We had the good fortune of connecting with Skye Riss and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Skye, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
Growing up in Connecticut, I have always loved painting and drawing. Fine art was always a big part of my life as both my mom’s and dad’s sides of the family included artists, so creating runs in my blood. Many of my artistic relatives would teach me a lot about art and we would experiment with different techniques and mediums such as watercolors and oil pastels. We would often get together in my childhood home and sit outside on a beautiful sunny day painting, while my dad played guitar for all of us. Those are some of my best memories from my childhood and whenever times got difficult, I would paint. I continue to paint and draw each day because it helps me to release any tension I may feel in my life and allows me to learn more about myself. Now living in Arizona, I am so inspired by the beautiful scenery and it is so different from the East Coast, which is also beautiful, but I enjoy the change.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I attended the University of Hartford Art School. It was a great experience because I took so many amazing classes such as figure drawing, ceramics, art history, painting, and even glass blowing! It was tough for a bit, trying to find out who I was as an artist or what I wanted to paint even. It was not until my Senior year of college in 2016, that I truly transformed.
I started the year with an interdisciplinary major, which was amazing because I was able to choose my advisor in the painting department as well as write my thesis for the body of work that I was thinking to create. My thesis explained my desire to explore creating abstract artwork. I believed the abstract style and idea would allow me to explore new ways of art-making while releasing any hesitation I felt.
The art of creating abstract art is different for all of us. For me, creating abstract art means to clear my mind completely, and then strike at the surface with my oil pastel and watercolor brush.
The beginning of the semester started a bit rough. I filled my head with too many ideas of what I wanted to paint or draw and was hesitant to even stand in front of a canvas. The art that I was creating looked too “forced”. Something was missing completely…until one day.
On this very day, I withdrew from my traditional habits of sketching the idea on the canvas beforehand, and instead cleared my mind. I first started by drawing on the paper with oil pastel. After a minute went by, I looked down and realized that I had drawn random colorful lines and shapes. This was the moment something in me completely changed. I had created an abstract artwork. It was a liberating feeling, and my advisor said it was a great start. So I continued drawing lines and shapes of many colors with my oil pastels and no planned outcome in my mind. Doing a few of these drawings, I thought it might be nice to add some color, so I picked up my watercolor brush and painted away.
It was another outstanding breakthrough in my artwork.
The oil from the colorful pastel and the rich watercolor did not blend, yet supported one another. There was so much light and energy coming from within the painting. I was on a roll produced the now called “Energy Painting”, within minutes. I continued creating more, and after 1 hour went by I had created at least 10 Energy Paintings. I took them to an open drawing-room in the art school and pinned them to a big white wall all in a row, and then my advisor walked into the room. He was very impressed and believed that I had found my abstract style. From there on, I continued experimenting with the Energy Series styles and variations.
My other creative breakthrough happened in 2018.
On a summer night in 2018, I participated in a Sunset Cruise with the East Norwalk Business Association in East Norwalk, CT. For the event, we invited over 50 people to buy tickets for the cruise including food, drinks, and live music. One person on the cruise was Rene Soto of Rene Soto Gallery in Norwalk, CT. We have both heard about one another and when we finally met, we became great friends. Rene told me that at his gallery, they have monthly events and invited me to take part as an artist. I accepted, and the next month I joined a Rene Soto Gallery event.
At my first event, I thought it would be a great idea to bring my art supplies with me including oil pastels and paper, as well as a few completed paintings to showcase. Attendees came over to my table and I drew their blind contour portrait (“Soul Painting”). Blind contour drawing is where an artist draws the contour of a subject without looking at the paper. Everyone who came over to my table enjoyed their portrait so much and I knew this was a big hit.
I continued to attend the gallery events each month and these Soul Paintings evolved. As it first began with only oil pastel on paper, I then added watercolors and it brought the portraits to life even more. I was drawing individual people, couples, friends, and babies! At each event, I was producing between 10-15 portraits for attendees and each piece took about 10-15 minutes to complete.
The amazing thing about this experience was with each person, I was able to capture their true essence. As I drew people, some were a bit shy and looked away, and others were more comfortable and looked at me in my eyes as I was drawing them. The best was when we would both look down at the drawing when I was done and were both surprised at the image. it was always a complete surprise. I would then finish the portrait with bright, vivid watercolors and each resembled each person uniquely.
One of the most important things I have learned is to be fearless and try new things. If you’re like me, you have a lot on your plate, and it can sometimes be difficult to accomplish goals throughout the week. But even if we accomplish even one goal, that is huge! Since moving to Arizona, I have found a new life that is opening doors to new experiences. I have zero regrets because I am realizing how important it is to stay accountable and stay focused on what I am passionate about.
If you’re an artist with a zeal for unleashing your artwork into the world, here are six helpful steps you can take that may help:
1. Paint, draw, sculpt or take photographs as much as you can. Continue to grow your body of work.
2. Start networking by visiting local art shows in your area and bring a lot of business cards! As always, follow up with those people you made connections with, that is, if they were beneficial to your growth as an artist.
3. Participate in local art events and try out several to see where you fit in best. If you’re an up-and-coming artist, there may be several galleries or artist associations that cater to emerging artists, so make sure you do your homework.
4. Contemplate starting an artist newsletter and ask people you know if they will subscribe. Those people may be friends, family, teachers, networking contacts, clients, etc. E-Newsletters are great because they will help you showcase some of your work to an audience who cares.
5. Be willing to also volunteer in festivals or art-centric events, where you can make new friends and meet some new artists who will bring you into their world and introduce you to other artists! The world is a big place, and it helps to have people in your circle. We always need to support one another.
6. And last but not least, stay true to who you are! That is what will help you get recognized and grow your friend/fan base.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Since I am new to Arizona, there are still so many things that I have to explore, but here is my current list of places that I would bring my visiting friends and family members:
For art events:
1. Xico Inc. Printmaking Studio and Gallery
2. Phoenix Art Museum
3. The Heard Museum
For food, drinks, and fun:
1. Roosevelt Row Art Walk on First Friday
2. Lucky’s Indoor Outdoor for drinks
3. Arizona Wilderness DTPHX
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would first like to thank my father, David Riss for teaching me how to grow as an artist and work as a successful and skilled Marketing Professional. Thank you to my amazing mother Lisa, as well! Best parents ever!
Secondly, I would like to thank my dear friend, Rene Soto, for making me a permanent artist at his gallery, and allowing me to start painting my “Soul Paintings” at all their monthly events. It was truly a wonderful experience and Rene is such an inspirational artist himself.
Another shoutout would be to one of my best friends, and gifted artist Aedan O’Brien, for always being there for me, pushing me to reach for the stars, and for all of the teary-eyed laughs!
Lastly, I would like to thank my wonderful Fiancé Matthew for supporting me each and every day.