After interviewing Catherine Cross Tsintzos, it is difficult to not be blown away by the many facets that her lifetime of art and exploration has resulted in. From crayons to collage, fine art to fine craft, farming indigo to making it into dye; no one can put this woman in a box!
Her passion shines through in all that she does, and we are looking forward to hosting her in Cuba for our upcoming travel journaling workshop. With many ways to experience this fascinating city on the verge of historical change, Catherine will be guiding you through a series of techniques to capture the essence of Cuba and it’s people in a unique format…the travel journal. What can you create when you allow art into your life? Just ask Catherine…
Talk to me about your evolution as an artist… How did it begin, how was it nurtured, and how has your art changed over the years?
Creativity and has always been in my makeup. I was allowed to be myself and had many opportunities to become confident with my art and self expression growing up. A family who supported the arts made it easy for me to transition into keeping art in my life as an adult. Mother always nurtured the art as I was growing up by providing plenty of Crayolas, paints, coloring books, blank paper and art lessons. As a child, I spent time with my grandmother who would hand color tint black and white photographs with oil paints and created exotic and fun decorations during holidays. She was a wonderful storyteller. I was given freedom as a teenager to paint murals on the walls of my bedroom and large chip boards for painting on in our basement.
I recognized in my late 20’s that keeping art in my life was critical to my well being and shared with my family that my life from that day forward would never involve work that was not connected to art and creativity. During my thirties and forties, I created much more art to sale and exhibit. When I reached 50, educating others to keep the arts alive seemed to shift as a big focus and selling my art became less important. With a supportive family, strong faith and wonderful friends, my life has been an arts mission.
There are many different elements in your artistic and educational work – watercolor, multimedia, children’s art, dying, printmaking… What is your favorite of the moment?
It is true, I love all that is connected with the arts. I love mediums that involve process and elements of surprise from clay to printmaking.
In 2014, I received a two week artist residency at the Wildacres Retreat in the mountains of North Carolina to focus on creating art that was connected to my farm visits. Through the process of visiting farms and research, I began to research crops. Researching crops and sustainable agriculture practices lead me to indigo. Learning all about indigo as a crop from the 1700’s and how it is making a comeback today has been an exciting journey in itself. Since I have been very active with textile dyeing and because I love surface design, it was only natural that I would love textile surface design.
So, I have been pretty involved with textiles of late starting a company called Summer Blues Indigo traveling throughout the New South connecting with museums and arts organizations to connect people with the history of indigo and dye process. The Art of the Harvest is bringing our linens to farm to table events and incorporating opportunities for the homeless and jobless to learn new skills connecting them with art and the creative process.
Making small books to share with class participants for taking notes started as a way to recycle a donation of old worn out books. As a lifetime doodler, notes, journals and making small books has always been the norm for me. I was a diary writer in elementary school always recording the day’s events and drawing little pictures in the books. I always love making books with children and find that when sharing the process with adults the excitement shared is equal. I am inspired! Everyone always has a story to tell and I love to hear a good story. Reading and seeing the visual illustrations when words are not always available is a special kind of travel.
There are many craft elements in your work. How do you distinguish between “art” and “craft”, if at all?
I consider what I do as fine craft and art. The difference is that fine craft or contemporary craft is cutting-edge and ensures the highest standard of workmanship, work that is innovative in its use of materials and aesthetic vision. I seek to create work that not only reflects an individualistic signature, but also demonstrates the investigation of processes and critical enquiry.
When I am teaching and exposing children to art I try to share real art experiences with them where they are learning about artists, art history, vocabulary that involves tools, mediums and techniques. In addition, I try to emphasis process and not product. Because truly process in art is what spurs on imaginations. Crafty crafts all seem to have a goal of the end product looking the same. With fine craft and art, individuality is key. All of us are different and clearly our art should not look the same.
I’m very impressed with all the work you do with children, can you tell us why you are drawn towards early childhood artistic exploration? Why is this time period so important for children?
Young children are the future of the arts in our world. I truly believe that the arts make our world a better place to live. The arts open dialogues between cultures that no other language can provide. Children should engage and experience the arts as early as possible. The first mark a child makes is the beginning of literacy. I can remember my first drawings as a child on paper, in books and just drawing with a stick in the dirt. Before I could read or write, art was how I could express myself. Stiflingly creativity in children can be crippling and developmentally damaging, especially for children who tend to be creative or use creativity as a source of self expression. I never forgot the need to want to create more art as a child.
When I started teaching I wanted to support creativity as a way for individuality to surface and a tool for children to be stronger communicators as well as becoming more confident individuals. Artists and creatives need to express.
I have always tried to provide young children opportunities to do more with the art than what they get to do in school. Time and time again I have witnessed young children discover their own gifts as they create and discover who they are through the process. Self expression through the arts is something more personal and should not be suppressed. The arts enable us to discover who we are as individuals and once discovered can never be taken away.
Are you as enthralled with travel as you are with art?
Jokingly, my family has always said that my middle name should be changed to “Go”. All of my life I have loved to go on family vacations, hiking and camping trips, beaches and islands, exploring the unknown and discovering new people and places.
What are some of your favorite travel destinations and how have they inspired your art?
There is no place I love more than the New South. I have always loved visiting gardens and talking with gardeners. I learned to do this from a grandmother who loved to garden and didn’t think twice about stopping to visit a stranger to ask about an interesting plant and could the owner share a cutting. This was a part of the south that I recall being a part of as a child. I also love New England, having attended school as a teenager in Newport, Rhode Island during summer, I love the crispness of the air, the rocky coast and strong art history.
Visiting Paris, France was the first time that I discovered the fun and significance of keeping a travel journal. I purchased my first travel size Windsor Newton watercolors in a tin at the Louvre Art Store and loved sketching and using the watercolors at quiet moments to reflect on the days there. I find that when I sketch and draw something that catches my eye I make a deeper connection for a more longer lasting memory than just taking a photograph. Being able to have the portable watercolors was great. I could use them anywhere. Painting clouds I saw out the window of the plane on the flight home and island formations I saw was a way to assist with the transition of leaving a country that I loved and a memorable journey with my daughter and friends.
Have you ever traveled to Cuba? What draws you to this particular destination?
It seems as though I have wanted to go to Cuba my entire life. Having heard of the Cuban missile crisis, The Bay of Pigs, embargoes, the Revolution, Castro, Ricky Ricardo, sugar plantations, fashion, vintage cars and stories of rum runnings with Ernest Hemingway in the mix all of my life developed a mystique about the forbidden country that Americans could not go too. Growing up my family began vacationing in Florida in the late 1950’s and throughout the 1960’s into the 1970’s, purchasing land near the Cape Canaveral National Seashore, later moving to the state in the 1980’s. Mother always said, “You should take Spanish. One day you may go to Cuba.”
With Florida’s strong Spanish heritage and Cuban influences with food, traditional hand crafted cigars and culture surrounding me in the Sunshine State visiting Cuba has always been at the top of my list as a destination I wanted to visit. I am delighted and inspired about the upcoming trip with Arts and Cultural Travel.
What sorts of artistic guidance can participants expect from you during the travel journaling workshop?
It will be a pleasure to share my experiences with art and encourage those new to the travel journal. Hopefully, even experienced travel journal enthusiasts will obtain some form of inspiration and technique useful during the trip. Information on how to get better perspective for drawing subjects, discussion on light, sense of place, tool use and medium exploration are just some of the topics that will be touched on. Travelers will learn how that getting the sketch can be more important that the journal itself, learning how to use what is available as well as heightening use of materials that they are already familiar with. We will explore watercolor, watercolor marker and pencil, colored marker, micron and more.
What is your studio and/or workspace like? Do you thrive in order or chaos?
I have an energy and drive for creating that is a force that I have learned over the years to channel into a variety of mediums. This has meant that my studio space be fairly open and roomy with a kiln, room for working on several clay projects at a time in various stages, room for creating prints, painting at an easel, drawing, journal entries and open space for creating larger installation pieces. I have order within the chaos. Most artists will understand this.
I want my space to exude creative freedom and not be confining to choke any inspirational flow that might trigger a new or enriching experience through the process. I work at home in Florida and in North Carolina. I love working outside and many times will be found creating on the beach, in the woods or in the backyard. Lately, I might even be found in the field painting and drawing images of cotton or indigo ready to be harvested.
What is your greatest wish as an artist? What do you hope to accomplish with your life’s purpose?
Fortunately, many of my wishes have been granted without my even making a wish. In my life, I have found that often times by being open and receptive what I may need comes to me at just the right moment. The reward of hard work in the arts over the years has brought many accolades and recognition for assisting with the development of innovative and fresh arts programs their serve all ages and abilities. I guess the greatest accomplishment has been knowing that somewhere along the way I have made a small difference in the life of a young artist. Seeing so many of my early students now grown and working in the arts has confirmed my life’s work and mission of importance. My arts beliefs have been validated. Accomplishing and working at what I am truly about, which is art and arts education, is all that I can hope to leave for my family. Letting them know what I am truly about and having them share in the journey and my joy of being able to do what I love is all I can ask for. It is a true gift to know your calling and to be surrounded by good people who support you and enable magic to happen.
Join Arts and Cultural Travel’s Creative Travel Journal Workshop in Cuba May 22-31, 2016 led by Catherine Cross Tsintzos. Enrollment is limited to 12 participants, Contact us today to learn how you can reserve your space.