Artist of the Week - Schiavone Studios
Edited for content and clarity by Shannon Parris.
We’re back to feature a fine artist as this week’s Artist of the Week. Mike Schiavone (pronounced Sha-vone - long “o” like “bone”) of Schiavone Studios resides on Pittsburgh’s North Side. You can see his work at www.mikeschiavone.wixsite.com/schiavone-studios.
Shannon Parris: Hi, Mike! Please introduce yourself - feel free to share any background about your personal life, family, work outside of making, etc. - after this, we'll focus on your business!
Mike Schiavone: I have been in love with art since I was old enough to utilize the fine motor skills that it takes to control a crayon. I lived in New York until I was 12, then my family relocated to Pittsburgh. I attended Vincentian Academy for high school. There was barely an art program there - it was basically a classroom and some paper. I was also the only student that was really passionate about creating art. I attended Edinboro University, where I earned a Fine Arts degree.
After that, I ended up working for American Eagle’s corporate offices, then Anthropolgie’s. I created displays that rolled out on a national level. This experience was more formative for me as an artist than college. I really learned to be fast without sacrificing quality, that neatness counts, and that virtually any object can be used in art as long as you transcend the material’s intended purpose.
After that, I ended up in New Orleans, where I was a street artist on Jackson Square for almost four years. That was another tremendous learning experience for a number of different reasons. I moved back to Pittsburgh in 2013, and worked as a buyer/manager for CMU until May of 2017.
I was immeasurably fortunate to be selected as one of eight Emerging Artists for the Three Rivers Arts Festival, which conflicted with my full time gig. So I resigned, and I have been doing art full time since. Most recently, I have been unbelievably fortunate and have been selected as one of two artists to receive the Emerging Artist Tier 2 scholarship from Three Rivers for 2018!
My family lives in the North Hills, and I’m about to be an uncle for the first time in May. I’m super excited for that!!!
SP: Your background is fascinating! Next, introduce your business!
MS: I call my business Schiavone Studios, which is a working title. I’d love to come up with something that is catchier and easier to pronounce.
I’m primarily a painter at this point. My current body of work focuses on the interplay of light and glass. One of the most important lessons I’ve retained from my time at Anthropologie is to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, and that’s what I’m attempting to do with my glass paintings. Perhaps there’s some residual fascination from my catholic school upbringing as well - I was always entranced by light and stained glass and their relationship. My house has four large stained glass windows and several stained glass lamps.
I also create custom pieces on a commission basis, most recently pet portraits. I am also available to do store display projects, but I haven’t really promoted that aspect of my business for a while.
SP: Do you have an “elevator pitch” that you use to sum up your business when people ask what you do?
MS: Ugh. I’m honestly a little shy when I meet strangers and they ask what I do for a living. I imagine them internally rolling their eyes. So, I tell them I’m an artist. They ask what I do, I tell them I’m a painter. Then I show them photos on my phone, and let my work speak for itself. Because no matter what kind of preamble I provide regarding my work, it doesn’t mean anything if the work isn’t a product of my best efforts. So that’s usually enough to start a conversation.
SP: What does your art - and your ability to get it into people's lives and homes - mean to you?
MS: Well, my art means everything to me. I try really, really hard to create the best work I can make. I see it as a reflection of me. When I hang something in a public venue, I might as well be hanging my identity, or my soul. So it’s got to be the absolute best of me.
Every interaction with people that come to see my work is deeply personal to me. I don’t approach my role as salesman as just a means to an end. I want to meet the people, and make a connection with them. In a way, they’re appreciating something very intimate that I’ve put out there for their consideration. So it’s vital for me to engage my visitors and learn something about them. I’m also sincerely excited about my work, and I think that’s palpable for most folks, so they’re comfortable asking questions and finding out about my motivations and process. When my work goes home with someone, it’s more than a sale to both parties. We both remember that interaction, and it’s a very special connection. A piece of my heart is going to live with them after all!
SP: What is your creative process like? How do you overcome creative blocks?
MS: I have an extensive catalog of ideas bouncing around inside my head. Everything I do art wise is obsessively pre-planned for months or even years. I find inspiration in a lot of places, and my mind is constantly racing. So I come up with concepts and imagine the execution.
Creative blocks aren’t a common occurrence for me. There’s always some subject to paint. But a great solution is to just pick something you haven’t painted before, and just do it. Work through those blocks, even if you don’t feel like it. Most importantly - this is a lesson I keep having to learn - sometimes, when you just don’t feel like creating, it’s your mind and body telling you to take a break. At that point it’s important to go forget that you’re an artist for a day or two. Burnout is definitely a real thing… but that advice is NOT an endorsement for laziness.
SP: That's great advice! Is there a tool you can’t live without?
MS: I think most people would be surprised at how basic my studio setup is. I have an easel, some brushes, and paint. My lighting could be better for sure. I think that the kind of paint I use is definitely important. I use Golden Liquid Acrylics. They’re somewhere between traditional acrylic paint and ink. So they’re simultaneously translucent and cover very well in higher quantities. I don’t get much texture from them, which is fine for me since I don’t believe in texture for texture’s sake in painting. Also, they’ve got a super high concentration of pigment so the colors are vibrant they work well as a kind of water color too.
SP: Very interesting! What's the best thing about working as an artist full-time? The most challenging?
MS: I get to paint every day, which makes me happy. I really enjoy doing shows like IMI. I love meeting the other participants and interacting with the public. The most challenging thing is wearing so many hats. As a self promoting artists, you’re the CEO, quality control, production line, supply chain specialist, customer service, marketing, book keeper, and about a million other things. If you’re not somewhat organized, it’s easy to let things get away from you.
SP: And all of that stuff takes away from painting time!
MS: Yeah, that’s the hardest part. For example, I had to ship two paintings yesterday, and it took two hours. I had to construct boxes, because boxes that size don’t exist, plus buy the packing materials. I could’ve been painting, and that can be really frustrating.
SP: How long have you been vending with I Made It! Market?
MS: I have been with I Made It Market since the Holiday show at the Waterfront. I’ve done three shows so far, and have thoroughly enjoyed each one.
SP: How is IMI different from the other (particularly fine art) shows that you do, and what is your favorite thing about being a part of the I Made It! Market community?
MS: IMI is different than the fine art shows because there’s so much for visitors to see and experience in terms of variety. My favorite part is that the sense of community is palpable. The vendors and staff work so well together, and it’s really uplifting to see that everyone wants to pitch in to help. It’s really refreshing to see that the relationship between organizers and vendors goes beyond purely a business relationship. Everybody looks out for one another, and wants to sell and have fun. There’s no competing egos, and everyone respects the rules. As a result, IMI events are stress free. It doesn’t feel like work to me. It’s a great way to spend a day or two, except I have to not wander too much, because I always find stuff I want to buy, which defeats the purpose of setting up.
SP: Do you have a favorite or most memorable customer or interaction with a customer?
MS: I have so many awesome interactions with customers. One of my favorites though, is a couple that had a destination wedding in New Orleans. They had decided that they’d buy one thing together as a wedding gift for each other. And they chose one of my paintings. How amazing is that?