100 Creatives

Tempe Artist Joan Waters on How Martial Arts Influence Her Practice

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 53. Joan Waters.

"My sketchbook was definitely the gateway drug," Joan Waters says of how her art career started. She started making art young, drawn to the process of observation, production, and interaction. "It’s pulling things from the subconscious, making them tangible in the world, then inviting others to come take a look."

The 57-year-old was born in England and grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, where she studied art at the Maryland Institute College of Art. But Waters has been in Phoenix since 1989, and now works full-time from her Tempe studio. 

Waters spends her time working in a wide range of media, but at the core she sees her work as drawing and painting. "I’m welding, plasma-cutting, and in a flow with several pieces going at once," she says of a typical day. "I enjoy the physicality of what I do — the body and hands learn what to do, so I’m able to be loose with the industrial materials and processes."

Outside her Tempe studio, Waters works on large abstract acrylic paintings at the Scottsdale Creative Center. "In ceramics," she says, "I make durable, colorful paintings that can be part of functional art tables and outdoor spaces."

She relishes the manual labor of her process, saying it "helps me get out of my head, and respond intuitively to the materials." She uses the welder and plasma cutter "draw" on metal, "erasing" as needed with an angle grinder, and "painting" with patinas on steel layers. "By the end of the day, I’m filthy and tired," she says, "and often cannot tell if the work I’ve done is any good. It’s like Charlie Brown when he hangs the ornament on the little tree and says 'I’ve killed it.'"

That's why separating from the work — even if just for a night — is essential. "I try to mentally turn it off, and come back the next morning, surprised it’s not so bad after all," Waters says. "Learning how to work with the mind and thoughts is part of the process."

Waters credits martial-arts training with influencing her life and art practice, aspiring to the mindset of the warrior complete with integrity, sense of duty to a higher purpose, perseverance, and humility. "Much of art has nothing to do with inspiration and all the romanticized 'fun' stuff," she says. "When things get tough, I can often hear Mfundi Casel say, 'Maintain!'"

I came to Phoenix to break patterns and habits from living in Baltimore, intent on discovering an unfamiliar place, culture, and environment. People seemed open and friendly, and I liked the idea that many came here from ‘somewhere else’ to make new lives.

I make art because I want to save the world(!) Art, color, and imagery have a huge influence on our daily thoughts and moods. I hope I can have a positive influence on other people’s lives by sharing my imagination and process with them.

I’m most creative when I can find some space between deadlines to putter and explore ideas without judging whether they’re good or bad. (That said, I’m probably most productive with a good deadline.) If I have a lot to do in a short time frame, I’ve recently discovered that if I work really, really slow I get an amazing amount done.

My inspiration wall is probably the fridge, a mashup of photos of past and present dog friends, fortune cookie slips, New Yorker cartoons, inspirational sayings, Pablo Neruda poems, a Rufino Tamayo painting, sketches of dreams, Suns magnets, mural art clippings. (It’s a fine line between "inspiration" and "mess.")

I’ve learned most from saying yes to (almost) everything. I never know which opportunities will be most fruitful, and it’s often the opposite of what I anticipate. To be comfortable with not knowing — what John Keats called "negative capability" — seems to open possibilities.

Good work should always invite the viewer in to participate, engage, and explore their own questions.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more art organizations focused on working together to grow the community’s love of the arts. Also, alternative art spaces, professional development programs for artists, and people seriously interested in buying good art.

The 2016 Creatives so far:

100. Nicole Olson
99. Andrew Pielage
98. Jessica Rowe
97. Danny Neumann
96. Beth Cato
95. Jessie Balli
94. Ron May
93. Leonor Aispuro
92. Sarah Waite
91. Christina "Xappa" Franco
90. Christian Adame
89. Tara Sharpe
88. Patricia Sannit
87. Brian Klein
86. Dennita Sewell
85. Garth Johnson
84. Charissa Lucille
83. Ryan Downey
82. Samantha Thompson
81. Cherie Buck-Hutchison
80. Freddie Paull
79. Jennifer Campbell
78. Dwayne Hartford
77. Shaliyah Ben
76. Kym Ventola
75. Matthew Watkins
74. Tom Budzak
73. Rachel Egboro
72. Rosemary Close
71. Ally Haynes-Hamblen
70. Alex Ozers
69. Fawn DeViney
68. Laura Dragon
67. Stephanie Neiheisel
66. Michael Lanier
65. Jessica Rajko
64. Velma Kee Craig
63. Oliver Hibert
62. Joya Scott
61. Raji Ganesan
60. Ashlee Molina
59. Myrlin Hepworth
58. Amy Ettinger
57. Sheila Grinell
56. Forrest Solis
55. Mary Meyer
54. Robert Hoekman Jr.