Turning Turmoil Into Ink: The Art of Ginette Callaway

Artist Ginette Callaway has seen it all. From overcoming obstacles as a child, working for a pharmaceutical company while knowing it wasn’t her calling, and moving to the United States from her home country of France, Ginette Callaway’s bravery led her to a career in art that’s opened doors and changed her life. Learn about her incredible journey and get words of wisdom from this inspiring artist.


 

Surround Yourself: Has creating art always been part of your life?
 

Ginette Callaway: No not always. I know many people talk about how they were artist since childhood and I read often how they knew from early on, that they would have an art career. When I read that people get to go to art school as a young person, that is something I could only dream of. My growing up years were filled with turmoil and basic survival.
 

Of course, as a child I drew and I was very creative. At my grandparents place, I got to live out a bit of my creative side. I was given the place and space to draw and be a kid. Those were days spend at my grandparents, at my home it was a different story. I had to survive years of secret abuse by my stepfather, who twisted my childhood years into something that left no room for childhood, just survival and getting through emotional pain basically, and waiting to be once again be picked up to spend weekends at my grandparents.
 

I think drawing, painting, creativity are an integral part of human nature. I even think it is as much a part as other instincts. In that regard, I was a normal child that wanted to be creative. However my situation back then, the fact that we were poor, the fact that there was much turmoil in my life, because of the abuse, this pushed ideas of being an artist or being anything in particular into the background.
 
 Ginette, 4 Years Old in Paris

 
I loved school because it meant I did not have to be at home. I remember vividly that when the time came to decide if I would go on to higher education, my mother insisted to the school that I would simply have to graduate and finish school at age 15 because I wasn’t smart enough to get through higher education. Of course she was wrong but that attitude was what I had to deal with. Education and what talents or dreams I had weren’t important.

 

Back then in Germany, there was a requirement to at least go through an apprenticeship and learn a craft or business. I really wanted at least to be a photographer and was able, on my own accord, to secure a possible apprenticeship with the top photography studio where I lived at the time. However, I needed my mother and stepfather to sign off on it since I was a minor. My stepfather totally was against it and long story short, I ended up at a local pharmaceutical company as an apprentice for business where I was totally miserable.
 
During those years I went open mic events and sang at night, which gave me a creative outlet. I even won money. That was fun and I wasn’t too bad at singing, either. During the day I toiled in the pharmaceutical warehouse or offices following the path that was laid out for me.

 

I painted some oil paintings, but never got encouragement to take it further. There was always this talk, mostly coming from my stepfather’s side, that being an artist, singer, or photographer was not a “real job,” belittling anything creative as something that is not for working people.
My grandparents were supportive and affectionate; they were pretty much my reason for living in those years.

 

My grandfather had worked for this pharmaceutical company since its inception 28 years earlier. So I spent 3 years as an apprentice there, graduated as a “Pharmaceutical Sales Merchant” and then worked in sales for a few more years at the same company before moving to Frankfurt West Germany. There, I once again, worked in sales at CBS Records for about 10 years.
 
Hummingbird Oil Painting

 

In hindsight I know that all this time I was seeking some sort of creative outlet, some sort of calling, because that is what I feel inside, the creative urge, the drive. I am a very curious and inquisitive person and believe that creativeness goes hand-in-hand with curiousity. I need that like the air I breathe.
 

When I eventually arrived here in the US at the age of 29, while working and earning money, I kept seeking creative outlets by starting songwriting and delving into the music community in Atlanta, Georgia. I did not know that it would eventually take me straight to painting full time. The connections I made, the people I met, the decisions I made all led me to one day pick up a brush and start to paint. After that I knew, that I would continue to do art. Nothing makes me happier than painting and creating. A blank piece of paper is where I create my world. It’s where I live in a dream.


 

SY: What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received about your work?
 

GC: I soak up wonderful compliments like I do a first warm spring day, after a long winter. The best compliments come as emails or notes, from people that have bought my art or stumbled across it on the internet.

 

When someone describes how they wake up to a large Poppy Painting I painted, for example, and that is what they first see in the morning, in their bedroom and how it makes them smile. That sort of message is like a warm spring day with the most wonderful lavender aroma in the air. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of being appreciated for what you do.

 

So I can’t say there is this “one compliment”, it’s really the appreciation from people that buy or see my art, the appreciation is the greatest compliment because, I feel they know that I really want to do something good, it’s like a piece of my heart, I try to paint. When they see that and tell me so, I am very happy. That’s the best compliment.

 
Hummingbird Oil Painting


 

SY: On days where you’re not feeling quite so creative, how do you stay inspired to keep painting?
 

GC: It is really important to me to be in my own zone, alone where I can escape into my head and heart to be able to paint, draw, or plan a piece of art.
 

When I am surrounded by chaos, I can’t get creative. So those days when I get up and all sorts of things are happening, people are pulling on me or chores are waiting to be done, sometimes I just don’t paint at all on such a day. That is why my studio is so important to me. It’s in my basement.
 
 Studio Space

 

It’s not the fanciest place, but it’s my space. In my studio, I have everything I need, all the art supplies and materials, you could want. Watercolors, oil paints, canvas, paper, brushes and more brushes, really everything and books, lots of art books. Those with great color reproductions of master paintings. Museum books.
 

This is where I go and this is where I rather be. Door closed with only my cats allowed, where I create the atmosphere to be creative.
Candles or no candles, low light or full light, music or no music–I am in charge. And of course lots of coffee.
 

Being alone is the biggest part. I just can’t escape if I have someone looking over my shoulder or even just sitting there. I am so much in the zone or in my head in that studio that sometimes I think I wouldn’t notice if the sky fell.
 

I don’t think I can remember not having an urge to paint. I do so much, so many different aspects of my business have to be handled and nurtured, if anything, I don’t have enough time to paint.
 

Oh and let’s say I do have a day where painting or anything art isn’t what I want to do and I want a change of pace. I bake bread. Yep, I love to knead dough. That’s creative, too. Kneading and punching bread dough is therapy for everything.
 

Spending time out in nature and enjoying the birds or animals in general. I am a great animal lover, it lifts me right up again and creativity flows. I think it is important to be in touch with nature, to me it keeps me feeling inspired, because it makes me see life as being really good.

 

 Love under the Jacaranda Tree Purple Blossoms


 

SY: What artists/photographers/creators do you look up to? How have they helped you further your career as an artist?

 

GC: I love to stick my head into books that show some of the great work by artists like Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, the whimsical art of Chagall, the colorful bold shapes of Gauguin, and I love to read about their lives during the time of Impressionism and Post Impressionism. The life story of Vincent Van Gogh touches me. People like him–troubled, but sincere and deeply feeling, sort of misfits–that painted gave their heart and soul in a picture, and sadly got little love from the established art world.
 

The Paris Salon who rejected them, but now we look at those artists as the greatest of them all. They really gave us so much in art. They gave us color and so much light, they made nature come alive on canvas and paper.

 
 Finished Painting

 

This is what I look up to. I studied their work through pictures and many museum visits. Whenever there is an opportunity to see their work or other artwork by similar artists, I try to go and see it. My heart is with the past, with the French impressionists and post-impressionists. They really were artistic renegades. They had no allegiance to the traditional ways of painting. They were renegades and broke out of the norms. In the process they gave us color and light and beauty. This is what I look up to.


 

SY: Tell us about your artistic process. What’s your favorite part of creating a new work of art?

 

GC: Well I paint in oil as well as in watercolor and ink. lately I am have been focused on the watercolors and I paint oil paintings mostly as commissions.

 

When I do a watercolor and ink, I start out with ink lines as free as possible. I’m not interested in overly detailed work. I use black ink and dip pens also bamboo pens and liner brushes. When the ink is dry I apply the watercolor. That’s it. I looked at some of Cezanne’s watercolors I noticed that you can see the pencil lines, he used pencil to losely draw his subject.
 

I basically do that but with ink. I love the visible black ink lines. I tried it years ago and it stuck. Some pieces are more detailed than others. I depends on the subject and how I want to bring it to live. Sometimes more detail is required. Other times it is the lack of detail that gives justice to what the focus should be on. So I decide by subject.

 
 Ink Outline

 

My oil painting have evolved over time. Right now I often prepare my canvas with a mixture of gesso and marble dust, it creates a rough texture. That is what I paint on in a mostly impressionist manner.

 

I can’t really say what my favorite part of creating a new work is. It’s the fact that I can sit or stand there and do this in the first place that is my favorite part. Better than anything else. I love the whole process but least I like are drying times in between. Sometimes I have to wait especially with the oil paintings for a layer to dry, when I want to apply a glaze. That time, waiting, isn’t my cup of tea, but it is required. Maybe my favorite part is to see it finished and be happy with the results.


 

SY: Your artwork is greatly influenced by nature and landscapes. How did you choose that theme to be the subject of so many of your beautiful pieces of art?

 

GC: Nature is all around and even though we don’t always pay attention nature is everywhere. I can sit in a parking lot waiting for someone or something, surrounded by concrete, buildings and manmade structures, but my eyes get pulled into the shape of a tree that may escape most onlookers.

 
Then I see the birds and how busy they are picking what they can find to eat. Nature is the source of my energy that I need as a human to function.
Also I grew up with nature around in a country setting in my early childhood. Those times were adventures, especially growing up with all boys in the family. I have good memories in connection with nature.

 

 Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco

 

I am never depressed and I think it is because I appreciate nature. From the smallest blade of grass to the majestic mountains, from the little flower or weed to the most manicured garden, the sounds of nature, all is a great renewer. In that sense I am in spirit with John Muir who said, “Allow nature’s peace to flow into you as sunshine flows into trees!”
 

So I can’t imagine ever running out of motivation for painting, nature, a landscape, a tree, a branch, a flower, a mountain, a river. It’s the source that always gives.


 

SY: What’s your favorite piece from your Imagekind collection? What makes it special to you?
 

GC: There are a few, like On The Way To Grandma There is a Tree I Love. I love the art pieces that are based on my childhood memories when I was with my grandparents a lot before my stepfather came into our lives. Those are very vivid memories and good ones.
 
 On The Way To Grandma

 

But then there are many that are based on my travels over my lifetime. I can’t even pick a favorite because they are all my favorites. Traveling was something I really enjoyed and maybe pick up some day again. Especially to Charleston South Carolina which is just a hop skip and a jump from Georgia where live. That city, Charleston, is such a treasure. Plus there are art galleries everywhere.

 
 Grandma’s Apple Tree

 

This is Pink House is on Chalmers Street (below) and it is a very popular must-see spot for tourists. Sometimes I have people that never been to Charleston say, but there is no house that’s pink. But oh yes there is. It really is pink. It’s the oldest house in Charleston, built in1694, at 17 Chalmers Street. The street in front is copplestone. Such a unique spot in Charleston.

 

 Grandma’s Apple Tree

 

I have well over 1,000 art pieces on Imagekind, so there are many favorites. My flower paintings and my Provence and Italy pieces are special to me as well.


 

SY: Just for fun, what are some of your guilty pleasures?
 

GC: Oh, I have a few guilty pleasures. It’s that bread again. I love to bake and I love to eat what I bake. Pastries, bread, cupcakes, anything. Food is definitely at the top of my list of guilty pleasure.
I became vegan in 2008 and had tons of fun changing over my favorite recipes to make them dairy or meat free. I make all my favorites including ice cream in the plant based way and probably eat too much of it. I make the best homemade vegan vanilla ice cream. I add toppings of fruit and nuts and, oh boy, it’s suppertime.

 

Another guilty pleasure is perfume. I have a bit of an obsession with it. I collect it. I love to use perfume. I like to smell good. One of my favorites is Kenzo L’elephant Jungle plus most of the Annick Goutal series.

 

 Kenzo Jungle Perfume Bottle


 

SY: What do you surround yourself with?

 

GC: My cats. I love all animals. I rescued the ones I have. I also surround myself with music mostly classical, books about art mostly, bottles of essential oils and herbs, which I use to make my own home remedies and cosmetics. I live a very simple life and as such, I am not very materialistic.
 

I don’t need much stuff but I love to do and learn something new every day. I have to have my computer so I can research and learn. Maybe I have an obsession with learning now because it was denied to me in my youth. But I actually think learning never stops. I’m like a sponge. I love to read about science, nature, art, philosophy, literature, natural healing, spirituality, cooking, animals, wildlife, new age stuff, history, ufology, it’s all very exciting to me.
 

So my days are so busy with art, learning, looking after my family, enjoying simple pleasures, like sitting in the garden and doing absolutely nothing, I don’t have much need for things, so to speak.
 

I hope to one day to be able to move into the country. Where I am truly surrounded by forest, trees, meadows and creeks and no other house in sight for at least a mile. Where I can watch deer and other wildlife and hear the wind in the trees. That would be nice, I would really love to surround myself with total peace.

 

 White Stallion


 

Thanks, Ginette! Find Ginette Callaway’s collection on Imagekind.