Maria Schlomann first started painting on shoes when she was a teenager.
At the thought, she is 2% sheepish, the rest matter-of-fact. “I used to paint on jeans, too. I had fun with that.”
Her shoe art is sensitive and detailed, but wearable material is not Maria’s primary medium. She tends to draw in black and white, with pencil, and on paper, not shoes.
“Not even colored pencils; very black-and-white-type things.
“I’ve actually gone back to using a mechanical pencil, like back in school, when I used to doodle.”
That tiny, thin line, precise and delicate, is what Maria is after. “I like the really dark ebony pencils as well. They have really soft lead.”
After drawing her lines, Maria sculpts with her fingers, smudging and rubbing the graphite. The precision gives way to life-like textures. She captures different values, like light and shadow.
“I like black and white. There’s just something about it I’ve always liked.”
Maria has been creating at Gateway Arts since 2007. It was her mother who first suggested she join the studio. Maria was going through a difficult time, but she had recently sold her first piece of art. That unexpected event got Maria to thinking.
“It was a drawing, a pencil drawing, and it sold. It wasn’t for a lot, it was for $25.”
That opening was in Natick, about 20 miles from Boston, at the Natick Community Organic Farm. Maria was pleasantly surprised that someone would pay for her art, even if it only went for $25.
“I’m always curious about what drives a person to buy something,” she says.
From Doodles to Galleries
Though Maria only started selling her work in the last few years, she has created art seriously since the age of 10. She had always doodled at school, but that progressed into drawing pictures and stories. She started to feel more invested in her work. It became more than an idle pursuit.
“I guess I found something that I could do well. I would get very, very absorbed in it, drawing characters from book I’d been reading or characters I’d made up in my head, drawing them, drawing my own ideas.
“It’s kind of interesting getting my own thoughts from my head to the paper. Being able to do that. And it was a lot of fun.”
While selling her work has provided a bit of extra income, she seems hesitant, perhaps a bit regretful. I ask, what is it like to sell your work?
“Mixed feelings. Sometimes, I feel like I don’t get long enough with the piece before it goes.”
Maria’s art reflects her intense inner world, her daydreaming, and her imagination. Creating art is a cathartic journey, a way to translate some of those intense thoughts into a physical form.
“And it’s just fun,” she adds. “It’s something that I love to do.”
That intensity is reflected in her subjects. She draws many self-portraits that range widely in form. More than traditional portraiture, Maria reflects her whole self in her work. She is her own muse.
“The character in the art is going through what I’m going through.”
Of the self-portraits, “Sometimes they’re just representational.”
Maria’s representation of her own thoughts, psyche, and form – her whole self – frequently takes shape through her choice of historical figures as a subject.
I probe, for history is a broad subject. Is there a historical period of particular interest?
“It’s usually the French Revolution,” Maria replies without hesitation. “I’ve been obsessed with that for some time. The characters from that time period have a hold on me.”
She draws from the intensity and drama of that period to reflect on her current place in life. Her art reflects what’s going on in her life and in her mind. Through art, Maria works out problems or issues that come about in her daily life.
“It’s like some people write in a journal or talk to people about problems.” While Maria is also a writer, her mechanical pencil intones something beyond what might be written in her journal, with delicate, careful shading and exquisite detail.
Make Paper While the Blender Runs
When Maria is not drawing on jeans or shoes, she turns to paper – sometimes, that of her own construction.
“I’ve made my own paper. I’ve done that here. Gary is one of our teachers at Gateway who is helping me out.”
When making your own paper, you can add all sorts of ingredients.
“You add lint, and then shredded paper, and then some glue to sort of hold it together. You have to use a blender and you blend all of the ingredients together, and it’s like a soup.”
The blender’s the limit. She has gone through several. “The blender, I had smoking. They just kept breaking!”
No matter, for production – the mil – must churn on.
“And then you put it on a screen, and make a frame, and staple the screen to it, and it will dry, and you have your own paper. It’s very crude, but it’s cool!”
I ask if Maria has a favorite recipe.
“You can add glitter, yarn, you can do all sorts of things.”
An Artist’s Education
Maria has created art while experiencing what she describes simply as psychiatric problems.
“Just things I deal with in my mind.” We leave it at that.
The opportunity to create art at Gateway with a community of artists and access to supplies and space has helped Maria reduce the anxiety and tension that she sometimes feels.
“When things feel too overwhelming or too tangled, I try to get it out through art and express it in a physical way.”
“It’s very, very cathartic. It’s like I’m releasing it, getting it out of myself, getting rid of the tension and putting it into art.”
Maria speaks of two worlds that she connects through her art. She feels the two worlds fighting over her, each trying to suck her in. Through art, she makes peace between these two worlds.
“It helps me analyze myself. It’s a way to cope. It settles me down if I’m having a difficult day.
“Working on the art helps so much … so much.”
Maria’s art has helped her form a strong identity that embraces these struggles. On top of her psychiatric problems, Maria found herself ill suited to formal education. This was uncommon in her family, and she feels that her experience as an outlier made her educational path even more difficult.
“I come from a family that’s pretty intellectually oriented, and it can be daunting for me given I don’t have as much formal education.
“I stopped going to school in 8th grade. I kind of fell apart in 8th grade. I mean, I went to a special school for a few years when I was a teenager.”
Maria earned her GED, but never a high school diploma. Yet, she is a lifelong learner.
“I consider myself self-taught on a lot of levels.”
Telling Stories Through Images
Maria’s tells stories with her art. Among the artists that inspire her are cartoonists Edward Gorey and Robert Crumb.
“I’m very into graphic novels and combining words and art.”
She also mentions Marjane Satrapi, Ross Campbell, and Jason Lutes, all acclaimed graphic novelists.
“I mean, I really love that. I collect graphic novels.”
Maria says again that she loves to write – that she is a writer. I ask, will you ever write a graphic novel?
She smiles and reflects. “I have considered writing one. It would take a long time.”
Perhaps Maria will turn her artistic and intellectual energy to this pursuit. Whatever form her expression takes, Maria will continue to muse on her whole self, selected chosen historical figures, and the worlds of her experience.
If I read her right, Maria will not lack for stories to tell.