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The Artist's Perspective - Creative Couples

Where there’s art, there’s love! It is after all, the ultimate law of attraction. That infatuation with creativity rubbing off and one thing leads to another, you have a creative couple. Self expressive love birds living an artful life together. In the right hands art can be a playful dance of romance. No one quite understands an artist like another artist and so I went in search of a few creative couples to see what makes them tick. I had an advantage though, as I’m one half of a creative couple too!

I randomly chose five couples I at least knew of, so this is all hardly scientific. Some I knew a little better than others, but to be frank, I didn’t know any of them on a real personal level. This has now been taken care of, as we laughed a lot together while they shared their stories. This all in order to help me, help you understand them, and of course, to embark on an exploration into my own relationship of 30 years with my wife Linda. We are both artists. We creatively work in separate studio spaces in our home, but we both share office space, where I also do my writing. While Linda handles the majority of the paperwork and bill paying, we both are fortunate to have a lot of business experience and play off each other in this way. I think it would be fair to broadly describe us as me being mostly the visionary or strategist, and Linda more in tune with the mechanics of things. However it all works, we are better off with and for each other than we would be on our own, which is of course a good thing.

As with any marriage, I will say that it was helpful for me in speaking with this handful of couples, to hear about the potential for squabbles, as well as the trust in artistic criticism, and even problem solving. It isn’t all rosy, but it mostly is. The challenges of working and potentially being around anyone 24/7, especially two creative minds, is something which needs to be managed. The underlying love bird-ness came through though when the conversation surrounding any hiccups was also filled with laughter and the admitting that often, even with separate studio spaces, having a nearness in knowing their creative partner was close by, was also a good thing.

Lori and Geoff DeMarkIn their studio: Lori and Geoff DeMark

My group of artist couples are Anthony Barham & Misia Broadhead, Geoff & Lori DeMark, Jeff & Liz Hall, Steve & Kris Loya and Steven J. Parrish & Linda Volrath. Among them there are six painters, two jewelers, one sculptor, and one potter, but several of the artists are quite multi talented. Of them, there are also three full time public school art teachers, one full time marketing person, one full time engineer and two past full time graphic artists. So this small group has a nice mix representing both being full time artists or both working full time, or just one working full time and the other a stay home full time artist. All sell their work. Also, of the five couples only two couples have at home children. The Halls have a grown daughter working on an art degree. The rest have no children. I also met with three of the couples during the Western Loudoun [country, Virginia] Artist Studio Tour. This kept our conversations a bit more to the point, but also offered insight to them working together and with their customers present.

As a bit of a twist, I’ve also just had the pleasure of interviewing and meeting with Ian and Stephanie Case, both who are full time musicians. While Ian is an amazing guitar player, Stephanie does more of the engineering side of things, but she was a full time graphic artist for many years before both of them starting a life of full time touring. Where applicable, their story will add yet another layer to this one.  (Read the full interview on the Cases here.)

In preparation for my interviews I sat down and asked myself a few questions I would have asked Linda and me. This in hopes of sharing how this sliver of the artist community gets along day to day. With my couple of handfuls of questions, the first thing I wanted to know was how long each couple has been together. With the exception of Steve and Kris at 11 years (and the Cases), the other couples all said 20 years or more. Of the five, all met through art, be it college, taking a workshop, or in the case of Steve & Kris, it was an art related website’s chat room. Steve was living in Virginia and Kris is from Trinidad. Skype allowed their artistic romance to blossom. In the case of Anthony Barham and Misia Broadhaed, they met for the first time at Bill Waller’s frame shop in Middleburg, VA., where Bill showed Misia one of Tony’s small chicken paintings, and as Misia says with laughter, “It was so fantastically painted, that I like to say that I fell in love with a chicken, before I fell in love with Tony!”

Steve and Kris LoyaSteve and Kris Loya at the Western Loudoun Artists Studio Tour

When asked about if they all talk about art or creativity constantly? Steve Loya summed it up beautifully by saying, “We eat, breath, live, and sleep art.” “We live an artful life!” All also feel that they compliment each other as artists. In the case of Geoff & Lori DeMark, Geoff explains, “We have some common interests, but we both do different things, so there’s kind of a nice overlap there.” Lori says “Working together for 20 plus years, which is truly amazing, our styles compliment each other well. I’m always working with his clay bodies and glazes for my jewelry and I think I see overlapping with our impressions that we do, the textures and things, ... we push each other to work, which is good, and inspire each other to go beyond.” Anthony
Barham also makes a great point by saying there are actually three artists here, himself, Misia and then as he puts it, “A third entity.” That third entity I believe properly refers to the great influence each of these artists has on each other. Jeff Hall mentions that his sculpture and Liz’s jewelry work being so different, balances their overall household income out and Kris Loya adds, “I handle the tech stuff... and he gives me really good critiques about my art.” Steve then laughs by saying, “She does the pretty things and I do the funky things.” Finally, with Steve Parrish & Linda Volrath, they say that they share how to inspire each other.

When asking the couples about working on projects together, most do not, but a couple of them have experimented a bit and have certainly taken classes together. Misia shares of her and Tony doing a mural together. Her father lives in Tuscany and had them do a mural together of Lavinia’s Garden [Pompeii]. She laughs, as she’s not very tall and noting Tony’s 6’7” height, that “He would paint the tall parts.” Of course, with Ian and Stephanie Case, every piece of music they create, they create it together. Ian is a masterful guitar player who uses layers of complex overdubbing, largely done by Stephanie, for his compositions. While their music is certainly created in the studio, they tour constantly doing live performances and so the two of them have to have a strong communicative sense of what the other wants or needs as their songs and the performance plays out. Having seen them perform, it’s my guess that actually being a couple helps their process of communication immensely.

Anthony Barham and Misia Broadhead  Anthony Barham and Misia Broadhead'

While couples may well be the operative word here. I found that togetherness is too! A bit more than half actually have their own room or studio space in their homes or on their property, with the others sharing an actual room, garage or basement area. I did find a bit of a nice theme though, with some of the couples having their own studios rooms in the house, that they still liked a hallway connection, an open door to each other. Steve Loya takes that one step farther by sharing about the both of them, “We [he & Kris] will sometimes find ourselves gravitating from our own studio space down to the big dining table and just working there. We might have the TV on or a movie.” With Linda Volrath & Steven Parrish, Linda does admit, “I’m easily distracted. When I’m in the zone, when I’m thinking and really wanting to put in long hours, I don’t want someone walking back and forth behind me.” For me personally, I don’t mind it while I’m painting, but silence is almost a must while I’m writing as I am doing with this story right now!

This makes me wonder if these couples critique each other’s work and I found for the most part they really do! Jeff Hall speaks of, “valuing each other’s opinion.” He explains, “The only other place to get feedback, unless you have artist friends, is your regular friends, who just think you’re wonderful. They won’t ever say what they don’t like, so you need someone you can really rely on, that can tell you that part.” Misia Broadhead says it straight up, “When we have something to say, we will say it!” Steven Parrish puts this question in the context of viewing each other’s strengths by saying, “In looking at each other’s art, I think I’m better with patterns or seeing repeated brush strokes or a hard line that’s distracting, where Linda is much better at seeing things related to color.” They trust each other’s opinion and Linda says, “We want input because it’s hard enough to find artists... [to review your work] You do get isolated and at least there’s [each other’s] input, a second set of eyes.” Steven closes with, “And we think it’s a disservice to constantly tell someone everything they do is great.”

Linda Volrath and Steven ParrishLinda Volrath and Steven J. Parrish pictured in Steven's studio

You might wonder if there is any competition among these couples, I did, even if in a fun way. You have their type of creativity, the amount and quality of work they produce, even their individual art sales and incomes. Most did not readily commit to being competitive, but both of the DeMarks begin laughing and Geoff says, “She is!” [more laughter] “We probably were [more so] when we were younger, but now were just kind of a little bit more mellowed out and enjoy it. ...of course we always take a look at the bottom line at the end of the day and sales and see who won. She [Lori] definitely takes pride in winning that.” Lori calls it “A healthy competition.” Linda Volrath says of competitiveness, “Very little.” But then adds as she smiles, “If we get ready to go paint and I’m distracted by chores, he’s says, well I’m already in here painting... I already have half my painting half done, I don’t know what you’re doing!” This gets all of us really laughing! In the end though, Linda is a working artist and Steven is also an employed engineer and artist, who doesn’t really have the pressures of earning a living from his artwork and he acknowledges this. It’s Kris Loya that says it all so nicely with, “He makes me want to be better because he’s so dedicated to his art.”

Then there’s the business side of things. The necessary evil and I am laughing to myself when a low growl comes form Misia, “Awww that’s the worst part of it, business. [She whispers with a growling exhale, then laughter] I hate the business part of it.” She says of Tony, “He grew up in an antique shop in London, so he’s good at dealing with customers and very patient.” But then Tony says, “Misia is better!” Liz Hall says, “We have different strengths.” Paperwork wise they each do their own things and Linda says, “It’s a partnership.” He pays the bills, Linda takes care of the art business.

I round out my questions to these creative couples by asking about the upsides or any downsides of both of them being artists. While the downside seem to be few, what is said is realistic. Jeff Hall comes right out and says, “Just constantly living and working together, you need your space apart.” With Steve & Kris, elements of control are mentioned and they both admit they can get on each other’s nerves because they both want to create their art and it’s hard to get other stuff done. Steven Parrish backs that up with, “The downside is we do tend to by choice let some other things not get done when art’s being done.” and Linda also makes the point, “The downside is we’ve had to force this house to comply with our studio needs.” I right there with you on that Linda!

Liz and Jeff HallLiz and Jeff Hall with one of Jeff's sculptures

But luckily all feel the upsides out weigh the downsides. Tony, “We keep each other company, but we both understand that the other one wants to paint, so it doesn’t bug me that she’s painting.” Misia feels the same way. Art is what they do and they both know that each has a passion for it. Geoff says it “Gives us a common interest.” I will also say that Geoff and Lori very much involve their children into not only the creation of their own art, but of their art and the business side of things too! The studio tour for example, allows them to show their kids the lemonade stand approach to things. They learn about inventory, display, customers, and helping out. Great lessons! Steve Loya really finds the upside of things by saying, “Getting to work together, understanding each other, we never get bored.” I think this line would particularly also apply to Ian and Stephanie who put some 40,000 miles a year into driving themselves from venue to venue. It’s a hard life, but you do come to understand how much harder it would be to do it alone and trust me, many do. Creating art can be a vocation of solitude.

In the end, I could have written volumes about each of these artists and their lives. All are wonderful people who have found each other through their love of art and creativity, and are living day to day doing what they love. All know that income is a necessary part of life, but I feel I can say with confidence, none of them would trade their artistic lives away for simply having more money. Art is as important to them as their love for each other, and a big part of their love for each other is the supportive artist peer they have found in each other.

For more information on these artists please go to their websites below:

Kris Loya Art

Splotch Monster Island - Steve Loya

Lori DeMark Jewelry

Geoff DeMark Pottery

Misia Broadhead and Anthony Barham

Liz Hall

Jeff Hall