Artist and Air Force spouse Jamie Clack discusses inspiration, balance, community, and change in this month’s MilspoFAN interview. Military life, especially all the PCS part of it, often forces us to adapt our arts and venture into new forms.
MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.
Jamie: I’m a guitar player and an artist (my kids call me a “guitar-tist”, Haha!). I paint and teach art classes to kids on post, and I love teaching guitar lessons, too – mostly to teenagers and adults here on Fort Meade, MD. I was born in Philly, grew up in Kentucky, and lived a few pre-marriage years in awesome Colorado Springs, which is where I met my husband, Allen. We have three crazy children (all are tweens and teens now) and have moved between Fort Meade, Bolling AFB, Fort Ord, and Osan AB in Korea, for the last 20 years with the Air Force.
MilspoFAN: How did you become a painter?
Jamie: All I’ve ever wanted to be was an artist (well, except for that brief stint when I was 7 and wanted to be a cowgirl). I’ve loved painting since I was young and took private art lessons throughout my teen years. It was a natural choice to become a Fine Arts major in college. Even though I didn’t finish school, it helped prepare me for making and selling art. I am always striving to paint whenever I can, and look for ways to have a sustainable art practice while mothering, being an active part of our community, church, and homeschool group.
MilspoFAN: Describe for us your creative work and the aesthetic of your painting?
Jamie: My favorite way to make art is with oil paints on large canvasses; it’s the stuff of dreams. I love all aspects of this, from the way the tube feels to how the paint and oils smell – not to mention how exciting the colors are on my palette. I’m mainly interested in landscapes, and specifically, how trees and light form unendingly interesting shapes; they can tell a whole story about their environment with shape, color and light. I love to show nature as an important force in the forefront (trees, leaves, vines, flowers) with industry (buildings and bridges, etc.) taking a backseat in the distance. I also work in watercolors, and over the last few years, I’ve developed an illustrative style in which I sketch in ink and paint it in with watercolors.
MilspoFAN: How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as a painter- creatively, logistically, or otherwise?
Jamie: Travel has been inspiring and offers the chance for new landscapes, different trees, and interesting environments. I love to paint seasonally and locally, which is always changing wherever we live. I try to consider our PCS date when planning a painting, since it can take 6 months or more for oil paint to dry enough to be packaged for a move. I had to leave a painting behind with a friend once, to be mailed once it was safe to pack. This was the impetus for getting serious about watercolor a few years ago, since it is so quick and portable. I didn’t expect to fall in love with watercolors but the professional grade pigments are so vibrant and amazing, they have a magic all their own.
MilspoFAN: How do you cultivate your creativity?
Jamie: I am inspired by being in nature and since I mostly paint from home, I take photographs to source ideas from. I have more ideas than I can paint. Sometimes inspiration comes when unexpected – like the way tree bark looks after a morning rain – so dark against a pale sky. That kind of contrast is inspiring, and it can spur a painting. Since I teach classes I am always looking for things to photograph and paint, and this constant looking keeps me filled with possible ideas.
MilspoFAN: How do you meet other artists or plug into the local arts scene when you PCS?
Jamie: I love teaching classes, and I look for places and opportunities to hold classes whenever we move. Sometimes I teach at community centers on base or off, and often teach classes for kids in the homeschool communities wherever we live. It has long been a dream to connect with other local artists, though, and get together to show and talk about what we are working on. But, it has not happened very much in this ever-moving busy lifestyle. I’ve met a few artists by being in the same art show, or from a common friend. When meeting another artist does happen, it is great fun. We speak the same language.
MilspoFAN: What’s next for you?
Jamie: I have worked the last few years by taking commissions, which I love to do because it is a great way to connect with people’s lives, and I often get to be in on a gift or a surprise for someone, which is great fun. The hard part of commissions is that I am usually painting something that is not my choosing. I’m hoping to find a better balance between commissions and forwarding my own paintings. I’d love to paint 3-5 large canvasses this year, and look for places to show them. I’d also like to make a professional website. I’m actually taking classes to finish my degree that I started 28 years ago, so I should be done about this time next year. I’d also like to put more time into my Etsy shop, since it has been sitting there, woefully neglected.
MilspoFAN: What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other artists?
Jamie: You must make art that comes from within your current skillset. When you try to over-reach, based on what you wish you could do, based on something you’ve seen someone else do, it will not be authentic. Work within your current skill-set – even if it’s not where you wish you were because every time you make art, you grow a bit better, a bit closer to what you have in your mind or closer to something that you didn’t even know was possible. If you’re unsure, paint what you see. I tell my students that the more you see, the better artist you will be. It will be your interpretation of what you see, and that is good enough. So many times, we compare our work to someone else’s, and feel inadequate, and wish we were better. But there really shouldn’t be “better,” since making art is like taking a piece our deepest selves, our very soul, and putting in on display. It’s not on display to be judged, but to share. You cannot imagine the impact your work could have on someone who connects with it, within their soul.