Betty Dravis: Welcome to Dames of Dialogue, Sally Rowland. We are mostly about writers, but we love the other arts too. It’s a great pleasure to have you here and to share your artworks with our readers.
You’ve been a Facebook friend of mine for a while, but oddly, I got to know you better when you challenged me to the Words Game. I don’t like to brag, but I beat you nine times out of ten. (laughs) Anyway, you took it in stride and when we joked about it is when we bonded even more. Needless to say, I enjoy roaming through your Facebook albums, viewing all your art and photos.
This brings me to your first question: Sally, what were you like as a child and when did you first start sketching and realize you had artistic flair?
Sally Rowland: Hi, Betty, and thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of your Dames of Dialogue family. I must say I was surprised, but pleasantly so, to be asked to share my artwork with you all.
I’m enjoying being beaten by you in the Words game–but it’s early days! Maybe we should be playing a drawing game, too, to even things up a bit? (laughs)
Anyway, to your first question: I was born and spent the first ten years of my life in Bristol, England. I come from what is known as a “working class” family, which really means you didn’t have a lot of money. I think for many children back then, you didn’t have many “things” and had to rely on your imagination to have fun. I have fond memories of making mud pies in old cans, while we girls pretended we were cooking.
I remember loving to paint and draw as a little girl and I think I might have been about five or six when I won a prize at school for painting a clear plastic container with daffodils. Well, they were meant to be daffodils, but more likely just green and yellow blobs. (laughs) My biggest passion back then, though, was music. We were taught to read music and I played the recorder, finally moving up to the bass recorder, as I was the only one who had the finger span to play it.
My Christmas gifts were nearly always craft themed: Paint by Numbers, knitting kits, books and my favorite “Fuzzy Felt,” which was a box of cut-out felt pieces that you could attach to a board and make all your own scenes, pull off and do again and again.
My family immigrated to New Zealand not long after I turned ten and that was a huge change for us. The school system is quite different and I loved English and anything artistic. I did woodworking, metal craft, art, photography and so on. I think it was during that time I discovered my real love of drawing, so my essays and school projects were always full of pictures I’d drawn to go along with the required words. My favorite part of the art classes was actually doing a wood-block print and an etching on a slab of rubber that was then turned into a print. I still have a scar where the knife left the slab and went right over my thumb…
Betty Dravis: I have to laugh at you mentioning the Facebook game of Draw Something, Sally. I enjoy that one with my kids and a few friends. I’m such a terrible artist that I have no doubt you’d outdo me in technique, but I’m still pretty good at guessing the pictures. My drawings look like a kindergartner’s, but I’m getting pretty adept with stick figures. (laughs)
But back to your art, did you or your parents keep any of your younger works?
Sally Rowland: I’m sure my daffodils ended up in the garbage because I wasn’t really a prolific painter when younger, but I did do a wooden bird sculpture at school in New Zealand that my parents still actually have today. It’s complete with a burned beak, as I got a bit carried away when we had to use a flame to give it some color.
Betty Dravis: I bet your parents really hated to part with the daffodil art. We tend to love everything our children do…good or bad, but it seems like they made a good choice, keeping the sculpture.
What’s your favorite medium?
Sally Rowland: I would have to say oil is my favorite medium. I’m entirely self-taught in regards to painting, Betty. I never had any formal training, so using oils was a way to be able to correct mistakes before the paint dried. (laughs) I also find that oils match the way I like to paint, which is a lot of blending to get my desired color and effect. I do the same when doing pencil portraits; lots of smudging and blending going on there too.
In recent years I’ve started to dabble with digital painting and I find that I do that the same way I paint with oils–lots of layers and blending. The good thing about digital is that, of course, there’s no mess–I’m a very messy painter–no time limit on drying and if I don’t like what I just did on a layer, I simply delete it and start over. Another thing I love about digital is that you can work on one thing at a time and when you’re happy with it, you can simply merge it into the main piece of work.
Betty Dravis: Digital painting fascinates me, Sally, so thanks for sharing some of the intricacies. I’ve seen samples of all your mediums and they’re fabulous. I think my favorite oil is the one that looks like a scene from a Greek isle. The colors are so vibrant… I like to think of that painting as a “feel-good” work. It really cheers me up.
Since you didn’t mention watercolors above, we would appreciate hearing a little about that. I saw some samples of your “exercises” and if I recall correctly you said on Facebook that you were beginning to try your hand at that. How’s that project coming along?
Sally Rowland: Oh the “Greek Village” painting… You have a good eye, Betty! I love that one myself, and you’re right, it’s definitely a feel-good painting. The joy in creating it is that I got to use whatever colors I wanted for the buildings, while still trying to keep it looking somewhat “Greek.” (laughs) I’m glad it cheers you up; it certainly does it for me too. I even got that one professionally photographed and sold some prints, as well.
But on to the watercolors: I’m definitely all at sea with that particular medium. My late mother-in-law, who was one of my biggest fans, used them. Although she was pretty modest about her talent, she painted some lovely works which we have here, along with lots of paints, brushes and papers she had amassed. She inspired me to give it a try and, as you mentioned, the exercises I tried were fun, but hard. I’d still like to get into it more at some point, but I’ll definitely need to take some courses. I can remember her telling me that her teacher kept saying, “More water, Patsy… More water…” (laughs) Nevertheless, it’s a whole new way of painting that I’m looking forward to trying one day in the not-too-distant future.
At the moment, though, I’m just enjoying having a room for my art supplies…one I can make a mess in and nobody cares. (laughs) We recently–well almost a year ago now–moved to a new city and home, so we’ve been busy redecorating. The first room to be finished is, of course, my art room, so I’m just settling into that and looking forward to finally having a dedicated space in which to pursue my passion properly.
Betty Dravis: If your exercises are any indication, you’ll be great at that too, Sally. I have two favorites: the red one with the chair and table and the purple viola. It will be interesting to see how you progress in the future, but never give up your oils…
So you have been traveling around quite a bit. I bet it’s exciting to be back in Canada again. I have some dear friends there; it’s a lovely country, eh? (laughs) From the few photos I’ve seen, your new home looks very comfortable and you’re making headway in setting up your work areas. I bet you look forward to getting back in the swing with the Belleville Art Association. Tell us about your plans for the future.
Sally Rowland: Yes, I guess I’m a bit of a gypsy! (laughs) I’ve always loved to travel and experience new things, and immigrating to Canada was certainly a big move. While things don’t always work out the way you expect, it’s fun to just take what life throws at you and do the best you can. Eventually, it all works out just the way it should, although it can take a bit longer than you thought to get where you want to be.
As I mentioned, we’ve been here in Belleville for almost a year now. I had intended to join the local Arts Association straight away, but thought it would be better to get settled first and get a few things sorted out so that I could make the most of what they have to offer. With that in mind, I’m looking at joining them later this year. I’m really looking forward to meeting other local artists and learning some new things along the way.
Betty Dravis: I’m really curious about digital painting, so one more question about that, Sally. Is that accepted in the art communities as “real” art? Also, I notice that most of your digital art is of movie stars. Your portrait of Sandra Bullock is certainly lifelike. Beautiful… I admire her greatly, but my favorite digital photo is of the unforgettable and gorgeous Marilyn Monroe. Are you, like most everyone these days, fascinated with movies and the entertainment world?
Sally Rowland: Ah, the good old question: “Is digital art real art?” Personally, I say yes, it is, although I know a lot of artists who disagree. To me, it’s simply another medium. You still have to have the talent to design, draw, paint, etc. On top of that, you also have to be able to use the software to bring it all together, so I view it as just another tool to create with.
I need to purchase a proper painting software package at some stage. Currently I use a photo/paint program; it’s not the best thing, so it really challenges me. To me, the process is almost the same as painting with oils, etc.: You sketch the idea, then use that as a base to add layer upon layer of color and shape until you get the final product. I mentioned the things I like most about digital painting above, but I’d like to stress the point: the flexibility is a definite bonus.
Yes I must admit most of my digital work has been of movie stars, but to be honest, I’m not really into movies/celebrities/entertainment. Photos of stars are so abundant on-line that I found them useful for learning how to use my software. (laughs) I do love trying portraits, though, so I guess that is why there are so many. Many years ago, I recall having a book of portraits of movie stars–the black and white studio shots. I didn’t really care who they were, I just loved the actual photographs. I have to admit that I do have a few books about Marilyn Monroe, though. I found her life intriguing and very sad, rather than glamorous, despite that she was quite the beauty at the time.
Betty Dravis: Sally,I think all generations adore Marilyn; she’s a real, unforgettable legend. But, OMG, I almost forgot that you also did a digital of my very favorite: Clint Eastwood. Although that’s not one of my favorites of your works, I love all things “Clint,” as everyone knows. Since I was lucky enough to interview and get to know him a little–back in the day—I’ve never forgotten him. At the time of the interview, I didn’t realize how much larger-than-life he is, but he put me so at ease that I immediately bonded with him. I made him my mentor (from afar) and tried to shape my career after his. Fat chance! (laughs)
But getting off the subject for a minute, since art is a rather passive activity, how do you keep in shape? Do you have a favorite exercise regime or do you simply rely on healthy eating? Or could it be that your husband Pete and your three cats keep you hopping? (laughs)
Sally Rowland: Oh my, Betty! Keeping in shape! I have to admit to being a passive exerciser also… (laughs) I think the biggest thing I ever did was a 10k marathon which I loved. I also used to play on an indoor cricket team (both all-girl and mixed teams). However, over the years I’ve noticed that I can’t do a lot. I have scoliosis (curvature of the spine). It’s not too bad, but one false move and I’m in pain for days. Keeping in shape now is probably limited to gardening and healthy eating. Now that we’re out of the city and living in a less populated area, I think I’d like to get back to biking, a great way to stay in shape and also see more of the area.
Oh yes, Pete and the cats definitely keep me on my toes, as well, but that could be an entire book if I told you everything. (laughs)
Betty Dravis: Well, Sally, you certainly look fit and trim, and I’m very sorry to hear that you have scoliosis. With that in mind, you seem to have come up with the right solution for yourself: gardening and healthy eating. Sounds very sensible to me…
Perhaps you will write that book one day, with illustrations, of course, but the world will have to wait. (laughs) Now speaking of cats, I heard that there’s an interesting story about one of them that traveled back from New Zealand to Canada with you. Do you mind sharing that with our readers? The Dames love animals…
Sally Rowland: My oldest cat, Tyson, now almost thirteen, has probably racked up more air miles than some people. I got him as a kitten back in New Zealand and within months we were headed off to Canada. (I swear there are more paperwork and conditions for moving pets than people–at least there was back then…)
Then after a while we decided to go back to New Zealand, so off he went again… Loads of paper work and then quarantine back in New Zealand (more strict animal import regime). After some time there, and with my in-laws getting older and needing help, we decided to go back to Canada. By that time, we had adopted another cat from the local SPCA. Tyson took it in his stride, though, and was a real trouper.
The day we picked them up from the airport was so funny. We got a bit of a runaround, but finally got sent to the right ‘hangar.’ All we could hear was loud meowing as they were delivered to us, howling inside their cages–on a forklift! The silly thing about it all was that when we went back to New Zealand, Tyson had to be micro-chipped (NZ law). It was apparently so that he could be tracked. However, even with the government-approved micro-chip the cattery/pet shipping company that we used when we finally came back here said that they couldn’t read the chip. So much for that! (laughs)
Tyson has been through a lot for a cat; we all know how cats need routine and familiar surroundings. He’s now getting old and has had some health scares, but he is still my baby and we’ll do whatever we can to make sure he has a great “retirement.” (laughs)
Betty Dravis: Aw-www, poor Tyson, but he’s well loved, Sally… Truthfully, he has many more air miles than I do. I enjoyed your interesting stories about pets and airlines. I never realized pet transportation policies were that strict. With Tyson and the other two cats in mind, I hope you decide to stay in Canada for the duration. (laughs)
Now, if you don’t mind my asking, Sally, where do you get your inspiration for a particular painting or work? Art, like book publishing, is a tough, competitive field. Is your family supportive of your career choice?
Sally Rowland: In the last few years, Betty, I have to admit to not feeling terribly inspired. As with everyone, I suppose, life situations get in the way. I find I’m still trying to find my own niche. I often say, “I’m a jack-of-all-trades, master of none,” so in a way, I’m still on my own journey of self discovery. I’m definitely leaning more towards portraits, but as you say, like book publishing, art is also very tough and competitive, so I’m happy to take on anything…well, apart from landscapes. (laughs)
I’m very lucky to have an extremely supportive family. Painting had not been my choice of career at all, despite loving it. My career background is actually in finance, banking and tourism, of all things. Art had always been just a hobby, so I feel really blessed to be able to get involved in something I’ve always loved.
With my own family back in New Zealand and in the UK, it’s always lovely to send them photos of my art–what I’ve done or am working on–and get feedback. I remember when my parents had to have their dog put to sleep: He’d been so unwell and, although it was the right decision, it was heartbreaking. I decided to paint Mac as a puppy–when he was all healthy and vibrant–but it took my Mum quite some time before she could even open the parcel and finally get it framed.
Betty Dravis: It’s heartening to know that your family has been supportive of you, whether in tourism or art, Sally.That means a lot to anyone and often makes the difference between success and failure.
Speaking of support, Sally, do you have a favorite artist? If so, tell us about him or her…
Sally Rowland: Gosh, Betty, it’s hard to say I have one favorite artist. I love so many styles. It’s like I love ice-cream but all the flavors are delicious… (laughs) But when I think about it, my top artist would have to be Modigliani. We went to an exhibition of his art back in 2005 in Toronto. I was just totally blown away seeing them in the flesh, after only ever seeing them on-line or in a book. They were huge…vibrant…and up close you could see his brush work and the lines from his original sketch on the canvas. Awesome…
Needless to say I could never afford his work, so I decided to paint my own. I’m also a huge fan of Rosina Wachtmeister; her cat paintings are wonderful, as are her other works. I admire Vermeer for his use of light… Georgia O’Keefe, Frida Kahlo, Klimt, Beryl Cook …ad infinitum I’m afraid. (laughs)
Betty Dravis: I anticipated such an answer, Sally. When I ask authors about their favorite author, they almost always have a long list. (laughs)
With those choices in mind, it will be interesting to see how you answer this question: If you could spend a day with just one person (living or dead), who would you choose and why?
Sally Rowland: Well, Betty, I’ve been doing a lot of family research over the years and hit a huge road block with my own great-grandfather on my father’s side. He’s not famous, but he’s elusive and I can’t find anything much about who he really was, or his family, so I’d have to say it would be him.
I’d like to sit down with him for one day, notebook in hand, and ask him thousands of questions about his life and our family history. The most we know about him is that he was a musician in the Army back in the 1800s and spent over a decade in India and perhaps other countries; beyond that there is nothing. He’s a mystery and I love mystery…
Betty Dravis: That’s a very human choice, Sally. It’s too bad that so much of our personal family history gets lost because we’re too busy to ask our parents when we’re young, not becoming interested until it’s too late.
Sally, when you’re actively working, what’s a typical day like for you? Do you have any habits or established routines that work best for fulfilling your daily commitments?
Sally Rowland: I mentioned earlier that I’m a messy painter. For me, I just get absorbed in what I’m doing. I prefer to listen to music, which depends on what exactly it is I’m working on. I throw on my old clothes because I just know I’m going to get paint everywhere. (laughs) There is never a set routine; I just like to go with the flow.
Betty Dravis: Sally, I hear you loud and clear! That’s so typical of artistic types. I get so absorbed in my writing, I often forget to eat or even get out of my jammies. (laughs)
Which painting turned out to be your biggest challenge? Do you have a personal favorite?
Sally Rowland: Well, Betty, my biggest challenge–and it was actually a challenge on an art forum–was painting The Girl with the Pearl Earring. I had never attempted to reproduce or paint from a master, so I thought I should give it a go. Even to this day, I really don’t know how I did it. I just got lost in the process and loved it. It’s still my personal favorite. I gave it to my mother-in-law as a gift, and now, since she passed away, it’s back with me. That gives it a personal touch and some lovely memories too.
Betty Dravis: Oh, I love that one, too. I had forgotten about it, but when selecting the Greek painting over The Girl with the Pearl Earring, I did so mainly for the cheerfulness of the painting, not for quality. I must say, the latter is absolutely phenomenal work, even if you did copy a master. Your rendition is brilliant, Sally.
Now for your next question, what advice do you have for aspiring artists?
Sally Rowland: From where I am now–at this later time in life—I would tell them to embrace their passion. Take as many classes as you can to help you, but don’t ever let that interfere with what you love to do. I hate that phrase “think outside the box”; I’d prefer to hear, “There is no box.” While I sometimes wish I had taken notice of what I loved to do, I realize there is a reason your journey takes you where you need to go first. Just keep that passion going…
Betty Dravis: That’s great advice, Sally. I never thought of it exactly like that; it’s thought provoking. I do agree about the passion; that makes the difference between winning and losing.
What is your most cherished memory of a viewer reaction to your work?
Sally Rowland: For me, every reaction is important, be it good or bad. One painting I sold started out as a really silly thing. I looked at it and went “arrghh,” so I turned it into a seascape. All in blue: clouds, sky, boat… All of it! When I posted the changed painting, someone wanted to buy it. They loved it–and that made me very happy.
Betty Dravis: Since blue is my favorite color, that sounds like “eye candy” to me. I’d like to see that one sometime. I think it may be on your lovely videotape (link below).
But now for a fun question! I waited till near the end to put you on the spot, but do you mind sharing the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you in connection with your artistic works?
Sally Rowland: Oh, this question took me all of two seconds to answer, Betty. (laughs) It has to be when I took part in another on-line art challenge. One of the pieces you could do was a Frans Hals. I loved it, so thought, “Yes, why not?” I thought not only could I paint, I could also have a go at using a palette knife. So off I went… But I couldn’t figure out why the paint was soaking into the canvas I was using. I was almost halfway through before I felt like running from the room screaming because I’d actually painted on the wrong side of the canvas! I did finish it, still have it, and it’s a reminder that sometimes mistakes are worth keeping.
Betty Dravis: Oh-hahaha, Sally. That is funny. I’m glad you treasure the work now, though…mistake or not! You certainly have a fun, exciting life…
Now before leaving, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that you also design CD covers. Please share about the ones you’ve created.
Sally Rowland: Oh yes, the CD covers… I’ve really loved this aspect of my art. I found Guitarra Azul, a Chicago-based band, through MySpace about four or five years ago and loved their music. I was lucky enough to be asked by Steve Edwards to paint something for their second CD. I love their music, so was really happy to do it. My first one was for Oasis; an 18×18 oil painting on which I had to actually change the title on the canvas itself. (McGuyver skills coming into play here.) Then in late 2011, I started work on a digital painting for their latest release Lotus Flower. I’m very happy for my art work to be a part of such wonderful music.
More recently I have designed and digitally painted a cover for Simon Allan in the UK for his upcoming EP release Demons and Dreams. We’re working together for another release later this year, also. It’s very exciting for me, and I hope, for them as well.
Betty Dravis: Since you love music, it’s very appropriate that your work be on CD covers, Sally. I’ve seen all three covers and while I love them all, I’m captivated by the Demons and Dreams cover. Probably because my latest book, Six-Pack of Blood, is a horror anthology (co-authored with the very gifted writer Barbara Watkins) and I spent some time with the cover artist. I can picture that particular painting on the cover of a horror book. (laughs)
I also understand that one of your works is scheduled to be in a book. Please share that with us.
Sally Rowland: I guess this is where fun meets something wonderful, Betty. My friend Brian Bohnett, who is an author and also a graphic artist, has been working on a biography for many years now. Brian has done an amazing job on his biography The Remarkable Enid Markey: First Lady of the Tarzan Films. This will be an eye-opener because most people would recognize the men who played “Tarzan,” but not many would know the “Janes.”
While Brian was sharing his journey, he sent me some lovely photos; one caught my eye, so I decided to try painting it digitally. It was all in fun, but I am happy to say he has included it as a frontispiece to his biography, and it’s also part of a set of cards to go along with the book. The book is being released at a convention in California this coming August. I am so excited for him and proud to be involved, even if in only a small way.
Betty Dravis: That sounds like a fascinating book, Sally. This is a coincidence, but I have a Tarzan tie-in: In my 1106 Grand Boulevard novel, I tell the story of my aunt’s first husband being Franky Johnston, the swimming coach who taught Johnny Weissmuller to swim for his role as Tarzan. Small world…and the Internet has made it even smaller. (laughs)
It sounds like you have some great projects coming your way. Since we’re almost finished, now’s the time to mention any other plans you might have.
Sally Rowland: Well, Betty, after I settle into the art community, as mentioned above, I’ve also got plans to get my own website up and running so that I can start selling my work, be it paintings, prints or digital. I like to think of myself as a bit of a late bloomer in the art world. I know how competitive it is, so I know that to be successful I’ll have to have a good business plan. That all takes time and is something I’ll be working on this year also.
Before closing, I’d like to tell our readers that they can find more of your artwork in the photos on Facebook, and the YouTube video has a vast array of your works. I love the way it’s presented in sections. All your works are great, but the pencil sketches amaze me too. We didn’t get around to discussing the sketches, but an example is to the right. It all starts with an artist’s ability to sketch, so the fine examples on the video are important. The links follow and readers should keep in mind that the contact info at end of the YouTube is outdated. Sally will share that with us when she gets completely relocated.
Thanks for being with us today, Sally, It’s been a pleasure getting to know more about you and to view your stunning art. We look forward to your website so we can check into buying some of your art. Until next time, please keep in touch and send your website link so I can put it out on the social media.
Sally Rowland: Thank you, Betty, for allowing me to be a part of your world. It’s always a pleasure to join with other artistic people. I know you showcase many successful people, so as a still-emerging artist, I truly appreciate that you took an interest in me. And you’ll be the first I inform when my website is up and running. Thanks again, for having me on Dames of Dialogue.