When Mya Bessette became pregnant with her daughter she had to quit her job in the oil fields of Alaska and search out a new career. It was also during that time that she decided to start painting.
As her painting skills improved, Mya’s sister gave her the idea that she could start selling her paintings, and perhaps earn a little extra money on the side.
Thanks to that encouragement Mya now knows the joy of being a successful, selling artist.
Alyice: Why did you choose acrylic as your medium?
Mya: I tried painting with oils several years ago and found that oils were not for me. The long drying time didn’t allow me to accomplish some of the layering effects that I wanted to incorporate in the limited time I knew I’d have to paint.
Right around my children’s naptime you can usually find me racing around recklessly squeezing paints onto my palette while my kids clean up their toys. . . I just want every possible second to paint while they sleep! So acrylics seemed like the perfect medium for me.
Alyice: What is the most challenging part about working with acrylics?
Mya: The very thing that attracted me to acrylics is probably the most challenging as well: quick drying time. If I intend to blend colors in my painting, I have to work fairly quickly to achieve that before I lose my window.
There are some acrylic mediums you can incorporate to slow drying time but I think I just enjoy plotting my approach and going for it!
Alyice: What is the best part about working with acrylics?
Mya: The ability to paint OVER elements fairly soon after painting them. Let’s face it, not every painting session is going to be a winner. There have been plenty of times when I’ve jumped into a piece only to step back an hour later unhappy with what I see. The good news is that with acrylics, covering those missteps is fairly quick and painless. In some instances, however, try to leave traces of the original attempt just to give my paintings some edge and depth. I like people viewing my work get to witness the genesis of my paintings through hints and whispers of previous layers and colors.
Alyice: What do you wish you knew about acrylics before you got started?
Mya: I wish I knew about impasto. It would have saved me a lot of time and money.
When I first got started, I was really drawn to the concept of highly textured paintings but I didn’t know how to achieve that look so I used huge amounts of very expensive paint to achieve it. I even (don’t laugh) grabbed some wood putty from the hardware store and slathered it all over a canvas. It worked, sort of. . . but it was certainly not an easy medium to manipulate.
Finally I came across heavy gel impasto; an acrylic medium that holds pretty much any form I can dream up. I grabbed a rubber spatula from my kitchen, scooped the impasto out of the bucket, flung it at my canvas and started smearing.
I’m sure my excitement was palpable. I can see my husband affectionately rolling his eyes right now. . . ok my excitement was probably very audible too.
Alyice: You often use a palette knife in your pieces, how did you get started with this method and what does it add to your art?
Mya: Once I found impasto, I knew that my kitchen spatula probably wasn’t going to be the only tool for the job. . . I needed an arsenal. I collected palette knives, spoons, jars, bowls, putty knives, random scraping tools and funky objects from the hardware store.
In the descriptions of many of my pieces I say “palette knife” but I use the term pretty loosely. The possibilities are literally endless and each scraping tool or palette knife offers so many different effects.
Smear the impasto this way, and you get one result; use it to pull the impasto to a peak and you get another effect. I can’t even tell you how often I drift away during the day just dreaming up some new way to play with my acrylics.
Alyice: You do a great job of blending colors in your pieces, what’s your secret?
Mya: In some of my larger pieces I use a huge, thick round brush. It holds tons of paint and water so I start applying paint, dipping in water, smearing and swirling and brushing until I feel like my colors have blended to my liking.
Sometimes I add another coat of paint with a little more water. . . this time to create a lightly transparent layer of paint that helps bring the composition together.
Alyice: Do you do anything in particular to seal your art?
Mya: I seal all my paintings with several coats of spray varnish suitable for acrylics and oils. It provides a non-yellowing coat and I absolutely love the way it makes the colors pop.
Can I recommend products here? If so, I use Grumbacher Final Varnish.
Alyice: What is your creative process like?
Mya: I certainly approach every blank canvas with a sense of excitement, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that sometimes when I start a new piece, I’m overcome by calm.
It’s on these pieces that I use a little restraint and a lighter touch. It seems like I’m constantly straddling these two styles; one is gentle, dreamy, even ethereal and the other is playful, edgy and bold.
Like most artists, mood plays a big role in my paintings.
Almost every piece I create is from a memory. On occasion I work from a photograph, but 95% of the time I’m pulling from visions and memories that have made an impression on me.
Whether it’s a place in time, a landscape I admired, or a combination of colors I saw someone wearing, these moments are imprinted on my brain and I’m desperate to get them on a canvas.
I actually saw a garbage bag commercial the other day and the combination of the wall color, what the actress was wearing and a fruit on the table just knocked me out! I don’t remember the brand (sorry garbage bag company), but I can’t WAIT to get those color combos on a canvas!
So once my kids go down for naps I have 2-3 hours to paint and that’s ALL I do. I don’t do smaller studies prior to working on a big project, but I do map out my plan in my head. I have a pretty good idea of my color palette and my goals before I start. And then, I positively lose myself for a few hours.
Alyice: How has your style changed over the years?
Mya: I think that the most significant change to my style has been my use of bold, punchy color.
When I started out, I think I was a bit timid with colors and tended to mix in whites and blacks to mute my palette, thinking my paintings might provide beautiful accents in someone’s home. Now, I think I aim a little higher. I’d like my pieces to evoke emotion and recognition and memories.
I am also a lot more willing to play with new techniques. My next phase is to collaborate with my sister and bring some real metal into my paintings. I’m beyond excited about this next venture!!
Alyice: What do you believe is a key element in creating a good composition?
Mya: With my limited schooling I can only answer this question from the gut. . .
I think that in order for a piece to be impactful there should be some sort of contrasting element that draws the eye: lights against darks, raised peaks of texture and valleys, illuminating metallics, or a surprising mixed media of elements.
The artists I admire the most are those who consistently use color or texture in a way that’s surprising.
Alyice: How do you come up with a profitable pricing structure for your acrylic pieces?
Mya: Ugh. I’m terrible at this part because I tend to want to just give my art away.
“Why? Would you like a free painting? Just tell me where to send it.”
Ok seriously, I try to be very reasonable with my pricing structure and my final price is a reflection of the materials used and the amount of time it took me to create the piece.
I use top quality canvas, paints and other acrylic mediums so my pieces are sturdy and lasting and probably a little more expensive to create; therefore, my prices do reflect that quality. I also leave a margin for profit so I can buy more materials and keep on painting.