Reverting to the First Artist

In 1907 art critic, Carleton Noyes published The Gate of Appreciation which contained the following passage:  

The child is the first artist. Out of the material around him he creates a world of his own. 

The prototypes of the forms which he devises exist in life, but it is the thing which he himself makes that interests him, not its original in nature. His play is his expression.”

Pablo Picasso is also claimed to have said, Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.

These words, and others like them are what acrylic abstract painter, Rosemary Craig ponders daily, since leaving the world of advertising design, illustration and marketing, and committing herself to simply the art.

Her abstracts are the antithesis of her previous profession, capturing the essence of feelings and ideas, 

as opposed to representing things.  This is the work you'll find in galleries and shows that represent her. 

This is the work that she finds the most challenging and the most rewarding.


 “When I was about six years old, I handed my mother a drawing I had just finished of a Coke bottle. We were at the bowling alley where she and my father were in the middle of league play. She seemed so astounded by the little pencil drawing, showing it to all her friends and going on and on about it.

This is the first clear memory Rosemary Craig has of her passion for making art. Since that evening at the bowling alley, she has practiced art in some form, every day. “I remember one winter when I had to be about 10 or 11. There was a valentine art contest at the roller skating rink. I had been working on this large cutout heart with more cutouts and drawings on it. My theme was Precious Moments and I was so excited to take it and turn it in when I went skating that night.” Unfortunately, young Rosemary came down with the flu that day and wouldn't be able to go. “I was more heartbroken about not being able to take my entry than I was about not being able to have fun skating”, she recalls. As was often the case, her mother came to her rescue and said she would take it for her. “Honestly, I don't know if she actually took it to the roller skating rink. What I do know is that I believed she did and when she came home to tell me I'd won the contest, I believed that too.

As the youngest of 8 children, Craig was encouraged to pursue her art from her earliest memories. “I remember my brothers and sisters always thinking me a bit ‘odd’, with the way I would play by myself outside, drawing, coloring, or being completely fascinated by the tiniest things in nature. If I wasn’t outside ‘bonding’ with the ants creating a new ant hill, I would stare out the windows or doors almost in a daze, thinking about all the goings-on out there and marveling at all the color.

She attended Parochial schools for most of her elementary and high school education. While art classes were offered during her elementary years, they were not offered when she attended junior high and high school. Craig was undeterred and with the help of her mother, inquired about taking art classes at the nearby public school. She learned that would be possible in high school but was not allowed in junior high. Amazingly, one of the nuns in the office had previously taught art in another city and she offered to tutor Craig after classes were completed every other day. “Those afternoons with Sister Mary Josephine were so valuable,” Craig recalls. “Everyone else at school thought the Sister was kind of crabby, but she was completely different with me during our sessions. I loved her!

By her senior year, Craig was spending more time at the nearby public school than she was at her own school. Credit requirements had been met and she was taking as many art classes as she could squeeze into the day. Drawing, painting, stained glass, photography, ceramics, sculpture and more. When Craig was 17, she applied for and was granted an internship at the Cedar Rapids School Board in the Graphics Department. Valuable experience in her preparation for college.  

She had decided to pursue Graphic Design in college and as a career. It didn't even occur to her to pursue fine art as a career. No one she personally knew had done it and it seemed frivolous to even contemplate. She researched Minneapolis College of Art & Design, the Kansas City Institute of Art and Art Center College of Design in California. While these were all excellent schools and very tempting to pursue, she decided to stay close to home. Craig was accepted into Iowa State University, College of Design.  

During and after college, Craig made a career in the advertising industry, wearing many hats from designer and art director to sales and marketing. Each of these experiences was extremely valuable and contributed to the person and artist she is today. “I made attempts to work in other industries, but even then, I always found a way to incorporate my creativity into whatever I did.”  

When her career was combined with marrying and raising a family, the fine art was shelved, but certainly never forgotten. “I have a tendency to go ‘all in’ when I commit to something, so I simply couldn’t spare the time or the brain power to continue with the fine art. Why is it when we’re young we think we have all the time in the world to pursue our dreams?”  

As the career staled and the children grew, Craig asked herself if she could do anything she wanted to do and make a living doing it, what would it be. Her answer seemed clear at the time – open a working studio/gallery. She thought this was her answer to finally returning to her first love, the art. The plan was to get back to creating while featuring the work of other talented local and regional artists.

While this endeavor was a tremendous learning experience, and Craig doesn’t regret taking on the challenge, she found there was even less time to create than before. Starting the business shortly after 9/11 didn’t help matters and she had to close the studio/gallery after two years. “I honestly felt a mixture of loss and relief when I had to close the gallery. The absolute best thing that came out of it, was that I had surrounded myself with so many talented artists for those two years. It was a huge eye-opener for me.” Though the studio/gallery closed, Craig was even more determined to return to her fine art and build a body of work.  

Unfortunately personal and financial issues continued to sporadically interrupt her progress, but by 2006 Craig was undeterred. Whatever, the distraction or interruption – family or job – she would give the work priority and make sure everyone around her knew of her determination. Time was running out and distractions could no longer be tolerated.

Maggie's Joy - Acrylic on canvas

Maggie's Joy - Acrylic on canvas

In 2014, after returning to the Midwest from Spokane, Washington, Craig began showing her work at various local venues and teaching in the Cedar Rapids area. Of her time in the Inland and Pacific Northwest, "my time there was

personally painful, but so fed my artist spirit. It proved to be instrumental in the development of my work".

She had been working in watercolor as she found the medium had a “mind of its own” and forced her, a former illustrator and art director, to focus her attention on the essence of the details rather than the literal details of what she saw. But in 2015, Craig made the decision to change from representational watercolor to abstract acrylic. Her daughters began the process in 2013 when they requested abstract paintings on canvas for Christmas. She had done a few abstracts in watercolor but the idea of painting commissioned abstracts  was intimidating.  “I honestly had no idea how to do it – new content, new medium, new surface. I forged ahead and now, those paintings I did for my daughters are still 2 of my absolute favorites,” Craig recalls. It was with these she discovered how much she could actually say with abstracts. And further, how much more could be interpreted by virtually every individual on earth. While many people have to see “something” in abstract paintings (kind of like seeing “things” in cloud formations) there are many others who are inspired to feelsomething when viewing abstracts.

Today Craig paints exclusively with acrylics and always abstractly, still using many of the same techniques she used with watercolor, adapted to the acrylic medium. “I love the boldness of the acrylic colors. Even applied as a glaze, they’re bold. There is no building of depth in acrylics as with watercolors. This could explain why every time I start to apply paint to a blank canvas I pause in fear a bit, say a little prayer, and just do it.”  There are times she reminds herself that if it doesn't work out, unlike watercolor, she can simply paint over it. However she prefers not to do that. “I feel a partnership with this medium. It's as though I’m not alone in the creation of the pieces, because the paint itself has a life of its own. We’re in this together,” she states.


Craig’s style of painting, often referred to as action painting, involves throwing, dripping, pouring, etc. the paint onto a canvas lying flat. Since her work in acrylics is born of many years working with watercolors, her pieces can sometimes resemble a watercolor, with unpainted portions of the canvas or negative space. Her work is very spontaneous and at the same time purposeful. Every drip, spatter, spray, etc. is intentional. “While I apply the paint purposefully, oftentimes what happens after with the medium and canvas is utterly natural. I enjoy allowing the pigments to ‘play’ and the way the texture of the canvas influences the flow or texture of the paint as it dries, much as it would with watercolor paper.”  

Craig has always found her inspiration in and from nature, and continues to do this even with her abstracts. Of her inspiration, she says, “There are many things in life that move us. It can be something as natural and simple as the sound of wind blowing through the trees or as man-made and complex as political views. I prefer the natural, as the man-made oftentimes frustrates me or worse."  

When I want to put the way I feel about something or someone on canvas, I turn to nature. Nature is calm, persistent, undeterred, constant, acclimating. It moves, grows, flounders, dies, feeds itself and more. We, as humans often forget we are of nature. We allow ourselves to get caught up in so much nonsense.

Craig’s impressionist studies of things of nature – water, grass, trees, etc. are how she begins many of her series’. These pieces are not always recognizable, but knowing her subject, as she works on an impressionistic piece, and after finishing, “I think about how that particular “thing” interacts with its counterparts in nature – the sun, wind, snow, etc.,  and I see the similarities between things of nature and the human spirit or condition.” 

From the original painting, spring many more ideas, paintings and interpretations that “speak not to the representation of a single thing, but to aspects of humanity... so many different messages for so many different people. My hope for anyone viewing my work, is that they are moved in a similarly profound way to the way I’m moved while creating it. Not necessarily the same way or say the same thing to them. Just that they are moved in some way.”

Miranda's Clarity - Acrylic on canvas

Miranda's Clarity - Acrylic on canvas

 The work Rosemary Craig is creating at this time in her life is the most fulfilling she’s ever made. “I’m finally letting go of all the restrictions I put on myself as a designer and illustrator. Accuracy in rendering, perfect use of the elements of design, and then perfect execution of the principles of design.” However, she doesn’t underestimate the value of all the knowledge and experience she’s gained during her life. On the contrary, she feels strongly that the delays and distractions she’s experienced during her life have provided her what she needed creatively to now do what she feels is the strongest work she’s ever made. “Not only have I received a creative education, but I’ve experienced life. The same kind of life nearly everyone else has. Full of normal frustrations, fears, joys and so much more.”

This is the only place she takes issue with Carleton Noyes, who argued that the artistic instinct was usually lost as the child grew older: 

Imagination surrenders to the intellect; emotion gives place to knowledge.

For Rosemary Craig, “Working abstractly has allowed me to revert to the child artist. And living life has taught me how to relate and speak to the grown-ups. As long as they are willing to take a moment and listen. 

What could possibly be better?

Family - Acrylic on canvas triptych

Family - Acrylic on canvas triptych