“Kuniko” 16x12 oil, Abigail McBride,Best of Show,
2019 AIS Impressions Small Works Showcase
MB: Hello Abigail and congratulations on your Best of Show! What was it like to get the news that you won?
AM: Hi Mark. Well, I wasn't able to attend the exhibit because I was in another town at a plein air event. So, when someone sent me a message that said "congratulations" on Instagram, I didn't know what to make of it. I didn't know if I was being congratulated for just being in the exhibit or if I had won something. So, it took some digging to find out that I had won the award. It was surreal because it is the first AIS show I have ever been in.
MB: Well, lets talk about your winning piece "Kuniko". You have studied portrait painting with the Egeli family, studied strict impressionism at the Cape Cod School, sculpture with Steve Perkins and earned a BFA in college. How did you pull all of those varied methods of instruction together?
AM: That's a great question because its something I've been asking myself for years. Obviously, you want to take the best of all of your influences and make it your own, but I began to wonder WHY a method worked after experiencing the effectiveness of following the various procedures. I looked for commonalities in the varied approaches and what principles they tap into. I've learned to use my perception of the subject in each individual case and paint only the essence of what I see according the design idea I have in mind.
MB: How did you come up with the concept for "Kuniko"? Obviously, its a portrait in profile, but the parasol she is holding plays a large role in the design of the piece.
AM: I had two goals in mind. First, to learn her head and second, to capture her spirit. I spent some time simply sitting and looking while she posed to develop a clear plan for the mood and design of painting.
MB: Did you know the model beforehand?
MB: How do you capture someone's spirit if you don't know them?
AM: Well, I knew a few things about her. She was a kimono artist, so I knew she was creative. She had a regal presence and an elegance in her movements, even when she wasn't posing. Her actions were very precise and beautiful. I tried to keep that in mind and portray that.
MB: Thats a beautiful description of using your observation skills in the moment. What was your thought process about the parasol. I see a tremendous degree of expertise in draftsmanship in how the ribs of the parasol are painted.
AB: Thank you so much for noticing that! Its something I spent a good amount of time thinking about and had to execute over two sessions. The ribs of the parasol had to be painted in perspective with quick, confident brush strokes. If I had painted a slow line for each of them, they would look like wavy marks, which would be inaccurate, So I had to know where each rib was going to be placed and shaped before I touched the canvas. Also, when an artist sees a purple parasol, they may think "I will just paint it with lighter and darker shades of purple". I wanted to show the COLOR changes around the parasol, so I spent time analyzing that as well.
MB: I guess that debunks the theory that "painting must be so relaxing" that we hear so commonly!
AM: Very funny! Yes, I've heard that a thousand times. You have to try not to show that it makes you cringe inside when someone says that! It is not always a comfortable passion.
MB: I understand you have two children and had to wait until 8 or 9 pm each night, after they went to sleep, before you could start painting for the day. What was it like balancing a career as an accomplished artist with the responsibilities of being a mom?
AM: It wasn't easy. But we planned for the balancing act as a family before they were born. My husband and I coordinate our time as a team. Now when I travel to paint I team up with other artist parents and share childcare costs. I believe a strong level of determination is the best quality an artist can have.
MB: How important is empathy?
AM: Oh, its very important, especially for the model who is posing.
MB: Let me ask just a few more quick questions. What advice would you give a mid career artist that feels they have reached a plateau?
AM: First, keep painting. Second, find some peer artists to associate with. Painting in isolation prevents you from getting support and useful feedback. You may be able to help others progress also if you seek out a peer group.
MB: What advice would you give a brand new artist who just purchased a few tubes of paint and wants to paint the flowers in her backyard?
AM: I'm so glad you asked me that. My answer is HAVE FUN!. If you don't find the fun in painting, you won't want to keep doing it. The more fun you have, the more you will want to learn.
MB: I understand you are teaching on the college level now. What are your personal goals for your own work going forward?
AM: Well, I am teaching drawing and painting regularly and looking forward to teaching some upcoming painting workshops. Also, on a personal level, I’d like to push forward the design elements in my work, anchored in perception but expressed with a simple dynamic idea. One goal is to produce larger and larger works without losing the poetic essence of small pieces. I have a lot of ideas I’m excited to develop!
MB: Well, Abigail, it has been a pleasure to speak with you, very interesting and informative, and I wish you the best in your future as an artist and as a mom!
AM: Thank you Mark. Great questions. I love your work.
To see more of Abigail McBride's work, please visit abigailmcbride.com
Mark Beale is a tonalist painter in Charleston, SC. He has won numerous awards from the International ARC Salon, the National Parks Foundation, Bold Brush and many others. He has exhibited at museums across the country and at the historic Salmagundi Club in New York City. His work can be viewed at bealefineart.com