Ampersand: Meet Solstice

Join us as we interview Stetson artist Solstice Backus-Little about her paintings and artistic process.

“Sunbeams” by Solstice Backus-Little

Jacob Mauser

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Some of the questions have been edited for brevity and clarity. Original interview conducted October 2018. 

Who or what inspires you? Where do you draw the inspiration for your work?

A lot of my work is of my friends and pictures that I take personally, and so I’ll use them as references- like specific moments or, what’s it called oh my gosh, candid’s. I really like candid’s of people doing whatever and I’ll take pictures and try and transfer that into paintings of them- just everything around you.

Like sort of general scenes of everyday life?

Yeah, and then altering aspects. A lot of my works are about happiness and positive feelings and life, which is—I’m on a really big plant kick right now, there’s plants everywhere.

Can you think back to a pivotal moment in your work as an artist?

I think it would be this time last year, because I started painting in oils freshman year, but last year is when I started getting into it and knowing how to do it,

“oosha” by Solstice Backus-Little

and I started getting way bigger scale, which allowed me to use more expressive painting styles, and just get more into it. So after that I just- you just learn so much and you’re able to do something with what you learn, rather than just doing still life’s or something.

What’s your routine for painting?

You mean like, how do I start what I’m doing?

Yeah, how do you get started on a piece?

First I’ll look through photos and stuff that I have and try and pull ones that have really interesting lighting or really interesting composition or something like that, and then I will do sketches of the painting that I want to do in my sketchbook. Then when I actually start painting it I’ll do really loose blocking colors and everything in acrylic paint, and then I’ll do oil overtop—kind of like building the shapes and the layers as you go. It takes several layers because first you’ve got to get down the shapes, and then you have to refine it and then fix all the mistakes you’ve made… Takes a while.

What other art are you into right now, like, music, literature…

I’m taking a photography class, actually, which is super cool because mainly I’ve just used photos as a way to do paintings, but right now I’m taking photos for the sake of taking photos, which is a different kind of process- different things make good paintings rather than make good photos.

Are there any things that translate really well between photography and traditional art?

Yeah the basic principles of art and design are really similar. You have to have good composition, you have to have good balance in the photo, it has to have interesting lines or textures or something like that, so what makes up a pleasing image is similar for both. Photos are more refined than like paintings where you can do… Like, what makes it interesting is what you add to the image than just like…

Just the image itself?

Yeah, which there isn’t—photos are a different kind of art- there’s the whole editing process and everything where you’re trying to improve the initial fleeting image that you take where with painting you’re just adding and adding and adding, if that makes sense.

Yeah, totally. If you could work in a different form of art, what do you think that would be- if you had to pick anything else to do other than painting?

Other than painting? I don’t know, I’m terrible at 3-dimensional stuff like sculptures and ceramics, like I’m awful at it, so that would be really cool, especially sculptures that aren’t just clay. Sculptures from different objects I think are super cool; I just don’t have any skill in 3-dimensional art, so that would be cool.

“Michael Trio” by Solstice Backus-Little

Can you think to a particular piece that best represents you?

I think it’d be this one [see “Michael Trio”], this painting, because this was the first one that I got down this specific style that I was going for. It wasn’t just a technical painting, it was like—it’s got thicker paint and it’s got less really strict details and it’s just got this kind of expressive feeling, which is definitely what I’m going for- I think it’s still one of my best paintings, because it’s just so energetic and like, full of color- I love color so much.

It’s probably one of my favorites, though I really love the one down there on the bottom [see “Untitled”].

This one? Yeah, I love that one too. It came together—I took a photo of them on the stairs, but then I added in all the plants to frame it and add more life to it, and then I added the sunshine things overtop in thick paint- I took the photo at the DeLand Hotel. The walls are so pretty, they’re such a nice color.

Are there any other places locally or on campus that you find give you a lot of inspiration?

I love downtown. I love the Farmers’ Market [Artisan Alley] because there’s such an ambience there. It’s so nice when it’s dark and the lights are everywhere, and there’s so many people. I really like it there.

What do you do when you lose inspiration?

That’s a good question- I guess I sketch a lot more. I have like a sketchbook full of doodles and stuff, because they’re a lot less… they don’t need to be finished, and you finish them and then it doesn’t really matter. So with giant canvases it feels really important that it looks right and you get it right, because it’s so big and so final, but with sketchbooks it doesn’t really matter, so if you feel overwhelmed then it’s way easier to get into that than it is with a giant piece.

If you don’t mind, can you speak to any major challenges that you’ve faced?

I think that right now it’s just trying to figure out where you want to go as an artist. With art you’re trying to do something that nobody’s ever done before and to change what’s being done, which I think is kind of super hard to do. So trying to figure out where you want your art to go is an ongoing challenge, I think, because you’re trying to figure it out and you’re trying to make pieces that fit into it and get better and improve.

“Untitled” by Solstice Backus-Little

Where do you see your art going?

I honestly, I really want to do murals at some point. I want to go huge scale on walls.

Get an even bigger “canvas”?

Yeah, yeah, a huge canvas, because then it’s not only the scale of it, it also reaches a lot more people than something in an art museum. Like murals—random people walk by and they’re like, “oh my god, I love this!” So a lot more people see it and are able to enjoy it, and I think that’s really cool.

It is really neat, I love walking past like a really nice mural.

They’re so beautiful and they just make wherever you are so much more beautiful and interesting.

I’ve seen some weird ones- there’s the Walmart down on the other side of Woodland has a whale mural, and there’s nowhere to sit.

The manatees? Yeah, there’s another one on the other side too, it’s fish or something. I don’t know why it’s there, but its super cool. Like, who opened a Walmart and was like, “You know what we need? We need a manatee painting.”

And nowhere to sit near it…

I think they had benches there but they added the liquor store and there wasn’t any space. At least we have liquor.

So who’s your favorite artist in your field?

Like a contemporary artist, or like an older artist? I think its way harder to talk about contemporary artists because there are so many versus old artists; there’s specific artists that are part of the field. I really like—she’s a Toronto, Canada artist—and her name’s Elly Smallwood, and she paints these huge paintings of women, and they’re so colorful and bold, and I love them a lot.

I might have seen some of her work before- it is really pretty. Have you drawn any inspiration from her work?

Yeah, she initially was—like I love painting people so it’s huge to find other artists that enjoy painting people because I don’t like painting objects. There’s just so much life in people and they’re so different and so interesting, so just how she paints them and adds so much emotion to them is something that I’m going for. And she uses really loose paint, like not super contained, and there’s a lot of energy in it, which I guess is something I’m also going for.

Do you have any advice to someone who’s just getting started as a painter, or really any other artist?

Yeah! Everybody says it all the time, but you have to keep going. The first time you start painting it’s obviously gonna be like pretty shitty, compared to something you do in a year, and you’ll be like, “Oh my god it’s such a difference!” And even now I make something and then a few months later it’s like “oh that’s terrible.” So you just have to get over the fact that it looks shitty and just keep going. You’re always gonna improve if you just keep doing something.

Anything else you want to add?

S: Everybody should enjoy art. That’s so stereotypical…

I think you’re right, though.

You’ve mentioned music and stuff, that’s art too. You should go to the Hand Art Center! There’s art there and it changes, and… is this like a plug? Can I plug it? The student artwork is shown I think starting November maybe? And you can submit your artwork, and they show student work, so you should check that out.

Here’s an interesting one- can you describe yourself and your work in one or two sentences?

I can try to! I try to paint moments in time that have emotion and life and happiness and excitement in them, because those are all things that I strive for in my own life, and I don’t know why I would create things that don’t coincide with what I want. I keep painting suns and bright colors because it makes me feel better.

Awesome! Thank you for your time!

No problem! 


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