In this installment of our Inside the Studio series, we spoke with Connecticut-based artist, Shilo Ratner. Her work, which is highly geometric, boasts precise linework and unique, often contrasting color combinations. But the finished piece is as interesting as Shilo’s road to get there! Learn more below about how her style came to be, how her meditative practice informs her work, and much more. You can read the discussion or scroll to the bottom of the page to watch our live Q&A session.
Our Interview with Shilo Ratner
Where are you from originally and where are you located now?
I am originally from Massachusetts but lived in San Francisco for about 15 years. I still feel like a Californian in my heart, even though I live in New Haven County now.
How did you get started as an artist?
Aren’t we all artists? I remember playing with crayons and paint as a young child. My fascination continued from my formative years. Although, I have been pursuing this career in earnest for almost 20 years now.
How would you describe your current style of artwork?
What is your creative process like?
My process is somewhat hard to explain. I begin the creative process well before I enter the studio. I do a form of japa meditation before entering my creative space. Then I walk in, sit down, and spend time with my in-progress paintings. They inform me on what they need. I look at the work I do as a form of surrender. I used to resist this way of working but the moment I just started allowing it to happen the way it wanted to happen, my work started really taking off.
Where/when do you do your best work?
Definitely the morning. Although, the evening is a great time to work, too. And when I have a deadline for a show, I am in the studio morning, noon and night.
Some of your paintings, like Beach House or Morning Awakening, have something recognizable in the composition like a sun or building, while others are seemingly purely abstract. Do you work off of a particular scene, image, or item, or does your work tend to take shape from your imagination?
I’ve learned to trust my instinct and allow my creativity to come through in whatever form it wants. Some of my work is more abstract and other work is more recognizable. I don’t question it, but just flow with it. A lot of the pieces in my studio came to me in dreams. I know it sounds so “wuwu,” but I often dream of paintings.
You use really unique colors, particular in combination with one another. How do you plan for that, if at all?
I sketch, but not for the work I do in the studio. For my primary body of work, I don’t sketch or premix colors. I’ll look at a piece and see the color that I need to start mixing. Nothing is preplanned, there’s no formula to speak of. It just happens.
We have to ask: Do you free hand all those straight lines or use specific tools to help get them straight?
Anything that will help me get the job done. I freehand, use cardboard, wood, tape and lots of painting rags to fix my lines.
From your first painting to those you create now, has your work overall changed?
I started out as a word-of-mouth commission portrait artist, and that later evolved into doing work that was stylistically more in the vein of Bay Area Figurative. It’s a career, so the evolution is striking when looked at then and now. However, it’s my life’s devotion so I see growth and bravery.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
The freedom associated with creation.
What do you find most challenging as an artist?
Washing my brushes. I know it sounds strange, but if I could have a brush washing robot I would be living large.
Do you ever hit creative blocks?
I used to dread the blocks that would happen. However, meditation has sort of become my super power. Of course, I have days where I feel more of a tangible creative flow and other days where I put my attention toward writing.
Did the pandemic affect your creative process at all?
It has affected my work/life balance. Not in the way of how I create, but I have two young girls so the circus act of parenthood looks even more chaotic now. Life is messy and you can either resist or just go with it. I tend to just go with it.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self as an artist, what would it be?
Just keep being yourself. You are rocking it.
In 5 words or less, what is your goal as an artist?
To finish writing my book.
Now for something different: coffee or tea (or secret option C: wine)?
Definitely coffee. Although, I have been thinking of trying a coffee substitute.
Favorite time of day?
The morning – right before my wild and energetic family wakes up.
Yoga or Kickboxing?
Warm weather or cold weather?
Hmm, I love all seasons. If I had to pick just one I would pick warm.
Favorite place on earth?
Any and all beaches.
What do you do in your free time?
Free time! What is that?