A writer (she achieved her MLitt with merit in creative writing from the University of Glasgow, Scotland), as well as a fine art painter, this local artist has the need to create just flowing through her veins. Read a little Q and A with E. A. Zokaites, and then definitely check out her website!
Describe to us what type of work you do, and what your preferred mediums are:
I painted oils almost always, occasionally it’ll be with acrylics. I do mostly nature art. I love clouds, so I do a lot of skies….a lot of landscapes. But I’m kind of branching, and do a lot of animal stuff, because it’s super popular. I was thinking about starting to do some trees and stuff like that, but it’s mostly landscape and skies.
How long have you been doing your specific medium?
So, professionally, I’ve been an artist for about a year, but I’ve been painting since I was 9 off and on. I’ve always loved clouds. I have a binder full of [cloud] photos that I took probably when I was 11. Whenever I see clouds, I’m like, “Oh, I should paint that.” Just living out in the country when I was little made me love the sky, and the landscape.
How has your work evolved over time?
My work hasn’t evolved as much as I expected, because the themes that I liked have remained the same. I like to try out different styles a little bit. Sometimes it’s a little more impressionist, and a little more realistic, but overall I think it’s been pretty steady.
Were there any factors that led you to where you are today?
My dream was to paint, and then in high school I decided I wanted to write novels. So, my education is mostly in writing and English and literature, and all that. After I graduated, I was tired of writing so much that I went kind of back to painting again, and it’s been full circle. I still want to write, but for right now, it’s mostly the painting I’m doing.
So, is your career mostly your writing or is it painting, as well?
Mostly what I make money from right now is painting. I’m not doing very much writing, but I want to get back to it.
What usually inspires you to create your work?
Sometimes when I’m out driving I have to pull over and take pictures. So, there’s a lot of pictures on my phone of stuff I can paint. Sometimes it’s pictures that other people have given me. But like I said, I mostly work from photos. So, I’ll just snatch a quick picture, and then maybe take parts of it and construct a painting from that.
How long does it typically take you to complete a project?
If we’re talking actual time spent on the painting, I have some tiny ones that are magnets, and those take maybe an hour. But, the bigger it gets, the more time it takes. So, I have some that took like 5 hours, and some that took more like 10. Some of the ones that are in progress are probably going to end up being about 20. But, part of that’s me learning new techniques, too.
So how long did that wolf one take you?
That one took about 5 hours, two of which were probably building the frame and structuring the canvas. That one I managed in one sitting, but some of those other ones like the one on the easel with the grey sky, that one I’ve been working on most of this year. But there’s probably about 10 hours into it.
Do you have anything you want to work on in the future? Any skills you would like to develop over time that you haven’t yet?
Part of what I’m working on right now is trying to build super thin layers. I’m learning about tone grounds. So, instead of starting on the white canvas, you start with a color. And so you have to paint super thin to have that show through. And then trying to learn how to get all those layers to work together. I used to paint all at once. Like the wolf painting I did in 3 hours one session. So, I didn’t do the background and let it dry, I did it all at the same time. But now I’m trying to do this layering work, and it’s tricky. Plus, I’m experimenting with canvas vs. linen, and I’m going to try board and stuff like that. I’m not really sure what the future beyond that will be. I’m sure there will be other techniques I want to try. But that’s what I’m working on right now; super thin layering.
How often do you paint?
Maybe a couple days a week. Not as much as I should.
Where have you displayed your art?
So far I’ve done craft shows. Mostly those. Not galleries, yet.
How has Sioux Falls influenced your work?
Well, Sioux Falls is my hometown. I’ve moved a fair bit, but Sioux Falls has always been the hub, like the center that I come back to. South Dakota and Minnesota is where I’ve mostly lived. It’s the landscape of the prairie that I come back to, and the skies. I think that is mostly what influences my art.
What are your thoughts on the art community here?
They’re really supportive here. They want everybody to succeed. I find that really encouraging. I’ve made a few good friends in the art community, and we’re always trying to help each other get better and share art shows. Like, “Oh, I’ve found this show. You should try it.” There’s some critique groups on Facebook that I’m part of. I actually started out meeting the writing community, and then the art community.
How did you hear about JAM then?
I actually had a studio at Exposure about half a year here. What happened actually is that I met somebody in South Dakota Writes that is also an artist, and she mentioned studios at Exposure that were open, because she had one there. Her name is Hannah Wendt. I ended up talking to her, and the branches spread out; meeting more people, and finding out about JAM.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out as an artist?
Probably, I would say that it’s easy to get discouraged, but don’t let that stop you. There’s a lot of uncertainty in trying to make a career out of something like your art, and it’s scary, but it’s worth it. You’ll probably have to find some type of support structure to help you when the going gets rough. My family supports me. I wouldn’t have made it this far without their encouragement. Making more friends in the art and writing community helps.