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The Atelier at Arlene’s Rebecca A Flis: Rising to Meet the Challenge


June 1, 2021


The Atelier at Arlene’s instructor Rebecca A Flis Photo-Illustration: Courtesy of the Rebecca A Flis.


Much of Rebecca A. Flis’ work is inspired by nature and everyday objects. The contrast between decay and preservation is a prevalent theme in her sculptural work. During the COVID-19 quarantine, Flis spent her time rekindling my love for watercolor and charcoal. She also discovered a new love for making digital art and stickers. Stickers are nostalgic, used to express one’s unique personality, and often bring a smile to peoples’ faces. The stickers Flis designed in isolation express the emotions and experiences she was living through at the time. We recently asked Flis about her how she approaches creativity and for advice on how to better work through tough situations like the pandemic. Here’s what she had to say.

Arlene’s: As a Maker in our recent Makers Markets at Arlene’s you said your favorite thing about being a Maker is “seeing something and being able to make it myself.” Do you like a challenge when approaching your work?

Rebecca A Flis: Absolutely! Part of why mold-making is one of my favorite processes is because it's like a big puzzle trying to decide how many pieces are needed for each mold. I approach all art-making, regardless of medium, the same way. Each artwork is like a problem waiting to be solved. Each decision, action, and thought that goes into an artwork are my way of resolving the problem. And each artist will resolve the same problem in a different way. That's the beauty of it!

Arlene’s: Do you find it difficult to stay creative?

RF: I usually have no problem staying creative. Whether it's crafting, baking, creating art, gift-making for holidays or for friends/family, etc. I'm usually quite busy creatively. However, the pandemic hit me really hard. It's been a struggle this past year and a half to move past the crushing weight of anxiety, exhaustion, and existential dread. Luckily things like the Maker's Market, teaching workshops, and spending time with creative friends has helped me stay out of my own head and given me an outlet to refocus on creative endeavors.

Arlene’s: You also mentioned that quarantine helped rekindle your love for watercolor and charcoal as well as helped you discover a new love for making digital art. Adapting to a situation is an important skill to have but it is often dealt with as an impediment or block. What advice do you have for over artists to help them better adapt and work through tough situations?

RF: Honestly, approach everything as a learning experience... Even if it's a bad experience, you've learned something from it. Instead of viewing a block or impediment as a negative thing, try looking at it as a challenge or a puzzle to figure out and rise above. This does wonders for your mental state and in my experience, gives it a more positive spin. Then when I get past the block, I feel more accomplished AND I've learned something (even if it's as simple as I never want to experience it again). As a teacher, I am constantly kept on my toes, especially this year. The crazy hybrid teaching schedule had so many hiccups that I'd have to adjust to at a moment's notice. There are many things I'll be happy to never have to do again, but I also discovered some things I'd like to keep from the hybrid model for teaching next year. To summarize, reframe a block or impediment so a problem becomes a challenge instead.

Arlene’s: Creating is inherently therapeutic. It gives us the time to heal, process feelings, reduce stress and anxiety. It is also a vehicle for self-discovery and helps build self esteem. Has your drive to create helped you process the trauma of the pandemic and how have you grown from the experience?

RF: That's a huge YES for me. During the lockdown, I couldn't use many of my usual methods of coping (spending time with friends, going to the gym, going hiking, etc.) so I had to focus on ones I could use (baking/cooking, making art, reading). In order to ease my anxiety, I had to force my brain to focus on something other than the pandemic and there's only so much sourdough bread you can bake. So I turned to learning and mastering a new art medium (watercolor) and relearning old ones (charcoal and colored pencil). I chose technically challenging artworks without layers of meaning, which allowed my brain to relax and focus only on technique, unburdened by growing feelings about the pandemic. Now, almost a year and a half later, I can see that I've grown as an artist. I've learned/relearned 2D media (which I essentially hadn't touched since 2014), and I've also relearned that it's okay to make art that isn't 1000 layers deep with meaning. Sometimes your mind needs that respite from feeling in order to solidify and process your emotions in later works... and that's absolutely okay.

Rebecca A. Flis has developed a collection of watercolor classes and workshops, like Painting the Garden in Watercolors, to share what she learned. Her curriculum is designed to help beginners learn the skills needed to paint in watercolor, how to apply those techniques to different subject matters and most importantly have fun with it.

Nowhere is this more evident than her upcoming workshops: Painting Scenes from Space in Watercolor and Painting Whimsical Mushroom Houses in Watercolor. These workshops take the techniques used to create traditional watercolors and turn them on their head. She teaches students to use their imagination and frees them to paint something out of joy.

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