How to Make Art for a Liv-ing by Madeleine Shalaby
by: Madeleine Shalaby
Olivia Bartrand is a senior here at LM and a devoted member of the artistic community. She has been creating visual and musical art for years, everything from calligraphy to watercolors to directing and composing songs on her banjo. As a member of Lower Merion Players and Lower Merion A-Cappella, Liv spends much of her time after school collaborating with other artist but still clearly defines her personal artistic style in a unique way. I have worked and played with Liv for many years in chamber choir, a-cappella groups, and just messing around with harmonies at home. Besides her unmatched musical talent, Olivia has always been one of my favorite artists; her trademark swirls and dips of watercolors on years-worth of handcrafted birthday cards currently hang all around my bedroom.
I sat down with Liv one rainy day between during her down time between Players and A-Capella. As she creates a wide variety of art, this interview was not focused on only the visual art; I couldn’t discuss Olivia as an artist without delving into some of the other aspects of her creativity.
I first wanted to understand how Olivia classified herself. “A storyteller,” she replied assuredly. “It fits all I really like to do and why I do it.” She smiled softly, thinking about the visual art, writing, music, and theater that encompasses her identity. “Stories are so captivating and compelling. They are the greatest gift humankind has to offer.” Her passion flowed through her words as she told me about her favorite piece of art she’s ever produced: a musical by the name of “The Planets.” Despite the difficulties she encountered with incorporating historical figures, original music, and a creative structure, she couldn’t be prouder of the work.
As a musician myself, I understand that the love you pour into your art does not always receive the response you want from an audience. I asked her about some of the preconceived notions that others have when she tells then she is an artist. “That I’m pretentious,” she answered immediately. I gave her a knowing look and she laughed. “Okay, I guess that’s true. But in terms of untrue notions, they think I have knowledge of classic canon, if you will, of artistic stuff. It’s almost assumed what kind of a person I am once I tell them what kind artist I am.”
And what kind of art does she make? In terms of her visual art, Liv distinctly separated the art she does for herself from classwork. On her own, she spends a lot of time with watercolor. “I try to make everything very ethereal, and sometimes I fail miserably ー then sometimes I fail a little bit less.” Failing less, she says, is a victory. While she loves contrasting colors, she is not as fond of contrasting styles. “I don’t like working with still life because it freaks me out and it never looks right.” Everyone has their limits.
I felt compelled to ask her about her calligraphy, which to some is merely fancy writing. She considers calligraphy to be art because it’s her “caring about something aesthetic.” It is something she creates, so in her mind that fits one of the many definitions of art. Olivia writes in calligraphy for school, Players projects, gifts for friends, or mere doodles in notebooks. “It conveys a certain feeling,” she explains, “a certain essence, a theme or mood without fully stating it. Even though it is words, and it explicitly says something, the calligraphy, the font itself, is a discussion between the reader and the writer, as different fonts evoke different meanings to different people.”
Though the artist Liv has become seems unattainable to many of us mortals, she offered some advice for aspiring storytellers. “Don’t make art to ‘make it’”, she said profoundly. Trying to make art to please a paycheck limits what you think you can do. “Just have fun with it,” she concludes. “Don’t overthink what you want to eventually do with it. When the time comes, you will know.”
Olivia will be continuing to make art in the future by studying music and theater in college, most likely following those into careers. However, she is not abandoning the visual arts, as she plans on further her own artmaking independently of her studies or career. That’s just as valuable as going into art as a career, she promises, because “you’re doing what you want to do whether or not you’re getting paid for it.”
To me, Olivia perfectly embodies what it means to be an artist: enchanting, imperfect, and wise beyond her years. Her eloquence on and off the pages of her works continue to inspire me as an artist to push harder against my own boundaries and to allow myself to brave new ideas. A loyal friend and diligent artist, I know she has the power and the skill to achieve her dreams in the arts, leaving sprinkles of joy and creativity behind her as she dances down the walk of life.