Hi friends! Today's artist interview is with mixed media artist Shannon Amidon. Shannon's work is infused with mysterious beauty and conveys her deep appreciation for bugs, botanicals, and vintage ephemera. Enjoy!
Where in the world are you located? What is it like being an artist there?
I am in San Jose California, the heart of Silicon Valley. It’s wonderful to be so close to San Francisco and Oakland that both have great art institutions and communities. Unfortunately, there are very few galleries or studio spaces in San Jose. This is partly because it is so expensive to live and work here and at times tech is favored over the arts. The art community is great and really supportive though. I am a firm believer that you get what you put into something. So if you engage, support and are active within your community you will get that back.
You recently shared some really exciting news on Instagram. You were awarded a grant for a group show that you’re curating. Congratulations! Can you tell us some more?
Thank you! I am so excited and happy about the exhibition and grant. The exhibit I am curating - Arousing Biophilia has been a project that has been in the works for 8 months. It began with a desire to say more with my art/art practice. I am really passionate about nature and the environment and wanted to address that in some way. So I decided to curate an exhibit and invite artists who felt the same way I do. There are a variety of mediums and artists exploring everything from plankton and bee extinction to spores and life cycles.
In addition to the exhibit, I also wanted to have free events that educated and informed people about the environment, stewardship, and nature. I applied for an Awesome Foundation grant to help out with the exhibit and events. I really wanted to keep everything free and open to the public. My goal is to have everything be accessible to a variety of people. Not just art lovers but nature lovers, science enthusiasts, school kids and more. I am really fortunate to have been awarded the grant and am so grateful to the Awesome Foundation. I am also partnering with Vegielution a local urban farming organization that does a lot of work with underserved and low-income families and teaches about urban farming sustainability, composting and more.
I think for a lot of artists, there's a tension between feeling called to be an artist and the pull to have a "sensible" career. Have you always known that you're an artist? How has your art career evolved?
I was a late bloomer as an artist. I have always been creative but was not really exposed to traditional art and that world until college. After my first group show, I was hooked and knew I wanted to be a professional artist. My career has evolved and grown so much over the years. Each year I am so grateful for the wonderful opportunities and experiences I get to have. I am always pushing myself and if I am not growing and trying new things creatively and professionally I feel stagnate and sad. I have done several residencies, received grants and been in many group and solo exhibitions. There are still so many things I want to do and achieve. I love the variety of experiences I can have as a professional artist.
Can you talk a bit about your process? How has your work evolved over time? What are you working on right now? What's new or different about it?
I started out in photography and loved learning the darkroom process. I transitioned from straight photography to more alternative processes and then more mixed media and cameraless image making. I love process and getting my hands dirty so my work has evolved naturally from photography to mixed media, collage, book art etc. For the past 10 years, I have really focused on encaustic (painting with molten beeswax) I have really fallen in love with the medium. It is the most versatile, forgiving and challenging medium I have worked with. I incorporate a lot of ephemeral materials into my work and still use photography in a lot of my pieces. Recently been exploring using encaustic in a more sculptural 3D way. This has pushed me technically and creatively.
Are there certain themes that show up in your work over and over again?
Yes, there are two themes that I feel consistently show up in my work. Life cycles, through natural history, trees, insects, botanicals, and nature. These are very obvious and can easily be seen throughout my work. The other theme is memories and a sense of time and history. All of my artwork has ephemera in the background. What a lot of people don’t know is that a lot of it is from my family. My Great Grandmothers vaccination record or her recipes. My Mothers drivers test from the 1960’s. Some ephemera I rescue from thrift and antique stores too. I especially love items with handwriting. I think about where these items have been and the hands that created them. Not only is it important from a repurposing and environmental point of view but also as a way to honor those who are no longer with us. Some people are really freaked out that I use the originals in my work. I think of it as sending these memories out into the world to live on forever and not just have them end up in a box in the attic or a landfill.
What is your studio practice like? Do you have any rituals or routines that help you get into the creative zone? Do you ever get creative blocks? How do you get unstuck?
I have strict studio hours Mon – Fri 11-3pm. After 3 pm and the weekends are for my family & friends. I am often doing computer work in the evenings after my daughter has gone to bed. It has been about a year that I have got very serious about my studio time and really honor it. No other appointment, coffee with friends, etc during this time. After I started taking my creative time more seriously I noticed that I was a lot more productive and successful.
I do get creative block sometimes and I have learned not to do anything about it. I know that sounds strange but the more I think about the worse it gets. I still do my studio hours but instead of creating I might organize or clean. I try to be gentle with myself and fill the creative well as they say. I also meditate every day which helps.
I really love your Bugs and Botanicals series. Can you talk a bit about what that series means to you?
Bug and botanicals two of my favorite things. It’s funny people either really love or hate bugs, I have always loved and been fascinated by them. This series was created for a group exhibit called 50/50 where each artist creates 50 pieces of art in 50 days. Talk about crazy! It was a really great and challenging experience. Creatively it was frustrating and freeing. When you are in that time crunch you don’t have time to think, you just have to create. After piece 28 I was freaking out realizing I still had another 22 pieces to go. In the end, it was a huge accomplishment that let me explore subject matter, materials, technique and more. Each piece is named after an entomologist, botanist, or naturalists in hopes that someone might look up and learn a little more about this person. I even created a book to go along with the series.
Are you a full-time artist or do you also have a day job/side hustle? If you do have a day job, does it tie in with your art practice?
I am a full-time artist and I have a part-time job as a webmaster at a university. To be honest I am happy that I have the part-time position. Not only do I enjoy it most of the time but it also gives me the freedom to take more risks with my art. It gives me enough financial freedom that I am not starving and can travel and afford art supplies. I do take my art career very seriously though and I feel that my art is a full-time job. I have the best of both worlds. It has taken many years to get here but I am really grateful that I am in this position.
Let's talk about work/life balance. How do you balance family life, studio time, business and time for yourself?
I don’t balance anything and kind of think it’s a myth. There are times like right now that my art life has taken over everything. I spend 12 hour days working on art/art business and neglect my poor family. Then there are times like the holidays, birthday, etc that I put my art on the backburner and focus on family. It can be frustrating at times, I am a really driven person and can overdo it sometimes. I have learned to say no more and really value my time.
What does being an artist mean to you?
Everything, there is a magic and a freedom in art. I am so grateful to have this life full of amazing experiences and adventures.
If you could give your 20-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
I am not sure. I’m the person I am today because of all of the mistakes, pain, lessons learned, and triumphs I have had. Maybe to surrender and let go a little more.
Wonderful! Thanks so much, Shannon. For more information about Shannon Amidon, please visit her website or you can follow her on Instagram and Facebook. And if you'll be in San Jose, CA anytime between now and April, 22 be sure to check out Arousing Biophilia.
Do you have any questions or comments for Shannon? Add them to the comments below!