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Art Ladders: The Creative Climb

Art Ladders: The Creative Climb

By Valerie Allen and Armin Mersmann

Artists Valerie Allen and Armin Mersmann invite you to join them in their studio discussions about art and the creative process. Each artist brings a unique perspective to the podcast. Valerie, an abstract painter and Armin, a draughtsman working in realism compare and contrast topics on art that will help guide artists as they climb the ladders of art one rung at a time.
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Episode 32: Conversation with mixed media artist, Bibby Gignilliat

Art Ladders: The Creative ClimbSep 27, 2022

Episode 56: Comparing Yourself to Others
Sep 12, 202350:45
Episode 55: Conversation with Larry Butcher

Episode 55: Conversation with Larry Butcher

On a beautiful August afternoon we had the pleasure to talk with artist and mentor, Larry Butcher. This conversation proceeds to tell a story of a young man coming to age on a rural Michigan farm with a father who expected his children to be navigators of inventive thinking and a mother who encouraged her young ones to be makers. Creative thinking and hard work was the norm and from that Larry became a visual artist and art educator, who to this day believes in the sharing of artistic knowledge.

Larry Butcher has a Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in Education from Central Michigan University and continued art studies at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit. His background includes sign painting, teaching art in the Mount Pleasant School System as well as a long career as professor of art at Delta College. In the episode you will hear Larry speak of his amazing connections to artists Charles Breed and Russell Thayer, who both shaped Larry's position at Delta College which went for a 39 year run.

He is well-known as a prolific painter who developed unique shaped canvas paintings as well as wonderful drawings as an amazing draughtsman. He has work in many corporate and private collections. We will be posting images on our Art Ladders: The Creative Climb Facebook Page.

Aug 29, 202301:06:16
Episode 54: It's Showtime! How to Navigate Show Proposals

Episode 54: It's Showtime! How to Navigate Show Proposals

We are nearing the time when galleries and art centers announce their exhibition line up for 2023-2024. This process involves not only reviewing proposals sent by artists but also planning logistics such as funding, delivery and installation. Artists can choose different ways to seek out exhibitions but the most common are submitting online proposals, word of mouth, or starting a relationship with the venues. Val and Armin have done all those different approaches and in this episode they share stories that relate to the ins and outs of obtaining solo or groups shows. It takes perseverance and a bit of courage to make those connections. Once a show is granted then comes all the elements of planning a delivery and framing budget, timing, marketing, and creation of events related to the show. Solo and group shows can be excellent exposure for artists that leads to sales and recognition. However it is important not to become discouraged if the reward doesn't come immediately. It can ofter take months for some contacts to be made.

Valerie and Armin will be showing together at Van Singel Fine Arts Center in Byron Center, Michigan from September 5-October 12 with a reception on Saturday, September 23 from 12:30pm - 2:30pm. Valerie will be exhibiting with Tim Ricketts and Todd Burroughs at the new Jefferson Road location of Creative 360 in Midland from September 8 - October 15. The opening reception will be September 8, 7-8:30pm.

Here are a few links to venues and art schedules ahead.

⁠Linktree app with links you need to learn more about Val and Armin's Events such as classes, podcast, exhibits and mentorships. ⁠

⁠Van Singel Fine Arts Center where Val and Armin will have a two-person exhibit. ⁠

⁠⁠⁠Creative 360 in Midland, Michigan where Val will be exhibiting.⁠⁠⁠

⁠Facebook Reception Event to Honoring the Process: The Art of Valerie Allen, Todd Burroughs, and Tim Ricketts at Creative 36⁠0

⁠Information on upcoming Abstraction Workshop at Creative 360 with Valerie Allen.

Aug 15, 202349:43
Episode 53: The Story of Mastrius

Episode 53: The Story of Mastrius

Creativity, community and mastery are the trio of words that best describe the online community for artists that Mike and Julie deBoer founded along with Victor Lee in Canada. Mastrius is now serving artists in 29 countries through an online mentor program that connects aspiring, emerging and accomplished artists with masters who provide feedback, motivation, and encouragement through online sessions.

As mentors with Mastrius, Val and Armin were anxious to share a conversation with Julie and Mike. This is a chance to hear the origin story of the company and learn more about Mastrius' exciting growth and future. The unique model of providing artists across the globe the chance to learn face to face with art mentors via Zoom encourages a community that is dedicated to mastering artistic competence in a supportive, noncompetitive atmosphere. It truly provides a niche for artists looking to hone their skills in the comfort of their studios and home and along the way the artists become part of a connected community of like-minded creatives.

Here is information on Mike and Julie through their bios posted on the Leadership Team page of the Mastrius website.

Julie deBoer

Julie is a professional artist, instructor, and business owner with intuitive skills in branding, marketing, and messaging. She has  successfully built a career as an artist, achieving professional status and gallery representation with over 6 galleries in her first 10 years as an artist. She has worked with a variety of charitable and non-profit organizations, creating and leading many grassroots teams over the past 20 years. She has also had the unique opportunity to spend over a decade establishing and growing a new church in inner city Calgary.

Julie’s belief that each of us has a responsibility (and privilege) to give a leg-up to those around us, is at the heart of Mastrius. She is pleased to ensure it is knit into the company’s very DNA. Julie serves as Chief Messaging Officer and Co-Founder of Mastrius.

Mike deBoer

Years of seeing people struggle with inexperience and isolation caused by our technology-saturated culture sparked Mike’s passion for changing the world one person at a time. After successfully leading teams of 100+ people, executing projects worth $250M+, leading several organizational mergers, Mike left behind his career in oil & gas executive-level management to pursue his vision to restore an ethos of people-helping people.

A life-long student of leadership best practices, Mike is known as a leader who is empowering, effective, engaged, and possessing the highest integrity. He’s worked hard to earn the title of Alberta’s Strongest Man on numerous occasions and was 2016 Western Canada’s Strongest Natural Man. Mike has grown into a tenacious and visionary entrepreneur who believes the path to growth, to mastery of great skills, is never more successful than when journeying alongside a seasoned traveller. Mike serves as Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Mastrius.

Programs through Mastrius include mentorships available with master artists, opportunities to exhibit and sell art in Mastrius online exhibitions, attend art events online, access an online library of instructional events, and be part of an extensive chat community via messaging and online face to face conversations.

Show Notes

Mastrius Website

Julie deBoer Art

Video with Julie on How Mastrius Started

The Mastrius Experience Video

Aug 01, 202355:56
Episode 52: Gallery Talk with Jane and Kelly Littlefield

Episode 52: Gallery Talk with Jane and Kelly Littlefield

Visiting Littlefield Gallery is a highlight in any artist or art lover's time in Maine. It is located in Winter Harbor, a small fishing town on the Schoodic National Scenic Byway. Armin and Valerie had the pleasure of visiting Littlefield Gallery while attending a Golden Apple Residency less than an hour away from the gallery. On the very first visit, they struck up a friendship with Kelly and Jane Littlefield. Now, that can sound like a far-fetched thought that artists just walk into a gallery and have an instant rapport with the owners, but if you ever meet Kelly and Jane, you will understand that relationship building is a way of life for them both.

They live and breathe promoting art as they literally live in their gallery. This combination of live and work space has always been appealing to both Val and Armin. It is not unusual to hear the washer and dryer running as you view the art or smelling delicious aromas from the kitchen of the Main House Gallery as you explore the different levels of the main house built in 1891 . You'll hear stories in this episode about how they offered an exhibiting artist a chance to do their laundry on the spot! But it does not have a homespun aesthetic in either the main house or the detached exhibition space, the vibe is contemporary, museum-like with wonderful lighting and open space between paintings as well as a very tasteful collection of sculptures inside and out.

This adventure started thirteen years ago for Kelly and Jane, who came into the gallery world with their background in education combined with a passion for collecting art. That passion is contagious and they represent artists with connections to Maine in particular. The beauty for those artists is that Kelly and Jane use their relationship building skills and finesse to treat each of them like family and friends. It's a beautiful moment to hear Jane talk about a particular artist with love and fondness. Collectors can't help but want to purchase the art and learn as much as they can about the chosen artist.

The exhibition space, which is detached from the historical New England style house, was custom designed to feature two-person shows. Kelly talks about curating two artists that encourage a compare and contrast conversation with the viewers. By displaying about a dozen works of art from each artist, you can see the complete exhibit in the long gallery as you enter the door or turn to each wall to study the individual artists closely. This narrow layout is a very engaging way to experience the exhibits.

Currently on display is the featured exhibit with Shelley N. Stevens and Barbara J. Zucker. This landscape-based show is a celebration of the power of the land and sea and how many times these paintings tell stories of life in a particular part of the country. Barbara J. Zucker is an artist, gallery director and art consultant who lives and works in Maine and Pennsylvania. Shelley N. Stevens is familiar to our audience as the artist and director from Golden Apple Studio and Residency in Harrington, Maine. Shelley divides her time between Maine and Michigan. You will hear from her as well in this episode.

We want to thank Jane, Kelly, and Shelley for their precious time recording this episode. Artists, please learn and take to heart, the words of wisdom from Kelly and Jane regarding approaching galleries. These insights from the gallery owners align with Art Ladders mission to provide best practice tips for artists in our audience.

Enjoy this conversation!

Show Notes

Littlefield Gallery

Barbara J. Zucker

Shelley N. Stevens

Exhibition feature Barbara J. Zucker and Shelley N. Stevens

Jul 18, 202301:08:21
Episode 51: Hold the Vision, Trust the Process

Episode 51: Hold the Vision, Trust the Process

"Hold the Vision, Trust the Process" Author Unknown...Artists bring artwork into existence with determination, perseverance, and courage. Their original vision can go through many edits and transformation during the process. The day to day studio practice can be fulfilling and stressful all during the same project. Val and Armin discuss their own struggles and joys in being artists. Everyone's life is enriched by the many ways artists categorized as visual, performing and/or literary contribute original concepts that bring awareness, beauty, and life quality to the world.

Motivation for artists to continue this important work often begins early in an artist's life. This drive is made stronger as the artist studies, and bonds with other artists. Finding their artist community is important to keep the momentum alive and well. Artists also discover their "why" later in life when their schedules allow time for personal passions. This time period can be very fulfilling and rewarding for those artists.

If you are an artist, treaure your journey and be proud of your accomplishments. For friends, fans and family of artists, be thankful you have them in your lives and let them know you admire their imagination. The world needs art more than ever to help us process emotions and improve mental health.

Show notes:

Acrylic Painting Lecture at Golden Apple Residency, Downeast Maine, Wednesday, July 12, 2:30pm

Drawing in Detail Workshop, Studio 23, Bay City, MI with Armin Mersmann

Contour Drawing Workshop, Studio 23, Bay City, MI with Armin Mersmann

Jun 21, 202349:57
Episode 50: The Healing Power of Art with artist Audrey Phillips

Episode 50: The Healing Power of Art with artist Audrey Phillips

Episode 50 is a conversation with artist Audrey Phillips. We learn more about Audrey and her beautiful acrylic paintings and her incredible journey through life that included both dark and light, tragedy and triumph.

Audrey received her Bachelor of Fine Art from the University of Florida. Audrey has exhibited in solo and group shows in Florida, where she currently lives, Georgia, North Carolina, Minnesota, Michigan, California, Texas, New Mexico and New York. Her work is can be found in corporate and private collection in the United States and internationally. In 2019, 54 of her paintings were acquired by the University of Tampa for permanent installation in their newly renovated Southard Family Building.

Audrey states, "My art practice started quite by accident—a collision of tragedy and creative healing. In 2000, I started painting faces that were somewhat representational but mostly raw, darkly expressive and strangely abstracted. This work sprang forth from a deep loss. In my search to heal, my newly formed art practice became a visual healing process. After this ten-year journey, I started painting abstractly. This abstract work allowed me to tap into the internal energy I had learned to access through my yoga and meditation practice that also started in the year 2000," in an interview for Arts on Douglas.

Audrey's paintings are expressive, bold and large, with beautiful colors and gestural mark making. Nature is her primary springboard and she often works in diptychs or two panels that symbolize the duality of life, the yin and yang, the light and dark. Her influences of artists are Joan Mitchell, Cecily Brown, and Willem de Kooning.

Audrey teaches week-long workshops throughout the country. Her teaching style includes sharing her lifestyle with students. This includes the practice of meditation combined with full sessions of painting. The students work large in spacious studios in venues that have those types of facilities. This year she is teaching at Beverly Todd's Santa Fe Artist Getaway (you can hear more about this venue in our episode 46 with Beverly) and Paint Space NOLA in New Orleans. She accepts students after doing a portfolio review to make sure it is a good fit for intermediate to advanced painters. Check out the show notes for information on enrolling.

Many thanks to Audrey for sharing her story with us. This episode is a powerful testament to the power of art in regards to healing and uplifting your life.

Here are links with more information on Audrey.

Audrey Phillips Website

Interview with Audrey by Arts on Douglas, a gallery in New Smyrna Beach, Florida

Article in Growing Bolder on Audrey Phillips (page 30)

Audrey's workshop at Santa Fe Getaway Dates: September 25-30.

Audrey's workshop at Paint Space NOLA Dates: November 6-11.

Jun 06, 202358:19
Episode 49: An Artful Summer

Episode 49: An Artful Summer

Join Val and Armin as they discuss setting intentions to keep your art practice engaged throughout the summer. Setting a few intentions of what you want to accomplish will help you stay focused but still have time to just relax and daydream. The trick is to keep your plans flexible and give yourself a lot of room for improvisation for some spontaneous experiences. These experiences can then pop up many years later and supply narratives for works of art or topics for ongoing series.

Summertime recommendations to keep in your radar!

Pack a travel set of art supplies. Could be as simple as a sketchbook and a pencil. Val likes to take a sketchbook, Sharpie pen, some charcoal, and oil pastels. Armin is a light packer with sketchbook and mechanical pencil. Some travels such as month-long stays or artist residencies can have a much bigger supply list, especially if you are driving.

Take time to daydream and/or just look at the clouds. Those quiet times yields future ideas.

While driving, be sure to leave time open to stop for photographs along the way. Great way to collect reference photos.

If staying home, spend some time making your studio just the way you want. This could mean organizing and cleaning or adding new equipment to your studio.

Continue your journals, if that is one of your rituals.

When going to museums and galleries, pace yourself. Smaller time periods in museums allows more retention of the memories.

Keep flexible. It's more important to collect experiences than sketches so be easy on yourself.

Show notes:

Your Brain on Art Written by: Susan Magsamen & Ivy Ross

Urban Sketchers: A Global Community of Artists

Travel supply ideas from My Modern Met

Littlefield Gallery with Jane and Kelly Littlefield

Intermediate and Advanced Online Drawing Class with Armin Starts Wed. May 24

Abstraction Now! Summer Session with Val Starts Wednesday, May 31

May 23, 202342:48
Episode 48: Conversation with Kelly Anne Powers of the Learn to Paint Podcast

Episode 48: Conversation with Kelly Anne Powers of the Learn to Paint Podcast

It is our pleasure to introduce our audience to Kelly Anne Powers. We have listened and enjoyed her Learn to Paint Podcast throughout the year. Val connected with Kelly via Instagram and invited her to interview with us and she accepted! In the meantime, we learned that several of our listeners were already taking full advantage of Kelly's in-depth and practical painting episodes after we had shared her posts on our social media outlets. Now is our chance to get to know Kelly even better!

More about Kelly that we learned from her website which we will list in show notes below.

Kelly is a third generation artist. Her grandmother, Jan Kunz, taught watercolor workshops across the country and has written a half dozen books on the subject. 
Her mother, artist Lynn Powers, started a business with her Dad, Jim, called Creative Catalyst Productions that brought live workshops to video format. Youtube wasn’t around yet. Growing up in that atmosphere of artistic process and marketing inspired Kelly to learn to paint and become an entrepreneur in the business of art.

She started the podcast with the goal of helping artists become better painters. By interviewing artists, primarily painters, she asks the questions we all want to know. How do painters work? How did they learn to paint? What advice do they have for other artists? Her interviews are formatted and produced with attention to details and leave listeners with lots of food for thought to ponder as they continue their journey in art. She also has a wonderful Art Club through Patreon with extra content and art challenges to reach for even higher heights as an artist. All of her projects have the stamp of quality and professionalism that attracted us to her podcast from the very beginning.

We encourage you to follow and subscribe to Kelly's Learn to Paint Podcast. You will be happy you did!

Kelly Anne Powers Website

Learn to Paint Podcast

Learn to Paint Podcast Most Recent Episode

Learn to Paint Blog Post with Artist Mark Eanes on The Importance of Drawing

#20for20ArtChallenge Information here

Family background links:

Creative Catalyst Productions

Kelly's Grandmother, Jan Kunz Bio

Kelly's Mother, Lynn Powers website

May 09, 202353:60
Episode 47: Homage to My Father

Episode 47: Homage to My Father

In this episode, Armin and Val discuss the close relationship Armin had with his artist and author father. Their bond helped make Armin the artist he is today Stories about art lessons, studio practices and big dreams of art round out this episode and encourage us all to honor the pivotal guides and mentors we've had in our lives.

Fritz Mersmann came to this country in August of 1962. He was commissioned to create paintings for Zehnder's in Frankenmuth. Fritz was a professional visual artist until he was in his mid-fifties. He went on to write 5 manuscripts as an author. These manuscripts were never published but are valued by the family nonetheless.

Fritz's teachings to Armin have become an integral part of Armin's classes and he often breaks into a heavy German accent as Armin tells "Fritz Stories". Val's memories of an older Fritz and his wife Carolyn are told with a fondness for the couple's daily drives and lunches. She remembers Fritz as a huge personality full of charm and wit.

We hope you enjoy this homage to Armin's father or as Armin calls him even as a child, "Fritz".

Apr 25, 202346:59
Episode 46: Conversation with Beverly Todd of Santa Fe Artist Getaway

Episode 46: Conversation with Beverly Todd of Santa Fe Artist Getaway

What a wonderful conversation we had with the effervescent artist and creative entrepreneur, Beverly Todd. It's always remarkable how much we find in common with other artists who are connecting all the dots with artists. Bev connects artists with workshop leaders and/or space to create their work either during a class setting or a totally independent on-site residency. And what better place to do that than the magical and artistically rich city of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Put this on your bucket list and we will, too. We will lists links so you can see the details on connecting with Bev. In the meantime, here is short bio on this working artist, Beverly Todd!

Through large-scale abstract painting, Beverly interprets nature. Connects with ideas. And explores emotion. Her painting process is physical, using hardware-store brushes. Broken sticks. Rags. And hands. To move paint. To add layers. To pull back layers. To drip. To scrape and wipe. And to pull the paint across the surface.

Beverly grew up in rural American near Union, Nebraska. Often happily lost for hours in the open prairie landscape that inspires her work. Today, she paints in her Santa Fe, New Mexico, studio and takes cues from the high desert landscape. Wanting to give other creatives the same experience, Beverly opened Santa Fe Artist Getaway in 2019 - a place for all artists to stay, play, and create.

A former non-profit executive, now a creative entrepreneur, Beverly is a workshop leader and creativity coach, sharing her passion for exploration, adventure, and creativity. Blending her two passions – art and personal development – she founded TeamPaint , an innovative team-building workshop that uses arts-based learning. As teams paint together, they think strategically, build bonds and open communications.

Beverly Todd Website

Santa Fe Artist Getaway Website

Ninth Street Women

Hans Hoffman: Color Creates Light

A Guide to Santa Fe Art                                                     

Apr 11, 202348:30
Episode 45: Art Mentors in Our Lives

Episode 45: Art Mentors in Our Lives

Have you ever had a mentor or a coach who brought out the best in you and propelled you forward just from their belief in you? It is a wonderful transfer of energy that can be helpful in all works of life but especially so for artists as they navigate the creative process with emotional stamina. The definition of a mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. Top qualities for an art mentor are great listening skills, amazing critique technique, and the mentor is passionate about art. Both Valerie and Armin have had mentors during their art careers. Armin speaks of his dad and artists Larry Butcher and Todd Burroughs. Larry was Armin's college prof who pushed him forward with strong critiques and work ethic influence and Todd was influential in developing positive people interactions by being a friend he could model his life after. Valerie was connected to her high school art teacher, Mrs. Morris way back in the day. Mrs. Morris believed in Val and stressed to her that anything was possible. Very empowering to hear as a teenager. Later in life while Val was going thru life changes and divorce she connected with art coach, Ghislaine Mahler. She introduced Val to Julia Cameron's Artist Way and Morning Pages that she still practices. This podcast topic came about to share a very special announcement that Valerie and Armin were selected to be mentors for Mastrius, an online global community for artists. It is full circle for them both and they are excited to start small groups soon online. This is where all the art skills and knowledge they have accumulated through the years can help other artists. Here are some show notes to study.

Mastrius Mentor Program

Armin's Mastrius Mentor Group starting May 2. Limited to 8 artists

Valerie's Mastrius Mentor Group starting May 2. Limited to 8 artists

Valerie's Art Coach Ghislaine Mahler

Ghislaine Mahler's Facebook Group: My Journey to Self-Mastery

Armin's friend and mentor Todd Burrough's Atelier School of Art

Valerie's guiding book: The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

Mar 31, 202342:15
Episode 44: Conversation with painter Lewis Noble
Mar 14, 202357:06
Episode 43: Start to Finish
Feb 28, 202352:40
Episode 42: Conversation with painter Jacqueline Sullivan

Episode 42: Conversation with painter Jacqueline Sullivan

Meet painter, calligrapher, and teaching artist, Jaqueline Sullivan during an engaging conversation where we learn more about her art, travels, and classes. 

Jacqueline Sullivan has been a teaching artist for 30 years and she loves to teach! She has had the honor to be invited to teach for Art Centers and Studios across North America as well as having been chosen as a faculty member for several International Calligraphy Conferences. Seeing the joy in a student’s face when they create something that pleases them brings Jacqueline much joy.

Mixed media, acrylic paints, calligraphy, bookbinding, and fiber arts - She has loved them all since she first discovered each medium. She has a degree in graphic design and worked for many years as a publication, marketing and advertising designer. But her passion has always been with color and paint, no matter what the surface.

Personal artistic development has been a lifeline as Jacqueline worked her way through the challenges life brought. Her mixed media, book art, calligraphic and acrylic work has been shown in galleries and top juried art fairs nationwide. She believes that asking “what if?” and keeping a spirit of adventure and discovery is important as she follows her creative path and attempts to create something original. Jacqueline  experiments with texture, layers, marks, paint, and dyes as part of her process. She is a  Certified Artist Educator for Golden Paints, an Ambassador for Ampersand, and she is on the education teams for Silver Brush and Marabu Creative.

This summer, Jacquline will be leading to painting workshops in Europe. The May workshop will be to France and the September workshop will be in Italy. You can learn more about the workshops in the show notes below. 

Jacqueline Sullivan Website

Workshop in France

Workshop in Italy

Upcoming Workshops both online and in-person

Descriptions of Classes

Feb 14, 202356:48
Episode 41: Word of the Year: Courage

Episode 41: Word of the Year: Courage

We are excited to announce our word of the year for 2023, and it is courage!

Last year our word of the year was discover and wow, we did just that. We made many discoveries in ways to up our game in producing art as well as increase our reach through our podcast and online classes. 2022 was a wonderful year of growth and we look forward to 2023.

We took some time to land on our new word for this coming year. We both agreed on the word "courage" to be our focus. Courage for artists is found in many ways. Everything from taking a chance on a new medium to taking on a speaking engagement as a juror or curator all require a confident attitude and a bit of courage to put yourself out there.

We discuss having the courage to make mistakes, join a new class, or introduce yourself to the world as an artist and really believe it.

The Creative Climb takes courage step by step to reveal personal stories in artwork and present them to the audience without knowing in advance the reactions that will be voiced. We encourage all artists to embrace taking chances and pushing their comfort zones to the max. We also encourage artists to come up with their own Word of the Year.

Show Notes: 

Art Ladders: The Creative Climb Facebook Page

Art Ladders: Instagram

Armin Mersmann Website

Valerie Allen Website

Online Exhibit "Sanctuary" Grosse Pointe Artist Association. Armin Mersmann: Best of Show with Aggregate. 

Valerie Allen's New Workshop Just Announced! Register here for two-day Concept to Creation Workshop

Feb 01, 202333:50
Episode 40: Residency 2023

Episode 40: Residency 2023

Jan 17, 202359:34
Episode 39: What Makes a Good Painting and Happy New Year!
Jan 03, 202343:36
Episode 38: The Artistic and Spiritual Journey of Pastor Jolin Wilks McElroy.

Episode 38: The Artistic and Spiritual Journey of Pastor Jolin Wilks McElroy.

What a blessing to be with our friend, Jolin Wilks McElroy for a holiday conversation on art and spirituality. Jolin and Armin first met in the 1990s while working together at the art materials and frame store of Good's of Evanston. During her time working at Good's led Jolin to rethink her calling as a artist and pursue another path to attend a theological seminary for a Masters in Divinity. 

Here is her bio in more detail:

Jolin Wilks McElroy has been Pastor at First Christian Church in Charlotte since July of 2000. During her tenure there, she has watched the congregation grow into presence in the Charlotte and Dilworth communities–branching out into service through the Dilworth Soup Kitchen, supporting many missions and outreach groups, and providing a meeting place for classes and events. She has also rejoiced as this church has been transformed by other cultural groups joining the congregation.

With a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Colorado State University in 1990, Jolin Wilks intended to paint for a living. The call to ministry challenged her to consider a new direction for her life. In 1995 she enrolled at Lexington Theological Seminary and received her Masters in Divinity in 1999. Rev. McElroy still finds some time to draw and paint while also serving the church in more traditional ways. In addition to gallery shows and auctions, First Christian Church has a display of her pastel portraits of church members lining the walls of the education building. Another exhibit, Holy Communion, a series of watercolor portraits of Disciples of Christ members and leaders, began traveling the denomination since the Fall of 2004.

Because of her dual vocations of art and ministry, she has been a desired speaker on the topic of creativity and spirituality for retreats and workshops. One significant endeavor was sketching portraits of 33 children of two Head Start programs for the benefit of their families, sponsored by The Craddock Center in Cherry Log, Georgia.

Prior to accepting the call to her current position, Rev. McElroy served as: Associate Minister to First Christian Church, Falls Church, VA (1998-2000); Chaplain Intern at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC (summer of 1998); and Pastor of First Christian Church, Carlisle KY (1995-1998). In addition to her work at First Christian, Rev. McElroy has been active in the life of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at the regional level, and was the recipient of a Clergy Renewal Grant from The Lilly Endowment in 2004. Other organizations in which Rev. McElroy has been active include: Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice (CCCJ) 2014 – present, Crisis Assistance Ministry (2002-present); United Family Services (2001-2006); General Board of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in North Carolina (2001-05); North Carolina Regional Commission on Faith and Understanding (2001-02).

Born in Iowa City, IA, Jolin Wilks McElroy was raised in Mt. Prospect, IL, where her parents Alan and Irvana Wilks still reside. Rev. McElroy currently lives in Charlotte, NC, with her husba​​​​nd Tom and their young son.

We are honored that Jolin joined us for episode 39 of our podcast. During the interview you will hear her quote Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”  Art and ministry fulfill that for her. 

Thank you very much, Jolin!

First Christian Church of Charlotte, North Carolina

Artist Makoto Fujimura

Art + Faith by Makoto Fujimura

Registration is open for Art Ladders Virtual Winter term classes being taught by Val and Armin. 



Dec 20, 202201:01:19
Episode 37: The Role of a Teaching Artist and Announcement of 2023 Teaching Schedule

Episode 37: The Role of a Teaching Artist and Announcement of 2023 Teaching Schedule

Val and Armin have been teaching artists for over 30 years each. The role of the teaching artist is to ignite and inspire students, as well as to encourage them to explore their own creativity. Both feel that teaching has added dimension to their own art making through the research they study to create a class plan and the curiosity to explore new techniques and materials. Why does teaching art matter? It's in our DNA. Everyone is an artist. We all use art to express ourselves and the world around us. Artists teach others to understand the process of creation, and that makes them better problem solvers and communicators. Plus, it's fun!

We are excited to announce our new online art class schedule starting in January or 2023. These virtual classes will allow you to learn at a time and place that is convenient for you. We also have several in-person workshops scheduled around the state of Michigan and we would love to see you there! Listed below are links for registration. 

Valerie's Online Class: Introduction to Abstraction (Three hour workshop) 

Valerie's Online Abstraction Now! Class (Five Weeks)

Valerie's Free Facebook Group: Abstraction Now! Community

Armin's Online iPhoneography Experiments in Creativity

Armin's Online Intermediate and Advanced Drawing Class

Armin's Online Art Talk Class

Valerie's In-Person One Day Workshop: Acrylic Painting thru Thick and Thin

Valerie's In-Person Two Day Workshop: The Process Project at Atelier School of Art

Valerie's In-Person Two Day Workshop: Exploration in Abstraction at Grosse Pointe Art Center 

Armin's Virtual  Intermediate Drawing Weekly Class with Atelier School of Art

Armin's In-Person Workshop on Contour Drawing  

Austin Kleon's Post on artist Tom Phillips

Dec 06, 202245:33
Episode 36: Connections at Wave Pool with Co-Founder and Executive Director Cal Cullen

Episode 36: Connections at Wave Pool with Co-Founder and Executive Director Cal Cullen

This conversation with Cal Cullen, the co-founder and executive director of Wave Pool Art Center in Cincinnati was a reunion of sorts to catch up on the happenings of an art center near and dear to the hearts of Art Ladders. Since 2016, we have been following the fast growth of positivity that radiates from Cal and the team and we are always amazed about the creative programming that is a huge asset to this venue. 

Take a look at this uplifting mission statement! 

Wave Pool Creates Community Fulfillment Through Artistic Opportunities. With exhibitions, creative engagements, and collaborations we:


Wave Pool is community driven, exploring the stories and needs of the diverse communities we serve.


Wave Pool is artist led, reflecting the concerns and interests of contemporary creatives.


Wave Pool uses our platform to amplify the ideas, expressions, and work, through which the world is made more joyous and equitable.

In the neighborhood of Camp Washington, just a few minutes from downtown Cincinnati, co-founders Cal and Skip Cullen have turned a historic fire station and storefront across the street into a hub of activity for artists, neighbors and art collectors. Since their launch, other businesses have located to Camp Washington where there is no shortage of interesting architecture and studio-worthy space available. 

It is satisfying to hear Cal explain the deep meanings of the work being accomplished at Wave Pool. You cannot help but be moved emotionally when all the dots connect to create a world where artist fulfillment benefits community. Congratulations on your creative journey, Cal and Skip. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Please review the links to learn more about Wave Pool and The Cincinnati Art Scene

Wave Pool Art Center 

Cincinnati Magazine article Cal Cullen Making Waves 

Wave Pool Facebook Page

Wave Pool Instagram 

The Welcome Project

Women of Cincy: Cal Cullen Changing the Current


Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati

Movers and Makers: Wave Pool at the Armory Show

Nov 22, 202249:39
Episode 35: Ways to Get the Most Out of an Art Class and More.

Episode 35: Ways to Get the Most Out of an Art Class and More.

Valerie and Armin started out as students of art and now are teaching artists. Along the way, they discovered ways to enhance the learning process to get the most out of the class and their instructors. In this episode they share those ideas with their listeners. Topics include joining the community of an art class and learn from both the other students and the instructor, asking questions all along the path, and the importance of timely attendance. Passion and perseverance are the hallmarks to achieving success in the learning process of art. 

Nov 08, 202247:47
Episode 34: A conversation with Nancy and Russell Thayer on art, life, and love.

Episode 34: A conversation with Nancy and Russell Thayer on art, life, and love.

We had the pleasure to spend an enjoyable hour with our artist friends, Nancy and Russell Thayer from their home and studios in Detroit via Zoom as we recorded this podcast. We couldn't help but compare and contrast our lives as artists and partners with them. We talked about sharing studio space, what a typical day would be and how each artist maintains their unique identity. As the conversation went on the secret to their successes as artists and spouses boils down to an unfailing respect for each other and unconditional love. You can hear it in their tone of voices and see it on Zoom in their expressions.  Armin and I came away from this interview feeling as if we were given a key to unlock the doors that sometimes slam but can be opened with respect for each other blended with lots of love.  

The work of Nancy Thayer is included in numerous museum collections including the Detroit Institute of Arts, Muzeum Papiernictwa, Duszniki Zdroj, Poland, Foundation MINT ALAPITVANY, Budapest, Hungary, and in over 200 private and corporate collections throughout Europe and the U.S. She was commissioned to create nine major sculptural paintings for the city of Detroit, and 3 for major health care facilities in Michigan. Her work has been shown extensively throughout the U.S and in Italy, Germany, Hungary, Poland, The Netherlands and Korea.

“While the visual content refers to and suggests forms of nature, they are not meant to be photographic or site-specific. My intention is always to communicate the spiritual essence and impact of the environment. In one series of paintings, I focused on sacred grottos, caves, and stalactites to express a private place for contemplation and a sense of solitude deep within what has been formed by nature over long periods of time.” Nancy Thayer

Russell Thayer is an artist who creates sculpture in cast bronze, brass, aluminum and steel. Each piece, whether personal or a public collaboration, showcases his love of architecture, sculpture, dance, poetry and history. His long career as an artist and educator is distinguished by numerous works in public and private collections. An educator for 48 years, Thayer served as Professor of Art History, Sculpture and Drawing at Delta College, followed by 15 years as a Professor of Art at the University of Michigan. Thayer received his M.F.A. from the Instituto Allende, San Miguel d’Allende, Mexico, an M.A. in sculpture and a B.S. in Design from the University of Michigan, and a C.C. in Industrial Design from the Royal College of Art in London.

"My love of architecture, sculpture, dance, poetry and history has influenced and informed my work from my student days at the University of Michigan to my most recent sculptural work. I find pleasure and purpose in creating works that are personal as well as works that are collaborations with various private and public clients." Russell Thayer


Nancy Thayer website:

Heading West: Thayer + Thayer Exhibit at Westward Gallery, Denver, Colorado:

Nancy Thayer LinkedIn:

Russell Thayer LinkedIn:

Oct 25, 202201:02:26
Episode 33: The Mystery of Art
Oct 11, 202253:38
Episode 32: Conversation with mixed media artist, Bibby Gignilliat

Episode 32: Conversation with mixed media artist, Bibby Gignilliat

After following California artist, Bibby Gignilliat on Instagram, Val reached out to her for a possible interview. We were thrilled when she agreed! During the afternoon conversation-morning for her- we had a complete discussion of her creative art process, her studio in the ICB Building in Sausalito, California and her mentors.  Bibby (rhymes with Libby) Gignilliat (sounds like Gin a lot!) is a thoughtful enthusiastic artist who is generous with her knowledge and sources. Bibby is fun loving in spirit and all business when it comes to her art. Her background in marketing is a gift and we learned a lot from her in this taping. She teaches mixed media workshops in her studio and also online. Go to her instagram page at @bibbygart to see her wonderful abstract artworks. 

About Bibby
Turning her adult creative talents toward cooking, Bibby became a marketing manager for Williams-Sonoma, and then decided to go to culinary school. From there she offered interactive cooking classes which evolved into the company, Parties That Cook, with satellite office in Chicago, Seattle and Portland. The business was successful, but Bibby had an epiphany when, as a panelist at the Sloan School of Management at MIT. She heard her company described as a “lifestyle business.” I realized I had been pushing so hard, that I had left my own lifestyle behind. And I had forgotten what I liked to do.” And what she liked to do was paint.

Coming full circle, Bibby sold the business and shifted her focus to becoming a full-time mixed media artist, living and working in Sausalito, CA. She is unconstrained by the formal training of art school and has studied with Nicholas Wilton, Michael Cutlip, Michael Shemchuk, Mark Eanes, Heather Wilcoxon, Leslie Allen, Louise Victor and Carl Heyward.

Artist Statement
Each day as I step into my studio, I am entering a playground – a workout for taking risks, letting go of attachments, and experimenting with new ideas. The materials are guiding me. A letter to the tooth fairy, a One Way road sign, or a billboard scrap foraged in San Francisco all make their way into the work and are a reflection of my interior life.  My spirit laughs out loud at the freedom of breaking the rules and drawing outside of the lines. I’m not sure who is in charge – my art or me. The process is alchemical, magical, and joyful. The maverick/rebel is encouraged while the perfectionist is given a time-out. The result is a pure reflection of my heart. In 2021, my work was chosen for the DeYoung Open at the DeYoung Museum. It is available through my studio, 
Sloan Miyasato Fine Art, through Slate Contemporary in Oakland and through the Portland Art Gallery in Portland, Maine.

Here are some links for you to explore:

Bibby Gignilliat Website:

Bibby's Instagram Page

ICB Building in Sausalito, California

Bibby's online class

Anderson Ranch 

Bibby has attended artist residencies and mentorships with the following artists:

Nicholas Wilton

Mark Eanes

Carl Heyward

Rico Gatson

Michael Shemchuk

Gallery in Maine that recently added Bibby to their group of artists. Portland Art Gallery

Thank you, Bibby, for sharing your art journey with us on Art Ladders Podcast.  

Sep 27, 202253:30
Episode 31: Magical Moments in Maine

Episode 31: Magical Moments in Maine

We recently returned from an unforgettable three weeks at Golden Apple Studio and Residency. It is a joy to relive this experience with our listeners. We cover six topics during this podcast. 

1. Flow of the Day with the other participating artists.

2. Gallery Trips in Down East, Maine

3. Influences of the Environment

4. Trials and Tribulations

5. Workshops

6. Magical Moments while traveling.

Our hosts, artist Shelley and Greg Stevens, are passionate in their commitment to provide artists everything they need to immerse themselves into this nurturing time to create art. They provide an environment that is both restful and invigorating. We highly recommend for artists to consider applying for a two-week session in 2023.  We return to our studios with a new perspective and appreciation for being artists. Thank you, Shelley and Greg!

Show Notes 

Golden Apple Residency   

Other residents who participated during session three. Barbara Hranilovich , James Steigengo , Sal Strom 

Littlefield Gallery 

Daniel Anselmi ( ) 

Robert Pollien ( )

Philip Barter ( )

Philip and Priscilla's pianist and composer son, Jack Barter has a Spotify Account HERE. ( )

Matt Barter is Philip and Priscilla's visual artist son and here is a  YouTube link to an interview with Matt about his art in Maine. VIDEO  ( )

A retro motel in Kittery, Maine we stayed on the way to residency. We loved it! 

The ride home: Sunset Harbor Bar and Grill on Lake Erie PS: After we had a late lunch a there, the Grill closed due to stormy and high waves on the patio. Crazy! 

Val's Abstraction Now! virtual online class "Last Minute" registration. The five-week class begins Wednesday, September 14, 2022 from 6-8pm. 

Complete list of fall season virtual online classes 

Art Ladders Facebook Page 

Art Ladders Instagram Page  

Sep 13, 202244:28
Episode 30: Summertime Travels and September Start-Ups!

Episode 30: Summertime Travels and September Start-Ups!

In this episode Val and Armin discuss getting ready for their residencies at Golden Apple Studio in Harrington, Maine. Packing for a trip like this involves lots of thinking, lists and reminders. Not only do they need to anticipate the process they will land on when in Maine but they are also teaching workshops which adds another layer of supplies. To keep it not so overwhelming, they have devised ways to make it fun, lighten the stress and be detailed-oriented as well. 

While in Maine, they will be posting on Instagram and Facebook to keep you up-to-date on what a residency in Maine could be like. Golden Apple Studio and Residency is the sponsor this year for Art Ladders and we are happy that our missions are compatible. We encourage connections with artists and between artists through podcasts that include discussion and interviews. Golden Apple encourages time for artists to create, think and connect. They are now accepting applications for the selection of residents for 2023. Email Shelley Stevens at 

In September, when Val and Armin return, they will begin their virtual teaching schedule in mid-September. The link to their current collection of classes is available here.  LINK FOR CLASSES  These classes all have limited spots so it is best to sign up earlier rather than later. If you have any questions please contact us. 

Aug 16, 202238:07
Episode 29: Conversation with Artist and Author, Tesia Blackburn, The Acrylic Diva!

Episode 29: Conversation with Artist and Author, Tesia Blackburn, The Acrylic Diva!

This episode features the talented and generous artist and author, Tesia Blackburn. She is a true believer of abundance and shares her wealth of knowledge with artists all over the world. Val recently took a class with Tesia earlier this year and as a result launched her own Abstraction Now! online class. Tesia is Val's mentor during the further development of an online presence for Art Ladders and treasures Tesia's good humor and passion during this tech journey. You can listen to this podcast episode and "catch the wave" of this San Francisco based artist and tech professional. Tesia is known as the Acrylic Diva in the art world and her brand has grown to include online classes in visual art, multiple books, mentoring for artists, digital art and more. She has been a working artist in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 25 years. She received her BFA from the Academy of Art, studied lithography at the San Francisco Art Institute and received her Master's of Art from John F. Kennedy in Orinda, California. Tesia has three books available on Amazon listed in the show notes. If you have questions for Tesia, she asked us here at Art Ladders to forward those on to her! Thank you, Tesia! We had such a great party talking with you!! 

Show Notes: 

Tesia's Website 

Tesia's Instagram

Tesia's Facebook Page: Acrylic Diva

Acrylic Diva's Amazon Storefront

Marie Forleo 

Seth Godin

Erica Reitman

Books by Tesia: 

It's Only Painting: Essays On Creativity From A Veteran Artist, It's Only Painting: The Maker's Book, and Acrylic Painting with Passion: Explorations for Creating Art that Nourishes the Soul.

Aug 02, 202201:01:44
Episode 28: Why Draw? Val and Armin discuss how they use drawing in their practice.
Jul 19, 202259:08
Episode 27: Conversation with Plein Air Artist Alan Maciag

Episode 27: Conversation with Plein Air Artist Alan Maciag

Jul 05, 202201:04:04
Episode 26: What are your lightbulb moments? A conversation with Valerie and Armin

Episode 26: What are your lightbulb moments? A conversation with Valerie and Armin

Valerie and Armin recreate one of their weekend art talks and explore the topic of developing ideas. You can think of it as the aha moments or the  lightbulb moments that can motivate artists to push forward new plans. Not every lightbulb flash is destined to be the next big deal but the point is to recognize it and examine to see if it has lasting power. 

After a series of successful interviews with other artists, Val and Armin enjoyed recording and talking with each other during this interview. You will hear them discuss the topics of developing innovations in art making, art teaching and the development of art business. Armin will ask Val to discuss her recent Great Lakes Bay Region Art Award that she received from the Saginaw Art and Enrichment Commission on June 9, 2022. They both will discuss their teaching philosophies and their classes. 

Jun 21, 202249:36
Episode 25: Interview with Cynthia Patrick and William Mayes from the Port Austin Artist Residency Program
Jun 07, 202241:40
Episode 24: Conversation with Todd Burroughs, Founding Director of Atelier School of Art

Episode 24: Conversation with Todd Burroughs, Founding Director of Atelier School of Art

Valerie and Armin are joined by friend and colleague, Todd Burroughs of Atelier School of Art in Royal Oak, Michigan, USA. Todd conceptualized the Atelier School of Art from dream to reality with a passion that coincides with his immense enthusiasm for visual art. Just read this mission of the school to further understand Atelier School of Art's philosophy. "We are committed to helping people pursue their natural inclination to create. We have created an environment to nurture, educate and encourage individuals to achieve the highest level of success." 

Todd Burroughs is the founding director of Atelier School of Art in Royal Oak, Michigan. He is best known for his realist drawings, oil paintings and passion for teaching. He has received numerous awards and honorifics for his paintings and teaching accomplishments. His art work is widely collected by personal and corporate collectors.

While attending Columbia College in Chicago, Todd had his first art exhibition. Shortly after he embarked on a 6-month trip to India to study art and culture. While in India his artistic interest shifted from Abstract Expressionism to Classical Painting methods. After returning to Chicago, Todd began a five-year program of study in oil painting at the Atelier Alternative in Chicago. He holds a Cum Laude degree in Historic Preservation and Fine Art from Eastern Michigan University.

While studying in Chicago he began his life-long research in to art-making processes. In 2000 Todd Burroughs returned to Michigan, and began teaching painting and drawing. His teaching experience includes teaching at museums, art centers and The College for Creative Studies. Additionally, he has always taught from his studio as part of his own art making process. The rational being that if you care for an idea, you are obligated to pass it on. Todd’s advocacy for education in the arts, and accessible studio practices for all led to him founding the Atelier School of Art in 2018. He regularly shares his knowledge through lectures, workshops, and teaching from the studio.

His art making primarily focuses on oil painting and drawing. His work also includes photography, digital art and NFTs. His pieces range from the monumental, eight feet by twenty feet, to the intimate, 1.5 inch by two inches, and embrace a broad range of drawing and painting methodologies.

Link to Atelier School of Art located in downtown Royal Oak, Michigan. 

Link to Summer Workshops at Atelier School of Art There are workshops taught by Todd Burrough, Valerie Allen, and Armin Mersmann this summer. 

International Painting Annual 5 exhibition-in-print, Manifest Gallery, Todd Burroughs Statement

Link to The Wellness Paradox Podcast Episode 10: Art as a Vehicle to Improve Wellbeing with Todd Burroughs

May 24, 202258:27
Episode 23: Conversation with abstract painter and printmaker Elise Wagner

Episode 23: Conversation with abstract painter and printmaker Elise Wagner

This episode was recorded from the Frederick Holmes and Company Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seattle, Washington. Abstract painter and printmaker Elise Wagner opened her solo exhibition at this gallery on Friday, May 5, 2022. The title of her exhibit is TIPPING POINTS showcasing Wagner's artworks that give the artistic perspective on the science of our changing planet, and convergence of opposites. More than a dozen encaustic paintings and a 55” x 55” abstract work form the centerpiece of the exhibition. The exhibit will end on May 31, 2022. 

“Elise has championed encaustic painting introducing the medium to people all over the world for decades and this exhibition will highlight the masterful painting and innovation that is integral to Elise’s amazing artistry,” said Fred Holmes of Frederick Holmes & Co, who’s been her gallery dealer in western Washington since 2013. “I am extremely excited to share what will be an unforgettable encounter with the union of art and science in contemporary abstract art.”

Elise Wagner is a painter, printmaker, educator and innovator. An east coast transplant from Jersey City, New Jersey, she has based herself in Portland, Oregon since 1986. The uniquely defining aesthetic in Elise’s work melds her creative and spiritual practices with her fascination with and education in various disciplines of science – physics, astronomy, geology, cartography and meteorology and how they relate to changing technologies and the environment. A 2015-16 Pollock Krasner Award Recipient in addition to numerous regional awards including most recently the Regional Arts & Culture Council Create | Learn | Build Grant. Elise shows her work at galleries in Washington D.C., Houston, Palm Springs, Astoria, Oregon and Seattle. So far this year, her work has been included in two important group shows - Wax Applications, Exploring the Breadth and Depth of Encaustic and Cold Wax Mediums at Texas A&M University and, her was included this past Summer in the Artworks Northwest Bienniel at the Umpqua Valley Arts Association Juried by Grace Kook-Anderson, Curator of Northwest Art at the Portland Art Museum. Her work is included in corporate and private collections throughout the U.S. As an educator, Elise has been invited to teach and present encaustic painting and printmaking at conferences and institutions Internationally and currently teaches virtual workshops. In 2022-23 Elise will be teaching in Mexico, Cape Cod and Ireland.

Show Notes

Click here for Elise Wagner's  Website 

Click here for Elise Wagner's Workshops and Private Instruction 

Click here for Frederick Holmes and Company Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art

May 10, 202256:40
Episode 22: Conversation with artist Sergio Gomez

Episode 22: Conversation with artist Sergio Gomez

During this episode the dynamic artist Sergio Gomez joined Val and Armin for an in-depth interview on his mission of art, collaboration and using technology to further your art career. We learned more about NFTs, curating, how to organize International exhibits and his many collaborations with artists around the world. 

We encourage you to read his journey in his own words on his website and also enjoy this quote that sums up Sergio's motivating approach to life. "Over the years, I have learned this big truth, don’t wait for an  opportunity to change your current situation. Instead, convert each  situation into an opportunity to move forward. Yes, it’s a matter of perspective or, as my wife would say, it’s a mindset. The most successful artists are those who capitalize opportunities that did not exist before. Sergio Gomez

Here is information on his upcoming exhibition at 33 Contemporary Gallery titled Transfiguration: Paintings, AR & NFTs by Sergio Gomez

Exhibitions Dates:  May 16 to June 24

Artists Reception: Friday, May 20
Time: 7 pm to 10 pm


The Transfiguration Series is Sergio Gomez’s latest body of work. Sergio is a Chicago-based artist, gallerist, curator and educator who is known for his large scale figurative abstraction works.

This in-person and virtual exhibition will include new paintings, augmented reality experiences powered by Artivive, and a new collection of NFTs. Sergio’s NFT’s are ethereal animations derived from 30 years of painting the cycles of life.

33 Contemporary Gallery is located at : Zhou B Art Center, 1029 W. 35th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60609

Show Links for this Episode: 

Sergio Gomez Website

33 Contemporary Gallery

Art NXT Level Academy

Lots of links for Sergio in one spot! 

You can find Sergio on Instagram at @sergiogomezart. Be sure to follow his Instagram account! His stories and reels are wonderful and it's the perfect way to keep up with his artwork, projects and collaborations. 

Please let us know your comments about this episode. We would love to hear from you! You can find us on Instagram at @artladders or on our Facebook Page at Art Ladders the Creative Climb with Valerie Allen and Armin Mersmann. 

Thank you for your support! 

Apr 26, 202255:06
Episode 21: Conversation with artist Sally Hirst

Episode 21: Conversation with artist Sally Hirst

Art Ladders welcomes artist Sally Hirst to the podcast! This lively interview with Sally is about creating art, teaching and what it means to be an artist in this changing world of technology. Sally is a painter and printmaking who describes herself as a tutor, nomadic, restless, curious, experiential, irreverent, untidy, loud…lol...and we can add that she is a champion for discovering new mediums, fresh perspectives and innovative use of art supplies. 

As well as being a professional artist educated to Masters level, Sally is also a qualified teacher with many years of teaching experience. She currently teaches a range of online courses that enable her to reach students at all stages of their creative journey, worldwide from her studio in the UK.

Sally Hirst is currently based at her studio in Norwich, UK – where she also co-coordinates an exhibition space called oneuppergoat. She is a Certified Golden Artist Educator and teaches online courses titled Pushing Paint, Urban Explorations , Discover Collagraphy, and Approaches to Abstraction to students worldwide. 

Click here to read more on Sally's website. 

Visit Sally's Instagram Account by clicking here.

Facebook Page for Sally Hirst Artist and Tutor  

Here are links to artists mentioned by Sally in the podcast. 

Instagram for artist Daryl Burtnett

Instagram for JFK Turner

Instagram for Karen Stamper

Instagram for Nicholas Wilton

Instagram for Louise Fletcher

Instagram for Alice Sheridan

Instagram for David Mankin

Instagram for Jane Davies

Apr 12, 202201:05:40
Episode 20: Flip the Mic! Val interviews artist Armin Mersmann, co-founder of Art Ladders

Episode 20: Flip the Mic! Val interviews artist Armin Mersmann, co-founder of Art Ladders

This hour-long podcast is Art Ladder's listeners opportunity to learn more about artist Armin Mersmann. He and his artist wife, Valerie Allen founded the podcast in July of 2021. Armin Is an award winning artist and also an established teaching artist with a wonderful following. As you follow the conversation you will learn about his beginnings on his journey in art and his philosophical outlook on creating art. 

Armin Mersmann was born in Remscheid, Germany, in 1955. Along with his parents, he immigrated to the United States in 1962. He grew up in an artistic environment and was greatly influenced and tutored by his father, Fritz, a successful oil painter. Mersmann feels his career as an artist was inevitable: “I never made the conscious choice to be an artist, it’s just what I did.” After six years of college, Mersmann began a very successful stint as a portrait artist in Chicago, IL. Although commission work was financially rewarding, he stopped doing it and soon found more interest in the fine arts—work that at times is controversial but more satisfying conceptually. “Art, my sanctuary, the very thing that gave me such pleasure, was now reduced to making a living. Art is too precious for me to make decisions based on finances.” This does not mean Mersmann will never do a commissioned portrait; rather, it has to interest him conceptually, and he insists on total control over the image.Although Mersmann is mainly known for his intense naturalistic graphite drawings, he also works in photography and encaustic wax, which is much more abstract than his drawings. “My interests have become exceedingly experimental with more attention placed on the surfaces of the work itself. Discovering and rediscovering my chosen medium is the everlasting stimulus that keeps me interested and excited. Accidental process and meticulous planning co-mingle in all my work. Texture, either real or illusionary, and that one ever-elusive brushstroke, the one that says it all; this keeps me searching and exploring.”Mersmann has taught drawing, the Creative Process, iPhoneography and Advanced Critique at the American Academy of Art, Chicago, IL; the Colorado Academy of Art, Boulder CO; Northwood University, Midland, MI; the Midland Center for the Arts, Midland, MI; and countless workshops within the United States. 

Link to Armin Mersmann's Website

Link to Armin Mersmann's Instagram

Link to Armin Mersmann's iPhoneography Instagram

Link to our sponsor Golden Apple Studio and Residency 

Please contact Shelley Stevens at for info on September 2-3 workshops.  Collage to Print: Exploratory Calligraphy with Valerie and Drawing the Abstraction in Nature with Armin Mersmann. Lodging can be arranged.

Mar 29, 202250:48
Episode 19: Conversation with Printmaker Jay Handy

Episode 19: Conversation with Printmaker Jay Handy

Artist Jay Handy, originally from Bay City, Michigan, is presenting a one-person exhibit at Studio 23 in Bay City starting March 25, 2022. The exhibit titled: This Must Be The Place, will include one-of-a-kind pulled prints depicting imagery found in vintage photographs of Bay City. Jay Handy imagined a community project that actually crowd-sourced the residents of this riverfront city in Michigan, to submit their family photos to be used as inspiration and collage elements in his artwork. Val and Armin are so happy that they had a chance to get to know Jay and look forward to attending his reception and workshop.  

Jay Handy is a printmaker specializing in etching and chine collé to create the signature dreamlike quality that permeates his work. From the Harvard Business School to Lesley University College of Art and Design, the winding road he traveled to arrive at his current position as a passionate and prolific artist imbues his art with the characteristic sense of tension and nostalgia his work is known for. Jay resides in Madison, Wisconsin, where he continues to weave memories into preserved moments in time.

Nostalgia is a primary presence in Jay's work, which contrasts beautifully with underlying elements of artistic tension. Like most artists, Jay finds himself reaching back into his history for inspiration. His work seamlessly conjures up memorable moments in life that trigger a feeling and capture that special moment for the viewer.

Artist Statement from Jay Handy: My art is an exploration of memory, both in its function and its feeling. When we think back on a memory, it’s never quite the same as the initial experience that it was born of—a unique and complicated aura now surrounds it. Depending on the moment in time, it may be tinged with a hint of tenderness or a sense of forlornness.

I find myself caught on a memory, turning it over and over in my mind to uncover every unique thread of nostalgia, of joy, of tension. The memory becomes a distinct moment in time, with so clear a life and story all its own that I’m compelled to transform it from a vision to a tangible image. My use of etching and chine collé recreate the memory and transmute the unique qualities that frame it into a language that can speak to viewers and stir within them that shared experience of nostalgia and memory.

Regardless of who we are, where we’re from, or what time period we’ve lived through, we each have our own experience of memory and the often bittersweet qualities that those memories are preserved in. My art is the translation of memory from floating fragments to captured moments.

Thank you to Jay Handy for this wonderful conversation for Art Ladders. 

Exhibition at Studio 23 in Bay City starts March 25, 2022. Studio 23 is at 901 N. Water Street, Bay City, MI with telephone number: 989-894-2323. There will be a gallery walk and talk that day starting at 4:15pm and a reception starting at 5pm. 

Link to Jay Handy's "This Must Be The Place" exhibit reception at Studio 23 in Bay City. 

Link to Jay Handy's Gallery Walk and Talk at Studio 23.

Link to Jay Handy's website.

Link to Jay Handy's Instagram 

Link to Jay Handy's Facebook Page.

Please contact Shelley Stevens at for info on September 2-3 workshops.  Collage to Print: Exploratory Calligraphy with Valerie and Drawing the Abstraction in Nature with Armin Mersmann. Lodging can be arranged. 

Mar 15, 202257:22
Episode 18 Tables are turned! Armin Interviews Val

Episode 18 Tables are turned! Armin Interviews Val

As a fairly new podcast, Armin and Val decided to tell their own personal art stories. This is a way the Art Ladders audience can have a closer look at what makes these two artists tick. This week Armin interviews artist Valerie Allen and in the near future she will interview him. The discussion starts at the first glimmer of a young artist and follows Val through her pursuit of further education in art, career moves, life choices and what the future looks like for her as an artist and teacher. 

Show Notes


University of Cincinnati:

Delta College:

Career Path: 

Midland Center for the Arts:

Studio 23:

Golden Artist Colors:

Upcoming Residencies: 

Port Austin Art Residency:

Golden Apple Residency:


Upcoming Abstraction Now! Online Five-Week Session:


Valerie Allen Art:



Art Ladders Facebook:

Sponsor of Art Ladders: The Creative Climb Podcast: Golden Apple Studio and Residency:

Mar 01, 202259:33
Episode 17: Conversation with artist Robert Schefman

Episode 17: Conversation with artist Robert Schefman

.Armin and Valerie had the distinct honor of interviewing artist Robert Schefman about his life as an artist, his new body of work, The Secrets Project, and his recent notification of being a finalist in The Outwin 2022: American Portraiture Today exhibition at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery opening this spring. 

Born and raised in Detroit, Robert Schefman earned a BFA in sculpture from Michigan State University and an MFA in sculpture from the University of Iowa. He lived and worked in New York City for fourteen years, returning to the Detroit area in 1990. His work has been included in exhibitions at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI; The Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, IN; Oakland University Art Gallery, Rochester, MI; Midland Center for the Arts, Midland, MI; The Krasl Art Center, St. Joseph, MI; Manifest Research Gallery, Cincinnati, OH; Foley Square/ Federal Plaza, New York City; the Brooklyn Army Terminal, New York City; Ward’s Island, New York City; and United Nations Plaza, New York City. Grants awarded include the Pollack-Krasner Foundation, the Bernard Maas Foundation, the Arts Foundation of Michigan, and the State of Michigan Creative Artist Grant.

Schefman’s drawings, paintings, and sculptures are in multiple private and public collections, including the Eli and Edythe Broad Museum of Art, East Lansing, MI; the Mint Museum of Art, Charlotte, NC; the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI; the Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton, FL; Wayne State University, Detroit, MI; Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Lansing, MI; and the University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA.

The Secrets Project

Robert Schefman's recent series of paintings and drawings explore the hidden world of secrets. Using social media as a device to reach a large audience, Schefman posted a request asking followers to send him one personal secret that he could use as a subject or an element in his paintings. The response was immediate and revealing.  More than one hundred anonymous secrets were sent through the internet or by mail to the artist’s post office box.
Using the private information gathered from strangers’ letters as a point from which to investigate the conceptual nature of secrets, Schefman explored the specific responses and began to develop the ideas for this series over the course of several years. Many of the pieces in the Secrets exhibition refer directly to the actual secrets touchingly revealed in the anonymous letters or messages received by the artist. Additionally poignant were the descriptions of relief or catharsis brought on by confessing personal baggage, often for the first time.

Here are links for Robert Schefman: 

Robert Schefman: Website

David Klein Gallery: Artist Robert Schefman

The Outwin 2022: American Portraiture Today 

Feb 15, 202201:06:51
Episode 16: Seize the Day

Episode 16: Seize the Day

In this episode titled "Seize the Day", Armin and Valerie discuss ways to keep focused on creating art in a busy world. There are so many ways that life happens and many can cause artists to slow down and lose momentum. These reasons and situations can be managed with intentional thought but some are inevitable. They talk about situations such as working 9 to 5, providing the role of a caregiver, taking time to travel and even being sick. One situation that is surprising is an artist who has all the time in the world and still needs ways to motivate and get back in the groove. 

Art Ladders wants to thank Golden Apple Studio and Residency for sponsoring this podcast. Armin and Valerie are anticipating the days when they will be attending their August residency. Thank you to our producer, Taylor Cramer, of Cold Shower Media. 

Valerie will be conducting a free webinar, "Abstraction Now" on February 20, 2020 at 2pm Eastern Time. This webinar will take place on Zoom so artists all over the world are welcome to register and attend. You can register at this Eventbrite LINK.   The session will be recorded and sent to registered participants for people who cannot attend the live version. 

Story Blocks by Ann Vincenti Michelman. This is an example of creating art while also being a caregiver. Click link here.

Please follow Art Ladders: The Creative Climb on Facebook. Click Link Here. and on Instagram at @artladders. Clink Link Here. 

Thank you for listening! Armin and Val 

Feb 01, 202242:30
Interview with Artist Michelle Courier: Visual Artist and Entrepreneur
Jan 18, 202241:55
State of the New Year

State of the New Year

Episode 14 is Art Ladders’ State of the New Year message for our listeners. Val and Armin discuss the goals and dreams for 2022. Basing decisions on Art Ladders’ Word of the Year, “Discover”, the hope is that 2022 will bring opportunities to develop abundant artwork and teach quality online classes. After a recap of 2021 art activities, they delve into an informal discussion of intentions and insights that will set up the coming year of 2022 to be productive and successful in their studio practice and art business lives.

Thank you to our podcast sponsor, Golden Apple Studio and Residency at For more information on the residency program, email Shelley Stevens at

Contact Studio 23 in Bay City, Michigan about their upcoming “The 100 Day Project” at or call at 989-894-2323.

Thank you to the artists who participated in Land to River curated by Val in 2021. It is one her proudest accomplishments during her time in the nonprofit art world where she recently retired. Here is a link to the exhibition description.

Val recommended Artsy as a Facebook page to follow for articles on art and artists.

Article on Agnes Martin: How to be an Artist

Website of Alice Sheridan, of The Connected Artist Club and co-host of Art Juice podcast with Louise Fletcher.

Armin’s upcoming classes available for registration on Eventbrite.

Art Talk:


Graphite Drawing:

Future interviews for Art Ladders:

In January, artist Michelle Courier of Westward Gallery in Denver, Colorado.

In March, artist Jay Handy of Jay Handy Ink in Madison, Wisconsin.

Jan 04, 202238:34
Embracing the Struggle Part II

Embracing the Struggle Part II

Episode 13 finds Val and Armin in a conversation about the struggle of selling art. This past year and a half has changed the marketplace for artists. On one hand the brick and mortar galleries have had many challenges in attracting shoppers again while the online presence of both galleries and individual artists have increased. The people who made a quick pivot to technology during the pandemic are starting to thrive.  Selling online is not going away and people are confidently buying large ticket items such as original art on social media platforms and artists' websites. 2022 is the year that we plan to embrace the struggle of upping our online presence. It is an opportunity we do not want to miss. We would love to hear your take on the future of selling artwork online and in galleries. Just a technical note....or struggle in this case lol! We accidentally used the wrong microphone. Live and learn! Thank you to our producer, Taylor Cramer for cleaning the sound up as best as possible. We felt the content was worthwhile to publish regardless of the sound. 

We wish you Happy Holidays and all the very best for 2022. Here's to a creative year ahead! 

Thank you to our sponsor Golden Apple Studio and Residency. Please check them out at this link:

Dec 21, 202153:17
Artist Preston Zeller: The Art of Grieving Film
Dec 07, 202154:51
Embracing the Struggle Part One

Embracing the Struggle Part One

The struggle is real in the world of artists but it is not necessarily negative. Struggle can lead to a gentle curve in the road, a major breakthrough in an artist's style, or even a new way of doing business. In this episode, Val and Armin will discuss their personal challenges, frustrations, and yes, struggles in their own art practice. The goal is to embrace the struggle and let the journey through it lead to art-making sessions that are effortlessly in the zone or in the flow. Val, ever the optimist, feels that struggle can be thought of as perseverance and necessary for growth while Armin is a bit more angst driven in the discussion. They bounce ideas off of one another and in the end there is more in common than not which is the hallmark of great conversation. This two part series will focus on creating artwork in part one and part two will deal with the struggle of selling art. Part two will air on Tuesday, December 21, 2021.

Check out our sponsor Golden Apple Studio and Art Residency. Located in Down East Maine, Director Shelley Stevens invites artists to apply for the 2022 Residency Summer Season. Just a few vacancies and partial scholarships are available.

Armin references In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Here is more about that song by Iron Butterfly.

Interesting article on the struggle of creating art for social media posts by Christine Nishiyama of Might-Could blog.

Definition of being in the Flow:

Armin's website:

Valerie's website:

Facebook page for Art Ladders: The Creative Climb:

Nov 23, 202145:56
Episode 10: Interview with Tennessee artist Rachael McCampbell: Artist, Writer and Teacher
Nov 09, 202150:22
Many Hats or One Beret Artist?

Many Hats or One Beret Artist?

Are you an artist of many hats or do you stay with one beret? What are your favorite art materials? Val and Armin discuss many different art supplies in this episode and how they have used them in their own art careers. They cover what they've discovered about different mediums through a compare and contrast discussion. This episode is very much "a cup of coffee length" and we hope you enjoy our banter back and forth! If you like what you hear, please tell others about our podcast.

Armin's mechanical pencil: GraphGear 1000

Valerie's Encaustic Monotype Printing Hot Box:

Artist Paula Roland:

Shoutout to SignalPress and their recent Print Fest:

Valerie's Golden Artist Colors Working Artist Biography:

Golden Artist Colors:

Williamsburg Oil:

QoR Watercolors:

Article on Artist Tom Larson of Bay City, MI:

Ampersand Art Supply:

Watercolor Artist Irving Shapiro:

Plein Air Artist Alan Maciag:

Atelier School of Art in Royal Oak:

Golden Apple Artist Residencies in Maine:

Sam and Adele Golden Foundation Artist Residency Program:

Valerie is currently showing at Delta College at University Center, Mi:

Armin is exhibiting at Indianapolis Art Center in :

Oct 26, 202152:39
The Community College Experience for Future Emerging Artists.

The Community College Experience for Future Emerging Artists.

Val and Armin are joined by Ben Clore and Andrew Rieder to discuss the benefits for artists of all ages attending community college to study art. Not only is it an excellent way to prepare for entry into a Bachelor of Fine Arts program at a four-year university but community colleges are a venue for pursuing art education for self-improvement in the visual arts for young artists and life-long learners. Community colleges are affordable with smaller class sizes and offer an opportunity to study with teaching artists and professors that are focused and approachable. The discussion also includes recaps of what both of these talented teaching artists are working on in their own art practice.

Link to Delta College Art + Design Associate in Fine Arts Program

Instagram account for Andrew Rieder:

Delta Think Big link for Ben Clore:

Midland Daily News Article on Andrew Rieder’s mural in Sanford, Michigan:

Ben Clore’s influence on Delta College Place Making Committee Delta Collegiate article:

Andrew Rieder’s Website:

Eric Fishl website:

Architect Alden B. Dow’s plan for the campus from the archives of Alden B. Dow Home and Studio.

Be sure to follow Art Ladders: The Creative Climb on Facebook at

Oct 12, 202146:27
The Gift of Time and Space
Sep 28, 202153:16