The Beauty and Pleasures of Life
An Interview with Dorothy Wagner
Dorothy Wagner designed products
for Frigidaire and Buick during her career at General Motors. She
is now directing her creative talents toward watercolor and oil
painting. Her work includes a variety of subjects including landscapes,
still life, and figures. — Editor
an industrial designer for General Motors, what types of products did
First I was in the Frigidaire Studio and after GM
sold it I went to the automotive section and was in Buick Interior Studio
most of the time.
What was your most satisfying project at GM?
The development of my idea for a flat top range.
A ceramic top with no coils or burners showing.
How does your education and experience with industrial
design relate to your fine art?
They are two very different disciplines. Color and
form are very important to both. Rendering your ideas requires both drawing
and painting skills. I had to present my ideas in a realistic, picture
form so the engineers knew what it looked like.
Did you go to art school or are you self-taught?
I went to Art Center College of Design—at that
time in Los Angeles, but now located in Pasadena, California. Art Center
teaches many forms of art used in the commercial and every day world.
I just wish I had been able to take advantage of the many other classes
offered in Illustration, Figure, and Painting.
you have a mentor?
Yes. Lorraine McCarty was a well know artist and
teacher in the Detroit area. As a student I learned composition and value
for the flat painting surface. I also had the privilege to work for her
on some of the large pieces she did for corporate offices and lobbies.
She was a feisty and opinioned person but generous with her knowledge
What specific theme are you trying to pursue in
I don't really have a specific theme in my work.
There are so many things that I do that I cannot narrow them down to one
thing. I am always looking for new ways to express my art and painting.
What sort of message do you wish to communicate
through your art?
I wish to express happiness, joy and appreciation
for the world around us; in nature, people animals and the every day things
we take for granted. I want my viewers to see the beauty of our world.
reaction from a viewer makes you happiest?
When they get a smile on their face and then continue
to look at the work. Also if they return to take a second look. Well of
course, when they purchase a piece of my work.
What do you think separates good art for great
Great art has a great value pattern. It has a good
composition. The brush strokes are masterful and appear to be done with
ease and conviction. The color has continuity. The artist had lead you
through the painting to areas he wants you to notice.
What do you think is the purpose of art?
Art enlightens, informs and tells a story. Art or
the picture is worth a thousand words. As humans we are visually conscious
of our world around us and relate directly to a picture. Art can create
a feeling, mood, impression, information and warning that we all can understand.
Who are your favorite artists?
I have many favorites. From the past I like the Impressionists,
Picasso, Van Gogh, John Singer Sargent, Homer, and Nicolai Fechin. Of
today's living artists I like Richard Schmid, Kevin Macpherson, Robert
Wade, Cameal Przewodek, and Scott Christenson. Well I could go on and
on as there are so many that I admire and like their work. All have been
an inspiration to me.
do they influence your work?
From them I have learned good value patterns and
compositions, the use of color and brush strokes that convey a mood, as
well as selection and simplification (especially in a landscape painting).
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in the scenery around me. The
way the light strikes an object. I like to paint the beauty and pleasures
of life. Our world today is filled with anger, hostility and violence.
I want to show joy, happiness and the magnificent nature that surrounds
How do you come up with ideas for artwork?
I see things that I want to paint. In conversations
with people and friends often a subject or place is discussed and I think—Oh!
That would make a great painting. I often think of a subject in a form
of a series, that subject in many views or moods.
do you find figures to be interesting subject matter?
We as people are interested and curious about our
fellow man. We like to see them, hear them and be with them. We are interested
in their activities and thoughts. As an artist I express myself best by
drawing or painting and the figure helps tell the story.
What constitutes a captivating pose?
For me a captivating pose is one with movement, grace,
relaxation of the figure, and a feeling of well being within the model.
What is your favorite media?
Transparent watercolor has been my media most used
in the past. However after my exposure to oils this past winter, they
may become my favorite.
What is your favorite surface?
When working in watercolor I use only Arches 140
cold press or rough surface paper. With oils or painting with acrylic
I use canvas. I like the "bounce" that stretched canvas gives.
long does it take you to complete a finished work?
I laugh as that is a very interesting question. One
answer I give to on lookers at outdoor painting sessions is about 40 years.
That is from my first drawing to my present. However, seriously, a lot
depends on what I am painting. Plein air I plan to complete a painting
(usually small in size) with 30 minutes, or before the light changes too
much. In the studio, again depending on the complexity of the subject,
from a half a day to a day. Now with oil that is a different matter as
sometimes I have to let it dry and then at other times I paint all in
one session of a few hours.
How do you know when a piece is done?
When I am happy with it. When the colors are congenial,
the value pattern strong, the composition leads you into the painting
and to the area of interest. When I see in the painting the look I was
after and no added "anything" will improve it.
As an artist, what are some of your greatest challenges
or obstacles you face when making your art?
My uncertainty of being able to put on paper or canvas
the thoughts and feelings I have for the subject. What my mind perceives
is not always accomplished by my hands.
has been your biggest achievement so far during you career as an artist?
There are a couple I am proud of. One that I mentioned
earlier is the realization in Frigidaire Studio of the flat top stove
Another is my apple art show At the Port Huron Museum
where I circled the room with a continuous ribbon of apple paintings;
in watercolor, acrylic and mixed media.
Have you any regrets in your art career?
No, I would do it all over again. I enjoy working
with my hands and that is when I am most happy.
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?
Work hard. Accept the advice of professional artists.
Learn the basics of drawing, painting, perspective and color: even if
you think at the time they are boring, uninteresting and irrelevant to
what you think is important or want to do at the time. Even the famous
abstract artists were excellent draftsmen and realistic painters.
Don't give up. It's not easy, but very rewarding in the
What are some of your favorite art books?
I have many favorites --- but my favorite book for
beginning watercolorists is by Tony Couch Watercolor:
You Can Do It! When I taught watercolor classes this was the book I recommended. He states
things in a simple, understandable way.
How can one acquire your work?
Contact me at dotglis.net
at a Glance
|Founders Gallery at the Flint Art Museum in Flint, Michigan
Proper Framing in Port Huron, Michigan
Carbon County Arts Depot Gallery in Red Lodge, Montana