Read Time: 9 min

pioneer judith heartsong

Redux Extra October 10, 2021
Reading Time: 9 minutes

The Spirited Art of Judith HeartSong

A Pioneer Supporting Artists

By Zoe R.

Judith HeartSong is an accomplished artist and a fierce advocate for the artists and their works in the community of the Washington metropolitan area.  She is a self- taught artist and has worked with several highly accomplished artists over the years.  Her muses are the beauties of nature which transcends into the creation of her vivacious, colorful paintings and murals.  

Judith has been painting and creating murals for more than 35 years in private residences and public spaces.  Aside from her artistic work, Judith has professional expertise in art consulting and corporate art.  She has served as the Membership Chair for the Orlando Chapter of The Women’s Caucus for Art. Among her numerous other accomplishments, she worked on a committee to organize the Winter Park Autumn Art Festival and has planned, organized and hung countless juried shows.  

In addition, she spent one year as an artist in residence at an elementary school where she painted murals with more than 200 pre- kindergarten to 5th grade students.  Currently, she is the owner and the executive Director of Artists & Makers Studios located at her new artist studio complex in Rockville, MD.

Recently, we had the opportunity to learn more about Judith HeartSong and her bountiful portfolio.

ZR: Tell us about your background and how you became the professional you are today.

JH: I knew from childhood that I would be a professional artist, as did everyone who surrounded me – friends, teachers and family members all recognized my gift. By seventh grade a new art teacher looked at my first drawing assignment of the school year and called me a diamond in the rough. Friends and teachers always respected the spark that drove me and special allowances were made in the course of my education to provide art instruction and the time I needed to focus on it. I studied privately with some tremendous artists and worked with every sort of material I could get my hands on to build my knowledge of mediums.

I have been working as a professional artist for twenty-eight years, following a public- school education in which my focus was completely art-centric. As a child, I was always out in nature, in the woods and along the creek beds of northern Pennsylvania. I developed a sense of awe and respect for the natural world early on and that devotion has never wavered. Plants and flowers fascinated me with their lush shapes and wonderful colors, and I was always interested in looking at botanical renderings and nature studies. To me they were often cold and impersonal, and that was not how I saw nature. I became captivated with trying to capture and share the world as I saw it.

ZR: What are your mediums and painting style?

JH: I paint in watercolor and acrylic – florals, parts of the natural world, and goddess archetypes. 

ZR: You are a prolific artist with great stamina and a visionary in business, how did you get here?

JH: As an adult I got married and raised my children. So, my work really started when everybody was asleep and I could have my quiet time. Those days, I did all the public relations work for events and shows by myself. My children grew up attending my shows, gallery openings and my business meetings. My art work was just a part of our life.  

Believing in myself, my abilities, and my vision led me to follow a singular path. Primarily self-taught, I learned early on that no other artist saw things exactly as I did, and I worked to develop my own signature style. I continued to explore new methods and materials and over the years met and formed bonds with a lot of talented artists. We shared information and insights and I continued to learn every day. A prominent businessman also took me under his wing and mentored me, and continues to do so some twenty years later. His perspective on the art of business informs my business of art.

ZR: How did you make the transition from art to business when most artists actually avoid the business aspect of their career?

JH: I ventured into the world of licensing early on in my career with a catalogue company called, The Company of Women. I learned a lot about art and design, as well as the business side of art. The company eventually went bankrupt, taking some of my original paintings and monies owed with them – another lesson learned. I had gotten to know Laurel Burch during our mutual time with the catalogue and we had some invaluable conversations as I learned the business. I found her to be inspiring and dedicated. During this stage of my career, I also built relationships with galleries and over time I learned to be cautious in every business deal I struck. Basically, nobody was watching out for me BUT me.

Some artists don’t like the business of art, but I found that learning to handle every aspect of my business on my own was an important part of taking control of my career. In the last eight years, I had the opportunity to re-focus my energies on my art and new business and licensing opportunities and I have never worked harder at building my business. I maintain my website and a daily blog, and pick and choose where to participate in social media knowing that everything I do leads back to my art.

I think it is the daily process of working… in the studio, on the computer, at the business… that builds a successful career. Continuing to learn and grow and to welcome new experiences and inspiration at every opportunity enriches our lives as artists. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Of course, communication is much easier today. I love the advantages of the internet and the ability to send jpegs and monthly newsletter updates electronically. 

ZR: Are you still active in creating your own art work and where could they be accessed?

JH: As we open additional art centers I have less free time to paint than before, however, I do paint in my studio at Artists & Makers Studios on Parklawn Drive,  in Rockville, MD.

ZR: You are an artist with vision, energy and determination to support artists in our community. When and how did you see the need and what inspired you to take the initiative to make a difference?

JH: When I moved here in 2002, I almost immediately got involved with the art center that became VisArts – an organization I have so much respect for. I volunteered at the temporary Gaitherburg Rd. location, and eventually was offered a job there. I worked concurrently at the corporate art consulting firm ArtMatters, LLC. Eventually, I took a studio at the downtown Rockville location when it opened, and served as the artist rep on the board of directors. Time passed and I took a private studio in the town of Glen Echo, and then helped open the first non-profit art center where I served as Executive Director. These non-profit experiences clearly showed that a different path was possible – a more streamlined organizational structure, that could be swift and adaptable. I was then offered a partnership to start Artists & Makers Studios, and I jumped at the chance. 

We are a for-profit entity, that is self-sustaining without the need for a board or a staff solely focused on grant-writing. At one point, we had two locations in Rockville, and are currently looking for the right [new] second location to house more artists on our waitlist. In late summer of last year, we opened our first remote location in Oro Valley, AZ and two more locations are in the process of being built in North Hollywood, CA and San Gabriel, CA – about 29 miles apart in the Los Angeles area. I have additional development partners who are always scouting new possible locations.

ZR: Please describe what you provide for local artists in general, that assists them to grow their artistic talents and achievements.

JH:  Our studio projects focus on adult artists and professional artist education and career-building. We offer discussion groups, workshops with tremendous professional artist organizations and networking opportunities throughout the year. Many studio programs simply offer space and collect rents, we work to help build artist’s opportunities and their reputations through our network and connections.

ZR: What are the logistics of this business?  Are you selective in choosing or working with certain artists based on certain criteria, promoting certain art work, or assisting any artist who needs a space or has other needs to grow?

JH: We jury every artist into the program, and an interview is a part of the selection process. Artists need to have some social capabilities, and a desire to build and be a part of a community. Resumes/bios/artist statements and work samples are also collected during jurying. We look for a wide variety of mediums & practices and artists at different stages of their careers – from emerging to mid-career and late career artists and makers, as well as diversity – both age and backgrounds. The DC metro area is extremely diverse, and we strive to reflect that diversity. If we see that special spark in an artist’s work, we will absolutely give them an opportunity. The same goes for our exhibits – which are wide-ranging and diverse – featuring artists from the metro area and beyond.

ZR: How do social and cultural challenges around you influences the artists, your business success or setbacks?

JH: We work to support artists who focus on mainstream art, and art that is more political in nature – both as residents and exhibitors. I am fortunate that my silent partners have encouraged me to show and exhibit even challenging types of art that some people may or may not appreciate. Art is not always a pretty picture.

ZR: Tell us about honors and awards you and your organization have received. 

JH: Our favorite recognition was awarded in 2018 by Bethesda Magazine when they selected us as the Editor’s Pick for the Best Place to Experience Art in their annual Best of Bethesda issue. Our flagship location opened in 2015 – so this award felt like a huge affirmation.

I have hosted popular painting workshops for law enforcement professionals, hospital care-givers and mental health professionals, and also created and taught numerous programs to serve at-risk teens.  I am an activist for women’s and children’s issues and have been asked to speak on the benefits of using art as therapy on college campuses and in many forums about creativity and healing from trauma.

In 1993, one of my paintings was presented to Hillary Rodham Clinton, at President Clinton’s first inauguration. In 2003, I painted a large mural at The National Zoo and in 2004 a mural at Patty Summers’ Re-Awakening Centre in Virginia.  In 2008, a series of signed limited-edition prints were commissioned and offered for sale on the Princess Cruise Line and in 2009, a limited edition of prints were offered on the Cunard Line Queen Mary 2.  Also in 2009, my acrylic painting, Peacock Crimson was licensed by Transformational Threads, for their first anniversary limited edition series of thread paintings. I will continue my work as a muralist and painter in the DC area, and will consider both mural and painting commissions.

ZR: As an artist in a leadership position, you are very active in the community, having several different Fine Art- Studios and Galleries. Tell us about these locations and what happens in these spaces?

JH:  VisArts at Rockville, VisArts is a wonderful 28,000 sq. ft. art center in Rockville that teaches a variety of great classes and workshops. I served as the assistant to the gallery director, and met many metro area artists through that position and my work at the corporate art consulting firm, ArtMatters.

Capitol Arts Network/ CAN, I served on the board of directors for this organization, and when they decided to open a physical location I accepted the position of executive director. Eventually, they merged the Washington School of Photography with this entity to become Washington ArtWorks, and they eventually filed for bankruptcy after my time there.

Salon – an Artful Conversation, my salon discussion group met for many years in person in Rockville and at the Torpedo Factory Art Center.  Around the time of the pandemic, we went to a more online format. We had speakers from all walks of life to inspire and encourage artists in the careers.

A&M Studios and the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, our salon discussion group was held there under a previous TFAC director.

Artists & Makers Studios as a for-profit business, our unique business model has worked well and we are fortunate to have a great reputation throughout the metro area and beyond.

Judith and her partners, my partners are happy to stay in the background and serve as silent partners in this venture.

ZR: Tell us about exhibition opportunities like the annual Hickok Cole show. 

JH: Hickock Cole is a metro area architectural firm which has in the past held an annual exhibit and fundraiser called Art Night to benefit the Washington Project for the Arts. I got involved when Lisa Gold was the marvelous director of WPA, and several Art Night curators over the years visited our art centers to select new talent to participate in the fundraiser. Several of our resident artists have participated.

ZR: Any memories or funny stories to share?

JH: Our resident artists are consummate professionals and people with giant beautiful hearts. After we opened this flagship location, we expanded twice into new space in the building. It came time for me to move to a larger office space, however, I had PR deadlines looming that day and had to finish that work for our upcoming art exhibits. A large group of resident artists showed up at my office door, told me to keep working and piece by piece moved my entire office contents on rolling dollies and carts to my current office/studio space – laughing all the while. The last thing to move was my desk and computer, which they transferred, hooked up and sat me back down at my desk with my rolling office chair. I love these artists so very much. We are a wonderful, unique community – as is our wonderful Oro Valley location with Manager Javier Dosamantes – soon to be promoted to Regional Manager to oversee our west coast locations.

ZR: What is your message to your community and supporters of art?

JH: Supporting working artists has never been more important. The pandemic caused some studios, galleries, and retail locations to close, making it more challenging for some artists to earn their living. Artists at A&M got to work safely throughout the pandemic with additional safety and cleaning protocols in place. In September, we look forward to inviting the public back. We have had from 500 to 1000 visitors at our pre-Covid19 gallery opening events, and so we feel the community already has a great knowledge of – and appreciation for – what we do. We look forward to welcoming the community back with a revamped opening schedule in September – Normally now on First Saturdays from 11-3pm (to allow more staggered attendance with COVID considerations) – however, the holiday in September will move the event to September 11th from 11-3pm. Enjoy the work of Resident Artists, visiting artist David Daniels, and the talents of the Gallery 209 collective – who previously won several awards at our former Wilkins location and have come to take over our large gallery with monthly member exhibits! 

ZR: Your list of accomplishments and your areas of activities are endless, where we can find lists of your works?

JH: You can find them on my website under the following categories:  Select Ventures, Galleries and Shops, Select Shows, Select Awards and other information.

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