Shana Levenson is an oil painter, well-known for her intricate portrait work, which often combines her love of fabric with her love of art. Levenson was kind enough to answer some questions from YAM. She provides insight to her fascinating work, along with advice for our young readers on how to find your way in the world of art.
What were your beginnings as an artist?
"I started drawing as a young child because my older brother was an artist and I, of course, wanted to do everything just like him. Over time, I eventually went to school for my undergrad at the University of Texas in Fashion Design and received an MFA from the Academy of Art University after years of finally deciding I wanted to become an artist.
For me, the master's program taught me discipline, gave me purpose, and taught me the habit of going into the studio every day. Now, the first thing I do is go into the studio in the morning and I work at least 8 hours a day, if not more. Sometimes it's returning emails, prepping photo references for future paintings, prepping my substrates, or just (on my lucky days) getting to paint nonstop."
Was there a certain moment that you gained recognition for your work, or did you have a slower process of gaining traction in the art world?
"When I started entering my work into small juried exhibitions, I noticed I was starting to win first or second place. Which felt so great, but it also showed me that my work was actually making an impact somehow and getting recognition. I have had way more rejections than acceptances, even to this day, but I know that those things don't define my work. It just gave me the courage to know that I can do this and that my work is getting noticed.
Since then, I've been in major museum shows, been inside AND on the cover of art magazines, did a painting for TIME magazine, and now shown in 4 different galleries all since 2014. So it's been a quick momentum, but has also been A LOT of hard work and hustle."
How long did it take you to find your artistic “voice"— your preferred medium, subject matter, et cetera?
"I knew right away that I wanted to do oil painting once I started my MFA. It took me a while to figure out what my voice was going to be, although I knew I wanted to paint portraits. I did loads of research of what artists painting portraits were creating and what spoke to me. I decided I wanted my paintings to be my personal diaries of my life, and tell stories that somehow reach more people. I don't need to use myself as the model to tell those stories either. My ideas tend to come to me when I'm working out and I write all of my ideas down in my notes on my phone or in a notebook. Some of them might never become paintings, and some I have to paint right away."
What do you love most about making art or your preferred subject matter?
"I LOVE what I paint because I'm focusing on the strength of women and combining my first love of fabrics within the work to help push the work further technically."
What advice would you give teens and young adults trying to make it in the art world?
“It takes guts to be a painter. It's not easy to be a full-time artist. I don't just paint—I also teach workshops at least once a month or every other month, I teach classes in my studio, I make prints to sell... There are a lot of ways to succeed as an artist. But it’s difficult to JUST rely on painting sales, so you have to think outside the box.
Don’t let others bring you down and stay true to who you are as an artist. You can’t compare yourself to someone else ever, because everyone is on a different journey and on a different path. Where you are on your path is right for you right now. Be patient, and know that you can do it all. I have two children and can still be a full time painter and involved parent. It just takes discipline and routine. The artists that make it are the artists that get knocked down OVER and OVER again and still get back up the next day to keep working.
AND...never stop learning. You can never know too much."
All images copyright © Shana Levenson