Natural Woman

Michelle Smith has been selected as this year’s featured artist for the festival. We caught up with her for a chat about her inspiration, current role and history with the event.

What does it mean to be the featured artist?
My role is to spark people’s imagination in the weeks and months ahead of the festival.

You’ve participated in the festival for multiple years, correct?
I’ve participated in four of the last five shows, beginning in 2014. The year I missed was 2015.  I haven’t missed since.

Have you had much of an opportunity to get to know the Ocala art community through your participation? Any impressions you can share? 
The Ocala art community is tremendous. For one, they love to buy art. They want to be inspired. And, in my experience, they love to connect with you. At any show —in any city that I do—I’ll make some friends and end up having some people follow me on social media, basically become a fan. But in Ocala, it just seems like there are so many people who want to connect like that. They become fans of my work but then also fans of me. It makes coming back down really special.

How do art shows, juried exhibits, and events such as FAFO benefit artists in general? Do you recommend these for new artists on their way up?
Art shows are a huge benefit. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. I think most importantly, they provide a venue to sell your work. A lot of people, including some artists, have the perception that people go to outdoor art shows but they don’t actually buy anything—which couldn’t be further from the truth! People do buy art at these shows—sometimes in droves. Another benefit forartists is the real-time responses and feedback from the art buying public. That’s so important. Lastly, you get to talk shop with other artists.

Your work explores nature and animal themes. Can you tell us how the natural world inspires you?
This body of work came together beginning in 2014. Prior to that I had basically never used animals as subject matter. So, initially it was a surprise even to me. I didn’t plan it, they just sort of appeared. Looking back now, I see that I needed or maybe wanted to create a sense of hope, a longing for peace—as in personal contentment not world peace—and an overall sense of warmth.

Your color palette is quite special. Was that an instinctive choice or more deliberate?
I’d say it is actually both instinctive and deliberate. I’m inspired by nature and that’s the instinctual part. But I do make deliberate decisions for certain elements within each piece to change meaning and add emotion.

For more information about Michelle and her work, visit www.michellemcdowellsmith.com and consult FAFO’s website for her booth number and information about her talk at the festival.

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