Art Talk with Shannon Bonatakis
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., moved to Florida when she was a child and grew up outside of Orlando. She’s a killer whistler, in love with Colorado’s dry climate and prefers working locked in a room during the wee hours.
Rooster: Did you spend a good amount of your childhood making art?
S.B.: Yes, almost obsessively. Around the 4th grade it became clear to the adults in my life that I had a proclivity for drawing beyond what my peers were doing, and from that point on I basically locked myself in my bedroom and obsessively drew by myself into all hours of the night.
R: Did any literature inspire your imagination? Specific titles?
S.B.: I was also an obsessive reader— to the point that my parents grounded me from reading, which meant that I was only allowed to spend two hours a day with my nose in a book. Honestly, I read so many books back then that I can’t remember titles of anything specific that inspired me. I just loved getting lost in a story.
R: So, what’s with whistling?
S.B.: Yes, not to toot my own horn or anything, but I am quite good with the whistling. Please don’t ask me to prove it though or I will start nervously giggling and my face will turn bright red and you will think that I am lying.
R: Do you have any favorite movies?
S.B.: I gravitate toward movies that have a nice dose of quirk, magic and fantasy in them. I’m an embarrassingly huge “Harry Potter” nerd, and I adore the books and the films. I love the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I love Miyazaki films. I love most of Tim Burton’s catalogue (even the projects I’m not totally in love with, I still love to look at). I love Wes Anderson’s catalogue as well. Other favorites are “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Amelie,” “Coraline,” and just about anything that Pixar has ever touched.
R: What’s your take on Colorado’s dry air, mountain landscape and altitude?
S.B.: Seeing as how I grew up in the flat Florida swamps and 100 percent humidity, I am in love with the dry air and the mountains. I love a nice, warm, dry day. I honestly don’t have enough time to actually take full advantage of the beautiful landscapes here, but just seeing it and knowing that it’s close by seems to satisfy me for the time being.
R: What type of brushes provide all your incredible fine details?
S.B.: Anything super teeny and ridiculously tiny. I use crappy cheap brushes because I always ruin the nice expensive ones. My favorite brush sizes are in the 0000-10/0 range.
R: Any favorite setting you prefer painting in? Any preferred surface?
S.B.: Ideally I am locked in a room by myself and it is somewhere between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. I like primed canvas—something with not too much or too little texture.
R: Your paintings seem like they take quite awhile to create. How long does a painting usually take?
S.B.: It depends on the size and the complexity of the piece, but most pieces end up falling somewhere in the 80- to 100-plus hours range.
R: The eyes of your subject matter evoke an emotional response, can you provide any insight on your intention with the eyes in your paintings?
S.B.: Any kind of emotional response is really what I’m going for. Beyond titling a piece, I don’t like to dictate to the viewer what they should be seeing or feeling when they look at one of my images. I just hope that they feel something. The eyes are definitely an important part of creating that connection, just as they are in real life.
R: Do you have any favorite commissioned projects and why you enjoyed creating them?
S.B.: I haven’t done too many private commissions, but usually I don’t even take them on unless someone is approaching me to do what I do anyways. For that reason, I can’t think of any that I haven’t enjoyed. As far as themed gallery shows go, my favorite so far has probably been the semi-recent Harry Potter piece that I did. It was basically a dream come true to work on that. I mentioned that I’m an embarrassingly huge fan, right?
R: If you were challenged with the opportunity to live and create in a public glass studio for a month, would you prefer it in the middle of a forest or in the heart of New York
City? Do you think you could make it an entire month?
S.B.: Forest, definitely. New York City, never—I’d last for maybe an hour before I’d burst into tears. I don’t like to be watched and I’m definitely not a performer with my work. I like isolation. Wait, is the glass in the forest bear proof? If it’s bear proof it would probably be the best painting month of my life!
R: Would you like a studio set in a snow fort or a tree house? Why?
S.B.: Treehouse! I’ve actually recently become obsessed with the idea of one day building a backyard treehouse studio. Snow forts are too cold. I’d get grumpy.
R: Your husband is also an artist. Where did you meet? Through art? Can you explain the dynamics of sharing your life everyday with another incredible artist?
S.B.: We met in a drawing class in college. He drove me to the zoo on the first day of class, because we were going there to draw animals and I didn’t have a car. Our daily life is pretty
quiet. Our work schedules can be pretty intense, so he spends most of his time in his studio working and I spend most of my time in mine. For two people who live and work together 24/7, we actually get
very little time to see each other outside of working. The artist lifestyle isn’t nearly as glamorous as people like to imagine it! It’s definitely nice to have an honest and trusted opinion always around—we
don’t pull punches with each other’s work. If we think something is sucking or could be executed slightly better, we say it.
R: Can you describe your creative process?
S.B.: I wait for ideas to come to me, sketch them out, do a color study on the computer and then transfer the image to the canvas. Then I paint and paint and paint until the piece is finished.
R: Heading to any shows or trips out of state soon?
S.B.: I’m currently prepping for a solo show in Columbus, Ohio, this November, and I have a two person show in Venice Beach next spring. I’m fairly certain I’ll be attending both.
R: What do you do for fun? Are there opportunities for much socializing?
S.B.: My idea of fun is hanging out with my husband, drinking beers, eating good food and having good conversations. I can also often be found rolling around on the floor jibberjabbering with my dog and chasing her around the house. Really, my work consumes most of my time—I don’t get out much.
R: Can you provide any inspiration to young creative folks out there, especially young ladies interested in art?
S.B.: I would just say make good work that makes you feel like you are doing what you want to be doing. Don’t force it and don’t make work for other people. Do what you like and what feels right and natural to you. If you are making good work, you will find your audience and you will see your path begin to form.
R: What will your upcoming shows or other endeavors include?
S.B.: My upcoming show will be a mix of paintings and drawings, and most of the images have something to do with nighttime. I love nighttime. It’s when I feel the most alert and alive.
R: Any thanks you would like to provide to anyone or anything specific?
S.B.: Definitely my husband, who has put up with all of my hermitcrabbery and schedule craziness for the last 10 years and still seems to like me. My parents and siblings, who are the most supportive family unit I’ve ever encountered and have never tried to discourage me from choosing this crazy path. And, my dog, Enid. She’s just really cute and silly and the best. She makes my life better daily. I’m happy that she exists.
Weight: 103 lbs.
Clouds or stars: Stars
Favorite drink: Beer. Black coffee. Water.
Fondest Colorado memory: My wedding last year. I’m pretty fond of that.
Favorite ice cream flavor: Vanilla bean. The natural kind.
Sneakers or boots? I own more sneakers, but I do prefer boots.
Beanie? No. Only when it’s absolutely necessary.
Red or pink rose? Red.
Snow or rain? I love the quietness of snow and I love the violence of a good thunderstorm. Both.
Burrito or sushi? Sushi. The veggie kind.
Leather or cloth seats? Cloth.
Bike? Not currently.
Crayons or colored pencils? Crayons.
Two favorite colors: Green. Red.
Music preference: Anything with good lyrics that make me feel like my heart will burst.
Online work: shannonbonatakis.com