MG Stout on Moving, Staying Motivated & Making Art
Artist Mary Gallagher Stout (Also known as MG Stout) not only captures animals’ unique personalities though her stylized pet portraits, but also conveys a bit of her own personality though each of these soulful pieces, which seem to be dripping with warmth and emotion.
Mary admits that she’s faced some challenges on her way to becoming a professional artist, and she graciously spoke candidly with me about discovering her passion for art, using her work to promote social change, and making the decision to transition to a new studio space in order to put her paintings in prime public view.
You mentioned in your UncommonGoods artist bio that you studied philosophy in school. How did a philosophy degree turn into a career in art?
Here are the cliff notes-I never felt like I was good at anything. I doodled privately and I studied philosophy because I wanted to learn how to think. My ambition was to become a professor. University life seemed to suit me. After I received my BA, I applied to a few graduate programs and moved to RI with my fiance. The following year brought a wedding, a new baby and a severe case of postpartum depression. The love of my family and ART saved me.
What the what? Art saved you? How so? Among the laundry list of psychological issues from which I suffered, and there were many, I became agoraphobic. I was terrified to leave my house, and heaven forbid it should rain–I’d cry all day. *I was a delight to be around.
Meanwhile, my mother-in-law knew that I wanted to paint the sanitarium white walls of my home and suggested that I grab a brush. I painted practically every surface in the house. I did murals, faux finishes and furniture. I think I even painted a few shades! To my surprise, people were really impressed with my work. When my faculties returned and the anxiety passed I started a decorative painting business and have been painting ever since.
*My company actually was the opposite of delightful.
What lead you to start painting animals? How did the custom aspect come into play?
I used animal imagery as an analogy to raise awareness of the vulnerability of the arts and art programming. Endangered species, the environment, and the arts need community support to thrive and flourish. The National Endowment for the Arts budget is the first to be cut when funding is being dispersed. I wanted to demonstrate how art impacts and enriches our lives and so I co-produced a free community event at the Workhouse Arts Center called ART OUT LOUD- a fusion of art and music.
I painted my first pet portrait in honor of my cousin’s dog, Mattie, who passed away unexpectedly. She was old, but seemingly healthy. The whole family was so upset and I wanted to celebrate the life of an amazing dog. I worked on the piece in my studio, which is a public space, and started getting orders and requests from visitors. I knew then that I was onto something.
How many pets do you own? Do they spend much time in your studio?
I had two dogs. Champ died of bone cancer last year and nearly broke my heart. Scottie is 15 years young and while his skin is much looser, he is a sweetie pie. Neither spent time in my studio because they like to misbehave when they are not home.
Would you consider your studio an extension of your home, or do you prefer to keep work and your personal space separate?
My husband prefers that I keep my studio work separate as I seem to get paint everywhere!
How did you know it was time to transition to a new studio space?
I set professional goals for myself and made a 5 year plan. I juried into the Workhouse Arts Center and became a full-time studio artist. I spent the months before I moved into my studio in VCU’s [Virginia Commonwealth University] Summer Studio Graduate Residency Program there. It was intense and kicked my ass into gear. I signed a 3 year lease and dedicated that time to finding my voice. I gave myself permission to paint a lot of crap. As a decorative painter, lacking a fine art degree, I felt like a big phony baloney. So I painted a bunch of introspective stuff and experimented with various media. I had my aha moment when I started my *REAL Life Drawing series. Pastel on newspaper! Drawing my observations of the city. I found my groove.
Year 4 was about making sellable artwork. Yikes! Did I just speak of money? Heck yeah I did. Artists have bills that need to be paid too. As a professional artist you need to have work that pays the bills so that you can afford a studio to make art just for art’s sake. The problem with my old studio was that I was making decent work, but nobody was seeing it. Truth be told, most of my sales happened off site. It just seemed logical to move.
*Sunbury Press published my DC inspired artworks in a book titled REAL Life Drawing, My Eye on Washington DC, by Mary Gallagher Stout
What do you look for in a studio space?
The first concern is location. Is it metro accessible? My atelier needs to be in a place that people can get to by hopping on a bus, train, trolley, or bike. The studio also needs to have good lighting, and enough space for to be divided into a workroom and gallery. Finally I need to be able to have 24-hour access. One can’t ever be certain when a thunder-bolt of creativity may strike!
What was the last thing you packed? What was the first thing you unpacked when you got to your new space?
It was the same thing- my paint palette.
How far is your new studio from your old? Did you have to move all of your supplies and works in progress a great distance?
I’ve added about 20 miles to my drive so it is a bit of a hike, but completely worth it. Old Town Alexandria is a destination. This town is buzzing with art enthusiasts, and animal lovers! The marina is literally one block from my new spot and there are dozens of local eateries and shops.
I’m in heaven. I share this space with two other prolific professional artists, John Gascot and Gina Cochran. We make a great team. We inspire and support each other and are eager to produce community-centric exhibitions and creative workshops.