Betsy Schulz works on projects that are big - not just in scale, but also in terms of the number of people that collaborate to bring those projects to life. Trained at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design, Schulz creates art that is incorporated into both the physical and social landscape. Working mainly with paint, ceramics, and found objects, Schulz creates large-scale murals that are referential to the community, and often created by its members.
Currently, Schulz is simultaneously tackling three community projects. The projects range from a series of murals for a library depicting local history, flora, and fauna, to an abstract back-lit steel and glass wall that represents the flow of water between the Peñasquitos River, lagoon, and Pacific Ocean. Amidst the intensity of her work, Schulz still finds time to pursue her own personal art projects and create residential pieces for individual customers.
“First, I have no commute to my converted 2 1/2 car garage studio,” said Schulz about her average day. “I can get a full 8-10 hours in a day. All scheduling, client correspondence, design and technical work is done between 7-10am. All sculpting, glazing, thin setting and grouting is typically done after that. Around 2 or 3 pm each day if possible I hike or bike 2-6 miles to clear my head. Then get back to work.”
Visitors who find their way to Schulz’ studio might peruse her current exhibit of molded antique bottles combined with minerals, rocks, and metal, creating forms that are embedded into tile. Or they might dive right into collaborating with her on current projects.
“When I am working on large projects, anyone is invited to stop by to see what is going on, talk, work or learn,” she continued. “On average, I have 3-10 people a week stop in for 5 minutes or 5 hours. On many of my larger public projects I work with community volunteers.
“The ages range from 5-85 years of age. I have worked with preschool, elementary, and middle school students onsite and through workshops I have set up.”
This work helps to make her projects feasible, but also provides a service to the community as well. Friends and colleagues are quick to mention how easy and enjoyable it is to work with Schulz, who admittedly loves the opportunity to teach and create simultaneously.
“I will teach my process to anyone interested and willing to work hard,” said Schulz. “So many of the people who volunteer are what I call ‘in betweeners.’ For example, I have had individuals work with me who are between jobs, going through divorce, retiring, or having children leave for college. In other words people who need to fill a void.
“I have even had 4 separate individuals with cancer work with me between chemo treatments. The work for many people is therapeutic and often fun.”
Moreover in the act of collaborating, Schulz is able to design reflexively, something that often sets design apart conceptually from other artistic practices.
“Designers are trained to observe and react,” continued Schulz. “In my case I observe and research the community that I am creating artwork for.”
“I want to create artwork that has meaning for the people who will interact with it most.”
This sort of conversational relationship between creating, thinking, and implementing is as much a problem-solving approach as it is an element of making. Schulz is constantly observing and interacting, then uses this process to tell a story visually.
When looking at one of her pieces, it’s apparent how much time and planning has gone into it, as each individual tile is it’s own piece of art and it also contributes to the gestalt of the piece as a whole. Schulz began as a graphic designer, and her craft is apparent in the work – which she painstakingly plans first on the computer, then on paper, then in clay, then finally in installation.
While her process is elaborate, her advice to current students is distilled down to the fundamental challenge of all artists.
“Understand what art means to you. You need to know whether you are compelled to communicate your own personal artistic point of view or whether you want to work with other people in a more collaborative way.”