When did you know you were an artist?

I’m just starting to feel like an artist after doing art seriously for years and taking a ton of courses. The question still makes me uncomfortable. I’d prefer to say that I’m someone who spends a lot of time making art and thinking about making art.

Why did you decide to pursue it as a career?

I jokingly refer to it as a third career, but it’s more of a retirement passion. I was ‘bad’ at art as a kid and enjoy the challenge of  working on things that don’t come naturally or things that require new skills. Especially as I’ve gotten older, this feels more and more important.

What’s been your hardest challenge?

Realistic drawing is not my forte. Even though I don’t see myself doing realistic work as a major part of my art practice, I’d like to be able to. I’ve put a lot of effort into an online drawing course over the past year which has been worthwhile.

Also, I love to do etching, and it’s hard to find local facilities — I prefer not to do chemistry at my house! I’m a member at the fantastic Frontline Arts in Branchburg (NJ), where they have a printmaking and papermaking studio, and I travel there to do the etching part of the process.

What successes or achievements are you most proud of?

It’s been very pleasant to have work exhibited in local exhibitions, some of them juried. I’m grateful to the Lehigh Art Alliance, Printmaker’s Society of the Lehigh Valley, and the Banana Factory for doing the work to put these on. I also had one piece in the show Impressed: Transcendent Glitch (ArtGym Denver, March 2022) which was a juried printmaking exhibition with a national call — that was extremely exciting!

I’m also proud of developing a process using a small CNC machine to ‘engrave’ onto a copper plate to make prints. I had to go through a lot of experimentation and software learning to get that to work. I haven’t been working that way recently, but it was a fun experience.

What’s your advice for anyone who wants to explore art, but can’t seem to find the time or feels intimidated by a blank canvas?

Keep a notebook that you doodle or sketch in (you don’t have to show anybody). Take a course (check out Banana Factory and Baum School among other good options, and there is a LOT of instruction available for free on YouTube). Get an Instagram account and start following artists you enjoy (but don’t get overwhelmed!). Art is a lot of things besides oil painting — try a few things to find what you like before you invest in supplies. Courses are a great way to do that. You may find an unexpected love of pottery, or book making, or crocheting weird animals.

Did the pandemic have an impact on your work or how you work?

Of course. It’s limited the personal encounters that are the best part of making art. I was lucky to participate in a weekly printmaker’s call for a while which was wonderful. But printmaking is by nature best when it’s collaborative and the pandemic limited opportunities for that.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with readers about yourself or your art?

I was an electrical engineer for thirty years with Bell Labs/AT&T/Lucent/Agere and then with Lattice Semiconductor, doing VLSI integrated circuit design and software testing. I taught developmental math at Northampton Community College as an adjunct professor for seven years after that. Previous hobbies include 10 years of autocrossing with Philly Region SCCA (solo car “racing” in a  parking lot with cones).

My husband (a retired speech therapist) and I live in Upper Milford Township with two dogs. We have a 34-year-old intellectually disabled son who lives in a group home. I took a printmaking course at NCC while I was teaching there and that really got me going. I’d played around with watercolor for a couple years before but it never really clicked. I love the process focus of printmaking, how there are a million different ways of doing things, from extremely controlled to wildly spontaneous.

[Learn more about Carolyn Spivak and view more of her work on Instagram.]


ART@EPL is the library’s exciting partnership with the Lehigh Art Alliance and the Lehigh Valley Arts Council. The series is funded through a grant from PA Partners in the Arts, making it possible for area residents to enjoy free art lectures and workshops from local artists working in pastels, charcoal, sculpture, and watercolor among others.

Visit the ART@EPL page to see all the artists who have led workshops and exhibited work at the library as part of ART@EPL.