I’m an artist and writer living in Houston, TX. I run a small exclusive gallery space and I am the proud human of the biggest dog in the universe.
Maria Elena Sandovici
Why watercolours and writing?
I started writing more than ten years ago, mostly because I was bored, but also because novels with a certain kind of character – a young woman who feels inadequate and lost in the world – appealed to me, and there were simply not enough out there. So I wrote Dogs with Bagels, my first novel, but my plans for publishing it were tentative for many years.
I also started painting watercolors because I was bored. In 2013 I went on a girls’ trip to Ibiza, but I felt as detached from the party scene as I did from my normal life as a college professor in a small town in Texas. I ended up exploring the island on my own, and staying in my room painting watercolors. They were clumsy at first, but people on social media were encouraging when I posted pictures. I found that it made me happy to complete one every day. When I returned to my small town teaching job in Texas, feeling more stifled than ever by my life and career, I started the blog and eventually it took over my life.
What inspires you?
The nice thing about completing a painting each day for 7 years now is that it forces me to constantly look for inspiration. In fact, the hardest part of painting daily is coming up with a constant stream of ideas. I often scroll through Instagram and take screenshots of things I might like to paint. If I’m stumped I look through them. On days when nothing speaks to me, there’s always my dog. I think I have hundreds of portraits of her. Or, if all else fails, I’ll paint whatever is in front of me. One day I painted a Tide pod. They’re so delightfully translucent!
Who inspires you?
I’m very lucky to have two wonderful mentors. World renowned Houston-based artist John Ross Palmer, the founder of the art movement of Escapism, has a formal mentorship program, which I graduated from in 2018. In the escapist Mentorship Program, Palmer and his husband Ryan Lindsay teach artists the business skills necessary for success. But I have learned so much more from him. My favorite is painting with him, and talking to him about art. While the program is not meant to influence our artistic style, as a huge John Ross Palmer fan, I wanted to learn about his techniques and to watch him paint. John inspires me because he himself is so prolific, and his joyful approach to life and art is contagious – and leads to an abundance of creativity. Also, he’s extremely funny and he makes me laugh.
Are you a perfectionist?
How do you handle your inner critic?
The only way to deal with my inner critic is to keep making art. It’s very hard at the beginning when one doesn’t quite have the skill set to make wonderful things. It takes so much practice to be good at something! When I look at my early work, it’s rather awkward, but I’m glad I didn’t give up.
I still have days when I don’t love what I make, and those are the worst days. But I know from experience that the next day will offer the opportunity to try again and do better. What’s funny is, sometimes I look at a piece I didn’t like at first, and realize it was actually not bad.
I think that’s right now. Two years ago I walked away from a very successful career in academia in order to become a full-time artist and run my own gallery space. Although I had been hoping to do this for years, and preparing for the transition, it was a scary thing to do and I was almost paralysed with fear for the first year or so. Right now, despite the pandemic – which means I can’t host parties or even have normal gallery visits – my small business is doing well. A few nights ago I hosted a very successful art auction over Zoom. I’m still blown away by how well it went!
I also do a live painting demo each evening over Facebook Live. I never thought I’d enjoy such a thing, but it’s brought me immense joy. There’s a small group of loyal collectors who watch each and every night, then a few surprise viewers pop up, and it’s a party! It gives me a great sense of satisfaction and purpose because not only do I manage to cheer myself up during this very strange time, but I know I’m brightening people’s day.
There are too many to list here. Luckily I learned at a young age to not give up, keep trying, and not be too embarrassed when mortifying things happen. I learned this by getting a Ph.D. in a field I was not well suited for, with a committee that demanded excellence and wouldn’t let me get away with mediocre work. I had so many awkward and disheartening experiences in the process of earning that degree that it fully prepared me for the many disappointments and failures one experiences when trying to be successful as an artist and writer.
I think one of my worst moments was having an art show in Barcelona in the midst of the world financial crisis. I put a lot of work and money into the show, and it was very lovely, but nobody bought anything – except for two friends who wanted to be supportive. It was still a good experience because I learned a lot, but I was disappointed and I remember not being able to shake off the sadness for several months afterwards.
Social media – yes or no?
A very enthusiastic yes! I met many collectors, readers, and other artists through social media. It’s also how I met my mentors. I was fairly new to Houston and relied on Facebook to find art events to go to. There was a party at John Ross Palmer’s gallery, and the social media invite, which I only got because some common friends marked themselves as going, looked very attractive, with a painting of the Sagrada Familia as the cover image. The event was open to the public, so I decided to go. I fell in love with my mentor’s work that night, and I learned that he had a mentorship program for artists like me. It absolutely changed my life.
I’m working on a new novel, The Glory Days of Aimée Bonnard, which will probably be published in the spring. I will also unveil (most likely virtually) a new series of large-scale abstract paintings later this year. And I plan to continue painting daily watercolors indefinitely.
Favourite quote or advice
Stay hydrated. Just kidding! 😉