Cheryl Emerson Adams
Pachelbel’s Canon music is my favorite. I love to listen to classical music. I prefer music that doesn’t have words, especially if I’m doing art. I’m also careful about choosing the right mood for the music, whatever mood or state of mind the music creates tends to sneak into my art whether I want it to or not.
Often, I prefer no music at all in the background. I relate to my environment through sound, it is one of the great pleasures of life to be outdoors, sitting quietly, closing my eyes, and absorbing the sounds around me, trees in the wind, birds, insects. There is a lot to listen to if you pay attention.
Music chosen by Cheryl
What’s your background?
I grew up in rural Connecticut, and attended college in Massachusetts. I always loved to draw and read. For a long time I had a passion for horses, inspired by the cover work of Wesley Dennis. I still do love horses, but for different reasons than I did when I was a child. Horses are wonderful creatures, and I still like to draw or paint them.
Regarding childhood art influences: I had my school and community art teachers, and beautifully illustrated childrens’ books. Children love the art in childrens’ books, the art makes the stories more real. Children now have the internet, and have much more exposure to art from all cultures than I did. For children of my generation with limited access to different kinds of art, I can’t overemphasize the importance of access to books.
After graduating from college, I lived and worked in Washington, DC. I did a couple of short-lived jobs, in a hotel, and in a news clipping service for radio and TV news. After that, I spent many years as a U.S. government employee, working for Federal Aviation Administration headquarters (FAA-HQ) as a Contracting Officer. During that time I went to law school at night, passed the Maryland Bar. I graduated from law school the same year my soon-to-be husband did (different law schools), married, and had a son. FAA-HQ is across the street from Smithsonian’s Hirschorn Museum. In 2004 my husband, 4 year old son, and I moved to Colorado, and I was able to focus on being a mother and doing art, primarily pottery, then returned to two dimensional art forms. While my son was growing up, I was, and still am, deeply involved with community arts, teaching children and adults, joining art guilds, taking classes, showing at public venues, with occasional representation through private galleries.
I am now attempting to fish my non-art career out of the trash bin, dust it off, and see if it can be turned back into a genuine, bona fide source of income. So far, that has gone better than I expected, but there is still a long road ahead of me.
Does your artwork come from that background?
I am convinced everyone’s art inevitably comes from their background and experiences with life, including the life of their own imaginations. So, yes, of course my art comes from my background. I’ll use this question to talk about a few pieces of my art that owe their existence to moments from my personal experience.
“Sketch of the Smithsonian”: I kept a sketchbook, and would draw on the Mall and in the Smithsonian museums when time allowed. It was a great experience, being around all that art. This drawing is incomplete, it is a practice piece that I drew of the view of the Smithsonian Castle from the courtyard of the building next door to the FAA building.
“Mass Transit”: I painted this a number of years after I moved away from the DC area, during an exploration of abstract art. I lived in Washington, DC for 7 or 8 years without a car. I went everywhere through a combination of walking, bicycling, busses, and of course the Metro subway system. I have a huge soft spot in my heart for public transportation, especially the DC Metro system. Recently, they have changed the color scheme to reds and blues, but when I rode it, everything was silver and various shades of orange. “Mass Transit” is an expression of the way it felt to ride the trains, especially at night.
“Office Window” The vast picture windows in the FAA-HQ building had these long, vertical blinds that would sometimes catch the light. This painting is loosely based on how the vertical blinds in an office window look against an evening sky.
“Pink Tulip” and “Red Tulip” When my son was in elementary school, I volunteered in the school library for several years. The librarian knew an importer of dutch tulips, who donated surplus tulips as thank you gifts for the library volunteers. The tulips were exquisite, and each year I cherished mine. “Pink Tulp” and “Red Tulip are colored pencil drawings of two of the library volunteer-gift tulips.
“Soccer Ball” My son played soccer when he was in elementary school. This, from my days as a suburban soccer mom. I needed a “Thank You” card for our kindhearted and hardworking soccer coach. I didn’t find anything I liked in the stores, so I did a quick pastel sketch of my son’s soccer ball. I put the original in an acetate sleeve, got the image scanned at the office supply store, and, in the car on the way home, it shifted in the acetate sleeve. That was the end of the original art. Fortunately, I still had the scan, but one of the reasons I don’t do that much work in pastel is the difficulty in getting pastels reproduced.
“Autumn Evening Chatfield State Park” Colorado has gorgeous state parks. This pastel painting captures a view of the one nearest my home. It’s one of the parks that has a dam where I like to walk. Recently there has been a lot of construction at the park, so this view doesn’t exist right now if you visit the park – it’s mostly dirt and construction equipment, but I expect all will return to normal soon.
“Chocolate Birthday Cake” Was painted as a gift for my grandfather, for his 100th birthday. He recently died at the age of 103, and he was still able to read for pleasure. Kids make pictures as gifts for their friends, parents, and other people they care about. Except for artists, people usually stop giving gifts of their artwork long before they reach adulthood. What does one give as a gift to a grandparent who is turning 100 years old? It’s not that easy to come up with ideas. A painting of birthday cake seemed the thing to do at the time.
“Aspen Road” If my body of work as an artist has a unifying theme at all, it is life, and art, are a journey. This painting is a dirt road, similar to the dirt road watercolor that people recognize as my avatar on FineArtAmerica. Colorado’s natural beauty sparks the imagination and draws people in. This is an imaginary place, a composite of many views I have seen of aspen trees and mountains on journeys into the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
What are you trying to say with your work? There is no one thing to say. For better or worse, my brain engages with all kinds of eclectic things that aren’t connected to each other or to anything in particular, and that comes out in my art. Each piece of art has its own message. If you’re looking at one of my pieces of art, and you’re confused about what I was trying to say, or just curious and really want to know (as opposed to jerking my chain) you’re free to ask, and I’ll tell you. If you jerk my chain, I might return the favor.
What made you choose the medium you work with?
What makes you assume I chose a medium and stuck with it? LOL. I work in lots of different mediums. Seriously, anything can be an art supply. I use the medium that I think will work best to make the piece of art I want to make. Originally, I worked with graphite and colored pencils because I had almost no money for expensive toys like most good brands of paint.
Colored pencils and graphite are great for business trips because there’s very little set-up & tear-down, they fit in a carry-on bag, they don’t spill all over the place in a hotel room, and they don’t get confiscated by TSA when you go through airport security. Paint gets most of the glory, but in my opinion pencils are versatile, satisfying to use, and highly underrated as an art medium.
Do you work in a studio?
For me, a studio isn’t necessary, so I don’t have one. At one point I rented an art studio, and I was really excited when I got it, but over time I slowed down on using it, and finally disassembled it. I do plein air (painting outdoors), or do art on my dining room table (to the frustration of my husband, who would prefer to use the dining room as a dining room). I have a group of friends I paint with, from time to time we paint at their house(s). Some of my best work I created while I was sitting at the Depot Art Gallery, for me that location seems to have a good energy for making art. Or coffee shops. Almost anywhere in the world can be an impromptu art studio, under the right circumstances.
For about 10 years I did pottery out of a public studio. Public studios are great for pottery, because they come equipped with all that expensive equipment that you don’t want to buy for yourself if you don’t have to. And, at a public studio there are other people around. Art can be a very solitary activity, if you’re alone doing art you can spend a lot of time inside your own head. It can make me feel very isolated to not have other people around who are doing art with me.
What is the one thing you just could not be without?
It’s not a physical object, although of course it’s a little bit difficult to make art without art supplies. What is essential to doing art is the ability to focus on the process of making art.
Who are your biggest influences?
For art, and many of the other things in my life, I feel compelled to turn to the overplayed phrase, “It takes a village.” It has taken a huge village to turn me into the artist I am now. It’s been a long, fascinating, and well-populated road, and I am far from the end of it, I hope. I am grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way.
Many of the people on Fine Art America know me for my inability to stay out of a discussion on copyright law, or intellectual property for visual artists, or law generally. Unlike almost every other area in my life, it is easy to identify and credit the one person who gave me my foundation in copyright, and intellectual property law for visual artists: law professor Edward Damich.
I can’t imagine that he would remember me, at the time I was one face in a sea of law student faces. I remember him, mainly for his clarity of expression. When he explained a complex concept, he made it interesting and easy to understand. Sometimes, when someone profoundly influences your life, that doesn’t become apparent until years, or decades later, when you look in your back pocket, and you suddenly discover that you still have the tools that person gave you, relatively intact after all those years, to make a positive contribution in some area that matters to you. Perhaps that is the hallmark of excellence in education, lessons that retain their relevance and don’t vanish with disuse into the mists of time.
I don’t know whether anyone else ever looks up former teachers to find out what they’re doing. I don’t normally do that, but anyway, recently I decided to do an internet search to find out what my former professor is doing now. It may have had something to do with not knowing a lot of people who are as interested in copyright law as I am, I don’t know anyone other than me who follows copyright law for personal entertainment. It also had something to do with the diminishment of some people who gave me faith in humanity, and who turned out to be deeply flawed human beings. I suppose I was looking for a hero.
It turns out Edward Damich was instrumental in crafting and working to get the U.S. Congress to pass the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). DMCA did not exist when I was in law school. Later, at the time when I was reading it and trying to learn it so I could explain it to other artists, I had no idea that I was, in a manner of speaking, back in Edward Damich’s classroom again. He is currently a Senior Judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. He continues to teach law at various Washington, DC law schools.
What is your favourite piece of work by yourself?
“Peaches and Cream.” I am inordinately proud of myself for making the peaches (Colorado’s famous peaches) look so real. The still life was difficult to set up, I spent a long time picking out peaches that had visually interesting patterns on them, then using that to create a good composition, and getting the lighting right. Still life is all about set-up, after that it’s just using paint to record what you see.
Computers screens don’t do color accuracy very well, especially after an image has been photographed by a camera, and post-processed. This particular painting has an unfortunate tendency to sometimes show up on people’s computer screens with the color messed up in a way that makes the peaches look rotten. I find that very distressing. I assure you the peaches do not look rotten if you are viewing the original painting.
How much time (on average) does it take to complete a work?
I don’t know, I’m totally inconsistent. Unless you’re paying me by the hour to paint for you, seriously, why would you care? My plein air watercolors usually take about two hours. That’s because about two hours is the amount of time it takes the sun to move before the light and shadows are completely changed and there’s no point in trying to paint what I see. I’ve sometimes gone back to the same location, at the same time of day, multiple times to work on a more complex piece, but I don’t usually have the luxury of doing that. It takes planning, and the weather cooperating by staying the same each day.
How do you know something is ‘finished’? Is it easy to walk away?
I get asked that by my students sometimes. I respond by asking them, “What could you change that would make it better?” If they can’t think of anything to change, that would improve it, then it’s finished. Note the word “Improve.” If you’re just mucking around with a painting, and not actually making it better, that’s not necessarily progress and maybe you should stop. Unless you’re just enjoying the process of playing with art supplies, which is a totally legitimate thing to do.
Yes, it’s easy to walk away. I have a very short attention span for bad pieces of art that aren’t getting better. The more I do art, the less I get emotionally attached to the individual pieces of art, and the more I recognize a lost cause when I see it – at least in my own work.
What project are you working on now?
I’m trying to build a career out of something that I’m better at turning into money than selling art. It’s a long, slow, road to build a career in anything. I’m working on my law career.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
“If it’s only for the money, you’re cheating yourself.” –Robert Henri, “The Art Spirit”
By the way, “The Art Spirit” is a wonderful, eclectic collection of a famous art teacher’s thoughts on art, and learning, and all sorts of interesting stuff. If you haven’t read it, and you’re interested in being an artist, you should read it.
What was the first piece of art you sold?
I have no idea. I’ve sold a lot of art. I had an admissions officer at a college interview offer to buy a small soapstone sculpture that was in my high school art portfolio. That was my first offer of money in exchange for my art. I turned him down, because (a) I didn’t think selling art to the admissions officer during the interview was ethical and it seemed like the kind of thing that could go badly for everyone involved – although I was (for possibly the first time in my life) smart enough not to say that; and (b) I needed the sculpture for my portfolio for interviews at other colleges. I did say that.
Fast-forward several decades, and I don’t know how I ended up showing my Fine Art America art at this job interview, but the interviewer started asking me about buying my art for the office. Again, that could go badly for everyone involved, for conflict of interest reasons. I didn’t get into the college, and I didn’t get that particular job. And, I still don’t know how to handle interviewers who offer to buy my art during an interview, other than to politely decline.
Do you find it hard to navigate the artworld?
It depends which part of the art world you’re talking about. I don’t seem to have difficulty getting into art galleries, or getting gigs teaching art at community venues. None of this stuff is rocket science. That said, whatever it is I’m doing, it’s not bringing in enough money in art sales to even arguably support myself financially, so clearly there is a piece of the puzzle that I’m missing. It is hard work, but I mostly like it. Except when I don’t. When I don’t, doing legal work seems very appealing.
What are you personally doing to advance your work career?
It’s not really a career. It’s a journey. My efforts are not expended in advancing an art career, so much as they are expended in getting as much as I can out of an exploratory journey. I show a lot locally. I have a solo show at a coffee shop for the month of June, I have a piece in a restaurant with an art guild show, I have work at a furniture store, I have work in a couple of different galleries and at the Arapahoe County Justice Center. I sell cards in gift shops. I join art guilds, I take classes, I teach art, I hang out on FineArtAmerica and bore people with copyright stuff and talk to people from other countries about art, I do street performance – I’m scheduled to be a demo artist out on the sidewalk in front of a cheese shop (in July, I hope it’s not beastly hot or thunderstorming). I go to museums, see the exhibits and sometimes participate in their programs. I read art books. I hang out with other artists and talk about art.
There are a lot of things you can do to learn about art, it’s just a matter of getting out there and doing it. IF you do enough art activities, and you’re paying any attention at all to learning while you’re doing them, sooner or later you’ll get good at doing art, and you’ll understand some art trends.
As far as a solid base of followers? I don’t care about having groupies, I’m not even sure it’s a good idea to have random strangers following me, it seems like there could be a variety of reasons why one random stranger might decide to follow another random stranger. Anyway, having followers is not a goal of mine. I have a whole bunch of people on FAA who are listed as following me, that’s nice to have, but I didn’t do anything to influence them to follow me, and I don’t follow people back.
How do you price your work and why do you price it that way?
That’s a secret. I’m careful not to undercut any privately-owned galleries that represent me, though. Once a piece of art is priced by a gallery, that price doesn’t get lower for as long as they’re representing me. Right now, that’s not an issue because I’m not in any galleries that care how I price my art.
Do you use social networking in your day to day life?
Search for Artist CHERYL EMERSON ADAMS, that should get you to my art page, and follow me. Or not.
Is there anything that really annoys you about the artworld?
Nothing annoys me that much. I go by “Don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s all small stuff.” It’s art, there are lots of choices, if something is bothering me a lot, I disengage from that situation, and that usually ends whatever is bothering me.
Rather than ducking the question, I’ll re-write it so I can answer the question I want to answer instead. Is there anything I would like to change about the artworld? Yes. I’ll talk about copyright, because that’s what I do: talk about copyright.
The big thing I want to change is how ignorant artists are about copyright law. Not stupid, ignorant. Ignorant means they don’t know. Many artists simply don’t know copyright law exists at all, and more of them pass around various odd brews of good information mixed with misinformation. I log on to FineArtAmerica and try to answer basic general information questions, and debunk the myths. I have gotten better at doing that over time, I hope. I’ve noticed a decline in people posting truly wrong-headed comments. It is gratifying to see some progress, at least on that forum. It’s a little bit like being Johnny Appleseed. I drop seeds of information as I go, and maybe they take root and grow.
Some of the problems with copyright law that I see are:
Unlike written works of authorship, where almost everyone in academia understands that writing should be the original work of the author, except where sources are cited, there is no universally accepted system for attribution, for giving credit, to works of visual art, when an artist copies or uses another artist’s work as source material.
When someone finds a piece of art on the internet that they would like to use as source material for a derivative work, it’s often very difficult to figure out for certain whether or not it is in the public domain, and can be used without permission.
There is a huge disconnect between how people actually use their cameras in our 21st century culture, and current copyright law.
Privacy and publicity rights are a matter of state law. I would like to see those rights addressed through federal law. The inconsistencies between state laws are a confusing mess for artists who want to create and sell art using recognizable people.
I don’t necessarily have ideas for quick-fix solutions, if these were easy problems they would be solved already. I might enjoy working on them, if I were in a position to have my thoughts on these subjects matter.
What advice would you give new artists?
Make a point of meeting and talking to experienced artists. Listen, and be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Then, think about it, and exercise your own judgement.
Don’t do art to the exclusion of everything else. Art is a language, you need to have the “everything else” in your life in order to have something to say.
Have you got hobbies?
Yes. Copyright law, and intellectual property for visual artists. I guess art counts as a hobby, except when I’m getting paid to do it, which does happen occasionally. I’m also trying to get into better physical shape. Art is very sedentary, so are most of the things I do on a computer.
We have an amazing water control system here in Colorado. It comes with these huge dams, which you can walk on. The view from on top of a dam is spectacular. It’s way more fun to walk on a dam than to go to a gym. Dam-walking is my newest hobby.
Disclaimer: As always, not legal advice.
Nothing in this interview, or that I post online, constitutes legal advice. Really.
Just to clarify: This possibly idiotic-looking disclaimer is not some kind of a nudge-nudge wink-wink too clever by half legal-advice-that-isn’t-legal-advice thing. The disclaimer is plain English. It means exactly what it says. You, the reader, are not my client. I, the writer, am not your lawyer. There is no attorney-client relationship. I do not want you as a client, because lawyers have professional responsibilities to their clients that I have no ability to fulfill (or interest in trying) in internet discussions or here in this interview.
For example: As a practical matter, there is no privacy on the internet. Attorney-client privileged information should never be discussed on the internet because your adversaries can easily find it, read it, and use it against you if it suits them. Please don’t be stupid and tell me or anyone else attorney-client secret type information in a public internet discussion. Discussions marked “Private” on FineArtAmerica count as public discussions, for legal purposes.
Also, internet discussion postings are, by necessity, pretty short. Fully forned legal opinions are usually waaay too long for a discussion forum posting. From me, you’re getting free basic general information, on a level that works with the limitations of a discussion forum.
Basic general information can be useful to have. It’s just… as always, not legal advice.
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I live in Manchester, UK and try to promote other artists and writers when I can.I'm so pleased you found our community and I hope to chat to you soon!!Please comment on my posts if you like them 🙂