Meghan Abercrombie is a senior Studio Art Major at Dickinson College. She was nice enough to sit down with me Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 to discuss a variety of arts-related topics, everything from her artistic inspirations to the studio art major at Dickinson.
Meghan standing by some of her artwork at the studio art senior show entiled “More or Less” at the Goodyear Gallery.
James: What is your artistic background? When did you start making art?
Meghan: I started when I was eight. Well, I’ve been doing art since I could write and draw, but I started taking private lessons when I was eight years old at a studio near my house. I took them all through high school and I also took art classes in high school. I took AP studio art which was not a very good experience, but it was fine nonetheless. I’ve been doing it for a long time. Especially the private studio lessons were really helpful. My teacher is now a really close friend. She is always interested in what I want to do, where I’m taking it. So it’s always really nice to go back to her studio and see what’s going on.
James: What are your favorite artistic mediums? Is there something you gravitate towards? Why?
Meghan: I like to say that I am open to all media, but I do gravitate towards charcoal and sculpture, particularly clay. I really like working with my hands. If you are painting you are going through another instrument with a paintbrush. With charcoal I use my hands to manipulate the drawing. I can really get into the drawing without something else being in between me and the actual paper. Sculpture is the same way. I can use my hands to mold it, not a paintbrush or any other thing, and clay is really easily malleable.
James: Did you start out with any particular medium and switch, or have you always been interested in charcoal and sculpture?
Meghan: The way I was taught, in private lessons, was that we have a progression. So you first start out with pencil and then you go into charcoal and then colored pencil. You go pastels and then acrylic and then oil is the last thing. It is probably the most difficult medium you could get into. So I didn’t really focus on one media ever. This is probably the first time I have decided on one media I want to stick with. Consciously, anyway. I’ve never had many artworks that are in just one type of media. I know I do like sculpture a lot more, but I never really had a 2D media until this semester. It was like: “Oh, charcoal! This is awesome.”
James: Could you talk a little bit about how your artistic process works? Do you do research building up to a project? Do you just find inspiration and go?
Meghan: Well, this semester is the first semester that I have really thought about doing art as an artist because I have never really been on that track. I have always really liked doing art, but it has never been a focused passion. Especially since I am looking to go into a field, like art conservation, where art is not the only thing you need to know. You need to know chemistry and all sorts of different sciences, art history, and archeology. So it’s never really been my focus. I’ve always really liked doing chemistry or something like that. Both of my parents are scientists, so it’s kind of what I grew up with, art and science together. So my process is just starting to develop. It’s what we have been focusing on this semester. The first semester of our seminar is all about getting you started on a path of how you work, what media you want to work on, what you are interested in. So, I can’t say I have a set process. This semester, I was really lost in the beginning because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My professor just suggested sketching things that I like. I drew a common thread between all of those sketches and found out that I really like architecture inside buildings and space and light. So I guess that kind of research in a sense. We read books in our seminar, so we have done a lot of reading on art education and how art is taught, how an artist thinks about art, what art is, and how you should look at it.
Dickinson’s 2014 Senior Studio Art Majors at “More or Less”
Which is also helpful. I have gotten a lot of information and good ideas from those books and also artists who come in and critique my work. Like Sylvia Smith [check out her video at the bottom of the page]. So that is the research I’ve done. I have never really got in the swing of researching specific artists. I’ve never really had one inspiration. I guess my process was kind of an accident because I started out with just, I don’t know if you remember “The Stairs,” but that was the first big drawing that I did. I know I did like drawing large because I did do a mural for my aunt last summer on her dining room wall. So, I’m used to getting up and down a ladder. “The Stairs” was just a live study and then it kind of became itself, something different, more than just stairs. I guess that’s my process. It’s kind of like tweaking things along the way. I mean I still am a little hesitant because I am still getting the feel for what I want to do, but just being able to go in and change something that doesn’t work makes it look a little bit better.
James: Where do you work? Is there some sort of space that you have found helpful in the creative process?
Meghan: We all have studios, all of the seminar students, so I do most of my work there because I can’t really drag a large paper around and my room would be covered in charcoal.
James: You get individual studios?
Meghan: Yeah. Well, I mean, I have a studio made. So I get this big space. It is me and Molly Thorn. So, Molly is there and I have the other half. It was kind of weird at first, just going there and having that space, because normally I would just go into my room and draw. But because it was a much more involved process. You are required to be there twenty hours outside of class.
James: That’s a lot.
Meghan: I ended up making it a second home. Now that’s a place where I am like, okay I need to do this. It is more of a creative space now than it used to be. Now I don’t really go anywhere else to do my art.
James: But you used to before you had a studio?
Meghan: Yeah. Sophomore year I had a drawing class. Pretty much, you would pretty much go around campus and draw something that was within the parameters of the assignment. I am really attracted to windows. Looking back on it now, sitting in the library by the tables upstairs, and looking out through the windows.
James: What art/artists inspires you?
Meghan: I’m not super educated on the art world. It’s just not ever been emphasized for me when I was growing up. But there are a couple of local artists. I worked at one of my local museums [Brandywine River Museum of Art] and they focused on Brandywine [PA] artists. The museum is for the whole Wyeth family, so I have seen a lot of their work.
James: Like Andrew Wyeth?
Meghan: Yeah. Andrew Wyeth. N.C. Wyeth. N.C. Wyeth’s grandson, Jamie, who is still alive. I think Jamie is probably my favorite because he is getting into more contemporary stuff. He is still very realistic, like in Andrew’s work, but it is not as particular and dreary. Just their technique and how they are able to depict scenes like that is just really incredible to me. There is actually a show at the National Gallery right now. It is all studies of Andrew Wyeth’s windows and stuff like that. Apparently it is related to what I am doing now, which is kind of funny because I wasn’t really even thinking about it. Maybe subconsciously it have been coming through. So mainly them. I guess my favorite movement is probably like Dadaism and post-WWII
James: Do visiting artists or people giving lectures related to art inspire you too?
Meghan: Yeah. They are also very helpful because it is another view on your work that is not professors that know what you have been doing, your ideas because you have been talking to them all semester. A lot of the visiting artists are either related somehow to Dickinson or they are alum. Sylvia Smith was actually very helpful. She was the one that told me about the Andrew Wyeth show. She actually suggested a book that I just bought yesterday that I’m going to read. I think their criticism on my work is really helpful because it is an outside view. Also, Amy Boone-McCreesh came two weeks ago. She was actually really helpful because I am trying to expand my idea now and she was like, “Oh you should cut out the window panes and put stuff behind it.” So, they give you a lot of good ideas that are worth to think about. They really help me break down that wall of not knowing what to do next.
James: Do you have any particular favorite pieces that you have done?
Meghan: I am really bad at liking my artwork. I’m not someone that would ever be satisfied with it being done. People normally have to tell me, “You shouldn’t work on it anymore. Stop. Move on.” I am one of those people that is really meticulous. If I see something that is wrong, I am like, “Oh, I need to correct it.” That’s probably why I will never get a tattoo, at least anywhere I can see it. Although, I think the ones I put in the show are mostly completely finished. I couldn’t say one or the other is definitely my favorite. They are kind of different concepts. I am a little bit more partial to the big window.
James: I like that one a lot. What do you think about the studio art major at Dickinson?
Meghan: I didn’t have an idea of being a studio art major because I had been concentrating on my self-developed major for so long that I kind of got caught off guard. So, I wasn’t particularly happy with it at first, but now that I am in the groove of it and have accepted that this is going to help me, being an artist, with my career. I really like how personal it is. Each professor wants me to do well and has no ill feelings. They always have helpful criticism. Sometimes if something isn’t good, they will tell you that it’s not good. Honesty is really helpful. The only thing I am really sad about is that the art department doesn’t have any graphic design. They have photo shop class, but they don’t really have any graphic design, any computer-based art classes. Not too much of it at all, which could be really helpful. Graphic design is a huge part of art and it is really helpful to know that. You would ultimately use InDesign, Photoshop, and all of those other programs if they made it more accessible to everyone. I think that could really improve the art department. The wall in my studio is kind of crumbling too, but other than that…I mean only the computer graphic design stuff is the only thing I regret not being able to do.
James: Do you think that will happen in the near future? Do you think they are going to move in that direction?
Meghan: Professors know that is lacking. Dickinson is not an art school. It is not a complete art program because it is not an art school. I know Sylvia was talking about how before [the Biblio—in the Waidner-Spar library] there used to be a tiny building and that was the art department. It was a tiny little house and it had everything in it and the drawing studio was so small. So, she came in and was like, “This space is awesome. You have so much room. You have your own studios.” But being someone that is pretty much living there for half of my academic career, there is a lot of stuff that could be improved, a lot more tools and materials that could be provided to the students. I pretty much have to buy everything that I want to use. There are very few things that are just given. I feel like that is unfair because if you are a business major or art history major, you don’t have to go and buy things for yourself all the time. Art supplies are very expensive.