My friend Colleen is a real pistol.
Let me tell you-she is a FORCE to be reckoned with. A force of good!
Colleen and I first met several years ago through the Artists of Yardley and have continued to grow closer with each year that passes. Nurturing our creative businesses together has been a real trip! We are constantly emailing each other inspiration and ideas, links, and events. “Wanna go?” “You should do this!” “Let’s try this” “Are you in?” Its a great comfort to be on an creative journey with a friend! We’ve attended book signings, classes, workshops, we are even learning to twitter together. Awww.
Several months ago I asked Colleen if I could interview her for my blog and she most graciously agreed, commenting that this was the Longest. Dang. Interview. Ever.
But it is well worth it and I thank you, Colleen, from the bottom of my heart for doing it! Check out Colleen’s art work, and read her blog too-you won’t be sorry.
Interview with Colleen Attara-Eco Artist extraordinaire.
H-How did you get started creating your artwork? How did you get
started doing murals? Tell us about what inspired you to create-
C-As family stories go, I was always creative. After college with a degree in radio/television, I was very busy in the corporate world. I worked in sales as an advertising executive at local TV stations in Philadelphia for ten years. Along the way, I kept trading money for time. My last job was a job share and then I left it all in to be home with my children.
I soon started taking art classes at a local art school off the river. I could only take classes that ran when my daughter was in preschool. Often times, they weren’t my first choice. Sometimes, I was uncomfortable. I had to really stretch in these classes as the last art classes I had taken were in high school. One day, a creative voice turned on and got louder and louder. My own art flew out of me in the brightest colors. I was very inspired by using found materials in my work and years later my studio is all about reusing and color.
H– Tell us about your first mural:
C-Funny.I never thought of myself as a muralist until you asked me this question. But looking back, I have done and continue to do larger scale murals. They are usually 3-D and in addition to paint, have reused plastics or wood to make them come off the wall· The very first thing I ever did was in the basement of my last home about 13 years ago. I painted blocks of color on the wall and filled in sayings and pictures that made me happy. My husband ran into the current owners recently and asked about that wall and they said it is still there. I want to go and see it and take some
pictures. I remember painting fishbones and writing “fishbones wishbones”.
I love words and art.
I started doing work in Newtown Dentistry, a pediatric dentist office that is completely over the top colorful and amazing. I designed and installed their entrance which has a chair made out of wood that looks like you can sit on it but you can’t. It has a canvas stuffed pillow on it too. I designed a light that is attached to the wall where I cut the lampshade in half . It even turns on.
H-how did you get the job?
C-I took my children to Newtown Dentistry since they were babies. Dr Chris Landes asked me to come in and show her my artwork. When I arrived there was a piece of my artwork on her wall that she had bought the day before and discovered after that it was mine. We have been partners in art and color ever since. Dr. Chris is somewhat of a muse for me. As soon as I do something new, I usually show it to her and get her opinion. She has been so supportive as I have grown.
H-Did your client give you free reign or did they have specific ideas
they wanted implemented?
C-Dr. Chris has always given me free reign but I present all my ideas in detail before I start.
H-Was the finished product exactly like the plan? or did it evolve
change as you went along?
C-I am always surprised as how much I follow my initial ideas to the tiniest detail but they are always better than I imagine because they are all 3-D. That extra dimension just makes them pop.
H– Do you do a lot of sketches before you begin?
C-I usually create 3-D models out of paper to show
what my ideas are. Sometimes I create models out of plastics
H-Where does your inspiration come from?
Words. Music. Friends. Children. Food. Fashion Anything that is really well done inspires me, be it a work of art or a very well run business. I find my studio very inspiring. It is an 1800’s cottage on 237 acres with farmers and a thriving art center next door. It is so peaceful there…and so me.
H-Do you ever feel burnt out? What do you do to refill the
I then take a break from creating and catch up on friends, reading, sleep, TV shows…etc. Sometimes I just need to stop “making”. I usually start “nesting”. I cook, redecorate, light candles, bake….
H-Have you done residential and commercial work? Are there
advantages/ disadvantages of each?
C-I have done both and love it all. The best part is being intuitive and innately knowing what people want and then designing it. You have to listen to what is said and what is not said.
H– I understand you are working on a large scale mural right now-can
you tell us about it?
C-I just finished a sprawling Urban Landscape made from all recycled business signs from the area. It is 70 feet long and very colorful. It took me over a year to complete it and I am really happy with how it turned out.
H-How did you get the job?
C-There was a call to artists. I submitted my work and periodically politely checked in. One time when I checked back in, I got a quick response saying “send more photos of your work”. I feel very blessed to be part of this hospital. Capital Health Medical Center/Hopewell is an amazing facility with an emphasis on local art and healing. It is also very eco-minded.
H– When/where can we see it?
C– It opens officially on November 6th of this
H– Do you have any advice for someone starting out?
C-I have many things to say to someone starting out. Most importantly, be very positive about your work and expect all good things to happen. Put out positive energy. People
love good energy. They are drawn to it. Be very kind to yourself. Invest in your art. Spend money to learn new things and keep inspired. My very best days are when I
try something new in my studio and I love it. Understand art is your passion but also your business and invest time and energy into running a good business. Surround yourself with people who build you up honestly and cheer for you when you succeed. Share your amazing journey with them.
H– Do you have a favorite/memorable project? Or one that holds special
meaning to you?
C-I did a window display contest in Old City Philadelphia a few years ago. I misread what it was about and thought it was painting on windows, which I do, both as a reverse glass painter and an eco-artist. But instead it was about doing a window display that represented both you and the business. My business was an incredible design firm named Abitare’ Design Studio. The owner was Stephan Maffei. I remember thinking at the time that working with an architect was hard, much harder than say a dress shop as architects are so exact. I thought up something amazing that showcased us both very well. We wrote a description on the window saying how two artists, one who colored inside the lines and one who colored outside the lines collaborated. I copied his work in recycled plastics and then painted these pieces. Afterwards we hung pictures of rooms he designed inside the windows but back a bit. It looked very surreal. We were both very proud. Because of what I did for this project, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for my Capital Health installation.
She adds “A little bit of discomfort always leads to growth.” LOVE that! Don’t you?!
H– Do you have a nightmare project or funny story to share
about creating your work?
C-No nightmares, thank goodness. And they all make me
Now for some nitty gritty questions…
H– Do you use a contract?
C-Yes. The hospital involved lawyers.
H– Do you require a deposit?
C-Yes. Anywhere from 50% to 100%.
H- Do you photograph all your work?
C– I have a photographer I adore, named Krese. He does all the photography of my work ands also my bio pictures and such. We are good friends and share ideas and coffee. He and his wife also own an amazing dance studio.
H– Do you have a mentor?
C–Cynthia Groya has inspired me forever. I discovered my art while in her classes. She truly does everything well. And she plays with paint. I love that.
As far as the business of art I worked for almost a year with Ann Rea. She is an art business coach/artist and a very good investment I made in myself. I still hear her talking in my head. I listen, but I listen to me too.
H-Do you feel that you are mentor?
C-Absolutely. I am very positive and it is that positive energy that moves my art forward and I think inspires others. In what ways is it good to have a mentor? It is always good to have someone to look up to and bounce things off of.
H-You are a MASTER at publicity! Please share with us your best
tips + techniques for getting good press—
C-If I could teach one thing about press it would be to assume the positive. If you do not hear back from a reporter/newspaper etc, assume they are busy, not that they are uninterested.
Check politely back in. Amazing things happened when I do that.
H-. Do you teach? tell us about it-what you enjoy about it
C-Not much these days, just a sprinkling. I am trying to put all my energy into my own work these days…and my sweet family of course.
H– What other art do you create?
C– I am a reverse glass painter, so I paint cities, rooms etc on salvaged windows and frames. I really enjoy sewing on paper. And I love making altered books.
I also really enjoy writing and want to do more with my
own art and words. I also have words carved out of old signs that I am painting. And I am hand painting these very cool 1960’s like earrings cut from scrap plastic materials.
H– You are very active in your local arts group, the Artists of
Yardley–tell us about that and how it has helped you grow as an artist-
C-I have loved being in the company of these local artists. The Artists of Yardley have inspired me for almost 8 years. There is always someone wise in this growing group of 200 that have answers to some art question I seek. When I was building the hospital installation, this group was a huge help. Some cut plastic for me in their basement, shared lightening on nights I stayed up till morning, and showed me better ways to do something. Or like you, my dear friend Heather, who gave advice “repeat,
repeat, repeat the patterns”, told me I was on the right track, brought over energy bars on sleepless art nights and physically carried large buildings to the site just to see if it worked. The list is endless. I have received so much
more than I have given.
H- What are your future goals and plans with your career as an artist? Do you plan/would you like to do more murals?
C-I would love to continue to “paint” on very large walls using pieces of reused plastic signs, especially in areas that need lots of color and happiness. I would also love to plant a plastic recycled garden of tall flowers in the middle of New York City. And I love being a part of people’s private art collections.
H-Tell us about your favorite artists–
C-I love artists that come up with something completely different and make no apologies for their art. I love the bold, colorful images and social conscience of Keith Haring. I am inspired by the simplicity and brilliance of Andy Warhol. James Rizzi’s work is bright and wildly fun bordering on silly. I also am inspired by artists who use words in their art such as James De La Vega and Brian Andreas and attempt to make the world a better place with a pencil and paintbrush.
H-any fav supplies that you can tell us about?
C-Anything headed for the trash with possibility.
A big hug and thanks to Colleen for sharing her thoughts. It was so kind of you.