LOCAL MAKER CRUSH is a series of interviews with artists from around the East Tennessee region, whose work I admire and who I want to share with the world.
Courtney is a printmaker carving imaginative images out of linoleum blocks. She does craft and art fairs throughout the Tri-Cities area, where her work can be seen and purchased in-person. Don't miss out on following her beautiful Instagram feed: @buffalo_street_print_co
Tell us about your creative beginnings. What was your earliest experience of artmaking, and what drew you in? Was creativity encouraged in your early years?
I really don't remember how I started, I just know that I started one day and haven't stopped. My whole family was incredibly encouraging though. My parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles all encouraged my artistic endeavors. My Papa made me my first easel. My aunt Kathy thought I'd work at Disney some day and dreamed that I'd be an animator. My dad and stepmom have pieces of art I thought were throw aways hanging in the house. I've been truly blessed to have the support and encouragement of my whole family.
I loved drawing animals and my uncle Grego would let me help him in his taxidermy shop as a young teen which taught me a lot about animal anatomy and showed me the importance of thinking about your subject as part of a whole.
What I always loved about art was that it was a little universe of your own creation and I would just find my self absorbed in it, no matter what was going on around me. The creation of little worlds is still something that absorbs me in my work as an adult. I like getting lost in them.
Tell us about your creative process--what makes it unique? How do you create your best work? What do you love most about your process?
Just like when I was a little girl my creative process still involves creating little worlds of my own. I create my best work when I'm trying to make a little world for myself and my subjects. About 10 years ago I took a class on American Folklore and I was fascinated by the thought of this magical American landscape that exists in familiar settings. So that's the world I've been trying to create in my work. It's recognizable in it's setting but the mood is magical.
I think I create my best work when I'm faithful to nature and interject just enough fantasy to keep it from being a textbook illustration. I like print making to capture this world because the extremes of light and dark already give it the mood of a fairy tale. I also love the fact that when you do printmaking you are carving and creating a solid artifact you can keep forever. I love the way the blocks look and feel more than even the prints.
What has been a habit or focus you've had that's integral to your art practice?
I draw all day everyday. I have a regular job outside of art and underneath my keyboard I keep scraps of paper so whenever I'm not typing I can doodle. It kills two birds with one stone really, I'm able to focus better at work when I'm doodling during conference calls and it keeps my creativity flowing. If I'm not working out something for a specific piece I'm just doodling animals or people. It's a lot like stream of conciousness writing. It just keeps me from getting rusty and every once in a while I get something I can use out of it. Also, it helps me remember what's going on on long conference calls. I can look down and say "oh yeah they were talking about entitlements when I was drawing fat little deer so Ineed to finish that spreadsheet." So I remember to do my day job and I get better at drawing fat little deer. It's a win win.
Tell me about a hurdle you've had to overcome in your artmaking or art career.
I think like a lot of creative types my biggest hurdle has been myself. It's easy to not think you are good enough or have anything valuable to share with the world. Allowing myself to be intimidated by what I thought art has to be has been a huge hurdle. I didn't really have a breakthrough until late last year when I met this amazing weaver in Abingdon. She told me, "Just do whatever the hell you want to do and you'll eventually get good at it and people will notice." I wish I had heard that 20 years ago although I don't think I was ready to believe it until just now. Being a very shy, private person also makes sharing art difficult. I have to really put myself out there and it can be very intimidating for me to talk to people about my process or have them even look at my work. When I was younger I never showed anyone my work because I didn't think it was any good or I was any good. I still get nervous about it.
What is your educational background, and how does it influence your creative work, if at all?
I was extremely fortunate to go to Oak Ridge City Schools which had an amazing art program at a time when education wasn't focused on test scores. I had art pretty much everyday from middle school on and was exposed to all kinds of media, points of view and methods to create art. That's where I first did printmaking and it stuck with me ever since. I didn't realize how lucky I was until I was an adult. I owe Ms. Nichols, Ms. Wakefield, Mr. Dodson and Mrs. Culbertson a great debt of gratitude for teaching me art during my tender middle school and high school years even though I'm sure at the time they were essentially casting pearls before swine because I'm sure I didn't listen or appreciate it. I still use what I learned at Oak Ridge Schools today.
What are you most excited about in your creative landscape in the moment?
As far as literal landscapes go I'm still deeply fascinated by Wakulla Springs, Florida. My friend Emily and I went on a road trip down there last fall and it was the most creatively inspiring experience of my life. Here was the magical, Southern landscape I had been trying to capture for years in my art and it was an actual place. It was like an artistic numinous experience. I'm also really looking forward to just working on my process and getting better at it. Now that I have a good source of inspiration I can focus more on the technical aspects of printmaking. Sometimes it's hard to focus on technique when you don't have subject matter that inspires you.
Share your favorite local hangout & or another hidden gem.
I personally really enjoy the Elizabethton pool between 8 and 9 feet. I like to hangout upside down there and look at the sky from under the water. I'm sure the life guards think I'm insane. It's also only $3 to get in and it's the coldest, clearest pool I've ever been to. It's never that busy and it's open until 5 and you can ride your bike to it from the Tweetsie trail. It's never to early to start thinking about summer.