Annie Strack is an amazing painter and an incredibly busy artist. She teaches everywhere, including occasionally at Plaza Art—catch her this weekend, October 17-18, 2015, at Hands on Creativity in Philadelphia! In the following interview, she highlights her varied experiences as an artist, teacher and lifelong learner—including painting for the Coast Guard, surviving many hurricanes, why teaching art rocks, and the woes of painting plein air in the dead of winter.
Annie has a phenomenal energy and positive attitude; she truly loves art and you can see her passion in all that she does. If you want to know how to step up your “social media game” as an artist and highlight your work online, look to her as a shining example of how online networking is done.
A big lesson I think we can all learn from Annie’s efforts is that, as a working artist, it’s good to diversify your services and work on more than one project or teaching opportunity at a time. Check the end of this post for links to all of Annie Strack’s work and websites!
I see that you are a classically trained artist, but is there anything special about how you became interested in making art—is there any particular reason you became an artist, or was there someone in your life who encouraged you to pursue art?
I had a pretty typical start. I studied art in school, and then I went out and got a “real” job in hotel and restaurant management. Painting was my hobby for a few decades—I painted a few paintings a year, entered a few shows, and sold my paintings and prints pretty steadily. I even had a big commission early on in my amateur days, from the US Navy to render a painting of one of their buildings.
But it wasn’t until I was tied up by gunmen during a workplace robbery that I decided to quit the rat race and become an artist full-time. The timing to start my art career was actually good, as the economy was very strong back then and art galleries were flourishing. I had great sales from galleries right off the bat, and I supplemented that by doing commercial artwork for a while. Between selling originals and prints, teaching classes and workshops, writing for art magazines, and royalties from my DVDs, I manage to eke out a comfortable living and have fun while I’m at it.
Are there any art organizations, groups, initiatives or ongoing projects that you are currently involved in and you would like people to know about?
I’m currently teaching classes at the Community Arts Center in Walingford, PA, and I also teach weekly classes and workshops in my own studio in Kennett Square. I also travel around the country to teach workshops, and I teach classes online at Artists Network University. I’m always adding new classes and workshops to my schedule, so artists interested in taking my classes should keep an eye on the Calendar page of my website.
And I love going out and demonstrating at art supply stores, like the Hands On Creativity event this weekend at the Plaza Art store in Philadelphia! Besides teaching and demonstrating watercolor painting, I also to play with new art supplies, too, and the Hands On Creativity events bring together all the latest and greatest products for artists to learn about and try.
How did you become an official authorized artist for the Coast Guard? What was that experience like?
The Coast Guard recruits the top maritime painters in America to tell their story of the service's missions, heroes and history through art. Paintings are exhibited in museums and at special events, at Coast Guard locations, and in the offices of members of Congress, senior officials of the executive branch of government and other military services throughout the country. I’ve been fortunate to have been chosen to be one of the few artists selected for this elite program.
When I first started painting for the Coast Guard, I went out and photographed them at events and on the water and then submitted those paintings to the jury for inclusion in the collection. After my first couple of paintings were accepted, they then started to send me out to accompany them on training missions so I can shoot photos and gather reference materials for specific painting assignments. It’s actually a lot of fun! I get to go out on their boats with them for short excursions and day trips, and be right in the action. It’s one of my favorite things!
I see that you are a native of coastal Florida and that you also used to split your time between Philly and New Orleans. Were you affected by Hurricane Katrina in any way?
Yes, I only recently sold my house in New Orleans and became a full-time northerner. I grew up in South Florida, so I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes in my younger days. Later my hubby and I moved to coastal North Carolina and we were there when Hugo came through. And we hunkered down through several typhoons when we lived on Guam. But nothing prepared us for Katrina. That left some pretty permanent scars. I still just want to stick my fingers in my ears and start humming loudly whenever anybody brings it up. Next question…
Do you have any lighter stories about weather conditions affecting your work? Any unexpected encounters with nature when painting outdoor scenes?
Well, I’m sure you’ve heard about this new plein air fad. Years ago, we didn’t call it “plein air,” we used to call it “hey, let’s go paint out this weekend” and then we’d all go meet up at some lovely, sunny, warm place and spend the day painting with other like-minded artists. In recent years, it’s become like the “X-Games” of painting. It’s now highly competitive; painting under pressure and against the clock, with strict rules and often rough conditions. I do a few of these competitions each year, and I try to choose the ones that appear to offer the best painting conditions and nicest locations.
A couple of years ago I entered one in my new local area of Pennsylvania, in February. I was still pretty new to the area, and really hadn’t had a lot of experience yet with winter. Holy smokes, did I ever get a lesson! The first morning of the event the temperature was in the single digits, and there was a wet wind blowing gales and gusts of 40 miles an hour which brought the wind chill factor to below zero. Only an idiot would go out and paint in that kind of weather, so naturally I went out and painted.
It was so cold I thought I was going to freeze to death! It’s a wonder that nobody lost any fingers at that plein air. It was so cold my oils were stiff and hard to brush. One of my friends was painting with watercolors and the water was freezing on his brush before he could touch it to his paper. I managed to finish and sell several small paintings during the event, but I learned a hard lesson along the way—never enter a plein air event in winter, unless it’s held at a location with palm trees!
What is one artistic accomplishment that you are particularly proud of?
Many of my students have gone on to become extremely successful professional artists. That’s my biggest accomplishment, and the one that I’m most proud of. I love it when my students win awards in juried shows or receive important commissions. Several of my former students are now teachers, themselves. It’s very rewarding to see my former students pass on what they’ve learned from me, and continue the cycle of learning.
Are there any artists or art movements that you feel your work is in conversation with?
No, not really. I’m still evolving as an artist, and my work has not yet reached a level that I’m satisfied with. I’m often distracted by new trends in art and painting, and sometimes experimenting with those new trends helps me to grow, and sometimes it slows me down. But it’s never boring.
Is there anything else viewers of your artwork should know about your personal history or your art?
My paintings are exhibited in galleries all across the US. Shows and venues change often, and the best way to know where to see my work at any given time is to check the Calendar page of my website. I open my studio to the public on the first Friday of every month, and I welcome visitors that want to stop in to look at paintings or just hang out and chat while I paint. I get more work done when I have people in my studio, so I schedule classes, workshops, and other events in my studio every week. I post new paintings regularly on my blog and my social media sites, although they sell fairly quickly so the best way to keep up with available new paintings is to subscribe to my blog and follow me on Facebook, Twitter, g+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and YouTube.