• Rachel Lingenfelter

Artist Feature - Sam Dietze

This week, we're having artist, Sam Dietze, as our #ArtistFeature for First Frontier Forward! The following is our interview...

Q: Give me some background information about you! i.e. Where were you born, family life, growing up with art, your art in its earliest stages, etc.

A: I was born on July 30, 1954, in Altoona, grew up here, and lived most of my life here, except for attending college. As a kid, I was always doing art-related things with crayons and colored pencils, like most kids do ( well, maybe a little more than most kids ). I took art classes in high school. I was also interested in astronomy from an early age, had a small telescope, and learned the stars and night sky from my backyard. It was the 1960s with the space race, the Apollo program, Star Trek, etc.

Q: How would you describe your work? How has it changed since you first began? Do you find yourself shifting in style at all?

A: Space and astronomy-themed paintings and outdoor paintings, taking into account photographs, like the Hubble Images for example, or my own photos, or something I saw outside, or just going out and doing an outdoor painting. This is called plein air if you have ever heard that expression. It’s just a fancy French term for outdoor painting. The astronomy paintings and outdoor paintings are two different styles that often influence one another.

The style has changed a great deal since I first began. I think I’m painting in a much more impressionistic style right now, and trying not to be so faithful to realism. At first, I was painting exclusively space art. I had a studio in Huntingdon County at the time. It is very rural there with farmland, state forests, and so on. The artists there were very outdoor-oriented in their painting styles. One of them suggested I try plein air. She said it would greatly improve my space paintings, and she was right. And I really enjoy painting outside.

When I moved back to Altoona another artist suggested I try oil painting. He said I’d take to it as a duck takes to water. He was right. The Altoona group includes some really hardcore oil painters. I was working only in acrylics up to that time. Now I work on my space paintings in oils at home and in acrylics on my outdoor paintings on site. I put a lot of outdoor elements, like trees, water, mountains, clouds, sunsets, etc. in my space paintings. It’s like working as a Hudson River School artist on another planet.

I guess my style shifts to and from outdoor painting to space painting and back again, depending on what I’m doing. It is more like it keeps gradually changing rather than shifting.

Q: Do you have any artists you get inspiration from?

A: I don’t know if I’d call it inspiration, but I admire the work of the Hudson River School artists, or any outdoor painters, historically or currently. There is a group, The International Association of Astronomical Artists ( IAAA ), in which I’m a member. There are some really excellent space artists in this group whose work I really like. But I generally try to do my own work independently, rather than trying to emulate someone. It occasionally happens that two artists independently create similar works of art on the same subject. This is inevitable, I guess. There are about 200 members in the IAAA from 21 countries.

Q: What other mediums have you worked in and what is your favorite medium overall?

A: Well, I’ve worked with pencils, both regular and colored. But I’m basically a painter in oils and acrylics. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you’re doing. Acrylics are good for working outside because they dry fast. Oils are better for working at home where you can take your time. At least that’s my theory. Other artists may have different experiences which are just as valid. Pencil work is kind of boring, I think. Painting is a lot more fun, which probably has something to do with color.

Q: What opportunities has your area given you to advertise your work? Have you done any local art shows, festivals, events, fundraisers, etc?

A: Well, I’ve been doing this for over 30 years, so yes, I’ve been in lots of shows, both local and national. Museum shows, arts festivals, library shows, medical center shows, arts foundation shows, gallery shows, mall shows, planetarium shows, science center shows, fundraisers, the list goes on and on. Some of them, like the Southern Alleghenies Art Museum show, or the Blair County Arts Festival show, are juried shows and require a jury fee. Others like the Altoona Public Library, the Blair Medical Center, and the Blair County Arts Foundation just require that you get on the waiting list, and you might have to wait up to a year.

As for making money, it’s kind of hit or miss. I’ve had luck with fundraisers at rehabilitation hospitals ( more on that later ). I also had good luck with Spacefest, and the Art of Planetary Sciences, both in Tucson AZ.

I had my own show at the Whitaker Center for the Arts and Sciences in Harrisburg PA back in 2007-2008 but only sold 2 small outdoor paintings at the gift shop. That’s how it goes. You make some extra money, but you need other sources of income. Nuff said.

Q: What current projects or pieces are you working on?

A: I already mentioned about rehabilitation hospitals. I was accepted into “Art for the View” at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady NY. This exhibit is for artists with disabilities. I was also accepted into “Art Ability” at Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. I’ve had good luck with sales at shows like these, and have been in both of them in past years. There are two more fundraisers like these, in Louisville KY, and Minneapolis MN, that I’ve been accepted to in past years. Because of the pandemic, many shows this year are virtual or have been postponed until further notice. It’s a tough year for making money. I also entered the “Art of Planetary Sciences” show in Tucson AZ, which will be a virtual-only show this year. But the possibility is still there for sales.

It’s summer now and I like being outside, so I’ve been doing some painting outdoors mostly in my neighborhood. I just finished a painting of a big oak tree, and I’m working on a painting of a Norway Spruce tree with a red pickup truck parked nearby.

Q: What is some advice that you would give someone who is new to art and wants to make a career out of it? What is some advice you would give to someone who is new to art and wants to make just a hobby out of it? Is there a difference?

I would say take as many art courses as possible in college, even if your major isn’t art. Look into the possibility of teaching art which can open up other opportunities like artists in residence programs, teaching on an individual basis, etc. A person who just wants art as a hobby should draw or paint every day. Try new media and new subjects. When you discover something you have a passion for, put a lot of time into it and start entering shows. See what gets accepted or rejected and then enter something you think they will like. In my case, I took a couple of art courses at Penn State but felt like I’d never get to do what I wanted. So I got a couple of degrees in astronomy instead, but eventually got back into art and kept at it all these years. I don’t recommend taking that path. It’s just the way I did it. You have to find your own way, be persistent, and don’t give up.

Q: A favorite artist’s quote that you like!

A: Although not really an artist per se, this is attributed to Albert Einstein: “Creativity is contagious, pass it on.”

“Creativity takes courage” - Matisse

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” - Picasso

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” - Oscar Wilde

Thank you Sam for your time and your great answers to our questions! Be sure to support local art organizations and communities during the pandemic! Check out Sam's work again below and at www.art-3000.com/artist/?id=5412!

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