Sharon Burford is an Artist, Teacher, and Mother and has been expressing herself creatively since she can remember. Her expressions are varied, not the least of them being some really cool cartoon illustrations!! Crayons and cartoons have long enjoyed a beautiful friendship! We’re happy to welcome our very own cartoon creating crayon.
1. How do you define creativity and what does it mean to you?
Creativity is the visible expression of my soul. It is my way of sharing my innermost self with the world. It is they key to making sense of things around me. It is the filter for my thoughts. It is the manifestation of dreams. The exorcism of devils. My tool for survival. For me it is the air that keeps me alive in a sometimes harsh world. My escape. My solace. My prayer. My laughter and tears. My joy.
2. How much of your creative ability do you think is innate? Or is your creativity a skill that you have developed?
I think we are all born creative in different ways, some of us just choose or are encouraged to develop that natural inclination. I think it's a bit of both... nature and nurture.
I always felt the urge to draw, to paint, to cut, to make something out of nothing. And I was fortunate to have a mother who understood that urge and encouraged it. It also made me seek out people in life who understood that drive and helped me to develop it.
We all go with what feels natural to us and creativity manifests itself in different ways, some people become artists, some cooks, some engineers - every choice is creativity manifesting itself in a different form.
3. When did you realize that you wanted to express your creativity? Was it encouraged by others (e.g., parents)?
I have been drawing and creating for as long as I can remember. My mother was always very supportive of me, even when she caught me cutting up the bedspread to make costumes for the neighborhood kids. I don't remember ever being scolded. My dad on the other hand, who was a banker, thought I should "grow up" and be more practical. I don't think he understood that side of me very well. At school, even in my primary school days, I was known as "The Artist".
4. What is your standard for evaluating your own creative work and the works of other people? Do you think that monetary rewards can be compatible with creativity in general? Are monetary rewards relevant to your own work?
To me "good" art is art that makes you feel. Work can be technically perfect, photo realistic, amazing in every detail yet it may not appeal to me if it feels soulless and clinical. I can always tell a piece that has been painted from the heart versus one that was created to earn a dollar. And that is my standard. It has to make me FEEL something. My heart and soul must be in it. Of course art is subjective. What means something to me may not be even a blip on the radar for you. The best piece of advice I got when I was first starting out was "don't paint for money, paint for love, paint for you" and that has been my formula.
Yes it is wonderful to be paid for my creativity, and like everyone else I have bills to pay. Having a part time job teaching art has taken some of the stress out of the creative process, leaving me free to create out of love, not out of necessity. I think it frustrates people around me when I won't knock off say 10 paintings of beach scenes just to earn a dollar and instead focus on work I get enjoyment out of. Art for me is joy. Money earned is icing on the cake. Perhaps I'm weird.
5. Do you think your own perception and evaluation of your creative endeavors are influenced by the views of other people? What role do you think the culture that you live in plays in your creative efforts?
I think being Trinidadian my work is naturally more colorful and vibrant. I love the energy of our island, I love the vibe, I love our sense of humor. My work could never be drab - not with the swirl of colour and life and rhythm we are immersed in. We are such a creative people… and at carnival time that is amped up by 1000 - you can't help but feed off that energy.
Still, I don't think my work quite fits in with the expectations people have of an island artist. I guess because I haven't settled fully in to one discipline. I embrace everything. I get bored quickly and never get tired of learning something new. My cartoons are heavily influenced by the pop music culture in the US - having found, quite by accident, a little niche market doing artwork for t-shirts and posters for rock fans, so it's definitely something you don't see other artists -especially the female ones, doing here.
I think I stopped trying to 'fit in' years ago and I just go with what makes me happy (with the bonus being it helps pay the bills). I stopped worrying quite a while ago about the opinions of others. Yes it is fulfilling to have your work appreciated, but for me the process of creating is fulfillment in itself.
6. What do you do when you experience a creative block?
I usually head to Ajoupa Pottery or the beach or to an art event to recharge. I need to be in nature or around creative people to get a jump start. I've learnt over the years to just go with the flow... blocks are temporary. Sometimes I just have to step back and let my mind get distracted doing other things until inspiration hits again. Deadlines are also pretty good to get those juices flowing. They scare me into producing. I'm a terrible procrastinator! Ha
7. How do you make the leap from a "Spark" in your head to the action you produce?
Just drop everything and do it. I often find myself waking up from a dream anxious to capture the idea that has bubbled to the surface. I'm very impulsive.
8. Do you have any special rituals that you do in order to achieve your creative goals?
Not really. I just get to working when the inspiration hits. I'm an "I need to drop everything and do this NOW" kind of person. Very frustrating for the people around me. I tend to get obsessed with an idea to the exclusion of everything else… when I get that feeling I just run with it. Not always very practical.
9. Has your creativity changed stylistically as you have matured? If it has changed, please explain how?
Funnily enough I have come full circle back to the artistic expression that dominated my teen years, which is cartooning.
As an artist I'm always experimenting with new things and ideas. I'm insatiably curious and I jump from one artistic discipline to the next… painting, sculpting, theater work, drawing, you name it, I have probably tried it to some degree. Some days I feel as though I have a split personality. Once someone told me "to be a good artist you have to pick one thing and stick with it". I disagree. It's the constant element of play and trying new things and being out of my depth that excites me and keeps my creativity flowing.
As I matured I began to trust my own voice rather than listen to the world, and that voice has strengthened. Most people tell me they can instantly recognize my work even if the pieces visually, are vastly different. My style is set yet fluid. I think the main thing that has changed for me is my level of confidence. So it's like the flip sides if a coin, my art is constantly changing yet my feet are planted pretty firmly on the base I began on. I keep coming back to the same touchstones unconsciously. The same themes from different angles.
10. What has been the greatest sacrifice that you have made for your craft?
I always feel torn between my urge to create and the needs of my family. It's a difficult tightrope to walk being an artist, teacher, mother and wife. I believe my marriages have suffered for it. It is difficult for someone who is not an artist themselves to understand the drive to create, often at the expense of sleep or duty or anything else. Most times the art wins. This is never a good thing in a relationship. Sadly.
11. Who or what has helped you to persevere and not quit?
My mother has been a huge source of inspiration to me, encouraging my talent from very young. She is a fantastic artist herself and it saddens me that she has pushed that part if herself into the background choosing instead to fill the roll of wife and mother. I hope one day she finds the confidence to shine her light in the way she has encouraged us to shine ours.
The other person who has helped me so much along this path is artist and sculptor Bunty O'Connor. Bunty has always encouraged me to try new things, and was a huge source of support for me when I began teaching art in a private primary school six years ago. She has seen potential in me when I have doubted my own talent, and subtly guided me along the way… an interesting book here, a word of encouragement there, directing me into the paths of other artists and teachers at the right moment. I owe a debt of gratitude to her.
12. Do you believe that it is important to be accepted by others as being creative or is just doing what you love to do enough to justify your work? Explain.
We all crave acceptance, artists more so than many others I believe. But even if the recognition does not come, I can't deny my spirit. I am who I am. I was born to create. I have a million ideas trapped inside that bubble to the surface on a daily basis. If I try to stifle that I literally become ill. Art is a part of me, as much as the air I breathe and it makes my soul happy. I can't live without it. My art is the expression of my soul and that is justification and fulfillment enough.
13. Has rejection ever affected your creative process? Explain.
Rejection, though it feels like a huge blow to the gut, only serves to bring out my stubbornness and determination to do better. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't take "no" for an answer. In fact, my best work seems to come out of brushes with defeat. Call it first-born syndrome where I feel I need to constantly prove myself. I try to shake it off as quickly as possible, analyze my 'mistakes' and try to see if there is a different approach I can take to solve the problem. I always remember the story of the cartoonist Jim Hunt who spent 15 years getting rejection letter after rejection letter from Mad Magazine yet never gave up. He just kept working and submitting and one day they finally called him in. The rest is history. He became one of their top cartoonists. "Failure" just spurs you on to keep trying until you get it right.
14. Looking at what you have created in the past, would you change anything today? Why or why not?
I think if there was anything I could change it would be that I would have started a bit earlier. I wish I had followed my passion from day one instead of being sucked in by duty and family expectations. I feel there is so much I need to learn and so much I have to give, and I 'wasted' that time not pursuing my craft.
15. Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
I think every artist faces "I'm not good enough" moments. If we didn't we would not keep evolving or working to create better quality work. When I lose faith I try to look back at some of the milestones I have passed, especially in the last few years. When that fails a glass of wine helps! Ha
16. What piece of work are you most proud of? Why?
I have several favorites and for different reasons.
The first was my piece "Loss" which marked my rededication to art. I painted it not long after a miscarriage that made me take a long hard look at my life, leave my job and ultimately pick back up my childhood dream of life as an artist. It was a very emotional piece for me, my tears literally mingled with the paint, it was hugely cathartic to paint. It signaled a leap of faith, and a release from the immense sorrow that helped to create it. Not long after I donated this piece to the Hispanic Women's Group to be auctioned to raise funds to help assist needy children receive life saving surgery, it also marked the first time my work was exhibited publicly. I remember when the painting was handed over to its new owner I felt as if a part of my heart had been torn out, I literally had to leave the room it was so painful, but I knew it was the right thing to do.
The next piece I was immensely proud of was my paper clay sculpture "Madonna and Child". The Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ASTT) asked their female members to submit work for an exhibition at the National Museum and Art Gallery that was in celebration of 100 years of International Women's Day. Out of the 100 plus submissions only 20 were to be selected and my sculpture was chosen as one of the representatives of the women of the ASTT. For my work to be chosen to share an exhibition space with the work of our renowned women artists like Sybil Atteck was a huge honour for me and a moment in time I won't soon forget.
The third piece of work I was proud of was a cartoon. I'm a huge Rick Springfield fan and have followed his work for many years. He is a person I admire for his talent and drive - singing, acting and now as an author he has an impressive career. In 2012 he released his newest album "Songs for the end of the world". The CD was released with 4 different versions of cover art, all depicting different scenarios for the end of the world. On a whim I created a parody of one of the covers... a cartoon using his bull terrier Ron featured in his very first album "Working Class Dog" mixed with the artwork of the new album. I "released" it on Facebook and soon had fans around the world asking to buy copies of the artwork, which, for copyright reasons, I could not sell. To my surprise I was approached by Rick's management team asking if I would consider letting them use the cartoon. I did not want to sell myself short, and after a bit of back and forth they changed their mind about using the image. I was disappointed, but the fact that my work had been recognized internationally prompted me to set up my online "Cartoonize Yourself" business doing custom cartoons for fans. I was subsequently commissioned by the producers of a documentary on Rick to produce a cartoon showing the highlights of their journey while filming the documentary "Affair of the Heart". They used the cartoon in their online promotion of the launch of the film on DVD and Blu Ray. To have my work featured on that scale was quite a thrill for me. My "teenage inner self" celebrated!
17. Have you helped or mentored anyone else? Is there someone that you see (name drop) that you would like to Mentor?
I work with children every day and I have dedicated a good part of my life to encouraging young artists, as I remember how difficult it was for me when I first started on this journey. Seeing new talent excites me and I usually try my best to encourage young people to show their work or link them with persons who can help get their name out there.
Most recently I have partnered with Nichossa Restaurant in San Fernando to showcase the work of our southern artists on their newly installed Artist's Wall. There seems to be a void when it comes to support for artists in San Fernando. Our southern artists have to make the trip to 'town' for their work to be exhibited and to attract sales. This is something we are trying to change with the Nichossa Art wall. On June 6th we have our first in store art exhibition entitled "Up close and personal" where the artists featured in the launch of the wall will be exhibiting more of their work and meeting with patrons. We are very excited about it and hope this is just the starting point for many more events like this in San Fernando.
18. To a young Creative emerging in your field, what advice would you impart unto them?
Believe in yourself. Listen to that inner voice. Don't let the naysayers scare that spark out of you. Immerse yourself in what you love. Seek out mentors who will lift you up and help you along the path. Be constantly curious. Talk to people, listen to their stories... inspiration comes in the strangest packages sometimes. Don't be afraid to make "mistakes"' if you are not making mistakes you are not learning. Say yes to new experiences and dive right in and give it your best shot. Keep evolving.
19. What would you most like to be remembered for?
As someone who encouraged others to find that spark of beauty and wonder in themselves and share it with the world. Too many people walk around with amazing beauty trapped inside, too afraid to believe in themselves and too worried about what the world might think of them for showing it.
20. If you were a crayon, what would be the name of your colour?
You get in touch with Sharon via email or follow her work on Facebook. Learn about some of South Trinidad’s artists and related events here. On the - things to do in south Facebook page. Be sure to check out the Artists' Wall at Nichossa Restaurant in San Fernando on June 6th 2014.