I stumbled upon a great artist while fooling around on Twitter one day. The artist, was Heidi Alamanda, a self taught artist born and raised in Indonesia. Each of her paintings’ subjects looks inhuman yet she exudes serenity, melancholy, and intensity. They exist in their own mysterious realm, yet at the same time they give the notion of peacefulness to the viewer. In this episode of the Creative Spotlight I got to ask her some questions on her creative process, anime inspirations and cultural differences between this world, and hers. Full interview below…
Was it difficult being a self taught artist growing up in Indonesia?
Heidi: I actually didn’t start painting until around three years ago, when I already lived in the U.S. I learned drawing on my own when I was little, but it didn’t feel like learning because it was fun. When I had just moved to New Haven, I planned to take a painting workshop, but low enrollment caused the course to be canceled, so I decided to fully teach myself. It turned out to be a great decision because I could set my own schedule, learn things and paint things that I wanted. It gave me more time to practice, too, because I didn’t have to spend extra time and energy to commute to classes. Working alone also allowed me to get in touch with my inner feelings, and let my subconscious emerge onto my artwork. Teaching myself to paint was challenging, but I wouldn’t say it was difficult because I really enjoyed the process. There were so many resources that made my learning process easier – art technique books, online instructions, or just by seeing old masters paintings either in a Museum or in books really closely. It was of course frustrating at times when I had a problem and I couldn’t ask any guidance other than do research on my own to solve it. It has been rewarding for me, but I wouldn’t want to say that self-teaching is better than going to art schools. It really depends on your own approach. Many circumstances in my life didn’t lead me to the art school route.
As an author of a children’s book myself, I find it very cool that the medium can be a source of inspiration for you. What else inspires you?
Heidi: Karate Cat is so cute I didn’t grow up in an artistic family, so I wasn’t exposed to art galleries or art museums when I was little, and thought beautiful pictures on children books were artworks. They were also one of the accessible art sources for a little Heidi, besides rental animation movies. Seeing those images really moved me to draw. My inspirations now can be from anything and anywhere – my silly conversation with my own thought, daydreaming, talking to my husband, listening to beautiful tunes that suddenly move my emotion, seeing beautiful images in various sources – from paintings in the museums, art books, movies, to abundant online sources.
What are the pros and cons of working with oils?
Heidi: I tend to have more pros than cons of working with oils. Oils allow me to work really slow, which is good since I work intuitively from the beginning to end. It’s also suitable for the layers technique that I apply. Sometimes I change my mind in the middle of painting just because I feel that’s what I need to do. Either something small like changing the color of the hair and dress, or something more drastic like changing the scenery.
Oil is really forgiving that way. Oils also give richer colors and more depth to my painting. The only drawback of working with oils for some people perhaps is slower drying time that won’t be suitable to their painting style. Some people may also object with the smell of oil paints, though I actually find oils smell kind of nice.
What is the biggest cultural difference of living in the States versus Southeast Asia?
Heidi: There are too many things and I can only speak from my personal experience of living here and some places around Indonesia, particularly Jakarta where I grew up. The reliance solely on cars to go from one place to another here, unless you live in big cities, was a big surprise for me. People in a big city like Jakarta also rely on cars when they can afford it, but there are always other options to get around, and in smaller cities like Malang or Bali, it’s fairly easy to get to your destination without owning a car.
There’s more willingness to engage in social interaction in Indonesia even when those people never knew each other before. It can get to the point that sometimes they can get too personal … he he. When I first went to college here, I was surprised to find that people in my class only talked during class discussion or when we had group projects; other than that, most of them didn’t really talk and get to know new people. Free libraries and well preserved museums were one of those many things that impressed me about the States when I first moved here. I appreciate that even more, now that I live in a place with easier access to view old masters painting in art museums, like the Yale Art Museum and neighboring Yale British Art Museum here in New Haven, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.
We know you are a fan of Manga, got any anime favs?
Heidi: Kino’s Journey – a journey of Kino and Hermes, a talking motorcycle, through various sci-fi setting countries learning of their cultures and peoples. It’s a thought-provoking anime that makes me contemplate aspects of human nature.
Azumanga Daioh – this anime series gives me good feeling because it focuses on the good things of how people are just good to each other. It also makes us feel nostalgic of our childhood.
Fruits Basket – the animation is quite good and it’s really sweet.
Kare Kano – it’s a sweet romantic drama.
I still like Saint Seiya. The graphic is really cool considering it’s an old series. The story is silly, though I thought it was really fantastic when I was little. Another old school anime that I consider one of my favorites is Candy Candy. Movies from Studio Ghibli are also part of my favorites lists. I still have plenty of anime DVDs to watch. I will watch those anime movies in Japanese and put English subtitles. It just gives different feeling when I hear it in Japanese. It sort of transports me to to a different world:) I need to make the time to just sit and watch the entire series, but that’s kind of dangerous since they’re really addicting.
You generally only draw women, and they typically aren’t smiling. Can you explain your mindset through this process?
Heidi: I generally paint or draw women because mainly they’re just more fun to paint. They also seem to have more fun in the world that I create, like playing with those creatures, or showing off their accessories. I tend to feel drawn into paintings, for example old masters paintings, or photos, where the subject doesn’t smile. It’s as if that person is frozen in that momentary time and I just can’t help trying to figure out what that person actually was feeling and thinking at that moment. It makes me more observant of the subject matter’s other details, like the way her hair flows, the drape of her dress, the pattern on her dress, also the surrounding scenery that makes that painting tells a story captured at that exact moment. When the subject matter smiles, I immediately think of the action that she’s going to do next instead of observing the details in the whole environment. That feeling is something instinctive in me and I guess, it’s also reflected on the way I paint the women in my painting.
I’m not really sure about the mindset that goes into my process, but since you ask I have to contemplate on it for a bit..he he. Everything is intuitive for me and I don’t really plan things in detail. It’s indefinable since it’s mostly derived from my subconscious mind. When I create a piece, I create it to satisfy my own artistic need. Something that makes me happy and content without caring for other people’s approval or trying to please the audience and art market. One thing that may help others to understand what goes behind my paintings is that I need to create my own world through my painting. It’s my own imaginary world where I don’t have to worry about hurting others’ feeling and away from all complicated things in this world. It’s mystifying to me as well.
What is on the horizon for you in 2011? Got any big projects lined up?
Heidi: After having a painting solo show and finishing up Sketchbook Project 2011 that will go on tour this year, I’ve gotten back to my regular schedule of staying in my painting cave and focusing on painting or just creating a rough drawing for a painting. Working on an artwork or just thinking art related things are part of my daily life. The need to paint things that I want from my heart, for myself, is more important than creating an artwork for certain projects. There may be an upcoming exhibit this year, but I prefer to share it to the world when thing has been 100% sure. I will post it on my blog when there’s any current news, or you can check it out my website on News section.
Give us some insight on your sketchbook!
Heidi: I don’t really sketch that frequently, but I do have a sketchbook that still has some blank pages:) I recently have a habit of jotting down an idea that suddenly pops from my train of thought instead of sketching it. From there I will just draw it on paper, refine it, and transfer it to canvas. A couple of pages of my sketchbook have become a notebook for my ideas. I tend to lose interest on developing an idea when it involves too many preparation steps. It’s like as if I try to hug the object of my affection too tight, then it manages to run away and I can’t find it anymore when I try to chase it. It’s just gone and there’s no way I can hug it anymore. Besides, I’m already too exhausted to chase it.
However, I just finished a sketchbook for the Sketchbook Project. It’ll give a glimpse of my sketching, although it’s not filled with sketches that I’ll turn into paintings. Since the entire pages of the sketchbook must follow the chosen theme, it’s basically creating an artwork in different form and process for me. Personally, I find it more restricting than my ordinary art process, because I have to lead my imagination towards that chosen theme instead of the other way around. But, it’s been an interesting experience and it gave me good feeling knowing I have one sketchbook with filled pages:)
Thank you so much for your time, and here is hoping 2011 will be a wonderful year for you!
Heidi: Thanks so much for interviewing me and introducing me to JapanCinema audience. I hope 2011 will be a wonderful one for JapanCinema, too.