Today’s guest is Maria Bennett Hock, a self-taught graphic designer (now artist) who went to college in her 50s to further her career. While she was there she discovered her love of drawing and painting and realised this was something she wanted to pursue. She’s now drawn to paint people, to try and capture their stories on a canvas. Maria shares stories about a variety of her creative projects, from the deep and meaningful military wives series to her more whimsical self-portraits that display her ever-growing hat collection!
What you will learn in this episode:
• How Maria became first a graphic designer and then an artist
• Her inspiration and painting process
• About Maria’s various creative projects
• Her favourite creative tools and resources
Becoming a graphic designer and an artist
Maria was a military child and grew up to become a military spouse, moving every 2 – 3 years, so she’s lived all over the world. Growing up in a military family, art wasn’t on the radar, and although she gravitated towards creative things, it was always as a hobby only. She became a graphic designer after working for a small company as a secretary, and applying for the graphic artist job when the position became available. She taught herself about making websites from a home-study program before the interview, and when she got the job, she’d say yes to whatever she was asked to do and then go home and figure it out! When her children graduated from college, Maria went back to college to further her career as a graphic artist, but after taking some drawing classes and falling in love with art, she decided to make it her career.
The drawing class Maria took was very hard, because she didn’t know any of the terms or exercises. However, she really enjoyed it despite the difficulty, so she went on to take a painting class with the same instructor. Maria kept taking classes, and says it was the class she took with Karin Jurick in 2011 that was her first ‘big girls’ class. Karin told the class if they wanted to get better they’d have to paint every day, and Maria took that to heart! It was that class that led Maria to get more involved in the art world and to take it seriously by making it a business. After that, she took more classes, including anatomy, so that she could learn more about the body. Maria still studies all the time and sketches as often as she can.
Maria’s inspiration and painting process
Maria likes to paint from life but doesn’t always get the opportunity, so she does paint from photographs. She likes a white canvas and blocks in the shadows and the light to get the proportions. Then everything comes into focus more as she paints. Maria likes painting alla prima (wet into wet, usually in one sitting), but she doesn’t always get that far. She is careful not to get too tight as she likes a loose look. Right now what she’s concentrating on is getting her art to look like a person, but not to have so much detail.
Most of Maria’s inspiration comes from her life. She has four brothers, two sons, and two grandsons. There are not a lot of women in her life besides her mother, and she gravitates towards women’s issues and what women have done. She says she’s never experienced artist’s block because she prepares so much and always has such a stockpile of things she wants to paint. However, she sometimes puts work aside when it’s not working, and goes and works on something else for a while before returning to it. She always has a couple of works going at once for this reason.
Creative projects with a theme of women’s issues and the military
Maria has done a number of series along the theme of women’s issues and the military. She started with a series of military spouses, who often face a very specific set of challenges. For example, one of the first wives Maria painted was one of the first women who was able to email her husband while he was at sea with the Navy for 6-month stints. At the time, only 2 sentence emails were allowed, which seems like nothing today but it was still an upgrade from writing letters.
Following that series, Maria did a salute series where she would interview vets at the World War Two museum in Washington D.C., take a picture of them while they saluted and then paint them.
She has also has a series on Rosie The Riveters, who were the women that worked in factories during WWII while their husbands were away at war. Maria has interviewed some of the women who re-enact Rosie The Riveter. Sometimes she takes pictures of them, or she hires people to dress up and use props, so she can paint them live. Her work tends to evolve into whatever she feels is coming up from travel and live. She has some kimonos and obis from travel in Japan, so now she’s using that as inspiration and working on more beautiful, less gritty, more flowing fabrics in her paintings.
Self-Portraits in Hats
Maria has done a series of self-portraits in hats, because she has a hat collection and she says she ‘needs the practice.’ The hat collection began after Maria had cataract surgery in her 40s. She has found it was a way to practice self-portraits. She collects hats from everywhere, including unusual ones that she wouldn’t wear in public. She has a props closet, takes a lot of selfies and paints herself in the hats, for the different shadows and shapes, and the way the light plays on her face. Some of the self-portraits nobody else ever sees, but Maria says she always learns something.
Thirty Paintings in Thirty Days Challenges
Maria enjoys painting challenges, she says they keep her focused. The first one she did was for a gallery in the Washington D.C. area on 6 x 6 boards. Maria decided to do faces in a Stages of Life theme, so she had pictures of a baby in utero to a man on his deathbed. She painted just the portraits and did one each day. Maria has also done Leslie Saeter’s Thirty in Thirty challenge a couple of times. The only reason Maria doesn’t do those challenges now is that she mostly does larger pieces, which she can’t do in a whole day. When she first started painting, she used to post a picture of her work every day, but she also doesn’t do that anymore. She wants to make sure what she posts is work she’s really proud of.
Maria does live painting sessions copying the masters. For example, she loves John Singer Sargent for because of his portraits and loosely painted works. She always studies the artist beforehand, including their palette, skin tone, proportions and tries to match strokes. Maria finds she really learns from those sessions and gets so much more out of it having to really study the works rather than walking through a gallery and seeing them. She always stresses to people that it’s not a forgery, it’s not going to look exactly like the original, it’s more of a resemblance. What she learns in the copying sessions comes out in her own work. It makes her a more thoughtful painter in a lot of ways because she has to slow down and just think about what she’s doing.
Women Artist Mentors
Maria is part of a mentoring group with Debra Keirce, Helen Beacham, Carrie Waller and Kim Minichiello. They get together once a month and have a video conference online. Between them, there is a range of experience and strengths, and everyone can contribute something different. They discuss a topic, discuss painting or composition tips, help each other with marketing and share information about shows and how to navigate the online world. They’ve also done some trips together because Helen arranges travel and art classes all over the world, so as a group they’ve been to Venice and Montreal.
Maria’s Favourite Creative Tools
Maria loves sketchbooks and takes one with her wherever she goes. She has 2 full-length mirrors—one in each studio—that she uses for self-portraits or to see her paintings from different perspectives. She also uses Photoshop a lot to manipulate backgrounds and work out compositions for paintings.