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Art & Life with Serena McRae

Today we’d like to introduce you to Serena McRae.

Serena, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I have always had an intense draw towards visual arts but never felt as though I was gifted in one form or another. I have almost always had an active sketchbook but lacked any intuition or training, so it was more like I was sketching for myself, for therapy, than to ever show anyone my work. Along with that inadequacy, I also always had the dream of being a working artist! I was raised beside two brothers who always seemed naturally gifted with a pen and pencil. Perhaps that is where my intense desire to be artistically gifted came from, but I have always fallen short. Shortly after I was married, in a time that I struggled with infertility, I made the decision to take some art classes to redirect my life goals from wanting to be a mother, and instead to finally chase my dream of truly understanding how to use mediums and create marks with intention. I enrolled in a photography program and Art 100 in my local community college that at the time was just two minutes down the street. Almost from the first moment I sat down and received proper training in basic art principals, I thrived! I quickly became one of the stars of the class, and often had people ask me, “You’re doing this project for Art 100?!” I won a scholarship in my first semester of art school, from my photography portfolio, had my work on display, finally felt myself on the right path, when I peed on a stick and it was positive. Finally, my first dream came true, but then I had two dreams ahead of me. I accepted my scholarship, and enrolled in my next semester, and proceeded to spend the entirety of every class in the public restroom, emptying my stomach. One day I was struck with such morning sickness that I ran my car into a ditch, and that was the day that I realized my dream of receiving true training and knowledge in the arts had to come to a close. At least for that moment. My life took a turn when I had my first child, a daughter, and I was thrown into Postpartum Depression, the darkest storm I have ever experienced. She was my greatest desire, a dream come true, and PPD destroyed those first years for me. My husband became her sole caretaker, and it took me months to learn to love her at all. We had a second child, deciding to build our family while I was already miserable, and as the years passed I was finally able to work myself out of the pit of Postpartum Depression. It was really, really rough, but I made it. And that is precisely when I went out and bought myself a set of watercolors, and some paper. The intuition and natural skill that I always was jealous of my brothers for is what I found in that watercolor palette. From the first day of painting, I felt excited and whole, and my paintings were beautiful every single one. All I wanted to do was paint, all day, every day. It was as if I found a voice I was lacking during those difficult years, I started to bring color and light back into my soul. Watercolor is the medium with which my soul speaks, and finding a voice in it has been incredible. My experience with PPD very much defines me in my work, and I try my best to utilize my skills to uplift women who are experiencing what I have made my way out of.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I am a watercolorist. I was drawn to watercolor after a great purge of art supplies from my closet. It was one of those unexpected moments while I worked to fight my way out of the darkness of Postpartum Depression. I started to purge as many things out of my two-bedroom townhome as I could. Our two children were growing, and probably needed the closet space, and I was finally seeing enough light in my mind that I wanted to just cleans everything. I’m sure many artists feel the same way, but we tend to be hoarders. Especially crafters, which I can also call myself. That day I pulled out blank canvases, massive drawing pads, truthfully, all the supplies I had purchased for art school, which I had to leave when I became pregnant and morning sick all day, every day. I sold it all. Every last bit of it. When I felt ready to explore the arts again, over a year or two later, I chose watercolors, because they are compact, small and simple. They are efficient. I bought the cheapest set of colors at my local art store, and by the end of the week had created what is still my top-selling piece in my Artist Shop. In my work, I am very influenced by the Sonoran Desert in which we live. I am also influenced heavily by my experience with PPD. Motherhood is hard already, and I feel that many people suffer silently with PPD and never ask for help. My greatest desire is that I can create works of art that will break through the darkness my sisters may be trapped in, bring them some light and color, and let them know that they are not alone and that they can ask for help. I have related to cacti of the desert very much in my exploration of how to share these ideas through my artwork. Cacti and desert plants are the most resilient plants we know. They hoard water in the good times, for self-care in the hard times. They grow massively when they can, but most slowly when they must. They can be a little stabby, but also brag the most incredible blooms. They are the perfect example of a woman who knows herself, honors herself and cares for herself. These ideas are what drive most of what I create with watercolor.

Do you think conditions are generally improving for artists? What more can cities and communities do to improve conditions for artists?
As I am a new artist, I can not attest to the changes in the art world. I can say that so much of our spaces are corporate owned and run, which can make it difficult, if not impossible to serve our communities in the best way. I have found so much support in a locally-owned and run coffee shop in east Tucson, where my art is on display, and I teach monthly watercolor workshops, and live-paint during their events. These local spaces are a necessity to bring together artists and non-artists, who may not have taken the time to visit a gallery otherwise.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
I am an incredibly new artist in the community! I post creation videos and photos on Instagram @CactusCloudsArt, and on Facebook as Cactus Clouds Art. I sell stickers via those platforms, and also in Creative Tribe Workshop in Tucson. My summer plan is to begin creating prints of collections I am working on now, and to truly debut my work at as many holiday artisan fairs and bazaars as I can this fall and winter. My pet project is the creation of a deck of affirmation cards for moms, titled: Affirmations Moms Actually Need. I will do preorders in my social media community when this project is complete but plan to run a kickstarter in the future to raise awareness of the project and create a full stock of decks that will be sold by me on Amazon and perhaps Etsy. Currently, I am working on building my social following, so that these projects will be a success when they are prepared!

I also have my work on display at a locally-owned coffee shop in Rita Ranch, east of Tucson, Viva Coffee House, and I hope to prepare more works to be displayed in exhibitions throughout Arizona.

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