Getting to Know Artist Photographer Iris H Richardson

Iris H. Richardson

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Music chosen by Iris

What’s your background?

I grew up in a small town, Niederzier, in Germany. My parents owned the town’s restaurant and pub. Naturally, they wanted their children to follow in their footsteps to take over the business. In classic German style, I was given two choices getting an apprenticeship as a Hotelfach Frau (hotel business woman) or as Koch (a chef). I opted for the later.  My dream of becoming a photographer was not allowed nor acknowledged.

After graduating with my chef degree, I was faced with yet another obstacle, that female chefs were not in demand. To work as a chef, I had to leave Germany as I was faced with replies that “We don’t hire female chefs”.

I left Germany at age 19. I continued to work as a chef for over ten years before I decided to follow my dream as an artist. I returned to school to get my associate degree in photography at Antonelli Institute of Technology (new home Harcum College,PA). Then again to gain my BFA at Rowan University.

Whole Smoked Eggs

Does your artwork come from that background?

Art has always been part of my life. Back in high school, I would take up calligraphy and art.

Just like so many artists, I struggled with dyslexia. Luckily I was diagnosed in 5th grade and received some help.  Art is one area where someone with dyslexia is on the same playing field as the rest of the student body.

Even in my apprenticeship to become a chef, I managed to bring art into the equation. Our trade school was offering a master ice sculpting class and I and another culinary student managed to get into that class. Food was my art medium. Later after I became a professional photographer, I took this knowledge to the next step and specialized in food photography.

The commercial photography work is a combination of the clients vision with the artist getting as close as possible to that vision. All too often I found myself wishing for more creative freedom. Many times I would create what the client desired and then created my version after the client left. Often it was my creation the clients would prefer. This brought me to the point I am now.

As digital sped up the creative process, and the “good enough” trend became entrenched in the professional photographer area, once again I found myself soul searching. It was not as daunting this time as it was when I decided to leave the restaurant industry. As a photographer other artists often taunt us that we are not real artists. I always found this amusing. I missed the slower film based photography process and decided to learn to paint.

Looking back now I can see how every skill I learned along the way helped me become the artist I am today. I don’t see the time I spent working as a chef wasted as those skills do show up in my work. The way I handle a brush and the voice in my paintings could be partially credited to working with the food media which has a great array of texture and consistency qualities much like art medias traditional artist use. My culinary background opened the door to other opportunities I would not had was it not for those culinary skills in addition to my art skills such as food styling for film and video.

Bath Salt on Bamboo

What are you trying to say with your work?

I am not sure if I have a conscious message I am trying to portray with my work. Art represented so much in my life being my escape, solace, growth and inspiration that I am not sure who I would be conveying the message to the public or myself? We all have our demons to fight and art has been my weapon of choice.

Looking at my work from the years past I would say the message would be “Enjoy life, slow down and smell the roses, the rat race can wait”

However, lately, with our current world in turmoil as an artist, much like artists in the past felt driven to document history, I feel the need to create art to make people feel a burden taken off their shoulder, feel less stress, more joy and pleasure just to forget about everything if only for a moment.  My form of art escape.

In the end, I might create the darker side of history for my own artistic expression of documenting it and show the world how I would like it to be. Like the saying says “Be the change you want to see”  because “ It is what it is” would mean to give up and that is not the kind of person I want to be.

What made you choose the medium you work with?

I am not sure if I choose the medium or if it choose me. As a chef, I was drawn to areas in the kitchen which allowed me to express myself.

Those medium came in different forms may it be chocolate, icing, ice or produce I carved or combined not just for taste but for color and displays. As a photographer I preferred large format to the 35mm  cameras because the large format gave me many more creative options  and allowed me to compose the final work in camera.

My art teacher, Jim Repenning, starts his students out in charcoal, moved to pastels, and finally to oil paintings. After that, he left it to each student to what media they preferred. I fell in love with oils and have continued painting with oils to this day.  No one media is my ultimate choice. I see each media as a tool in my toolbox. Each media has its place in my work.

Cherry Blossom on Blue

Do you work in a studio?

Yes, I do work in my studio. We needed to replace our roof a few month ago and added skylights. They are my favorite feature right now. The quality of creating art in this space has improved dramatically.

I am more productive with the right lighting. That is why adding skylights to our roof is such an improvement. Right now, I work with two easels but considering adding more. This allows me to work on more than one painting without disturbing one that needs to dry.

What is the one thing in your studio you just could not be without?

I can and have worked with artificial lighting but truly enjoy working with natural light. the clarity it provides is difficult to reach with artificial lighting. The environment which surrounds me does effect the outcome of my work.

Christmas Gift under The Tree

Who are your biggest influences?

I have to give credit to my art teachers, especially, Jim Repenning, who has encouraged me all the way. I came to him with no classic training and he gave me the art foundations and courage to continue my artist journey. Yes there are always famous artist who in so many ways have inspired me. Living artists who teach their craft keep guiding me on my journey are my heroes. It is those artists giving unselfishly who ensure that art continues. They are my inspiration and one day I hope I will be that artist to others.

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What is your favorite piece of work by yourself?

A mother loves all her children equally!  Off course there is one particular painting I love.

It is one of 10 paintings I created for my BFA exhibition. It took me longer than the rest of this body of work. Perhaps that is why it is my favorite. I got to know it better spending so much time with it.

How much time does it take to complete a work?

A photograph might only take seconds to create but years when one considers training an artist’s eye. I have paintings taking years to complete and others weeks. However, the photograph which might inspired it took just a moment to create. Others I paint from life and the real world still demands I finish the painting at a more rapid pace. It takes the vision and creativity of an artist to create their work never mind the time to takes the artist to finalize it. In my earlier painting days I was more restrained as a painter focusing too much on the technical accuracy instead of my artist expression. I forced myself to stay in my zone and just let the artist in me to be free to create. My artist voice resonates with the art viewers when they see my work.

Egg Shell on Green

How do you know something is ‘finished’?

I listen to my work or let it talk to me. That might sound odd but, it is not an easy task to accomplish in the word of constant connections and negative mind pollutants. I have to reach a creative zone in which my mind is quiet and all it focus on is the art I am creating. Only when I reach such focus will I decide if the work is finished. The painting is that of a dandelion puffball having lost most all its tiny parachutes. It symbolizes the end as well as a new beginning. It brings back childhood memories of hoping for dreams and wishes to come true. It is a reminder never to give up no matter how impossible things seem to be.

Icecream from Teapot

Is it easy to walk away?

I don’t walk away per se I decide to put paintings away to simmer as I call it. If I reach a point in the painting I feel I am doing more harm than good it is time to put it away to come back to it later. Sometimes that means just taking a break and other times a painting might wait for weeks, month and even years. They are never forgotten always in side and often the urge will come over me and I start working on that particular painting again to finish it. I never abandon my art children. When my work sells I like to think of them finding a beautiful new home.

What project are you working on now?

I have been volunteering at the Heritage RCA Museum at Rowan University. RCA was a very  important corporation to South Jersey. Its mascot is Nipper, a white and black mixed breed dog, often identified as a fox terrier. I am working on a painting of him right now and like to complete it before I leave to Florence Italy in Fall. My preparation for that journey is taxing my time to paint. In the meantime, I have been taking macro photographs to keep the artist in me satisfied. I will make up for lost time for the coming two years working towards my MFA degree at SACI, Florence Italy.

Iris in Lavender

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

Be true to yourself and take the compliments. Don’t belittle your work if your main income comes from other sources. One day that work could be your main income and the reputation you build continues to follow you. Be kind to others and yourself. Don’t burn bridges. Every person, every connection you make has an impact on your life you might just not be aware on how and when. That mundane job today might inspire your creation tomorrow. I do my best thinking while doing boring tasks.

What was the first piece of art you sold?

I don’t recall my first art sale, but I do recall my most memorable art sale. It was the first year I was accepted in the Rittenhouse Student Spring Art Show. We set up my tent and waited for visitors to come by. Some of my fellow artist friends had made sales by mid day. I concluded that this would not be my day when a woman rushed up explained that my painting was the only one she likes, she wanted it but the transaction had to be done fast in order for her to make an appointment. Within 5 minutes the sale was made and she rushed off. The whole experience was surreal, something one would see in a movie. It took me a moment before it sank in what had just happen. It was such a rush of adrenaline and I will never forget the determination on my buyers face to get my painting. I hope one day I will walk into a room and see it again and thank that buyer for making such a wonderful impression on me.

Purle Anemore flower

Do you find it hard to navigate the art world?

When you don’t live close to the traditional gallery hot spots such as major metropolitan cities like New York it adds another burden to the artist business. At one point the artist needs to create the art. But as the ultimate small business you can’t afford to hire marketing firms and agents which would free time up to create new work.  However, the way the art business works, artists have to come with an established customer base before an agent considers the artist. The internet evened out the playing field as it allows an artist to market themselves away from home and indeed worldwide. But with that opportunity, copyright infringement is as an all time high with little to no protection for the artist. The thefts are blatant and cost artists and the art economy in many cases the means to a sustainable living from the art work. One would think with artists creating multi billion dollar industry, government around the world would go out of their way to support artist. For now, each artist is on their own for the most part carving out a place for themselves in the art world. I am grateful for the tools modern technology as provided me, and learning to accept the negative side effects are part of doing business. Much like the brick and mortar business does with shoplifting. I would not consider the art world confusing. It is a recipe between timing, connection, hard work and a good dash of luck.

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What are you personally doing to advance your work career?

My work experience has been 20 years as an artist working in studio and on location. My goals are to immerse myself into my professional studio practice and broaden my outreach to the international art market. It is my intention to gain gallery representation in the USA and Europe. I have had an opportunity working with Isaiah Zagar, Philadelphia’s own mural artist over the summer. This experience led me to join the Creative Glassboro Advisory Committee which works with the local government to bring artists and their art to our community. Rowan University has opened doors for me including being accepted at the Rittenhouse Art Show in Philadelphia twice and was invited back. “The Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show is the oldest outdoor fine arts show in the country, with over 140 critically-acclaimed artists exhibiting in six different categories: oils & acrylics, drawings & pastels, mixed media, printmaking, sculpture & watercolor.”

Music chosen by Iris

I am aware of art trends due to my heavy involvement with social networking and reading the art pages. It is important to be informed about current events in the art industry and to understand how my work fits into the larger picture.

How do you price your work and why do you price it that way?

Much like other artist I price my work by size. I use the square inch pricing since that price structure has been well established in the art world. It is although one art collectors understand and respect. My favorite pieces get special consideration. If I love the work so much that I do not want to sell it I might ad a “Weeping Artist” fee. This way when I do receive an offer I will use the fee money to buy myself tissue papers for my sensible artist heart to weep with the bittersweet sorrow knowing that the added funds will free up space in my studio and ensure I can continue creating art.

Do you use social networking in your day to day life?

Yes, marketing is part of being a professional artist. Social Networking is the current marketing trend. I spend about an hour on SN sometimes more every day. It has become part of my morning routine. Currently I focus on twitter and instagram and am reevaluating FB.


Is there anything that really annoys you about the art world?

Thanks to the internet and pop up galleries, I see the art world more accessible than ever to a greater population. However, with that there are many more scams trying to cheat artists out of their well earned money. If I could change one thing it would be the insane prices some works get at the auction houses. Some of those prices could support many talented artists, but instead end up in the hands of a few. I would set up Art donation fund for art selling above a certain amount and those benefitted was not the artist.

What advice would you give new artists?

Create art even when time gets tight.

Take everything you hear with a grain of salt.

Never stop learning.

Live a clean life, ie take care of yourself.

Exposure does not pay the bills.

There will always be someone who sells for less and free, you can’t compete on price. Stay true to yourself.

Nobody lives in a bubble.

Don’t burn your bridges. and the best advise I received from my teacher Jim Repenning, “Dare to fail” or you have no stories to tell and laugh about.

Music chosen by Iris

 Have you got hobbies?

I love to learn and try out new things. Hobbies to me are art skills I have yet to master. I took up jewelry and pottery at Rowan University. Right now anything I make in those media’s I would consider a hobby. In addition I am the co-leader of the 4-H Palate Pleaser cooking club, teaching kids cooking from scratch. When I am not creating art I spend my time with my dog and our garden.

What is the funniest memory of your art career so far?

One of my clients was a gourmet website. I was allowed to pick the recipes I would create pictures for every month. I loved picking unusual recipe and picked a rattlesnake recipe. Only the problem was I could not purchase them around Philadelphia at the time and had to mail order the snake meat. The day the packaged arrived I casually told the UPS guy that my rattlesnake arrived as I was signing for my package. I never saw a package dropped this fast. I quickly told him the snake was dead as he turned quite white. To this day, I feel sorry for the delivery man but it sure makes for a fun story.

Where are you based?

I am based in South Jersey, the garden state part of New Jersey which is turning into a wine mecca. My family and I live in Mullica Hill surrounded by fruit farms and wineries just 40 minutes outside of Philadelphia, PA.

Iris H. Richardson

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Isabella F A Shores

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Hello, my name is Isabella Shores.I'm a dog lover with two Alsatians.A bird lover...2 budgies, and an avid writer.

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 🙂
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