There’s something about milestone birthdays — at least for some — that makes it difficult to pretend it’s just like every other year. That was the case for Amanda D’Agostino, who, with her 50th birthday looming on the horizon — and a pandemic in full force — had what she calls ‘a series of hard conversations’ with herself about how she wanted to spend the rest of her life. The result was a realization about who she truly is, and the resolve to apply herself so she could develop as an artist.
Recently, we asked Amanda to tell us more about her evolution as a painter…
When did you know you were an artist? Tell us a little about your journey and what drew you to art.
I knew I was an artist in grade school. At home, I was always drawing, painting, building things and painting those, playing with fiber arts, and more. My dad is a fine artist, so our home was filled with creativity and constant options for exploring with my imagination.
Creativity and visual art have been with me throughout my life, but it was only at the end of 2018 that I decided to teach myself how to paint. My early creative forays were photography and writing, both of which became central to my circuitous career path. But painting, which is something my father does so well, seemed impossible. Until I decided to try anyway. I spent a year teaching myself oil pastels, but really ignoring the fundamentals of value, perspective, lines, shape, values, composition and design. I shifted to oil paint at the end of 2019 and after the pandemic hit, I had a series of hard conversations with myself about what I wanted the rest of my life to look like.
I realized I am artist and, day job aside, I need to focus and improve as an artist — a painter specifically. In June 2020, a month before I turned 50, I dove in and have created about 15 paintings a month since then, not including drawings, sketches, plein air sessions, master studies, color mixing sessions, video tutorials on composition, design, capturing light, and so on. I am completely self-taught, although my dad does give me some feedback now and then.
Drawing has been the toughest challenge. My dad always says to draw more, because that is the foundation of a food painting. And of course, I resisted that advice. I thought I’d be able to create beautiful pieces without really focusing and getting better at drawing. I did okay. But during 2021, I decided this resistance was foolish, because my paintings weren’t improving despite my consistent practice and effort. So, I took a step back and concentrated on nothing but drawing for two weeks straight, and now I draw regularly as part of my practice and painting process. Dad was right. The drawing helps me work out the composition, design, and placement of shapes, values, interesting lines and elements — in advance of putting paint on the canvas. My paintings are improving as a result.
I’m most proud of having the realization that I want to be an artist for the second half of my life. That I paint or draw or study almost every day. That my paintings are selling, being accepted into national juried shows, and opportunities are starting to arrive. Had you asked me ten years ago, I could not have predicted any of this, and I am so thankful for my creativity and artistic drive, because they have fed my soul and kept me going during these dark times.
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?
There’s always time to create if you’re truly driven to do so. And, when I started, I would often stare at the blank canvas and not know where to begin. Then I learned about toning the canvas. So now, many times I will tone the canvas in a light wash of burnt sienna or raw umber just to get that warmth on there and kill the bright white. Then values read more accurately and it feels like the journey has started, so those next marks are much easier to lay down.
See my answer above about having a hard conversation with myself. The pandemic wrecked me for three months. I didn’t paint or create anything from March to May in 2020. I felt lost, angry, worried, and worse, uninspired and completely lacking in creative energy — until I had those conversations with myself and realized that the only person who was hurt by my inactivity was me. If I wanted to be an artist for the second half of my life, then I needed to start. So I did. And that has made all the difference.
Anything else you’d like to share with readers?
If creativity feeds your soul, then dive in and just start. You really don’t have anything to lose by trying. And if you want to get better at painting, learn how to draw better. It really does work.
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.