We had the good fortune of connecting with Sonja London-Hall and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sonja, what habits do you feel helped you succeed?
I have been involved with the arts since I was very young. It started when I was 8 on the piano then 10 in beginning band. As I look at my art career and progress (as a lifelong musician and now band director), I can say that a lot of my habits were formed early as a musician. The credo has been, “You can’t get good at something unless you practice it.” Followed by, “you can’t get good at something if you give up too soon”: aka tenacity.
It’s not easy to learn a new skillset. I started my glass art career after my son was born. I was 35. I immediately loved glass. I immediately was dismayed by how hard it was to get the material to do what I wanted it to do. Cut with precision.? Fit into an exact mathematical space? That took lots of practice. And them some more practice. And then a bit more practice. To keep practicing and not always succeed involved tenacity. Some use the word resiliency. Both mean bounce back.
I would say to young people and adults to not give up on a new venture. It takes 3 weeks to establish a new habit or break an old one. 21 days of consistency paired with tenacity and you have a new habit. That habit should be setting aside time to practice. We could start a discussion on the place practice and tenacity have in a persons mindset. A positive mindset regardless of ups and downs is another key to success.
A final nod to my success would be my constant approach to new methods of art in my medium. Some would call it risk taking; trying a new way to do an old thing. I call it expansion of my knowledge base. I just learned how to flamework glass. That would be a torch using oxygen and propane gasses to jet flame out in front of me to melt glass rods into works of art. That is taking lots of practice time. And tenacity. And a good mind set. And a lot more practice.
Success is relative to where you are in a process. These key habits are a continuum for me and essential to “success”.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I live in two worlds of art. My day job as a band and theatre director in a public school and my second job as an artist and maker. Sometimes the two worlds collide and the art I make is for the stage play I am directing. Sometimes my school jazz band comes to play at an art opening. Sometimes I teach art workshops and make connections to other art forms. I think that sets me apart from most either teachers OR artists OR musician. I am all three.
Lesson: A lesson l learned in the art world is to keep making. Not every exhibit curator is looking for what you want to hang. It’s not political. It’s not personal. They just have a different idea in their head what will work as an exhibit. Keep making. Also, you don’t need a store front to be represented. Make. Host home shows or pop up events. Finally be frugal with your time and donations. Lots of organizations seek annual donations for their fundraising with promise of exposure and gooditute. The exposure is minimal and cost of your materials adds up. Set a limit as to how many you will do a year. Making art is not cheap or free when it comes time to replenish supplies.
Pride: I am most proud in recent years to be recognized regionally as a high quality glass artist. I have evolved from standard stained glass to contemporary designs, mixed media, encaustic, mosaic, and metal art form. I am proud of my public art installation at Joe Montalvo Field, Joe Garagiola Park. It is a 300 sq ft vertical mosaic. I am proud that my son helped me with that installation and maybe by my example has decided to be an artist himself.
Keep making: The initial struggle in the beginning was a catapult and involved emerging from post partum depression. I would not be the first new mom that sat in bewilderment thinking “Wow, is this it? Is this really all the hype?” The very first stained glass class (a class as a gift from my husband to get me out of the house) was a struggle simply because I could not get the material to do what I knew it needed to do. That challenge led to hyper focus on very specific practice with glass, then soldering. When I arrived at a place where my own exacting expectation was met I really liked what I saw. The challenge was myself and my own mental state. Art and making has been a successful creative outlet since. Not everyone can be an artist touring, teaching, exhibiting, etc., but everyone can make. My message would be to get out and do. Take a hike with a camera, write a note to a friend, and look for beauty in the world.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
All my friends know I am a Flagstaff artist. We typically start our visit with a dinner out. Our favorites are locally owned and we will have a great dinner at Fat Olives or Salsa Brava. If it is a first Friday we tour the galleries first and ooo and ahhh the glass works. There is a great picnic spot in Joe Montalvo Park, Joe Garagiola field where I installed a large public art mosaic. If we are not hanging out in my back yard we load the kayaks and paddle at Lake Mary. Our favorite hike and camp spot is Lockett Meadow having picked up coffee at Macy’s or a new spot, Eat N’ Run Rt 66. GREAT smoothies I might add. If my visiting friend is a cyclist we will plan a ride either Walnut Canyon or a section of the Arizona Trail.
If we are talking a week long trip and it is summer a backpacking event is fun. The inner basin and over night near the saddle is great. To be honest if it is week long stay we are in the woods and camping.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I live a charmed life. Who gets to say that their daily job involves music, art, and theatre? I don’t think I would be where I am now without the not so gentle push from my mom. She said, as many parents do, “You will thank me one day”. Well she was right. Next on that shout out list would be my very first school band director, Richard Hemwall. He was and still is amazing. He is still alive in the Sahuarita area. He talked more in band about self-discipline and self-respect than music sometimes. I wanted to be him when I grew up.
After graduating HS and involvement with my ASU teachers, I would say that Richard Fleming, Director of the Sun Devil Marching Band at the time deserves a huge shoutout. This man taught us all passion and unabashed love for what your are doing.
After college life becomes a blur. We start our careers and soldier on. We lose sight of the things that keep us human and sane. I started glass work after my son was born and as a solution to post partum depression. A shout out to Judy Hartman, local Flagstaff glass artist, for teaching me the foundational craft of stained glass. Glass art replaced music for time and was my sole creative outlet. I was juried in to my first gallery by a gentleman who could see potential and provided support. Stuart Wolf (RIP) has been a tremendous supporter of emerging artists in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Now 25+ years into glass works I can reflect on some really outstanding instructors and facilities that deserve a shoutout. Many continue to be mentors. Shout out to: Kathy Claycomb, Joseph Cavalieri, Sean Hennessey, Kate Watkinson, Carol Milne, and Heather Trimlett, each nationally recognized masters of a specific yet different application of glass manipulation. Facilities that support growth and are often springboards for discovery in the art world: Arrowmont School of Art, Pilchuck School of Glass, Anderson Ranch, and Penland School of Craft. Each of these facilities offered support to me in the form of Work Study residencies, Staff, Scholarships, or classes offered. If I ever win the lottery I am giving back to those facilities.
Finally I would like to shout out to my family. They live with an artist, her schedule, her exhibits, her travels, and her need to always learn more about the craft of glass. It takes a village to support a mom and wife who may be off again to teach a workshop or attend a residency.
Thank you all!
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