All images (c) Serena Potter
Get to know Serena Potter
Serena Potter’s work focuses on themes of private pain vs. public persona, fight and submission, sex, dreams, interpersonal connections and identity. Her paintings are notable for their use of chiaroscuro inspired by the dramatic cinematic lighting and compositional elements used in film noir. She creates paintings in oil on birch panel or canvas as well as drawings with mixed media charcoal, pastel, china marker, on cotton rag paper.
Potter attended the Laguna College of Art and Design, from which she graduated with her MFA in Painting and is currently teaching in their Fine Arts program. She also teaches at National University and Mt San Antonio Community College.
How do you define creativity?
Being able to visualize something, and through critical thinking, problem solving, trial and error, step by step, build your way to a satisfactory end product.
How old were you when you realized that you're an "artist" or a "creative person"?
I have always known.
Looking back on your childhood who or what influenced on your work?
Observation. I was always looking at people and the world around me. I was always sketching.
Tell me about your current family life.
My husband and I live in Fullerton CA with our two daughters, 16 and 19 years old. My husband is an associate professor of Literature and teaches all on line, so works from home is very involved with our girls and the running of our home. He loves to do the grocery shopping, school runs and other errands as it gets him out of the house. I am an adjunct professor of both studio art and Art History. I teach both online and on site at several colleges and Universities. When not teaching I'm in my studio. I deal with chronic health issues, so vegan home cooking, exercise and meditation are very important to me. Both of my girls are very determined, and focused. The eldest is a violinist, music major so creative in her own way. She still lives at home and the four of us are still together a lot. We have moved many times in the 20 years of marriage and have learned to rely on each other as a family. We have gone through years of poverty as my husband was in graduate school, then seeking jobs, this too made us all rather creative by nature. Weather it be stretching meals, refinishing furniture, or making holiday decorations.
Do you have primary creative medium?
I paint in oils, do large mixed media charcoal drawings as well as a couple of performance art videos. I love to cook and feel that is a creative outlet as well.
How would you describe your creative process?
My art is personal, my inspiration coming from life experience, memories, and dreams. Sometimes I respond to other women in my life and their experience. When I identify a theme for a piece, say a memory, then I ponder ways that I can visually communicate this issue, that will inspire the viewer to ask questions, to think about the piece and to reconsider accepted norms.
Once I have an image in mind, I do Google searches to see how it may have been used before. If there is a mirror or a large bird for instance I want to know how those images have been used, what they were communicating, were the over used, will they convey something that I don't want, is there some way to make them original? After I have done my research I start sketching thumbnails, small drawings that really just map out composition.
When I am happy with my options for composition I set up a photo shoot to get my reference photos. This might take a few weeks, to find the props that I need, to find the models if needed. My husband or daughter usually help me as I am often one of the models. It is long process, of getting the lighting just right, often doing a preliminary shoot, uploading images, the day before then doing again the next day, making adjustments. The I sort through the images, finding the few that give me what I need. I often go into Photoshop to adjust saturation, contrast, crop etc. Then I order the images, close ups of heads, hands and feet, enlargements of important parts.
Then I order my canvas, custom sized to suit the needs of the composition. It is only then that I can start painting. That is the fun part. I usually use a grid to hand draw the composition onto the canvas. A five foot by four foot painting might take two to three months to complete. While painting I am making decisions about color, leading the eye with saturation, with value, with clarity and detail and contrast.
Have you experienced barriers to your creative work?
Teaching and poor health are the largest barriers, but I have learned to prioritize my studio time. My family understands that this is my work and if I do not get my studio time in I am a misery to be around. It is who I am and what I do. I feel that my girls have learned that it is okay to demand time to be who you are and to focus on your interests. I do not want them growing up feeling that they have to always put others in front of themselves.
How has your illness informed your art?
It wasn't until is entered graduate school that I realized I could use my painting as a tool to talk about my illness, to share my experience. It also helped me to sort through a lot of my feelings about the illness. It helped me to step back and look at it, removed from the experience. There was so much I had never communicated, never spoken, never allowed myself to even think and painting helped me to work through that. It continues to today as I deal with continued health issues, emotions, aging, life. My work is my outlet, but also it helps me to connect to others and their struggle as they relate to the work. Some of my work is very dark and deep and quiet and other pieces have some humor and satire to communicate what I need to at the time.
If you could give a new mother advice about honoring her creativity while mothering, what would you tell her?
Carve your time. Put the baby in the swing and do your thing. My girls never touched my paints, never made a mess, they knew from day one that my painting supplies and area were off limits. They always respected that and because they saw me doing it their entire lives, they expected me to. It was not a sacrifice.
What work are you most proud of?
That is difficult to say, as I challenge my self with each new piece, so am always proud of the latest. There is one painting from my thesis though that was very difficult for me to paint as it was based on my fear of being sucked back into a long illness. it is probably one that is most close to me. The composition cuts off the hands and the hips, which are those parts that define a woman, her ability to mother, to care for others, which in many ways was taken from me for a long time. It was also the first time I painted myself nude. But no matter how I tried the composition, clothing detracted. It needed the vulnerability of nudity.