Studio Briefs – ShawnaLee W. Kwashnak

I’m a pet portrait fine artist.

 I was introduced to art when I was really small. My Mom, who is an artist herself and an early member of the Ridgefield Art Guild, would take me to her meetings. There I got my first watercolor set and practiced. I would paint the family cats because I wanted to remember them my own way. Over the course of my life, I’ve played in lots of varied media from printmaking, silk screening, block printing and ceramics. I served as an in-house artist for a local pottery business in Ridgefield where I painted home portraits on ceramic platters.  It didn’t take long for my pet portraits to resonate with collectors. During high school and college I had a steady flow of adorable pets to draw and paint.

  As a youth, I taught myself how to make wreaths and weave grapevine baskets.  When describing my craft, such as a making grapevine baskets, I see myself as an artisan.  An artisan takes craft making to a fine art level.

In elementary school I had a really wonderful art teacher from kindergarten straight through to sixth grade. She had a great art background of her own and was married to a NYC cartoonist. If there was something she didn’t know, she and her husband would collaborate and she would share it with the classroom.  In high school I had an amazing AP Arts teacher, Adam Salvo. All the foundation skills that I learned really came from him. The more work I do, the more I learn and study, the more I’m finding repetition of what Adam instilled in me years ago. I continue to learn as I actively keep working on my art. I can’t live without it. For me, it’s like breathing air or having food or water. I think if you were to take it away from me, I’d continue to find a way to do it.

I’ve always admired the Brookfield Craft Center for it’s approach to bringing the word “Craft” to an artisan level.  I feel that to further myself as an artist, I need to teach. When I teach I’m learning artistic concepts on a deeper level through the practice of explaining the concepts to someone else numerous ways.  Each artist responds and learns just a little differently.  I find it very rewarding and exciting to share art with others. If a student asks a question and I don’t have the answer, I find out and have a richer experience. I’m excited about working with the people at the Brookfield Craft Center, who are all so supportive. I can see how much they care for the Center and its mission. The BCC is a hidden gem.

Inspiration to create can come from many sources; Attending a work-shop such as the portraiture with Grace DeVito, or studying the works of others such as Raymond Kinstler, or John Singer Sargent is incredibly inspiring!  Sometimes I will see something so beautiful  that I just absolutely love and I’ll want to paint it.  Other times I’m curious – “How will this work?” In school I doodled during classes.  The doodling allowed me to process the lesson in a way that I could remember.

I’d like to live in the River Studio! With the water, those beautiful buildings, the charming flagstones on the steps and patios, it’s very soothing and EYE CANDY for an artist! (Being near the water is an extra special treat for me because as a child, my home was situated with two waterfalls in the backyard, so my bedroom overlooked the waterfalls, and I heard them year round.)

Since the Shutdown [due to Covid-19], I’m now teaching drawing and painting classes online.  My medieval inspired watercolor classes have been tremendously successful and well loved by students.

My portrait drawing “Is this Sarah James Eddy?” won an award from the Woodbury Arts Alliance.  “Pandemic Portraiture: Reflections of Healing”, a book about the pandemic that weaves my love of portraiture and teaching, was published last year with the support of an artist’s respond grant from the state of CT.

Story and Photography contributed by Terry Tougas and ShawnaLee W. Kwashnak