Artist Spotlight: Scot Rittenbaum

One of our favorite parts of working with artists is learning about their inspirations and creative process. This week, we're taking a deeper dive into local artist, Scot Rittenbaum's life as a creative - we thought you’d enjoy the inside scoop, too! 

When did you first start creating your work? When did it become an intentional practice?

I have two distinct memories.  First, finger painting in kindergarten. I can still see where the easels with pads of paper were lined up in the room and the aprons we were wearing.  The second memory is when I was bowling with friends when I was in 6th grade.  There was a book of matches nearby and it had an ad for “draw this dog”, and send to XYZ (I forget what the prize was). I looked at it and said to myself: “I can do this”.  I was underage to enter but determined.  I worked on it at my desk which was right by the teacher.  She must have known it was special to me as she never told me to stop drawing.  Anyway, I submitted it, never heard back and I’d say I knew I had the need-to-create-art bug.

Creating art became an intentional practice around age 16 as I have fond memories of driving to a favorite neighborhood park to draw the surroundings. I used pencil and soft pastel and while it was representational, my penchant towards the abstract slowly started to evolve as did my love of pastel which I used almost exclusively for about 20 years till I stopped because of the pastel dust that was getting on and in everything nearby.

After many decades of creating, not creating and so on, I made an intentional decision to pursue my art in earnest shortly after our eldest daughter passed away about 4 ½ years ago.

Do you have a typical or regular process?

I freely go back and forth between having no clue of what I am going to create in which case, the first step is to dive in and make a mark knowing it is a gateway to what comes next.  Sometimes, I have a general idea of where I think I want to go, and my first marks are very intentional.

I’d venture that approximately 75% of my paintings are worked over and over and over again sometimes over a period months and even years. I think I do this because sometimes I think the work needs something else and other times, I have this overwhelming need to create or try something new and rather than start a new work, I just totally shake up a work that I’ve been working on or has been resting for a while.

What are your studio must-haves?

Water and Gatorade Zero.  My studio is in my garage so when it’s noisy outside, I play either rock or classical music. If it is quiet outside, I prefer listening to the birds.

What are your most important inspirations?

Wow, so much inspires me. Without question, the Lowcountry landscape and pace of life plus living very close to our other daughter, her husband and our two granddaughters are lifesavers for us.  So, I often think of them along with our eldest daughter a lot whether I am creating in my mind or on a surface.

Also, I feel like my eyes are operating in overdrive. I’ll see something such as a crack in the sidewalk, a scratch on the back of a truck or a plant, and I am greatly inspired to bring it into my art.

Of course, I am inspired by so many artists. It’s hard to have a short list, but I’ll go with Arthur Dove, Georgia O’Keefe, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, and Vincent Van Gogh.

Do you have a favorite medium?

I don’t. Currently I primarily use acrylic paint, oil pigment sticks, ink pens, crayons, and markers singly or as mixed media. Just last week, I used oil pastels for the first time in over a year and it made me feel great.  I am determined to keep it up.  I have begun trying my hand at alcohol inks, too.

What do you do to recharge?

Paint, draw, spend time with our grandchildren and visit a few special spots that bring me peace or serve as safe places to just be.

What's the best piece of advice you have ever received?

Art wise – to step back from what I’m working on and give it a critical look before going on.  Every time I step back to have a look, I think of the artist who generously gave me this advice.  Also, don’t focus on what others may think or if it will sell. Create my art.  That is much easier said than done.

What piece of advice do you have for other artists?

Be true to yourself. Stay as close as you can to what you love about creating art.  And, if you feel stuck, just create and work. It doesn’t matter if you or anyone else thinks it is good. It is good to create and sure beats creating nothing.  Lastly, if you are fortunate enough to have even one person who is your cheerleader for your creativity, embrace it and them.

What's your goal as an artist?

Oh, so many. To stay curious and interested. To be courageous. To continue marveling at what is revealed by happenstance, mistakes, and experimentation.

Dreaming big, I’d love to be in a museum one day. I’m not saying I am worthy, yet I yearn, dream, and admittedly I believe.

What was the inspiration behind this latest series of work?

In the simplest terms, I was not in the studio creating enough (for me) during much of this year in part because I had gone back to work after spending a couple of years as a full-time artist.

So, I bought some ink pens and started to draw on paper because it required very little set up.  I don’t think I’ve said yet that I thoroughly love to draw. Then I got the idea to try using ink pens on unfinished cradled wood panel. 

The big inspiration came when I observed how the pens behaved and misbehaved on the wood surface, what I could control and what I could not, and it felt so new and refreshing – like I was on to something new that was meaningful to me.  And, in short order a process and look took hold with most works incorporating aspects of landscape and my birds or bird-like shapes that are references to my children and grandchildren.

It was inspiring to feel so good creating these and it fueled me.  

Thank you for tuning into out chat with Scot Rittenbaum! You can view his new body of ink drawings on panel here

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