and not useful, just an energy drain. So that advice, through time, continues to be a goal of mine to follow.
If you could change anything about the art world, what would it be?
Well, there are lots of art worlds, I guess the one I’m most concerned with currently is the local scene in Los Angeles. I was very involved in studio practice elsewhere in the country prior to the early 2000’s, then shifted to the field of education, and am now back home in studio again. But this means that many things are still a big mystery to me about LA, for art and artists. It would be great if there was a central online hub for what’s going on here.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and interested in your work?
I think about my work all the time, and even if I can’t get into the studio to paint, I visit it and look at everything, to stay connected. These days everything that I see, read or encounter out in the world seems to be related in some way or another, or I tend to look at it from that point of view, so this keeps me consistently engaged.
If you had the chance to live during a different artistic movement other than now, which one would you choose? and why?
It’s hard to pick just one, but I think the Renaissance would be cool, because of the relationship between science and art, and people seemed interested in deeper connections while engaged in new techniques.
How has personal experience influenced your creativity?
I interpret creativity as hard work, following through with ideas, continuous learning and absorbing what’s out in the world, being engaged with concepts and materials. In my experience this gets me where I want to go with studio work. I know many people like to think about imagination and “play” as the main aspects of creativity, and those are there too for me, to a lesser extent.
What do you wish to accomplish with your art?
I’ll know it when I get there! I feel like my journey at the moment is a series of stopping points, like overlooks on a road trip where I stop and check it out, then move on down the road. I’m searching for painting enlightenment (that might make sense only to myself, or might seem really lofty but it feels right); it seems like each piece of work gets me a tiny bit closer.
What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in your field?
Get all the education you can and take advantage of as many opportunities as you can along the way. One of my early professors said the reason to go to art school is so you can learn in a very short time what took 40 years for early artists to learn, by doing. We are super lucky in that way.
How do you make the leap from an idea in your head to the action you produce?
When I decided to come back to studio practice in a big way after being in education for some years, I just picked up where I left off in terms of my ongoing interests. I had never stopped thinking about what matters to me, although the artwork I made during the in-between times may have digressed a bit. But I just naturally slid back into things, and similar to my earlier years, I think in terms of a continuous string of related works. This is helpful because (at least at this time), the new ideas are related to what I’m already doing in some way, so I’m not starting from scratch each time. The only exception to this is that I’m trying to break into sculpture, that is new, so the bridges between painting and sculpture are as yet a bit unclear for me – I see it out in the world but am working on defining that for myself.