My Artistic Influences

Today I’m going to step back from images for a moment and describe the various threads that weave together to make me an artist.  Marietta Gregg, marketing director for artist Patience Brewster, kindly prompted me to answer some questions about what influences my art.  Patience creates whimsical sculptures and ornaments. (I really want the rhinoceros!!)   She has done a collection based on Alice in Wonderland which is also very cool.

The first question is to identify what moment, as a child, shaped what I’m doing today.  I really can’t identify just one moment.  I am an only child and very sensitive and so there were many things that deeply affected me.  

I was fortunate to live in a family who valued artists as well as exploring making their own art.  None of them were professionals except the family business was making gravestones which is really a form of graphic design.  My mom loved the Impressionists and my dad loved the two primary painters/illustrators of the American West, Remington and Russell.  My grandma’s house had oil paintings by my aunt hanging on the walls which I still have today.  My parents took an oil painting class when I was very young and I still remember the smell of turpentine.  The painting of bittersweet my mom did is still one of my favorites.

I loved spending hours immersing myself in illustrated children’s books as a toddler.  I was very impressed by the colored pencil drawings of D’Aulaire’s Norse Mythology and the illustrations of Eric Carle and Maurice Sendak.  There was also a book of macro photography of wildflowers that described how the fairies used each flower.  My favorite was of the fuzzy, curled up leaves of the bloodroot described as fairy blankets.  It must have made a huge impression on me because to this day my favorite sort of photos to take are macro shots of nature.

Nature and gardening were a daily focus in my family.  My mom had many guidebooks whose illustrations I was fascinated with.  That led to me doing mainly botanical illustration style watercolors while getting my art degree at Cornell College.

When I was still in grade school I was given a board game for Christmas in which each player collected famous art printed on cards.  That was a great way to learn the names of the masters.  I had family in St. Louis so I was lucky to be able to go to the art museum there almost every time we visited from our home in Iowa.

So with all of that background by the time I was 12 I had a pretty good handle on artists and their styles, enough so that I usually knew who had painted a piece just by looking at it.

I was equally influenced artistically by my mom and her mother and sister constantly doing some kind of needlework.  I was surrounded by quilts and fabric, as well as knitting, embroidery, rug hooking, then later weaving and spinning.  From very early on I was encouraged to think about designing fabric.  It’s only now – 40 years later – that that might be a possibility thanks to current technology and accessibility.

What do you hope to convey with your work?

I don’t know if I really have an answer to this.  I am such an intuitive artist that I’m just responding to an idea that bubbles up from the depths or more often, starting with a line and seeing where it goes.  My heart art started as an exercise in freeing myself from the rules of art I had learned in school.  I think if people feel a sense of magic and wonder – even from my more technical botanical drawings – that’s the most I can wish for.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

The year I started the heArt-a-Day blog I posted a link to freely downloadable drawn hearts on Valentine’s Day and I had 3000+ visitors that day – that was memorable.  I’ve also had a couple of people ask if they could tattoo my heart drawings on their person.  I can’t think of anything more intensely personal than that.  

What is your dream project?

It seems there’s still a part of me that wants to write and illustrate a children’s book although I haven’t thought about that in a very long time.  I have wanted to create my own oracle deck as well.  I’m in the midst of creating one for a friend.  It’s mainly digital collage, though, and not hand drawn art.  I have way more ideas than I can ever execute so I just let them stay out in dream land.

What artists do you admire?

A lot of them!!  Like my mom I’m very influenced by the Impressionists.  Also the regionalism of the mid-1900s, both in the United States and Canada. I love folk painting and folk art from Norwegian Rosemaling to Oaxacan wood carvings and so on.  The design work of William Morris enchants me.  The most moving exhibit I’ve seen in recent years was of the Haitian voodoo art of Edouard Duval-Carrie.  I saw it twice and both times it literally made my head spin a little bit.  Yesterday I went on a studio tour in northeastern Iowa and fell in love with the Grant Wood-esque work of Jim Updegraff whose day job is being a lawyer.  And then I couldn’t get enough of the geometric, colorful designs of the quilts in a quilt shop window.  I just love art in all its forms

Copyright Gretchen Little.  All Rights Reserved.

Copyright Gretchen Little  All Rights Reserved

I watched the tornadoes that ravaged the south on April 27, 2011 in real time from the comfort of my chair here in Iowa.  (I posted more about that experience here.)  It’s heart wrenching to see the destruction afterwards.  The image for this piece of art has been haunting me until I sat down and did it.

Happy Birthday Jody!

All Rights Reserved  Gretchen Little 2011

Copyright Gretchen Little 2010

I helped with the decorating of my friends’ Christmas cookies.  They thought it was funny that I’d use so many silver dragees and figured people would break teeth on them.  I argued that they were both stylish and safe as the dragees would take up some of the moisture of the icing and become soft.  So I ended up with the cookies with the most dragees.  I think they are very pretty!  And I ate the little gingerbread man after taking the photo and the dragees basically melted in my mouth.  It was nice they gave me the cookies in a heart shaped tin so I could use the picture on the blog. ;)

Copyright Gretchen Little 2010

I had to have this cute little thing to put teabags in.  It was plain white porcelain when I started.  That’s the great thing about hearts.  It’s easy to make something up without drawing something first.

Copyright Gretchen Little 2010


More experiments in porcelain painting.  It works like watercolor only better in some ways.   You can work into the porcelain without it wearing down like paper.  This must be the benefit of Clayboard.  The tricky part is that the colors aren’t exactly the way they look after the piece is fired, but that’s some of the fun of it, too.  The outside of the bowl is a pale green to match the leaf.


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