My Art History

The other day at dinner a friend asked me whether I ever imagined that my career would take the turn it has taken.  I didn't hesitate to answer the question.  I burst out laughing and said "No.  I never imagined any of this."   My path to becoming a working artist has not been straightforward and there have been many forks and twists on the road to where I am now.  So it got me thinking about those forks and twists--everyone has a history and I really believe that I had to go through all the changes and turns in my life to get to this spot. 

The hall outside my door at Monica Shulman Studio in the lower Hudson Valley.  I love where I work and the freedom and inspiration it has given me.

The hall outside my door at Monica Shulman Studio in the lower Hudson Valley.  I love where I work and the freedom and inspiration it has given me.

I've been creating art for as long as I can remember.  When I was a little girl my parents would send my sister and me to Argentina to visit our grandparents where they gave us every material to play with from papier mache to watercolors to clay.  We experimented with every possible medium and would even carve little wooden sculptures with my grandfather in his workshop.  Both of my grandmothers recently gave me my coloring books that I kept at their houses.  They had saved them all these years and I loved going through them.  It was funny to see that I always colored in the lines (slightly obsessive type-A person over here) and my love of layering and combining colors started very early! I also always added my own drawings to the margins because evidently I've always been a bit extra.  

In high school art became my passion and I took classes at a local art studio twice a week.  My teacher was a classical artist and painted the most incredible portraits.  He taught us composition, depth, the use of negative space, how to work with shadow and light, how to layer, and everything in between.  I started by painting (really terrible) still life compositions of bottles or fruit and copying the works of Claude Monet and Mary Cassatt (not very well, obviously) because I loved the colors, nuance and movement in each painting.  I worked in oils and learned a lot of patience waiting for that paint to dry so I could move on to the next part of my layer puzzle.  Eventually I moved on to original pieces from photos and my own imagination. 

My parents, art lovers and collectors who were more than willing to indulge my passions and foster my creativity, bought me an easel (I still use the same one) for Christmas and I would paint late into the night in my basement. But, I loved going to my classes and to this day the smell of linseed oil takes me back to that huge studio room with the paint-splattered floor on Long Island where I grew up.  During this time I also started to fall in love with photography and my dad, an amateur photographer, taught me about the masters and how to develop photos in the basement of our house.  I loved the entire process from the moment I clicked the shutter to the moment we hung the paper to dry.

I lived for making things and creating art.  Still, I never thought I could be an Artist, with a capital A, as a career.  I didn't know what I wanted to do but this wasn't a thing that crossed my mind as an option for a job.  I always thought I would continue to do it "on the side" even though it was all I wanted to do ever.  I had no clue what I wanted to study or what I wanted "to be when I grew up" but I was clear on two things - I wanted to go to a big school with a lot of choices in a city, not a small suburb, and I wanted to study abroad in Paris (another obsession of mine). 

When I got into my first choice at Boston University I jumped at the chance. I took every class under the sun from requirements like statistics (I want to cry painful tears just thinking about it) to Anthropology (because I was fascinated) to Art History (because, hello passion) to French literature (as part of my French language minor) to International Relations (as part of my Political Science major).  I just wanted to try it all and to be as well-rounded as possible with my class choices.  But I didn't take any fine art classes at all.  Not even an elective.  Looking back I can't believe I wasted that opportunity but I was doing a lot of other stuff that I also found cool and interesting so I was able to forgive myself a little. 

I fed my passion by reading books about art and artists and by going to museums.  When I moved to Paris to live there for a semester I made it a point to go to a museum at least two times a week sometimes with friends and sometimes on my own.  Thanks to having so many visitors while I lived there I think I visited the Louvre more than ten times.  But my hands weren't making art even if my eyes were being fed on a regular basis.  All the while I was shooting film with an old Nikon.  I never shared those photos and I have so many albums and boxes of prints and negatives I have yet to archive.

After college I moved back home to New York and then eventually after two years of working at a law firm I ended up in law school.  I didn't paint or take photos for years.  That's a story for another day but I recently gave an interview about how I left my job as an attorney and started my career as an Artist that you can read here.  Around that time I started to shoot digital and even though I missed film I loved the ease and speed with which I could work on my photos. It was the one thing that I never ever felt insecure or self-conscious about because no one even knew I was doing it.  It was my own thing that I rarely talked about. 

On one of my first dates with my husband I told him I secretly wished I could be an Artist and live in a place with a studio where I could just shut the door and go to be alone with my work.  I am the kind of person that throws herself into things completely.  After law school I accepted a job at a big firm in midtown Manhattan and things sort of snowballed in my career.  Exhausted and overwhelmed at work, I ended up at a crossroads where I was either going to continue down a path that didn't feel right professionally or I was going to jump and take the biggest risk ever.  I had to do a lot of soul searching and reality checking to decide whether I was about to "give it all up" - I didn't see yet that I was already giving up so much by staying in a situation that I knew wasn't where I was meant to be.

So, I jumped. I was terrified but I did it.  I didn't really have a plan (my first mistake I learned) but I started working as photographer shooting everything from New York Fashion Week events to weddings to small affairs and family portraits.  I did a lot of work for free for the "exposure" and basically took any freelance job that was offered.  I also wrote an art and photography blog, that eventually evolved into a lifestyle blog and figured out a way to monetize that a bit.  Along the way I made a lot of mistakes, I had to figure things out as I went along, faked it while I was trying to make it, dealt with my fair share of difficult people, etc.  It was all worth it - even the not-so-great parts.  When I became a mom I put everything on hold to focus on my family.  I felt very stuck creatively but I also felt very fulfilled by where I was in that moment.  Fast forward to now.

Everything changed for me professionally when my husband and I decided to move our family from downtown Manhattan to the lower Hudson River Valley. At first, I felt like a fish out of water and I missed the constant pulse and energy of the city but I quickly became very inspired by the local art community, our new space and living in nature. It sounds cliche but one day I bought a few sketchbooks, some canvases and paint and I began to pour out everything that had been inside of me in the years since I stopped making art. This was a turning point. I dug photos out of my archive, started to take my camera out for personal projects and started painting every day. I came up with a plan not just for my creative work as an artist but for my business. I really took my time to think things out, I made and executed a plan to relaunch and rebrand this website (a site that I had basically abandoned), and I started to share more on my social media. I have never felt so inspired, energized and motivated. Late last summer I opened my studio and it has been such an enormous shift creatively. 

These days I am very selective and protective of my time because I am working while raising my children who are my priority so I only take on work that feels right. My career has grown organically through relentless hard work and passion. Sometimes people will say to me that they can’t believe how my career happened “overnight” and I have to laugh out loud because nothing about this has been overnight and none of it has been expected. It has taken me over a decade to get to this point and I am nowhere near where I hope to be in terms of my goals.  I never could have imagined this and so I'm open to whatever is to come.  The list of things I want to do grows every day and while I feel like I have more control over my career now, I am constantly learning new things and I know I still have a long way to go.

My view of my work from inside my work space at Monica Shulman Studio.

My view of my work from inside my work space at Monica Shulman Studio.