“You have to make time and develop a studio practice. I actually find I’m a lot more productive when I’m more busy. You’re not being graded. You don’t have any deadlines. You have to do that for yourself.”
In 2005, Megan Sterling left her home state of Idaho and headed for Chicago with a BFA in Printmaking hot in her hands. She moved in pursuit of her MFA in Studio Arts, which she received in 2007 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and began teaching thereafter in a variety of different settings, both academic and art center based.
Having admired her work for over a decade, we recently had the opportunity to visit her in Chicago. We met up with her at the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, where she walked us through her creative process. We came away with a deeper understanding of what influences her work.
Megan draws inspiration from a variety of sources. Sometimes interesting shapes and textures in everyday objects or an odd store front window may catch her eye. She's often inspired by the artwork of others and the moments when her students tackle a project in a unique and innovative way. As a student, she felt constrained by the rigid focus on themes and in recent years has felt liberated by having the ability to explore work more intuitively. She is now at a point where she has found her voice and is trusting her imagery. She no longer fears being too replicative of other artists whose work she admires and has found a way of turning her inspiration into an expression that is distinctly hers.
When we spoke with Megan it became clear that her drive to create work comes from a desire to understand and express her emotional experiences. Her art is a meditation on the personal and painful elements of her life. She is pushing herself to work more abstractly through shapes, forms, colors, and textures. The result is very intimate, yet still vague enough to allow her audiences to have their own personal experience.
Megan enjoys many art forms, but she considers herself more of a two-dimensional artist. While thinking and creating in a two-dimensional format, she longs for the physicality involved in three-dimensional arts. This is where the love of printmaking comes into play. While a finished piece is typically printed on paper, the techniques administered are often fairly physical and incorporate a lot of elements from other art media. Printmaking, by nature, requires a lot of planning, however she is trying to loosen up and work more spontaneously. One benefit to printmaking is that it enables the artist to make multiples from one plate, which allows for the creation of editions and participating in print exchanges. Megan often uses these multiples to experiment with different ideas, creating monoprints, and sometimes coupling them with other media.
After obtaining her Master’s, Megan worked for a single, private, academic institution. She now works for a number of different establishments, which gives her more variety and freedom. This also requires a lot of “scrambling and hustling”, as classes can get canceled from under-enrollment, and the amount of classes changes from semester to semester. One might wonder how she balances all of it and still has time to create art, but in her words, “You have to make time and develop a studio practice. I actually find I’m a lot more productive when I’m more busy. You’re not being graded. You don’t have any deadlines. You have to do that for yourself”.
Megan tries to instill in her students that it isn’t necessarily the time spent on a project that is the objective, but rather it’s how one delves into a problem and pushes oneself beyond the obvious to solve it. She understands how frustrating it can be for students when they feel their workload is too heavy or that the faculty are not very involved. Having seen that herself, she tries to set an example by showing her students her own work and that she is not simply doling out assignments or grades. She tries to push students to keep searching for different ways to dive into an assignment.
Advice she gives to her students is not to focus on the details in the beginning. Start off looking at the larger picture, then proceed to the details. While she sometimes struggles with this herself, she feels she has gotten better at looking at the larger picture of what art she wants to be making and where she wants her work to be seen.
Besides creating solo work, she collaborates with other artists and curates print exchanges. She has also been in a number of solo and group exhibitions. She has an upcoming solo show at the Roman Susan Annex which opens on October 5, 2014. She and her partner, Matt Bodett, collaborated on a project for the Chicago Printers Guild 5 Year Anniversary Exhibition, which opens October 18, 2014. She is also part of two upcoming group exhibitions, Rolled, Stoned & Inked: 25 years of the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, opening November 14, 2014, and a faculty show at the Evanston Art Center in January 2015.
We are honored Megan allowed us into her space to show us around. She was incredibly gracious with her time while we filmed the video feature on her, posted above. For further glimpses of Megan’s work visit her website megansterling.com. You can also find her at the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, where she teaches classes throughout the year.
Thanks go out to Matt Bodett, Ryan O’Connor, Lindsay Weinberg, Deborah Maris Lader, Jeff Lassahn, Karen, Max, and, of course, the very talented Megan Sterling.