- Alex LaMaster
Interview with Meghan O'Connor
What is a typical day like for you?
Since I teach full time, my teaching days are quite different from my non-teaching days.My teaching days start at 530 am and I get home around 5 or 6pm.I have an hour commute each way that I use to talk on the phone to my mom (which she loves), listen to podcasts, and music.The commute makes for a long day, but I love teaching in a rural area and returning back to the city.It also helps to have mental space to prepare for each day and decompress, and it’s a pretty drive, full of natural landscape.
When I can, I start my day with exercise.It helps me to clear my head and to be energized.From there, on teaching days, I head to Wayne State College, in Wayne, NE.The classes I teach include a range of beginning through advanced students, so class time is full of one-on-one interactions with students, trouble-shooting, and sharing feedback.In addition to this, I have meetings for advising, mentoring, faculty meetings, committee meetings, checking email, with a quick break for lunch.At the end of the day when I get home, I like to cook dinner.I put out a lot of energy teaching, so most weeknights I just try to relax and recharge for the next day.This involves a lot of animal petting (I have 3 cats and a dog).Some evenings, I might do some drawing and brainstorming, but I make most of my artwork on non-teaching days.
I usually have two dedicated studio days per week, and on those days, it’s nice to start out relaxing and drinking coffee while I plan my day.If I’m starting a new project, I’ll brainstorm, research, and make thumbnail sketches.If I’m actively working on an image, it might take me a few weeks to a month to get all the plates created.When working, I like to intersperse my process-based work with my drawing time.For example, I may be gluing materials to a surface, or drying out materials for gluing, so I’ll get those things started, and then work on a drawing while elements are drying.There are usually multiple variables in play.If I am printing, that could take up the whole day, or span between multiple days.
I try to have 1 day a week that I’m actively NOT working if possible, so I might go hiking, or hang out with friends, or just clean house and watch movies.I generally need a day to recharge from teaching and making.
What kind of environment helps you work/inspires your process?
Being a natural extrovert, interactions with others energize me, which makes teaching a rewarding job. I think that human relationships are the most important part of existence and are a big part of what it means to be human. This value I place on relationships and interactions very much plays into my imagery, sometimes with autobiographical elements.
The content of my work is very much about how we treat each other and how we treat ourselves. I am especially passionate about this because of how our methods of communication have changed, with the invention of the smart phone and social media. Our social Interactions are quite different than they were 20 years ago, especially in public spaces. Chance comes into play less, possibly because of social anxiety, or packed schedules and less free time. Much is growing and changing at a fast pace, which gives us less time to process and adapt before the next move “forward.”
In terms of making my work, if I am sketching and coming up with ideas, I usually require some solitude for clarity and space to process, but once I have an idea, I like being around others. This includes drawing or carving plates, and especially when I’m printing. When editioning, I love working in a team. I am always looking for a good spongerJ Whether I’m working by myself in my home studio, or with others at the college print shop, light is important, not just for drawing, but for my lively-hood. I usually work near windows, and my most productive times are during daylight hours. It energizes me!
When did you first realize your style or interests?
I’ve always valued relationships, and my work has centered on this some way or another throughout the years. As an undergraduate, I was making large scale color reductive linocut portraits and self-portraits. They were an homage to each individual; as well as, in-depth studies of color, texture, and the relief process. In graduate school, I was lucky to have Syd Cross as a professor and mentor. I remember one day she told me that I wasn’t allowed to draw portraits anymore. I was terrified at the time but can laugh about it now. (We joke about how she took away my “blankie”.) What she really did was open the doors for me to explore imagined imagery, animal imagery, and the combination of the two, and because I had such a strong training in observational and figure drawing as an undergrad, I was much happier with the results. This allowed me to reconnect with my roots: childhood inspirations of storytelling and the use of anthropomorphic animal imagery. Since then I haven’t looked back.
If you could provide your college-age self advice, what would it be?
Slow down and listen more.
Were there influences in childhood, maybe artists or family that helped you along?
My family has always been supportive of my choice to pursue art, possibly because of the history of performance in my family.(My dad was a musician and my grandfather did some stage performance and drawing.)Whether it was performance, drawing, or just doing homework, creativity and curiosity were fostered in these daily interactions, which lead to a love of learning that still rings true today.
From a very young age, my grandfather got me involved in drawing, which was the start, and still my main focus in terms of media.Anytime a holiday or birthday approached, I would anticipate the arrival of his cards in the mail – not because of the card itself – but because of the drawings he would create on their envelopes.I remember he was really good at drawing leprechauns!There's a story that one day, when I was about 5 years old, during a summertime visit, he left the room while I was drawing.When he returned, he saw my work and accused me of tracing the image.I was VERY offended, so I sat there and re-drew the image once again right on front of him...I guess that was my first official edition!