An Interview with Diane V. Mulligan
In today’s post, I interview Diane V. Mulligan, one half of the Adele-duo, about her passion for art, the role talent plays in creative pursuits, and being happy with the road life has taken you on.
AA: Hi, Diane! A couple of weeks ago, I saw some big news on Instagram. You have just had a painting accepted to the Rhode Island Watercolor Society’s National Water Media show. Congratulations!
DM: Thank you! I am so excited. This is a first for me. I am very new to submitting my art to juried exhibits. This was only my second submission ever.
AA: So cool. It was seeing that post that made me think we should do a blog interview about your art. Our readers know you as a novelist and some might be surprised to learn that you also paint. And of course I know you also play the guitar and make delicious baked goods. You have all sorts of hidden talents.
DM: I think what you mean is that I have far too many hobbies. But I also have a very messy house because I’d rather be painting or writing or playing guitar than vacuuming and dusting. It’s a trade-off.
AA: There’s nothing wrong with hobbies that bring you joy. I love multi-passionate people!
DM: Multi-passionate. I like that. I think I should put that on my business cards.
AA: Says it all, doesn’t it? Now, tell us how you got into painting.
DM: When I was a kid, art was my thing. I was very blessed that my parents put me in after-school lessons way back when I was in elementary school and I did that all the way through middle school. In high school, art club was my favorite activity. I was president my senior year. In fact, I always wanted to be an art teacher. But then I got to college, and I saw the work art majors were making, and I immediately thought: I am not good enough. So I told myself to be practical and study something that would better set me up for a job. In fact, that was the real reason I gave for not pursuing art. I didn’t want to be a starving artist, and every school only has like one art teacher for every dozen English teachers. So I studied to become a high school English teacher, but I pretty much stopped doing art altogether—not intentionally, it just happened. Twenty-odd years went by and then the pandemic arrived. I was spending all my time on the computer teaching online, and I needed an outlet and an escape from screens. I opened my old art box, discovered that my twenty-year-old paints were no good—shocker—and so I went out and bought some new ones and dusted off my easel.
AA: How do your writing and your painting go together? Is there a connection there?
DM: Hmmm. I think both are great outlets for me, and both let me get into a flow state where the world drops away, but lately, I’ve felt sort of allergic to the computer when I’m not at work. I just finished an MFA in creative writing in December, so I was spending tons of time at the computer for work and for grad school, which is partly why I started painting again. I needed an outlet that didn’t involve a computer. But, funnily enough, there are characters who are artists in all my books. In Watch Me Disappear, Missy’s mom is an artist. In The Latecomers Fan Club, Maggie is an artist. And in What She Inherits, both Casey and Angela are artists. I did not do this consciously. In my years of not painting, I think my subconscious was trying to tell me something!
AA: Interesting. When you look back at two decades when you weren’t painting, how do you feel?
DM: Of course, there’s a part of me that feels a pang of regret, but honestly I wouldn’t change the choices I made. For one thing, as a kid, I didn’t have a growth mindset. I was intimidated by what others were making in the college art studios and I thought, I can’t do that. It never occurred to me that I could learn to do that! I had a fixed mindset and therefore I wasn’t going to benefit from classes. For another thing, I love my job. Teaching English is something I am passionate about, and my career in the classroom has shaped me into the sort of person who does have a growth mindset and who understands that you get better at the things you practice! Also, being a self-published author gave me the confidence I needed to declare myself an artist and to realize I don’t need anyone’s permission to go out and create and celebrate what I make. Sometimes I do feel like I’m making up for lost time, but I also think my experiences have led me to exactly where I am, and that’s where I should be.
“My experiences have led me to exactly where I am, and that’s where I should be.”
AA: That is such a great attitude. And I’m so happy you found your way back to art. You’re so talented. I love seeing your posts on Instagram.
DM: You’ve just hit on one of my big pet peeves. I sort of hate it when people say, “You’re so talented.” I think talent has so little to do with what I create. I have an inclination and a desire to learn. When I first started, I was terrible! My drawings were messy, I didn’t understand the techniques I needed to achieve good effects. But I was having fun and I wanted to keep trying, so I sought online tutorials and kept going. Some people are inclined to improve at sports or cooking or music or gardening or whatever, and so they learn and practice and work at those things to get better. It’s not talent. It’s time and effort. I really believe this. The word inclination feels so much truer to me than talent.
“The word inclination feels so much truer to me than talent.”
For instance, take a look at these two paintings, done one year apart. Clearly, in the first one I had a lot to learn, and in the second, my skills are much stronger.
Or look at the difference between these two paintings of the same view, Provincetown as seen from the beach near the border or Provincetown and North Truro, painted almost exactly one year apart:
It is amazing when you see the difference a year of practice and learning makes!
AA: Sure, but I’ve seen the little portrait sketches you’ve done. If I tried, it would look like a child did them.
DM: But if you wanted to learn to do them in a more realistic way, you could. I was terrible at drawing faces when I first started, and I am still not what I’d consider good at it, but I am definitely improving. I learned through a combination of reading Betty Edwards’s classic book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and taking classes on the online platform Skillshare. Maybe everyone can’t be John Singer Sargent (I know I can’t), but anyone can develop certain basic skills and gain the knowledge they need to improve.
AA: Will you show us some examples?
DM: LOL, nope. There’s a limit to my willingness to embarrass myself by sharing my early attempts.
AA: You mentioned that you’ve learned a lot through Skillshare. What is Skillshare?
DM: Skillshare is a fabulous app where you can take self-paced courses on boatloads of topics. It is where I learned all my foundations of watercolor painting and drawing. I highly recommend it! I’m sort of addicted to Skillshare classes. At the end of the interview, I can share a link so readers can give it a try if they want!
AA: That sounds so fun! Do you think they have sewing classes? I dream of sewing my own funky clothes.
AA: So what do you think the future holds for your career as an artist?
DM: Well, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t dream of being about to support myself full time as an artist and writing, painting in the mornings, writing in the afternoons, no day job to distract me, but also that sounds like a huge amount of pressure to put on my creativity. Right now, I’m simply focused on skills development. Painting brings me so much joy and peace in this crazy world, and there’s no faster way to crush joy and disturb peace than by monetizing the thing you love. I had to learn that the hard way about writing, but having learned the lesson, I haven’t forgotten it. So what I’m doing with my art is painting just about every single day and sharing my work with my friends online. That’s all I need to be honest. I’m so blessed to have a day job that—while it is demanding—also leaves me summers off to pursue my creative hobbies. I know some teachers have to work in the summer to make ends meet, but I’m lucky that I don’t. Basically, I don’t need to make a living as an artist, and I see that as a blessing. I would love to one day be good enough at painting to teach watercolor workshops, though. That’s a long-term goal. Once a teacher, always a teacher!
“There’s no faster way to crush joy and disturb peace than by monetizing the thing you love.”
AA: Okay, last thing, where can readers see your art?
DM: The best place is Instagram. I’m @dianepaintsflowers.
AA: Excellent. Everyone go check that out!
Spreading a little joy is also part of Adele’s mission. So if you’re like us—afraid to read the news to see what fresh hell the day has brought—we invite you to skip the doom scrolling and settle in with one of our stories. Because you know there’s gonna be a happy ending. And if you enjoy our books, please take a moment to leave a rating or review on Amazon. It really helps us out!
Also, if you want to give Skillshare a try, you can get a free 1-month membership by visiting this link: https://skl.sh/41NuR6M