Tammy Schuetz is a vocational coordinator for student with disabilities, in the Chicagoland area. She’s also an artist, photographer, pianist, and composer.  With a body of work that ranges from photorealism to abstract, surrealism to post-modern, her work utilizes a vast expanse of mediums including: oil paints, water-soluble oils, gouache, oil pastels and sticks, graphite pencils, and other materials.

She received her M.A. in Arts at Northern Illinois University, which culminated in a solo show of 15 similar pastel paintings that depicted both Midwestern and Southwestern landscapes framed in light-oak shadow boxes. Recently, Tammy has worked on Southwestern landscapes, and stadium paintings.

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with her and chat about her body of work.

When did you first begin working with visual art? What impetus in your life spurred this interest?

“Three things influenced me between the ages of five and ten years: First, getting 100’s on my school work, I would make comic characters (today’s anime characters.) out of the numbers. The 00’s would be the eyes and the 1 would be the side of the face above the ear, I would just draw and come up with new faces as long as I got 100’s.

Second, Students in my third/fourth class were getting semi-private art lessons from our classroom teacher. I asked my parents if I could participate in the sessions. Thank goodness they said yes. Mrs. Heinz looked like the wicked witch of the West, but without the green paint. I was extremely afraid of her. This was one of the first big risks of my life. There were only two students from that art class that continued in the art world, and I was one of them.

Third, my Uncle Brian was a great abstract artist and when he moved across the street from where I was living, I would go into his art studio and smell the paints, the turpentine, the linseed oil, and the other wonderful smells in the room. He was my chef, and his studio was my first kitchen of painting. I also loved seeing what he was working on, from the drawing to the layers of paints, to the completion of image. This was where I fell in love with the studio and the world of art.”

New Mexico Mountain Landscape shows amazing depth. How is this something you can achieve with the pastel medium? What are the techniques that you use?
“Layers, layers, layers. In pastels and oils, I use layers of the medium to get depth of field. When I work with oils, I use linseed oil to get a transparency of the layers. I may heighten the values of pigment so that some parts of the painting will jump out and reach the viewers’ eyes faster than other parts—thus creating more depth. I also use light and deep hues to provide contrast on some sections of a painting, and that enhances the intensity, too.”

When you approach a new work, what do you typically have in mind?  Or perhaps you clear your mind? How do you execute new work?

“Depending upon the piece of work, I usually don’t start right away. I find references, such a photos, pictures, etc. to give me several views of the picture I want to paint. I research other types of artwork concerning the scene. I usually want the painting or drawing to appear differently than works from other artists.  Then, I start seeing the painting or drawing in my head. I may do several preliminary drawings or paintings before I begin. Other times, I jump in and start the painting with a foundation, and then start the layers. Most paintings change throughout the process and my drawings are very tight and detailed.”

Blue Symphony is an interesting landscape with an interesting title.  How do you typically name your works? Literally? Symbolically? Other?

“When I was completing the pastel shadowboxes for my master’s art show, I was trying to include music that I recorded at home. My professor thought playing my music during the show, however, would draw too much attention away from the pastel paintings, so I came up with musical titles. I made up the titles from different types of music and included colors, description of feelings, and other adjectives in the names.”

One thing I admire most about your work is the adeptness with which you fluidly move from one medium to another.  Which medium is your favorite, and how does a particular work call you to choose one medium over another? Do you find that certain mediums lend themselves to the kind of content or context you create in your works? (i.e. pastel for landscapes, oil for portraits, etc.) Other?

“First, I enjoy change and hate to do the same thing over and over again. That is why my Masters in Art was soooo hard. I completed 84 pastel paintings based on the same scenario. I was gagging at the end. Therefore, I appreciate the ability to go from one medium to another. I started in oil paints, but was getting allergic reactions from the turpentine.  I then started in pastels, but found out the cadmium was killing many pastel artists. Then I found gouache and water soluble oils. Now, I mostly work in water-soluble oils that are more user and environmentally friendly. In the future, I will dabble with pastels or oil sticks to challenge myself in different ways. I also took a drawing class this summer and fell for the graphite to paper experience, the labyrinth of patterns and shapes in nature.

I love landscapes the most, the image of a human being is not in very many of them. There may be man-made items that contrast with the natural environment around the object(s), such as a church, a fence, a building, etc. There is more room for creativity in the landscape, be it shapes, color hues, values, and/or patterns. Beauty can be seen in many ways on this earth and I prefer to see God’s hand in nature, mountains, streams, foliage and the tidbits of man-made constructs seen in of my paintings.

I am drawn to the southwest landscapes because of the light, landscapes, and colors of the semi-desert and desert areas. New Mexico and Arizona can bring you the colors of the Midwest, a feeling of the moon, mountains of the West, vegetation of the desert, varying cloud configurations, and diverse cultural architecture.”

I LOVE the degree of detail in Old Man 1980-1985!  Can you tell readers about this work and the techniques you used to create it?  Who is the Old Man? I want to know his life story!

“I want to know his life story, too. His photograph came from an old photography magazine that my uncle had in storage. The photo did not have anything about the old man. Because, I know nothing about him, I get to use my imagination and just make up stories about him: where he grew up, what he did, his family and his ups and downs in life. To me, he has many lives of Pi. I was learning a feathering technique from an antique dealer in Dolton, Illinois, when I found this photo.  He would teach figure painting down in one of his students’ basements. We would meet there and paint. I started the summer of my sophomore year in college. This was my second painting for his class, he said the photo of the ‘Old Man’ was too detailed and too hard for me.

That’s all I needed to hear and I was off. It took many years due to the detail and time it takes to put black next white pigment and then feather with a dry brush, over and over.  The feathering dilutes the edges of pigment and each part of the painting fades into the next part. When I started painting ‘Old Man,’ I was going to give him to a friend in college. The painting took so long to complete that I fell in love with the wisdom in his eyes, his age-lined forehead, and the intricacy of his beard. So, I still have the painting hanging in my bedroom.

Bicycle in Ireland is another work that uses such precise detail, but it also has much depth between the fence and the structure and mountains in the background. How do you decide and/or determine what you will include in a new work? What qualities of a scene do you look for? How often do your scenes come from imagination? From something you have seen?

“You will see in many of my paintings I subtlety break rules. It may be that I have several painting styles in one painting. I change an aspect of the painting or drawing so it makes a surrealist symbol. An example, a building clock in Chicago has different times on its faces. This was a way for me to say time is different for everyone.

The ‘Bicycle in Ireland’ was taken from a friend’s photo.
There are at least three styles. The background is impressionistic, the fence is hyper-realistic, and the foreground is pointillist. The bicycle, which is on the right side, was much bigger in the photograph. I made it smaller, so the viewer would see it later, or his/her eyes would journey onto it. It brings a story to the painting.

“I usually use photos for my paintings, because of the time and detail needed to complete the paintings or drawings. I will change parts of a painting so it works for me. I may take some things out or move them. It’s like Reality Photoshop. Well, since it is a painting it is not really reality, it is real Painting Photoshop.”

I’d like to know about shadows in your work, too. Both Old Man 1980-1985 and Values of the Nude – 1979 employ the use of heavy shadows. How do you approach works such as this in order to make them as realistic as they appear?
“These two paintings were from the same time of my life, when I was taking lessons from the antique dealer in the basement. He was teaching me about shape, values, and the feathering technique. I wasn’t in the class long enough to work with color oil paints. My instructor took lessons in Chicago from another fellow instructor by the name of Allah.  Back in the 70’s, there were not very many people named Allah in our area. So, I have remembered his mentor, but I cannot remember my instructor’s name. With black-and-white paintings, drawings, and photography, one is able to see distinct and subtle values of the image. These exercises in ‘seeing’ help in developing the negative and positive space of my work.  Painting in black, white, and greys helped my future use of color and their values to highlight or shadow objects in my compositions. This foundation of value has led to my use of color in layers and the use of certain pigments that bring great depth to paintings.”

When you hear the phrase “Everything is Connected” what do you think of?

“I believe that we are all connected by the cause and effect of life. Each thing we do or say to each other causes a reaction, be it positive or negative. And that ripple effect reaches all of us in one way or another. What we do to our earth and atmosphere is the same. I believe that we have many lives and through these lives we are constantly learning to become more empathetic, more knowledgeable, more loving, and more peace-oriented. Thus we are connected again and again. We are not perfect in these lives we live. We are learning to be better human beings.  We will always be connected by the perfection of our imperfections during the cycles of our lives.”

Fun Stuff about Tammy Schuetz:

One place that you haven’t yet visited in the world, but would like to see, and why:

“Italy, the home of the Renaissance artists. I have never been to Europe.

Your favorite food:

“All foods, except for liver, BLTs, venison, veal, and other foods I cannot think of.”

Your favorite artist, and why:

“It changes, the more and more I read and experience from history books, museums, art shows, galleries, art magazines, and internet websites; my influences and admiration change. Some influences over time have included: Joseph Cornell, Salvador Dalí, Renee Magritte, Man Ray, Juan Miro, Frida Khalo, Georgia O’Keefe, Jon Anderson, Charles Russell, Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Chuck Close, Glenray Tutor, Juan Munoz, Brian Roberts, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin, Wassily Kandinsky, Donald Judd, Gerhard Richter, Richard Diebenkorn, John Marshall Gamble, Jackson Pollock, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Logan Maxwell Hagege, Shirley Cameron-Roberts, G. Russell Case, Andy Warhol, Billy Schneck, Dorthea Lange, Annie Leibowitz, Alfred Steiglitz, Cindy Sherman, Ansel Adams, Art Wolfe, Vivien Maier, Paul Strand, Judy Chicago, Andy Goldsworthy, Robert Smithson, Lee Krasner, and many others.”

Your favorite movie is:

“Harold and Maude, it is based in the 70’s. It’s about life and death, risk, laughter, war, honor, dignity, love beyond the ages, parenting, human needs, pursuit of happiness, and choice. You can watch it many times and get something different each viewing. Now, it seems a little campy, because our perceptions of the past have become nostalgic and positive. ‘Remember when?'”

One little known interesting fact about you that you would like to share with readers:

“Both of my grandmothers were artists. My father’s mother worked in pastels. They found pastel paintings in the attic after she died. My parents have one of her paintings framed and hanging. I did not find out about my mother’s mother until my late-30’s when my mother’s uncle was dying from cancer. He said that my grandmother was accepted at The Art Institute in the 1930’s, but could not go due to financial matters at home. Both of her parents supported her art and her pursuits, but the Depression was occurring and she had to put her art on hold. There were no paintings or drawings found after her death. Their spirits and talent guide me each day.

Interestingly, we all made the choice to have families, and I believe each of us made the right choice for ourselves. Art is within all of us, no matter if you creating on paper or creating experiences in life.”

A favorite inspiring quote and why it’s important to you:

“I have three quotes that I love:

‘In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.’ ­– Albert Einstein (When we dealing with hard times, it is difficult to see the opportunity in the darkness. This quotes helps me get there.)

‘I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’  – Albert Einstein

‘Today is a new day.’ – Nancy Golbeck, Gen Puralewski, and many others.”

Lastly, when asked how she views her own work, Tammy says: “I see my art as I see my life: full of layers, patterns, perceptions, expressions and a wide breadth of emotions. My art gives me the capability to be creative and to utilize a process that is magical. I am able to show glimpses of myself behind the body of artwork.”

For more information on Tammy’s art and to view available works for purchase, click here.