In this new interview, artist Arline Mann and I discuss the challenges that come along with growing as an artist, why she keeps on returning to watercolor, and the dedicated work it truly takes to learn to render her subjects realistically. Join us as we reflect on Mann's journey as an artist, starting from her early years.

Bio:

Arline Mann is a watercolor artist.  Her watercolors contemplate light and shadow in personal spaces and on cherished objects. Building on the traditions of Nineteenth-Century Scandinavian painters such as Christen Kobke, Constantin Hansen, and Anders Zorn, her work seeks clarity and calm, and assumes a benevolent world.  In Mann's watercolors, exterior light stresses the comfort and shelter of the interior elements -- a distinctive room, familiar objects such as glass, books, soap -- always with a sense of human occupation.

Mann lives and works both in New York City and in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her work has been included in notable group exhibitions at the National Arts Club (New York, NY) and The Salmagundi Club (New York, NY). Mann recently had a solo exhibition at The Association for Visual Arts (Chattanooga, TN).  Her work has been featured in Studio Visit Magazine and Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine.

"Little Artemis" © Arline Mann

Did your love for art start at an early age? What has kept you coming back to art again and again?

Yep, my interest in art began before the age of five, for sure. My favorite toddler book was The Color Kittens, which was about mixing paint colors. I also remember clearly, when slightly older, being fascinated with the powerful and sometimes sinister Arthur Szyk illustrations in the edition of Andersen’s Fairy Tales that was in my house. I did like to draw, but for me, it was just occasional play, nothing more.  I drew very occasionally as I grew up; I did not start drawing and painting until about ten years ago.

As an adult, I had a constant thirst for art as a consumer. I worked at very demanding jobs, but I managed to spend a chunk of every weekend looking at art in museums and auction houses. You asked what kept me coming back to art – it was pure pleasure in seeing my values made concrete. I was always in search of art that projected and made me feel exaltation, joy and a sense of humanness – the feeling that we are in an exquisite world, and an exquisite life. That was nourishment for me.

Where did you learn your incredible skill in watercolor? Has this always been your medium of choice?

It’s awfully nice of you to say that! Well, I’m a hard worker; I have always loved to acquire skills. I’m strategic (which one has to be with watercolor), and I have had very good instructors.  (My primary instructor has been the watercolorist Frederick Brosen, who has been extremely generous in the teaching relationship.) Oddly, at the beginning, I did not understand that the learning process for making art is pretty much the same as for anything else. Like many people, I thought it was only about talent, and that you either could do it or you couldn’t. I do believe there is such a thing as talent – made up of many things like physical ability such as hand-eye coordination, early interest in the visual world, and so forth. But beyond that, it’s all looking, listening, learning, and working. When I caught on to that, I truly started progressing.  

I am a watercolorist only. I’ve always loved the look of watercolor. I started drawing and painting so much later than most artists, but I wanted to become highly skilled. When I asked a trusted advisor how I could work towards that goal, he advised me not to do too many things, but to focus on doing a few things well. So it’s watercolor only for me, representational art only, and limited subject matter.   

By the way, in certain ways I am not at all temperamentally suited to watercolor, which calls on strengths I have in very short supply -- patience, for example. But that’s kind of wonderful too – creating art can be character building.  

"The Hooky Player" © Arline Mann


In your series Cherished Objects — whose objects are these? What connection do you have to these objects?

Some are objects that I own. Others I’ve come across in museums and all over. My connection to the objects is always the same: I love them, pure and simple. Plus I think they can serve my painting purposes because of their texture, shape, values, color, or other quality. And, I realize, I’m often attracted to an object because it will be a challenge to paint it. I often choose subject matter as to which I have a head start – some aspect that I think I’ve painted successfully before – and then on top of that, some aspect that I have no idea how to approach, and which will be a reach for me.

Tell us about a particularly challenging turning point in your journey as an artist. How did you work through the change?

At a very early stage, I did not want to exhibit my work. I was keenly aware that I was a beginner, and I had a fear of seeming delusional about the quality of my work. I told an accomplished artist I knew that I wouldn’t be putting a painting in an upcoming student exhibition, because I felt others’ work was so much better than mine. She said, essentially:  “But one of the things you have to learn is how to exhibit your work.” That got me going – an exhibition was just a learning point, part of the work. And of course, deep down, I wanted to exhibit; I needed to know that the work would be of value to someone besides me.

But I also have a turning point on every project!  After a few days of work, I look at the painting and think: “How pathetic! What a mess! I’m throwing this out. Why do I think I can do this?” How do I work through it? Pure willpower, and the knowledge that I have had that feeling many, many times. In other words, I just push on, and after a few more days (or sometimes minutes), I think: “Hey, this isn’t so bad!” I’ve found that this emotional roller-coaster ride is peculiar to painting for me; I never felt that way in my earlier non-art career.  

"$5 WORTH OF GLAMOUR" © Arline Mann

In your series Personal Spaces, do you paint from life or do you use reference photos? Have you been to all of the places in this series?

I’ve been to all the places in the series – they are all moments I experienced myself. I use both kinds of references. Depending on the subject, my references are sketches on site and multiple photos. But I am not interested in reproducing photographs. Since photographs do not look the same as the object or scene in real life, reproducing a photo actually means reproducing the photo. More importantly, my interest lies in projecting a feeling or message, and that means departing from the photo.

Who would you say is your biggest influence, artist and not?

Most of my favorite historical artists are not watercolorists: Chardin, Holbein, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and the Danes (for example Christen Kobke and Constantin Hansen). I have also always loved illustration and animation backgrounds – so Norman Rockwell, and at Disney, Peter Ellenshaw and Claude Coates. I use Instagram to discover wonderful contemporary artists like Nick Alm.

"The Reunion" © Arline Mann

As we approach the end of 2022, what has been a memorable moment for you this past year in relation to your art practice?

I was excited that my work was shown in several print publications this year. My work was also selected for the annual American Watercolor Society exhibition, which is always very competitive. And I’ve started the set-up for an unusually large watercolor project; I’m raring to start on that.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to that you’d like to share with us?

Yes! I am looking forward to having a better space in which to paint in New York City, where I live most of the time. I have a good space in our house in Tennessee, but in NYC, I had just a teeny room, and my practice seems to have migrated sneakily from there to take over our living/dining room – that situation will hopefully be improved this year.

"Peace of Place" drawing © Arline Mann
"Peace of Place" © Arline Mann
"Moongate" © Arline Mann