Interview with artist Stephanie Barenz

Stephanie Barenz is an American mixed media artist and art educator living in Shanghai, China.

Stephanie, tell us about yourself!

I’m an American artist and art educator living in Shanghai. My husband and I have been international teachers off and on throughout our careers. We really love the adventure and inspiration that international teaching brings to our lives — especially all of the beautiful people we get to meet because of it!

As an expatriate, I draw from my personal experience of living in Shanghai. In my work, the physical act of moving serves as a metaphor for the different internal paths one takes throughout their life. Along with this, water, in its many forms, is a consistent theme in my work because of how it represents these ideas of transition and transformation.⠀

Since living in China, I have been balancing my studio practice with teaching art and loving it (even though it’s a lot of work!). I feel so at home in Shanghai and love being an artist here. Inspiration is around every corner and the eastern aesthetic has influenced my work in many ways.

I love being near the water, reading, poetry, documenting my travels, swimming, bike rides, yoga (I’m working on getting certified), and I can say without a doubt that I watch way too much TV. A habit I picked up from months of quarantine!

How did you get started as an artist?

I’ve been making art for a long time but knew I wanted to pursue it as a career when I studied art in Florence, Italy for a year. I remember working at a factory in Wisconsin for a couple of summers to save enough money to go to Italy. I knew then that if I was willing to put in those long hours at the factory to study art, then I could commit to being an artist full-time.

After I graduated, I was an artist-in-residence at the Chicago Printmakers’ Collaborative, and I learned so much from the professional artists that were a part of that community. I decided to go on to get my MFA from Washington University after that experience, which was about twelve years ago.

There have been times when I have been a full-time artist, which included me participating in residencies at the The Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, the Art Students League of NY, and a couple of others. Before moving to Shanghai, I ran my own studio and storefront in Milwaukee, WI and also taught at several colleges in their art departments.

What kind of art do you make? Tell us about your process.

My art draws on my personal experiences of living and traveling around the world. In my work, the physical act of moving serves as a metaphor for the different internal and external journeys one might take throughout their life. Water, in its many forms, is a consistent theme in my work because of how it represents these ideas of transition and transformation.

I’m a mixed media artist, and I use several different processes depending on the piece I’m creating. These include printmaking, collage, painting, photography, and digital tools. In my large scale paintings, I use tools such as a garden hose, large brooms and mops, buckets of water, and the force of motion to create abstract marks. I also let nature dictate what will happen to the paintings and leave them out in the rain to create different textures on the canvas. This process is a playful one, where I investigate the physicality of paint and how to make it move like water.

I love how my work explores different processes and reflects my personal journey. It has always been a way for me to meditate and mindfully connect to what is happening in my life at that moment.

What challenges have you had while developing your art business?

There are a lot of challenges I have had to overcome, but I would say the biggest one right now is juggling my teaching career with my art career. I think a lot of art educators feel this way. I have had seasons where I have been a full-time artist and a part-time teacher. However, the current season I am in is the opposite.

I make sure to carve out time in the early morning to address my studio work. This is when I have the most energy and can give it my best. I embrace the “work smarter, not harder” mindset when it comes to the business side of my art career. I am always looking for systems or ways to automate administrative tasks so I don’t become too overwhelmed and don’t have time for making art.

How was the process of taking your business online?

The process of taking my business online involved a lot of different tasks. These included but are not limited to: photographing work, social media marketing, website design, branding, updating my print shop, and more.

Currently, I’m in the middle of redesigning my website and branding, and it’s a lot of work. I keep a pretty extensive workflow document that I then break into smaller tasks. I try to do three things from the list each day. I think it’s really important to be patient with yourself during this process and know that progress can be slow, but over time, accomplishing these small tasks adds up.

What made you choose Canvy app for displaying your work?

I had seen some of my artist friends use Canvy on social media and I really loved the well-designed interiors. As I mentioned before, I’m a full-time art teacher and I have a packed schedule. While I do photograph my work regularly, I don’t always have the time to set up different interior shots. Canvy saves me so much time.

I also love how Canvy allows me to show my audience different set-ups, which really helps them to envision the work in their home or space. I love all the options Canvy gives its users too. For example, I can try out numerous frames, matting options, and interiors.

We know the power of being able to effectively display your artwork. How did it feel to be able to make those images and use them for your business?

It’s a relief to have a tool that can quickly generate a beautiful display. Sometimes I will create a painting but I won’t be able to photograph it within an exhibition space for a few weeks or months. Canvy allows me to generate the image quickly so I can share it with my audience that day.

What’s coming up

This year I have so many collections planned out and I can’t wait to release them to my community. I’m currently working on The Sanya Sketchbook Collection, which is a series of works based on 150+ sketchbook studies I created while in Sanya for six weeks. Sanya is on Hainan Island in the South China Sea. I’m currently documenting my process on Instagram, and the finished works will be released to my mailing list in a month or two.

Why do you do what you do?

I used to have a lot of lengthy answers for this but when I get to the root of it, it is because I find that creating is a mindful exercise that helps me translate my experiences and the world around me. I also love sharing my work with others because it’s a way of communicating with my audience. The work often serves as a conversation prompt, and I end up learning a lot about other people’s stories. I want my work to help others reconnect with their stories, homes, and spaces in a creative and mindful way.

What else do you love?

I love engaging with my audience on Instagram. This is where I learn about people’s stories, and sometimes our conversations even inspire my paintings. When I was the artist-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, I created a whole series based on the stories of the people I met at the hotel. If you happen to be on IG, stop by my profile to join the conversation, or join my mailing list.

Find Stephanie Barenz and her artwork here