Monday, May 13, 2013

How Sheila Wolk Created her Art

Toscano Interviews Award Winning Artist Sheila Wolk June 20th 2006

Here is an interview of Fantasy Artist Sheila Wolk that I think you would enjoy reading. I think all of Sheila's fans would get more out of her artwork after reading this article.

1. Your artistic career began in the less glamorous realm of medical illustration, yet how has that experience aided your ability to depict the more fantastical themes of mermaids, fairies and angels in such an organic, truly lifelike manner, such as in your painting, “The Gatekeeper”? I loved being a medical illustrator...anatomy is the most exciting form of drawing.The glamour was there through me being one of the few women in the agency and a Jewish one at that! It was glamour of a unique reality! They hired me as a double-token, but I definitely came out the winner; working with the best Art Directors that New York had to offer (and hand letterers as well), this was a world of exciting knowledge for me. My dream was to become an Art Director and I thought it would take a lifetime to achieve—I was totally surprised that in just a few short years I wore the title with great pride, but then got bored. The transition to becoming a fantasy artist happened many years later. It’s extremely hard to answer your brief question because the answer involves many years of struggle. The brief answer would be to say it didn’t aid me in picking the themes I pick now, yet it is part of my life and I couldn’t be what I am today if one thing in my past was changed. To brief you quickly: When I quit the job, I became a freelance illustrator, model, and a coat check girl at night for extra cash. Then I designed the first silk-screened canvas tote bag in America (The Volkswagon Tote Bag) and ended up in magazines like “New York Best Bets” and “Cosmo Tells All.” I then expanded my line into unique appliqu├ęd baby nightshirts, until the government closed us all down due to a fire retardant agent in the mandatory materials for nightshirts—so I went broke and lost everything I had overnight! One night, an art director I knew called me and said, “Sheila, with your knowledge of anatomy and your youth and beauty, why don’t you become a sports artist? You would become famous very quickly.” And so I did. I borrowed just enough money to get by on and promised everyone that within a year I would have a show and be in the papers, and if not, then I would quit. Eleven months later, I had my first one-woman show and I was featured in both newspapers and magazines. So that took me on a career of 23 years and then I retired from the sports art life. Being a woman in that world was extremely difficult—I won many awards, had hundreds of shows, was known all over the world, and yet still had to fight for every penny due to greedy major corporations that had little respect for women in the business. I felt that they didn’t deserve my talent so I decided I wouldn’t share it with them anymore. It was a scary decision but it felt so right. I transitioned back to Fine Art and painted hyper-realism paintings, landing a gallery for my one-woman show, which was the talk of the town—featured once again in magazine and newspaper articles—but unfortunately only one painting sold and I was broke again. The nightmare of this situation was that the money I was using to live on that year while I painted was my inheritance from my mother who had passed away a year before. I couldn’t stop crying; I cried for weeks and I felt that I was drowning in my own I painted a mermaid, and here I am now, a fantasy artist!

The Gatekeeper Angel on a Rose Swing by Sheila Wolk

Ahhhh, “The Gatekeeper,” the painting that opened new insight to my life! In preparation for this painting, I took hundreds of photographs of pink roses and watched as they bloomed and died everyday. I needed more inspiration and understanding as to the heart of the rose and its life, so during this period I had to spray six paintings to get them out of my way, since my paintings range from four to six feet. I wore a professional gas mask to do the spraying, but after the job was done I realized that I had forgotten to put the filters on the mask, and so I passed out from the fumes. I didn’t feel well after I awoke, so I went to sleep and the next morning I had no vision or hearing. I thought I was dead until I touched my arm and then I realized I was in severe trouble. While being rushed to hospital, I was told that I had severe toxic poisoning and it would take a long time to recuperate. Two years of no sight and hearing left me frightened and desperate. Along with the Prednizone and swelling of the flesh, the realization hit me that I was a useless person. I remember standing in front of the Gatekeeper sketch, staring at it in vain, seeing nothing but black...but I also found myself pondering survival and how I could translate this into the Gatekeeper if my sight and hearing ever came back. I turned on my 1500 watts of light everyday and prayed to see the light. And then one day I saw it, like a small pin dot, a speck that gave me hope. This procedure went on for months, [with bits of sight returning for] approximately five minutes, which eventually grew to ten, then fifteen—Ohhh happiness! Each minute that I could see a little, I would paint a rose, or a petal, or a vine or leaf. I felt the importance of patience and persistence. I realized that prayers could be heard; I realized that pain could yield joy. I realized that my impairment was replaced with wisdom, a lesson that I can be strong at my weakest moments. The Gatekeeper was my savior; the dripping roses, which I added later, were my prayers being answered by my angels. By the time the painting was completed, my vision was restored and my hearing (outside of a small permanent loss) was back. I learned at that point that each painting has to have great meaning and importance, no matter how long it takes.
2. In fact, much of your previous work seems to have been preparatory for working in your current field; working with pastels for the first time as a sports artist, you were known for your superior ability to capture the raw power behind the athletes’ every movement, from tennis to golf to football. What is it about pastels that draws you to the medium? I have worked with oils, watercolors, acrylics and sculpting, and I found that pastel dust is the ultimate medium; it combines all the necessary needs for blending and creating subtle tones, [plus] it’s a hands-on medium that eliminates the need for hardened tools to apply it. My imagination and fingers are the master.

3. Edgar Degas, famous for his Impressionistic pastel renderings of ballet dancers, once said, “Drawing is not what one sees but what one can make others see.” How would you say this applies to your decision to change your focus from sports art to the more subjective world of fantasy art? I totally disagree with Degas’ interpretation as to what drawing is...[that is,] if he meant it as an active part of creating. I could never think (while drawing) of what anyone else would like or dislike... I am in a totally committed zone when drawing, and it’s a commitment to the translation of what I am trying to create. Nothing on the outside is allowed to enter; it is [a zone] full of exploding knowledge, passion, and trust toward my skills, yet open to accidents that are pure creativity when noticed as a contributing factor. When I am finished with a drawing or a painting, it is an independent being where I have no more control; it’s complete and has no concerns as to who likes it or doesn’’s almost like a thought that ends with a period: there it stands, done...It has become a tangible, visual, creative thought that invites criticism, whether good or bad.

4. There is a smoothness to your pastels that allows an inner radiance to be exposed through layering colors on top of one another; it’s reminiscent of the otherworldliness found in pre-Raphaelite works such as Waterhouse’s “Circe Invidiosa” or Grimshaw’s “Spirit of the Night.” What artists do you look to for inspiration? Since childhood I was totally mesmerized by Michelangelo and DaVinci, and I still am to this day! Of course I have admired the brotherhood of the Pre-Raphaelites—I studied them to the maximum degree—but I remain impassioned and devoted to the old masters.

5.We at Design Toscano love your work; the range of themes, colors and subject matter is so vast, yet each painting seems to maintain its own distinct individuality. In your painting “Field of Dreams,” a fairy sits in a field surrounded by butterflies, with her own fairy wings fashioned to look like a butterfly’s, yet it is the painting of a mermaid that is entitled “Metamorphosis,” a word commonly used to describe the changing of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Would you say there’s an inherent quality associated with butterflies that compels you to incorporate their presence into your fantasy art? What is it about butterflies that captures your interest so acutely as to weave them into many of your works? The first series in my fantasy realm was mermaids. Amongst these came “Metamorphosis” and “The Spiraling” (diptych). “Metamorphosis” means “to change,” or other synonyms are “transformation” or “transmutation.” I was trying to relate a rebirthing of the sea or heart of the sea via a mermaid. To me, “The Metamorphosis” is one of my most spiritual paintings because I implied a religious undertone, yet most people feel it and don’t understand why. [In the painting,] she is looking up, implying trust and hope; she is bound by her hair, yet floats unbound by the fish birthing from her hair; and the intentional, yet ever-so-subtle, “cross” design encompasses all these elements, completing the message I chose to deliver. The answer to your question about my butterflies has a complex and yet endearing answer. I was visiting a family member in a state mental institution, and I will never forget how she was scratching at the [window]screens...repeating over and over again that she could fly. I asked her if she wanted to be a bird and she replied that she was a butterfly and needed to be free. I witnessed such turmoil in this lost creature—and seconds later, vengeance beyond my imagination—as she unrelentingly called out to the butterflies. When I decided later to paint my first fairy, I recalled this incident and wanted to portray the wildness of such a gentle creature, hence, “The Chameleon.” If you noticed in the painting, her wings are tattered and torn, yet she seems so young to be so mistrusting. I wanted the spectator and the fairy to meet for the first time, as if they accidentally stumbled upon each other in the wilderness, with the paralyzing reality that both exist. I wrote a little poem about this painting...


I have done massive studies on butterflies, to the point of watching the cocoons give birth right here in my art studio. Butterflies are mandatory, an ingredient to the fairy world that needs to be painted authentically.

6. Indeed, one of our favorite paintings of yours, “The Chameleon,” also features a butterfly-winged fairy, and is soon to be transformed into a sculpture. What other paintings do you plan to have sculpted three-dimensionally? I am truly excited about this, seeing my paintings go three-dimensional was a long awaited dream of mine. “Field of Dreams,” “Hearts Content,” “The Lure,” “The Guardian,” “Revelation,” “Dusk” and “Dawn,” and a pretty neat devil by the name of “Mr. Crimson” will soon be released. Then come water globes (with a unique change), and I am presently having meetings with regard to coffee tables. There are a few more new surprises to come, but I like being a bit of a mystery, so you’ll have to wait and see! May I leave you with this...


Thank you
Sheila Wolk

(this article was used with permission by Sheila Wolk)