Into the studio: A Minnetonka artist’s creative process

Mixed media artist Patty Carmody Smith talks technique, inspiration and the benefits of creating

According to Minnetonka mixed media artist Patty Carmody Smith, inspiration is not something an artist can plan for.

Her defining moment came during a trip to Yellowstone National Park. Although Carmody and her husband were at the famous Old Faithful geyser, they couldn’t help but notice a bird in the parking lot.

“There was a raven on somebody’s car bumper picking out dead grasshoppers. We thought that was just hilarious, how smart they were to pick out the dead ones instead of having to go hunt for themselves,” Carmody reflected with a laugh.

The bird stuck with her. On the way home, she told her husband that she could replicate a bird for him. Indeed, she did. What started as a joke became what, eight years later, Carmody attributes to the success of her business. The bird sculptures are her top sellers at $325 per piece and are on display at regional retail galleries.

“People have said when they look at a bird, they have a feeling of freedom and joy,” Carmody said when asked about their success. “It’s just kind of something that emotes the joyful feeling in people.”

The nearest gallery that features her work is Your Art’s Desire on Minnetonka Boulevard. She also has a piece in Minnetonka Center for the Arts’ faculty show that runs until Sept. 21.

More details on Carmody’s work can be found at carmodyart.com.

Mixed media artist Patty Carmody Smith in the basement of her Minnetonka home, which doubles as her studio. Studio hours can be booked by appointment by contacting patty@carmodyart.com. She also opens her studio to the public during the annual Lake Minnetonka Studio Tour in May, which gives people an opportunity to visit a dozen home studios across Minnetonka, Deephaven and Excelsior. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Sabina Badola) Patty Carmody Smith’s most popular artwork thus far has been her bird sculptures. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Sabina Badola) “All That I Am,” a mixed media sculpture by Minnetonka artist-instructor Patty Carmody Smith (Sun Sailor staff photo by Jason Jenkins) Minnetonka mixed media artist Patty Carmody Smith was one of 12 artists invited to Studio:HERE Aug. 29 at the Minnesota State Fair. She works on a figurative sculpture in front of her. The evolution of her popular bird sculptures (left) and some of her mosaics (right) were also featured. (Photo courtesy of Patty Carmody Smith)
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Mixed media artist Patty Carmody Smith in the basement of her Minnetonka home, which doubles as her studio. Studio hours can be booked by appointment by contacting [email protected] She also opens her studio to the public during the annual Lake Minnetonka Studio Tour in May, which gives people an opportunity to visit a dozen home studios across Minnetonka, Deephaven and Excelsior. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Sabina Badola)

Most recently, she was one of 12 artists to be invited to the Minnesota State Fair’s Studio:HERE, a 12-hour workshop Aug. 29, during which she demonstrated her craft live for fairgoers.

But most of the time, the public doesn’t see the amount of time and effort that goes into the artwork that gets displayed in exhibitions, shows, galleries and, eventually, people’s homes.

Carmody, a full-time artist and one-woman production, operates out of a light, colorful studio in the basement of her home. She spends approximately eight hours on each bird sculpture and makes 30 to 40 each year. This is in addition to her other works, which include figurative sculptures, collages, mosaics and mandalas.

As a mixed media artist, Carmody does not limit herself to particular materials. The birds, for example, are a combination of mosaic and sculpture, her other specialties. Their bodies are crafted

out of Styrofoam, paper mache and air-drying clay. Wire is turned into beaks and tails. They sit atop a mosaic base, which is made with the same materials as well as paint, recycled glass and grout.

Her secret to making the legs is using caramel apple sticks.

Other unlikely supplies Carmody has used include gourds, glass shards from her parents’ broken china cabinet, mesh onion bags and toothpicks.

According to Carmody, mixed media art falls under the fine craft category, which also includes jewelry, metal, leather, ceramics, glass and more. The idea of craft as art—known as the studio craft movement—grew in popularity in the 1970s.

“It was a shift from craft being functional to craft becoming an art,” Carmody said of the 1970s, during which she attended college and majored in fiber art.

It wasn’t until more than two decades post-college—and a career in insurance and raising her son later—that Carmody began fully focusing on art.

To those who also wish to pursue art full-time after leaving a day job, Carmody recommends displaying work at unjuried shows, such as at Minnetonka Center for the Arts and Hopkins Center for the Arts, in which submitted work automatically gets displayed.

While Carmody admitted showing work to the public can be scary at first, she said it is the final step in the creative process.

“You learn as time goes on to let go of what kind of reaction you’re expecting from people. The more you do, the more you let people have their own experience with your work. That interaction is a really fun part of the process for me and it’s driven me to continue,” she said.

Carmody said the more an artist creates, the more momentum he or she has to keep creating.

“That previous body of work is a huge momentum and that is what fuels the creation of future work,” she said.

Carmody hopes that showing her work to the public offers the younger generation a model of a creative life and inspires them to start making their own art. According to her, working with your hands is especially important as society becomes more mechanized.

“There’s a lot information about how it’s good for depression. It’s just extremely therapeutic to be creative,” Carmody said. “Having that brings an energy to your space that you don’t get with [art] that’s mass produced.”

But to reap the benefits, budding artists and beginners have got to start somewhere. She says it is a goal of area artists to get young people looking at art in the bustling suburban art scene, as well as take classes.

This fall, Carmody is teaching a collage class and a mandala class for all skill levels at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts. Her students can expect to learn how to incorporate individuality and originality into their works, as well as practical information on supplies. More information and registration at minnetonkaarts.org.