Tami Bitner is a charter member of the Mixed Media Art Group. Whether she is using paint or wax, her goal is always to develop a rich surface that suggests a mysterious interplay between transparency, opacity, layering, and subtle textures. Read more about Tami and her work…
How did you get into this type of art?
I have always loved art, but while growing up never actually thought about being an artist. I have always been fascinated by abstract and non-representational art and enjoy viewing those kinds of art more so than realism. While painting realism in watercolor for several years, I was often at a loss over what to paint so I decided to try my hand at something non-representational. It was very difficult at first to complete something passable, and frustrating to say the least. For me, painting abstractly is much more of a challenge than painting realistically, but I think that is why it is so appealing to me. You never know what you will end up with! It is a conundrum of sorts – more liberating but at the same time challenging. I am much more prolific now than I was when painting realism in part because I no longer fear the blank surface.
The great thing about it is if you don’t like something, you can always paint over it and the history only adds to the beauty and interest of the art! I once read a quote that was very liberating for me – “We all have 1,000 bad paintings in us, so start painting.” Successful pieces will be few and far between, especially at first. I had to learn to be okay with that.
Did you create art as a child?
As a child, I could usually be found doing something creative when I wasn’t playing outside, riding my bike, or swimming. I colored with crayons and markers a lot and played with play dough – even the homemade kind! I loved the paint-by-number oil painting sets, drawing, doodling, and candle making. I was also taught by my mother at a young age to crochet and sew.
As an artist we have many roles; which do you find to be the most rewarding and which the most challenging for you?
For me, the most rewarding aspect of being an artist is when someone I’ve never met before feels a connection to my work. I love it when someone feels something about a piece rather than seeing something in it. .The most challenging aspect for me is the record keeping. I would much rather be painting, so if I could have an art ‘secretary’, I would be very happy!
Why are you doing this type of work?
My early work experience and college education are both in accounting and information systems, both very left-brained pursuits. I think this came naturally to me since I tend to be a bit of a Type-A personality and I have always liked working with numbers and things that had logical, concrete outcomes. It had not occurred to me to pursue art until my first painting class taken on a whim turned out to be so much fun. It was an afternoon acrylic workshop and the old Ben Franklin craft store. I was hooked!
How do you begin a piece?
I love to build up a lot of layers of history in my work. I begin an abstract piece by laying down a medium tone, neutral color to cover the entire canvas or wood so that when I scratch into the paint with various tools, I never get back to bare surface. Next, while listening to some good music, I use different brushes, tools, techniques, and colors to make marks of all different shapes and sizes on the canvas. After the piece dries, I will repeat this process several more times before I define areas of emphasis.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
Is an abstract ever finished? It is more a sense of contentment that I feel when a piece reaches a point where I can’t think of anything else I would change about it. When I reach that point I will hang the piece somewhere in my house where I will see it frequently. After living with it for days or weeks, if nothing bothersome jumps out at me and I love looking at it, I will put my signature on it! I tend to think of it more as moving on to the next project more so than ‘finishing’ a piece.
What are your favorite tools?
I have a variety of well-worn brushes that I love to work with even though many of them show a lot of wear and tear. They become like old friends and seem to be the ones I always pick up first. I also enjoy working with cheap foam brushes, Catalyst scraping tools, and really anything that will make an interesting mark in paint.
What is your favorite color? And do you use it often in your work?
My favorite color in life and in art is black and can be found in every painting I do, even if it is a little dab added to another color just to tone it down a bit. In my opinion, black makes everything on the canvas pop and it harmonizes with everything. I prefer to mix my own black using strong shades of red, blue, and green. In this way, I have the ability to make the black tend toward another color ever so subtly. I think this makes a more interesting color than taking black straight out of a tube.
What do you want the viewer to see in your art?
I want the viewer not so much to see the art, but to feel the art. Every artist leaves a bit of their heart and soul on every work and when that resonates with someone, it is very gratifying. Sometimes it is the color palette or composition that draws someone in, other times it is the design, pattern or texture. It is different for everyone which is why I love non-representational art. It allows the viewer to see what speaks to them.
What do you do differently from the way you were taught?
I break the ‘rules’. I am now comfortable enough with myself as an artist to be able to do this! When I first started painting it was important for me to keep them in mind and try to follow them to a large extent. I guess there was a bit of fear of being criticized by those with more experience than me. I think it is important to understand the elements and principles of design and composition, but to me they are suggestions. Aren’t some rules meant to be broken?
Describe your dream studio or creative space:
My dream studio would be somewhere in the Caribbean and would have a well designed contemporary yet comfortable minimalist gallery space in the front room – very neat and tidy, but would connect to a large, wide-open work space with high, large windows all around. One side would face the ocean and the other side would face the mountains. There would be paint spattered about on the walls and floors with words of inspiration and motivation written all around. Plenty of wall space would be necessary to have multiple, large pieces in progress at the same time. It would also have separate areas for both encaustic and cold wax to remain set-up all the time and it would have every color made by Golden from liquids to heavy body.
What is your favorite piece of your own work?
My favorite piece of my own work is an encaustic on a 16” x 16” cradled birch panel entitled Ride, Captain Ride. It represents a loose interpretation of a single wave and is done in many shades of blue and teal with some black and white as well. It has generated a lot of interest when I have had it out in shows and has won several awards, but I haven’t been able to part with it yet. I often paint loose beach scenes and waves that I love, but this one is special for some reason.
Where do you hope to be five years from now with your art?
Five years from now, I hope to be pursuing art on a full-time basis and working on larger pieces in encaustic and cold wax and oil as well. I just completed a 4’ x 5’ commissioned piece in oil that was so much fun to do. Until this piece, 48” x 48” was the largest size I’ve worked on. It is very fun and energizing to have so much surface to paint on, especially on a non-representational piece. In contrast though, I still occasionally like to paint realistic watercolor miniatures in the 2” x 3” range. It is a completely different feeling and thought process to transition from one style to the other but I think it is what keeps me from getting bored!
Tami is currently an exhibiting artist at the Gallery@Second, 608 N 2nd St, Harrisburg, PA 17101 and she will be at the Lititz Outdoor Fine Art Show on July 26th. She is also opening a studio at The Millworks in midtown Harrisburg this fall.