Artist Profile: Roz Stendahl

Roz Stendahl is a graphic designer, illustrator, and book artist. She has kept written and visual journals since she was a child, and her paintings—realistic in style, mixed in media—grow out of that life-long practice of journal keeping. Roz teaches classes in bookbinding and journaling at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts in Minneapolis, as well as a variety of other art related classes at different locations. Roz writes on her blog, “I do a lot of experimentation with art materials and paper. It’s how I work as an artist. It informs how I teach. I want to encourage people to experiment and find what works for them and their unique artistic viewpoint. I am a life-long journal keeper and it is my goal to encourage others to observe and record the world around them.”

Q: Why do you make art?
To get the stuff in my head out into the world. I’ve always had a visual and written journal; I’ve always observed my world around me. I just have to make stuff.

Q: What’s your current favorite, can’t-live-without-it tool?
For some time now it has been the Pentel Pocket Brush Pen. I started using it in 2003 and shortly after that I found I was using it everyday. There are 4 of them scattered in my work areas right now. I’m never without one.

I wrote a blog post about this pen and another brush pen that Pentel makes, to help clear up confusion some people have. Click here to see that review.

Q: What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
Below is a photo of the books I’m currently going through and a description of the stack:

Julia Child, My Life in France. Which I finished a couple months ago and still look into now and then. You get a sense of place reading this book.

J.G. Ballard, Short Stories. (Rereading these, just because.)

Steven Brewer, Breathless Homicidal Slim Mutants: The Art of the Paperback. It’s a collection of paperback covers providing a visual history of graphics, artistic styles, and communication. I just look at the images.

Anja Eibler, Albrecht Dürer. I picked this up on a remainder table for $7.98. Bursting with great reproductions of his art. (I’ve always been a fan of his woodblock prints.)

Cameron Crowe, Conversations with Wilder. Another re-read. Crowe’s interviews with the legendary film director Billy Wilder. If you care about movies and storytelling this is an essential book.

Marcos Mateu-Mestre, Framed in Ink: Drawing and Composition for Visual Storytellers. I’m just finishing this. I highly recommend it.

Ralph Steadman, Untrodden Grapes. Another recent remainder table purchase. I have been a fan of his for ages and saw the spine and had to have it. I’m still just looking at the images.

Ray Harryhausen and Tony Dalton, The Art of Ray Harryhausen. Incredible. The book includes his sketches and film story boards. Amazing artwork.

Peter Reinhart, Crust and Crumb; and Michael Suas, Advanced Bread and Pastry: A Professional Approach. When I was younger I made bread everyday. I found Bernard Clayton’s books. I got a marble slab and an ice fill-able rolling pin and developed a recipe for the perfect whole-wheat croissant. A neck injury took me out of kneading bread for years, but three years ago I returned to an almost daily bread baking schedule. These two contemporary classics are my way to reconnect and learn more.

Q: What’s the most inspiring trip you’ve ever taken or adventure you’ve ever had?
I’m a third culture kid. I was born overseas to American parents. We were always traveling. All the trips were inspiring—seeing how other people lived, ate, worshiped, dressed, talked, and most of all how they made things. Now I no longer travel with my family. I travel with friends—and all of them are observers of sorts. They notice everything, enjoy delving into things. Spending time with engaged people inspires me. Meeting people on the road who are equally engaged in their lives also inspires me. What I’ve realized is that travel was never what inspired me.

Q: What’s the last thing you cooked?
Fried rice, with red peppers, peas, corn and chicken—for breakfast this morning.

Q: If you could surround yourself with only one color, what would it be?
Peach. You can see this in the gigpans (panoramic photographs) photographer Tom Nelson took of my studio in 2009. Some of the paintings and items seen decorating the studio have changed since but this is still essentially my environment. And my main room is peach!

Q: Do you have a talisman/power garment/magical thing you wear?
Cotton—“it’s the fabric of our lives.”

Q: What’s your favorite place in all the world?
I have favorite places for temperature (San Diego), vibe (the Chicago of my High School years), nostalgia (Melbourne), Minneapolis (memory and bicycling), and bread (Paris). When I search my brain for a favorite place instead of a place coming up a person pops first into my mind. Let’s just say I have a lot of favorite people (and dogs). I’ve been in some really iffy places with some great people (and dogs) and each place is my favorite place at the time.

Q: What one thing do you want to do that you haven’t done yet?
I would love to travel to India. But with drug resistant TB and pneumonic bubonic plague rates so high there, chances seem slim I’ll travel there.

Q: What’s the best day you’ve ever had?
Any day that I got to track with Emma or Dottie. Rain, sun, wind, it didn’t matter. Working with and communicating with a scenting dog is like crossing into another dimension.

Q: What’s today’s Word to Live By?
Productivity. (Not just today, but everyday.)

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?
I suppose I’d have to say chocolate, but believe me, I’m feeling no guilt.

Q: What do you listen to when you create?
Nothing. I like “silence”: city street noises, birds outside. If I’m working on something stressful and have already passed the sane amount of time one should spend at something without taking a break I have been known to put on some Gregorian chants, or R. Carlos Nakai (Native American flute). Neither have words (at least, since I don’t speak Latin, neither do), so I’m not distracted by lyrics.

When I finish a project I have been known to put on the Beach Boys, The Bobs, or Paul Simon, and dance around the room (shades drawn of course).

Q: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Is time travel a superpower? Let’s say it is. I would like to go back in time and talk to a bunch of people at various times in their lives—contemporary interviewers have never asked the questions for which I want answers.

Q: With whom would you love to spend one day making art?
If I’m to be watching I would have to say Charles Dickens or Mark Twain; I would also love to observe Charles Tunnicliffe, Edmund Dulac, and Howard Pyle at work painting. If I’m to play along I’d have to say Johann Gutenberg.

Q: When is your favorite time of day?
Early morning—especially if there’s no snow on the ground and I get to speed along the parkway on my bicycle. The Mississippi River Gorge is beautiful at any time of the year.

But I love early mornings in the winter, when there is snow on the ground if I get to go for a walk. So I guess it’s just early mornings.

Q: What is on your workspace right now?
Below is a photo of my collapsible worktable—things that have to be addressed immediately so that I can collapse the table, reclaim space, and get back to my drawing table!

Q: What is your earliest memory?
It’s from when I was 2-and-a-half years old. I am sitting in the grass in our garden in Manila, playing with my doll. I look up and see the gardener/ chauffer, his face contorted in a rage, running towards me, with a raised machete. I feel the motion of his body brushing me as he steps beyond me, and kills an eleven-foot snake immediately behind me.

Q: What’s your favorite tool or material?
Paper—and the possibilities each sheet brings, for painting, for writing, for drawing, and of course, for making into books. And my favorite paper is Barcham Green’s Turner Blue Wove—which is a defunct paper; so I keep looking for those possibilities.

Q: What’s your one favorite material thing?
I am ambivalent about how to answer this question because I think I am ambivalent about material things. (In the summer my favorite material thing is an air conditioner!)

I was going to say: “My bicycle—riding it is like wearing seven league boots.” And that’s true. But for half the year in Minnesota I have to ride indoors on a trainer and only dream about riding it, so perhaps this heightens the feelings?

Then I thought some more. I thought I would have to say that I’m rather fond of Gert. Click here to see my “prized possessions” video series.

But as I was typing this answer it came to me that if you had asked “what is your most inspirational material thing” my answer would have been different.

To that question I would say the Ken Alano oil painting of a man and a water buffalo plowing a field in a monsoon. My parents acquired it when we lived in the Philippines and it hung in their house for years, until they gave it to me. Look at it and you can hear the suck of the mud as man and beast lift their feet in the paddy. You can hear the splash of the pelting rain on the flooded ground. You can smell the rich muck of soil brought up by the plow. The horizon is invisible because of the weather, but through the magic of light Alano has shown with a glint here and there, that the sun is coming out, just outside of the picture frame. And now you can feel the break in humidity that comes after every such storm. I think it’s the painting that made me want to paint. It hangs by our bed. I see it every morning when I get up.

Q: What’s your best piece of advice for artists?
No excuses. By the time you make excuses for why you can’t do something right this moment, you could already be finished.

[We inadvertently asked this questions a second time…]

Since this appears twice on my questionnaire, I take it I get to answer it twice. So…

A mentor once told me to walk with this question: “What could I accomplish today if I let go of perfect?”

Click here to visit Roz Stendahl’s blog.


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