Posted by: Liz Massey | February 14, 2013

In the Studio With … Patricia Sahertian

A self-portrait of Patricia Sahertian.

A self-portrait of Patricia Sahertian.

Today on the blog we feature Patricia Sahertian, a New York-born artist who now lives in an historic neighborhood in downtown Phoenix.

I met Patricia through professional colleagues at my day job at Arizona State University. The first time we spoke, I was fascinated to learn that she had produced “Cut Back,” a self-funded documentary on ageism in the workplace. That film is only the tip of the iceberg of what Patricia has done artistically. According to her website, “Lately Patricia’s focus is painting miniature portraits on reprinted old photographs … along with small books, collages, and bottle vignettes. Her works have been shown both locally and internationally.”

Patricia has strong opinions about her creative process and what works for her. I found them invigorating!

Tell us about your creative pursuits, paid and unpaid.

I work in a variety of mediums, from ceramics to painting and graphic design to website building. The words creative pursuits are strange to me. I do what I do because that’s what I choose to and like to do, I don’t think about it, I don’t say “What can I do that’s creative today?” I don’t think about being creative, I think that’s a false perception about people in the arts, as if we are somehow different. Because I think we all have creativity, it’s part of our curiosity, our questioning about how things are and how they work. I don’t think it’s limited to the arts.

Do you have any formal training in your creative discipline(s)? Do you feel training is important in creative development? Why/why not?

Again, I don’t think you can teach someone to be creative. That comes from your mind. From your imagination, from your experiences, from what you see. I do have formal training in fine art and art history. That has helped me to be more observant. But it did not teach me to be more creative, it did not give me more talent or motivation either.

My knowledge in the arts has helped me think about how I approach my work. It’s all connected, as well as my experiences in life. I think learning is important, curiosity is important, reading is important, watching TV is important, because all of these things give you more to think about, which can be tapped into when you work, no matter what you do.

Visual art is a way of communicating. It can be funny, sad, emotional or empty. And it also relies on the reaction of the viewer who also brings their experience with them.

What habits do you cultivate to facilitate your creative “flow”?

None. Because if I feel like I am not motivated to work, it’s not about creative flow, it’s because I can’t think of a solution to a particular problem. If that happens, I try to look at what other people are doing, maybe study about the topic I want to express, look at how others approach the topic, what are the techniques? tools? am I keeping up with the technology to be able to accomplish my goals?

"Panama." A tiny antique typewriter ribbon tin with a story inside.

“Panama.” A tiny antique typewriter ribbon tin with a story inside.

What advice would you give to a “blocked” artist in your discipline to free up their creative energies?

I have never met a really blocked artist. Some days I don’t feel like working. Some days you have a lot of other things on your mind, your family, your surroundings, your bills. I think everyone has days that they don’t want to work. If you can, take the day off. Stimulation can come from any source – calling a friend, seeing a commercial, reading an article. It’s about thinking and then wanting to do something.

Which artistic project that you are working on excites you the most right now?

Everything that I work on interests me. I am very, very lucky at this point in my life that I don’t have to do commercial work. I did that for many years and you have to keep up with deadlines and restrictions. Now my work is mostly work I want to do. I broke my arm at the end of last year. Now I am making paintings of people with Xs on their arms and researching stories in newspaper archives about broken arms. Sometimes I find a story that is much more interesting, and that could be my next project.

"Times 3."  3 x 3 inches, acrylic on photopaper.

“Times 3.” 3 x 3 inches, acrylic on photopaper.

I am also trying to learn more about Arizona, since I live here now. Coming from New York I didn’t know much about the West or the desert. As I try to learn about it, I like to do work that relates to it.

How do you select your creative projects? What elements of a potential project tend to intrigue you the most?

Ideas come. I sit there having a cup of coffee with someone, they start talking about their grandma’s button jar, I start to think, could I make something out of buttons, related to buttons, the history of buttons? Sometimes it’s all too silly and I might say, forget that idea. But as I was looking for button stories, I might have read something about orphanages. Then I make a painting about a motherless child, because that had some impact on me.

I also like to be challenged, and tend to keep up with computer technology, current programs and applications.

What intrigues me is somehow related to others’ personal stories. I tend to collect old letters and read old newspapers and think, what were they thinking? why did they do that? who were they? how did they live? and sometimes I find an answer and sometimes I make them up. I think I have a certain desire to be a bit like “Sherlock Holmes” and find clues and interpret them.

"He Just Got Married One Year Before." yuma prisoner 2977, 3 x 3 inches, acrylic on photopaper.

“He Just Got Married One Year Before.” yuma prisoner 2977, 3 x 3 inches, acrylic on photopaper.

Any other advice to artists to help them make their creative activity more satisfying?

No, not at all. I am an individual, I do my work in a way that suits me. I think sometimes you could learn a technique that might help you make something easier to do, or open opportunities that you did not know how to do before thus making your work more multi-dimensional. But I could never tell someone else how to make what they do creatively more satisfying. It’s like telling someone how to eat more satisfyingly.

More by Patricia Sahertian:

The Studio PS

Patricia’s main portfolio website.

Escape Artist

A website created by Patricia that uses her paintings, archival movie stills, and a story about escaped prisoners who have ties to Arizona.

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