Artist Interview with Ciara Barsotti

Hey there! Today I'd like to introduce you to my new friend, Ciara Barsotti. Ciara is a painter with an unmistakable style: Sci-Fi meets Southwest. I love her work and I hope you do, too! Enjoy:

Where in the world are you located? What is it like being an artist there?

I just moved to Williamsburg, Virginia from Santa Cruz, California a few months ago, and I’m also adjusting to working from home, so it’s hard to comment on it yet! Santa Cruz was oversaturated with artists, and it was a struggle to make time for my work because the cost of living was so high. Here in Virginia I still struggle with making time, but that’s partly because I’m transitioning into freelance administrative work and am learning how to balance that with my art practice.

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 have not always embraced the fact that I’m an artist, and I still struggle with the legitimacy of it as a money-making career. It was always something that I knew I was good at, but I didn’t always think of it as a way to earn a living. Now I’m actively pursuing building my art career with the end-goalof being able to make art myfull time gig, but I still have a lot of mental blocks around earning money with my art, and I always struggle with not being an overnight success. Building any business is risky and takes time, and I’m not a patient person!But, I’m working on it. I’m an evangelist for therapy for all, and I’ve sought out support networks to help keep me on track (shout-out to my girls at Thrive)!

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 do a lot of things “wrong” when I paint… I don’t thumbnail my compositions, I don’t start with a base color, I only recently started varnishing my paintings, and a lot of this I chalk up to being mostly self-taught with an impulse to just wing it. I tend to want to get started right away and get done right away. I’m an impatient person in general and that spills into my art practice. I took one painting class at a community college a few years ago and fell in love with Golden acrylics (before, I was strictly into watercolor and colored pencil). Right now I’m working on a series of paintings of southwest landscapes with sci-fi elements, which I feel like is only possible with the switch to acrylic because I can achieve a much larger scope and much richer colors in a much shorter amount of time!

Are there certain themes that show up in your work over and over again?

I’ve always been drawn to the female figure, and I like to include “sketches” of women and female astronauts in a lot of my paintings. The emphasis on landscape is pretty new to my work. Since I was young I’ve enjoyed including elements of magical realism, or imaginative realism, in my drawings and paintings. To me that’s a huge appeal to art-making: the ability to help people see the world a different way.

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?

My studio and my office space are one in the same, so it’s easy to get distracted. Lately I’ve been trying to wake up earlier and startthe day with painting. It’s a lot easier for me to focus at the start of the day versus the middle or end of the day. I need to have a drink of some kind, even if it’s just a glass of water, and if I’m starting a new painting I need something atmospheric to pipe through my earbuds, otherwise I’m usually listening to podcasts.

My creative blocks tend to show up as apathy towards my work. I’ve always got something to paint, but it’s hard for me to make myself do something I don’t feel like doing, and I’ll go weeks without painting. I’m getting better at just making it a habit to show up every weekday and sit with whatever is on my easleuntil things start flowing. Sometimes I can sense that I’m having an off-day and I know I’ll just make whatever I’m doing worse, and I let myself stop before that point.

I really love your Space Cowgirls series. Can you talk a bit about what that series means to you?

Thank you! I love this series, too. I’ve always loved stories about the old west, and I adore those landscapes, and I love stories set in outer space: the final frontier - most sci-fi stories are just westerns if you think about it. I got really excited when I realized I could combine the two genres in this way… the first few images came to mind when I was listening to Serengeti & Sicker Man’s album, “Doctor My Own Patience.” There is a kind of broad narrative in these paintings, as well. I’m a sucker for conspiracy theories, so the paintings that have domes in them are kind of a reference to the Ancient Aliens theory. And I have a vague idea that the Space Cowgirls are interdimensional time-travelers, going back to Earth when it was worth visiting - before we screwed up the planet beyond recognition. Time-traveling tourism is a huge industry in the future, I imagine!

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 have a day job that takes up most of my working hours. I’m a virtual assistant, which means I’m a freelance contractor that helps clients with everything from inbox management to graphic design to social media management. There’s a lot of variety in that, which I like. It helps to think of myself as a client so I can stay on top of my own newsletters and social media in the midst of everyone else’s!

Let's talk about work/life balance. How do you balance family life, studio time, business and time for yourself?

I never feel like I’ve got things balanced, but I try hard to stick to business hours for my client work and my own administrative tasks. I usually end up spending evenings playing catch-up on my own tasks. Studio time gets ignored if I don’t do it first thing, and I’ve been trying to go to the gym before breakfast every morning, too. If I can be pulled away from my computer or working on my kid’s activity zine in the evenings, my husband and I like to watch movies or whatever tv series we’re into, or go out to dinner with friends which we do once a week, and which I’m always grateful for. I try to go hiking a few times a month on weekends – that’s the best form of self-care for me. And, I go to church with my husband on Sundays. We’ve found a great little community there, and focusing on the divine helps get me out of my own head - I also try to meditate daily, which is more of an intention than a practice these days. I do what I can!

What does being an artist mean to you?

That is such a difficult question! For me personally, being an artist means trying to make a significant contribution to our income with my art. But being an artist also means being a humanthat looks at the world and tries to communicate something about it to other people, and that has nothing to do with income streams or follower counts or anything like that. I have to remind myself of that second definition all the time. Then I go back to wondering if I’ll ever be able to justify spending so much time painting if I don’t want to live in an apartment for the rest of my life!

If you could give your 20 year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?

I would have said, quit dinkin’ around and take some GD classes on business and marketing if you aren’t going to make art! I was so indecisive at age 20. In my heart I’ve always wanted to be a full-time working artist, and I wish I had those few extra years of actively pursuing it under my belt. Hindsight is always 20/20, of course!

Thanks, Ciara! For more information about Ciara Barsotti, please visit her website, sign up for her weekly newsletter or follow her on Instagram. If you get a chance, please check out her upcoming group show Present from the Past, Art League Rhode Island (Dec 7, 2018 - March 7, 2019) or her Solo Exhibition Space Cowgirls, at the Parkview Gallery in Glen Echo Park, MD (April 6-17, 2019).

Do you have any questions or comments for Ciara? Add them to the comments below!


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2 comments

  • Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Robin:) I’m so glad that you enjoyed the interview and you are indeed correct; Ciara is an incredibly honest human!

    • Jessica Molnar
  • What a lovely insightful interview. I liked the questions and the answers. It feels as though Ciara is an incredibly honest human! I appreciate the forgiveness you offer yourself. We can all learn to be more gently with ourselves. And I love the art!

    • Robin Lerios