03 January 2011

Sharon Butler


Can you briefly describe what you do?

My art practice comprises painting, blogging at Two Coats of Paint , keeping an online photographic sketchbook (Sharon Butler@West End & Pearl), and making studies in a set of traditional sketchbooks. My process critically involves paying close but freewheeling attention to daily life. The ideas in my recent series, “Brightly Colored Separates,” are drawn from everyday objects and imagery, like ships-in-bottles, car dealer flags, construction materials, mind maps, fireworks, floor plans, the number eight, Lily Pulitzer dresses, geometric motifs from my father’s old paintings, vomit, cage-like crosshatched lines, and, of course, images from art history.

What drives you to make work?

I’m not sure. I don’t question why I do it. I started twenty-five years ago and haven’t stopped. I can’t imagine how I would fill the day if I weren’t thinking about art in some way.

Can you tell me something of your day-to-day working practices?

Basically, I have three types of days that all start the same way. I grab a cup of coffee and head upstairs to my attic workroom where I check e-world – stats, comments, email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. If something strikes me as blog-worthy, I’ll post it and then walk the dogs.

Day 1: I put the computer to sleep and start looking at the paintings in progress. Clean the palette, organize my workspace, and read my notes from the previous visit to the canvas to pick up the thread where I’ve left off. If I think of something that I might like to Google while I’m painting, I type the search terms in on my manual Royal Safari typewriter. Generally I find if I let myself look up everything that crosses my mind, I waste a lot of time. At the end of the day, when I review my typed list, most of the things I was thinking about weren’t very important. Every so often I check Twitter and email, but I try not to get too engaged. As I paint, I take notes about the process, and I use my phone to photograph the paintings. Sometimes I open the images in Photoshop to experiment with different color ideas, then I go back to the canvas. I wash the brushes at the end of the day.

Day 2.  Once a week I go to exhibitions, meet people for coffee, have studio visits and talk about art.

Day 3. I teach two 10-hour days a week (30 weeks a year) in the Visual Arts Department at Eastern Connecticut State University. I’ve been teaching there for eleven years.

At the end of each day, I walk the dogs, have dinner, and then settle in for some reading and television. Right now I’m in the fifth season of Lost. I often work on the sketchbooks while I watch TV.

How long have you been working in that way?

I’ve been working like this since 2007 when I turned the attic into a studio and started blogging.

Which artists have had the greatest affect on your work?

When I was growing up, my parents loved abstract painting and hung posters of Paul Klee, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, and Pablo Picasso throughout the house. I’ve always considered abstraction my primary visual language probably because I was surrounded by it as a kid.

What, outside of visual art, informs your practice?

Film, theater, literary fiction, emotional conflict, childhood memories, living in my hometown, academia, parenting a twelve-year old daughter…every aspect of life informs my practice. I think, at bottom, that’s the case for most artists.

How would you like people to engage with your work?

I try not to have any rigid expectations, but I hope they are able to sense from each painting the energy and focus that goes into it.

Have you seen anything recently that has made an impression?

Right now I’m interested in painters who ignore standard Bauhaus tenets of good composition and color and opt for a more idiosyncratic approach. Thomas Nozkowski, Cordy Ryman, Dana Schutz, Jered Sprecher and Mary Heilmann are good examples. I’m also drawn to painters who incorporate text – like Richard Prince, E.J. Hauser, Mel Bochner, Austin Thomas, and Mira Schor

Do you have anything exciting on the horizon?

Yes, but I can’t talk about it yet.


  1. I find reading about artists in their own words really valuable. I am not in contact regularly with other painters and so interviews like this provide support , challenge and encouragement to be brave with decision making in the studio. Thanks to the artists for taking part and to you for making it happen.

  2. much appreciated.
    more to come shortly.

  3. I enjoyed reading this. I've observed many times that when artists make art, their minds stray all over the place. Perhaps distraction, interlaced with moments of intense concentration, is not the enemy, but is actually part of the necessary workings of a mind making art. I think this would have applied even to an artist like, say, Memling. I mean, even when using a one-haired brush to get a bit of stubble down on a face, wouldn't his mind have frequently wandered over to what was for dinner that night?

    Laurie Fendrich

  4. This is great stuff, thanks for doing this. I want more. Good questions. I'd like to see all artists answer these questions.

  5. interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you

    Paul Klee Paintings