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Interview with Virginia Wright-Frierson, April 2, 2008 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Virginia Wright-Frierson, April 2, 2008
April 2, 2008
Interview with Virginia Wright-Frierson, artist and author/illustrator of such children's books as An Island Scrapbook and A North American Rainforest Scrapbook. Here, she discusses her arts education and aesthetic sense, her career as an illustrator, and specific projects she has completed, which includes creating a mural at Columbine High School.
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Interviewee: Wright-Frierson, Virginia Interviewer: Diesenhaus, Doug Date of Interview: 4/2/2008 Series: SENC Writers Length 60 minutes

Diesenhaus: Hello, I'm Doug Diesenhaus and today, April 2, 2008, I'll be interviewing Virginia Wright-Frierson for the Randall Library Oral History project on creative writers. I usually ask how they got started with writing and I guess, for you, I'm asking a bit more, maybe we'll get started with art and the work that you do.

Wright-Frierson: Okay. Well, I've always done artwork, ever since I can remember. I started as a little, tiny kid and, actually, as soon as I could write, I did that, too. I was always making up stories and illustrating them all through school and getting in trouble with my teachers for sitting there daydreaming and drawing and writing my little stories when I was supposed to be studying math.

Diesenhaus: Were some teachers helpful or encouraging, influential, or anything?

Wright-Frierson: Yeah, you know, back then, I was in school in San Antonio, Texas, and art was not much of a subject so-- and everybody was supposed to kind of do the same thing but, yeah, I do remember, from early on, that they thought I was good at that and encouraged it somewhat.

Diesenhaus: You mentioned both art and writing. I wondered did the writing come out of something? Were you doing a lot of reading or was it just sort of natural?

Wright-Frierson: I've always read so much since I was really little and then all my life and when my children were small, I read to them from pretty much from the minute I brought them home from the hospital. And then I didn't really get going with my illustrating children's books until my son was three and I had read so many of them. I never took classes in children's literature and I real-- I got a B.F.A. in painting at UNCG and it was really a five-year degree that I did in four years and so I didn't have time to take any of the writing classes except just one but it's something I've always, like I said, always done on my own. I did the children's books for years and years after the first one I started with my son. I am now on a hiatus. I stopped doing them when my daughter turned into a teenager and I was so worn out from trying to stand up to her and argue and be a parent to her that I couldn't stand arguing and fighting for my integrity with the books at the same time. That was too much, just, to stand up to. So that was the one thing I could quit doing so I stopped that maybe six or seven years ago and I have not gotten back into it. I plan to but I've been doing projects ever since, huge projects. I'm just now getting back to my painting, which is my first love.

Diesenhaus: Arguments with a teenage daughter, maybe one can imagine what they would be but what were the arguments about, the integrity of the work that you felt, was that something that you ran up against...

Wright-Frierson: Publishing is a nasty business, even with children's literature, surprisingly. They really try to control what you do in every way and I started as an illustrator and did six books, did illustrations for them and they want to see every step of the way, they want to give you feedback the entire time, make you do things over and tell you how to paint them and that your colors aren't right and on and on. And they said, "Why don't you write your own children's books, too?" As if anyone can do that. They didn't know that that was an interest of mine all my life so I did start to write them, thinking that then I would have a little more say in the work and I could write what I wanted to do illustrations of. And, no, it turned out to be just something else to criticize and just a very difficult business for me. One of the worst things is that they fire their editors all the time. It's a cutthroat business. They are having trouble making money and surviving and they want books that sell and so there is just a lot of pressure and you lose your editors, who become almost your best friends. You talk to them every day and write each other and it was hard, too, working from here, my little studio in North Carolina, and not being in the city where it's all happening and not having the opportunity, even, to visit there much because of my children.

Diesenhaus: I'm curious about that. Was it a feeling of separation or being outside of a loop? I wonder. There's always that kind of argument about whether an artist needs to be in a city or in New York or whether you can kind of gain something by being outside of it.

Wright-Frierson: Yeah.

Diesenhaus: Could like, I heard you saying there were some disadvantages?

Wright-Frierson: Oh, yeah. I would like to remain here. I mean, I'd much rather live here but just be able to travel to the city when I do this job because you get so much more done if you can sit down with editors and business people and art directors and show them what you've done and talk about it. You just, I mean, you can get through a month's worth of decisions that you normally do on the phone long distance.

Diesenhaus: So it sounds like it was also a communication issue?

Wright-Frierson: Mm hm.

Diesenhaus: Something was lacking or falling through in certain kinds of communication?

Wright-Frierson: I just think it's the nature of the business, really. They have to see what you're doing and I had hoped that a trust would build up, that, over the years, as I did more and more books and they really well, surprisingly, from the beginning. They sold well and they made the New York Times list and all kinds of school awards and stuff. I thought, okay, I have more clout and I can finally not be told what to do every day. After doing nine books and illustrating and the writing the last three, no. I have no more choice in my subject matter and how it's done than I did with the first one.

Diesenhaus: I know your books have been with various publishers. Did you have better or worse experiences with different publishers?

Wright-Frierson: The reason I switched, I always wondered why people switch publishers and I don't like to do that. I don't give up on people I have a relationship with but the reason I switched, and probably most people, is you go with your editor. You're in the middle of a project, they're fired and, out of loyalty to them, I have switched from MacMillan, my first publisher, to Simon & Schuster and Walker and I did one up in Chicago for-- I just forget it. Albert Whitman, that's who it was. Some are better than others but I think they're all sort of cutthroat and, of course, in the seven years or so I've been away from it, I know no one in the business any more, not one. I'll have to just start all over but my last three I did, and I made a mistake by going with my editor because I switched publishers there and it should have been a series all together. They're nature type books, scrapbook format I did about the Arizona Desert and an island around here, southeastern North Carolina and the American Rain Forest in Washington. My next one, I hope to do coastal Maine. Takes a ton of research and getting probably 75 books, taking hundreds of photos, so it demands a lot of organization and a brain, which I am fast losing (laughs) so I'm not sure that I can do this for much longer.

Diesenhaus: Even given the frustrations you described and the work, you are going to come back to it? It's a temporary hiatus...

Wright-Frierson: I'm not sure. I was glad to go in that direction years ago, excited to finally do this thing I'd always dreamed of and now I don't feel this pressure. I'm doing my painting and I've done a lot of important projects, I think, in the meantime. You know, if I get back to it, fine, and if I don't, I think that's okay, too. I kind of hate having gotten my foot in the door, which is so hard to do in this business, and then giving up but I guess any time I really want to, at least I have some work that's been published. It shouldn't be as hard as it was at the beginning to get in.

Diesenhaus: I want to talk more about the other projects but I want to get more inside the process of the books. You talked about first illustrating books written by other people and then you said people encouraged you to write them yourself. I wondered about the difference between those two processes and whether you preferred one?

Wright-Frierson: I do prefer doing it my-- my own work but something that shocked me, I had no idea they did it this way and probably other people will be surprised, too, to hear that, when a writer does their story and gets their contract, they don't want to hear from them again. They have no input whatsoever on the illustrations. So my first book was called "Big Boy, Little Boy" and I got to do my son, my three-year-old son and my mother. My son was six by the time the thing came out finally and that's all I did for the three years as far as my work went and being a full-time mommy. I was just so surprised that the authors never have any input. I never talked to them directly, ever, until maybe the book comes out. They try to keep them separate, I guess, which is nice for me as the illustrator, to be able to decide what I want to do but I would sure hate to have authored a story where you wanted kids and your illustrator turns out to do, like, cartoon ducks or something, you know? So that was surprising. I would prefer writing my own story about something that I was so interested in and really compelled to write about and do those specific illustrations, something that's important to me. I don't think I would illustrate somebody else's work now unless it was some story that I absolutely loved.

Diesenhaus: Is there a collaborative process? It sounds like not at all.

Wright-Frierson: Well, not with the writer but with the editors and your publisher, it is so collaborative and that's really hard for me. I guess I'm used to having the luxury of painting what I want and need to paint, which is because I have a husband who makes a steady paycheck, even though he's a university professor that doesn't get paid much. But I don't have to depend on my work for our only income. Otherwise, I could never do what I choose to do. You do what you have to. I've lost my train of thought.

Diesenhaus: You just reminded me, when I was looking at Big Boy, Little Boy, I guess I was wondering who's son is this based on?

Wright-Frierson: Oh, that was my son. And, well, the story was about the fictional child.

Diesenhaus: I assumed, in a way, that the writer would either have some kind of approval or maybe they had pictures but...

Wright-Frierson: No, you would think but absolutely not. One thing I tried to change in writing was I wanted to use my son's name instead of David, have Dargan [ph?] and they said no. No way. What kind of name is that? So forget it. I did change the story, actually. I've done that a couple of times because they had stuff in it that was absolutely not acceptable, scary to children and defeated the purpose of the book and I said, mm-mm, this has to be changed. And it happened. Sometimes with a huge fight and my having to say, "Forget it, I won't do it, I'll send back the advance," because it was so wrong and so important to me. But it's worked out that I've been able to make the changes that had to be done.

Diesenhaus: Somewhat along those lines, I looked all three of the scrapbooks and the two that I looked at were obviously so close to the natural world and had themes kind of relating to them around preservation and protection, is that some of what motivated you?

Wright-Frierson: Oh, yeah, that's a huge interest of mine and these are, as hard as they are for me to do, it's just a wonderful vehicle to reach thousands and thousands of children, which you can't do, really, with any other kind of work I do except maybe the mural I did at Columbine High School. These just-- it's funny. I mean, I've sold 40,000, 50,000 copies of some of these books and so I'm getting a chance to educate kids. It's real important to me to have it all accurate information. That's why I spend so long researching, hopefully inspiring them and giving them some ideas about how they can preserve the environment. The publishers always, though, say, don't get on your soapbox about this. We don't want a preachy book. That's not what this is about. So I have to really rewrite it 12 times to calm that down a little bit.

Diesenhaus: Talking about the research, I noticed almost scientific classification of the natural world. I'm thinking about the individual pictures and the names. Is that something that you're drawn to?

Wright-Frierson: Like identifying the things...

Diesenhaus: Yeah, it didn't feel like a science tome but it had sort of shades of teaching, naming, catagorizing.

Wright-Frierson: Yeah. Yeah. There's a lot of information in these and the scrapbook idea was-- it made that possible. I don't have to present myself as this authority. I'm just there, like, for a day, you know, in the desert and noticing things, the island or the rain forest. So I'm an observer and it's just kind of a nice way to introduce kids to some ideas. They can be picture books for very young kids but I tuck in a lot of information and little notes and things so that the books can be read over and over again and, as a child grows older, they can appreciate the information more and hopefully then take off from that and make their own scrapbooks about their own environment. A lot of schools do that with the kids and I've talked with a lot of kids in the schools and some of them are so well prepared for my visits, they'll have the kids read the books and then go out and each one try to make their own book. That's always so helpful because they know the questions to ask, having attempted it. I always tell them, you can write a dedication. You can dedicate the book to whoever you want. They love that. They always have so many questions for me about my books and they notice everything. So, as hard as it is for me, too, to go out into the schools, it takes so much time and it's kind of something I don't look forward to but, every time, it reinforces why I did this, why it's worth this fight because the whole process, I'm removed from children. I'm working with adults, fighting with the business end of it and, to see little kids all excited about this and asking questions really, you know, reinforces that this is worth a lot of the struggle to reach this many kids.

Diesenhaus: I also get the sense of often this feeling of wonder and it sounds like some of that is maybe what you could be feeling back from the kids. It's like...excitement.

Wright-Frierson: Yeah.

Diesenhaus: Kind of being amazed at what you're seeing and I think-- it feels like the pictures express that.

Wright-Frierson: Mm hm, yeah, I try to do that.

Diesenhaus: I guess-- I'm thinking... especially I noticed really a lot of focus on light and the reflection of light, and especially also with trees, being under a canopy and looking up.

Wright-Frierson: Yeah.

Diesenhaus: Is that kind of a thing--you know with the background.

Wright-Frierson: Yeah. That was something I love is perspective and light. In all my work, I guess that's always a theme that I study and love and I just am a nature person and a naturalist. It's funny, my children aren't. My son is in Seattle teaching at the University of Washington and loves just staying inside and not going out into nature much. My daughter, too, so maybe I pushed it a little too hard. I hope, as they get older, that that'll be a comfort for them and an inspiration. They are both very much into ecology.

Diesenhaus: Does where you live, has that-- obviously, I mean, some of the books are about this region. Others are from places farther out. Is there a connection between that, the natural world that you experience immediately and the interests that you pursue?

Wright-Frierson: Mm hm. I'm very affected by my surroundings and I am outside a lot. I paint outdoors quite a bit. I really enjoy that and the immediacy of working outside in watercolor and sometimes in oil and studying the light and the natural things. That's also why I love to travel so much for my work, to get new inspiration, different landscapes, different vegetation.

Diesenhaus: To the previous question of location or being close to the editor, if you spend that time in an urban environment, would you lose a bit of inspiration or do you think you carry it with you?

Wright-Frierson: I think I would just travel as much as I could to get out in nature and then come back inside and do the work.

Diesenhaus: Were most of the books watercolors? Is there a reason?

Wright-Frierson: Yeah. All but one. I did one oil on paper and that was so difficult to work with. I don't think I'd ever do that again but, yeah, watercolor-- I always do pencil sketches first and then watercolor. The steps of the process are first you thumbnail sketches, which are little teeny stamp-sized things after you read the text. When I write my own, I can never do a whole text. They want to pay you when you finish the text and then pay you when you're half-way done or something and, like, in four different payments. Well, I never got paid until the very end, after doing everything because I couldn't finish the text until I finished the illustrations. They just go together so much.

Diesenhaus: I wanted to ask maybe just a question or two about the writing and, essentially, you know, questions about whether that comes easy to you or the connection between them and I think what I'm hearing is that they're very intrinsically connected for you?

Wright-Frierson: Mm hm.

Diesenhaus: You couldn't just do one then finish the other.

Wright-Frierson: Right. They go together completely and I do like to write. I sit down and just write like crazy but the revisions are so hard and especially for children's books. You have to just pare it down so much and they're always telling me to narrow the focus and get rid of all these words and don't bite off so much, you know? Let's narrow the focus. Always my litany. Now, I'm interested in writing a book for adults and it's in response to all these projects I've done in the last six years. There, I guess, the first big, giant one I did was this huge mural for the ceiling of Columbine High School after the tragedy there. I realized, in doing that, that I could help in healing someone, to create a space where this tragedy had been and make it a place of comfort. It's a huge forest of Colorado aspens and evergreens that are seen in perspective just leading up to light, bright light. When it was installed, then I got to set up the lighting all shining up at the ceiling so the illusion is, you walk into this atrium they made out of the cafeteria and the library where all the students were killed. They removed the library floor and went up to a two-storey atrium and it looks like, when you come in, that there's no ceiling. It looks like you're just looking up forever at this really bright light. So, anyway, that was the first project and then I did something honoring the heroes of 9/11 and a big mural for the New Hanover County Public Library and then a whole room for the Wilmington Children's Museum, some big paintings, giant paintings for the aquarium up at Pine Middle Shores. Oh, and then, of course, the hugest one was building the tribute to the visionary artist, Minnie Evans, out of thousands of bottles and mortar mix and treated wood and wire and all this stuff. So now that they're all done, I kind of thought it would be helpful to process all the feelings from all this to write about. It's also of interest, maybe, for people to know about the Columbine thing especially. So my idea was to write about doing books, the kids' books, and then not all these projects. They certainly aren't all interesting but the Minnie Evans and the Columbine especially. So I set aside months and worked on this last year and I can't do it. It's too painful. It's just too-- still too raw. So I don't know. I don't want to recall all that bad stuff but it's part of the creation of it and the motivation to do it. I mean, the Minnie Evans thing, of course, wasn't a tragedy. That was a wonderful opportunity to honor this artist but the experience was pretty excruciating, physically as well as all the politics and the-- no money and all-- and wonderful things to come of it of all these but I just don't-- all I have written about is the kids' books and that's pretty whiny. (laughter)

Diesenhaus: I wonder either are there any parallels or is it completely different, the process you go through when you're creating a visual work of art or any of the things you've spoken about and the written process? Do you approach it differently or are there some things that are kind of universal for you?

Wright-Frierson: Well, I'm a visual person so that is my thing I do that I love the most, I guess, but writing is just another need to express yourself. It's as creative and so I don't know that I can do both at the same time very well. Maybe that's why the kids books were so hard for me but, yeah, I think it is very much the same creative process.

Diesenhaus: Do you see the goals of each being separate? Are you-- whatever your goal in creating a visual work of art, maybe is it different than what you're maybe trying to communicate through writing or through words?

Wright-Frierson: I'm not even sure how to answer that. I mean, it depends on the writing. Some of it is describing the artwork and then, I guess-- well, I guess all of it that I do is related to the artwork I do.

Diesenhaus: I want to come back to some of the other projects you mentioned. Maybe just start with the bottle chapel. Correct me if I'm wrong in asking this, but was it you were trying to create a three-dimensional representation of Minnie's work?

Wright-Frierson: Yeah.

Diesenhaus: Can you talk about that process of taking something or various things may have, that pre-existed, and your take on them, or represent them?

Wright-Frierson: Yeah. First of all, I didn't apply for this project until the very end because I'm a painter and I don't do things that are outdoor sculpture but then, at the last second, I thought, now, wait a minute, I've built this little bottle house in my backyard, right behind you, which maybe you want to take a video of before you leave for a minute, but that was just for fun and just in the backyard and in response to my son leaving for college and the daughter then turning into the teenager at the same time. I needed to be here all the time but I didn't-- she didn't want me right there with her so I did this little project. But, let's see, anyway, it did occur to me then that maybe this bottle house thing would be the perfect thing for the Minnie Adams tribute because it's kind of an outsider type of artwork, which hers certainly is considered. She's untrained. Hers just came from the heart and is one of a kind, with bright colors and it occurred to me some kind of stained glass would be a wonderful, light-filled way to portray her work. Then, of course, this is outdoors and right in hurricane alley so that would never hold up. So the bottle turned out to be, so far, sturdy enough to survive all these hurricanes and tornadoes we've had and a way to use her symmetrical designs. I was so inspired by her work, her images, the eyes, the butterflies, the trees, the angels, all of her favorite images, all combined with the floral motifs that you actually see in the garden where we both work. So that turned out to just be the perfect thing, I thought, to do this and I won the commission, of course, because I decided I would pick six other artists to do this, all for the same price. So no matter what I had talked about doing, I think I would have gotten it because they could get seven for the price of one. They said they had $10,000 for this project, which, in fact, they didn't even have that much and split up seven ways, it was just a joke. We all lost money. We did later get a little bit of support from the North Carolina Arts Council and some individuals and some groups around and that was so appreciated and lots of volunteer help so that was just-- that kept us going. Yeah, it was sort of nuts to include six other people except that they were all artists I love and admire and we all have been influenced by Minnie Evans' work here.

Diesenhaus: Again, I don't want to get into specifics, or specific matter, but the struggles you talked about with the book side, was there anything-- it sounds like there was but from the application or proposal to the end and how feedback and people's opinions about what you were doing, were there issues like that, shifting your work in a way or responding?

Wright-Frierson: Well, they-- I did not get a whole lot of guidance and all of about how to do it. Nobody knew how to do it and so I just did it. So, in a way, that was good. I can just do whatever I want. I didn't have to submit any designs, really. I mean, we did have to have all kinds of environmental impact studies and it took forever-- it took a year to actually get through all that process and do it. I was terrified it would be considered a house and it, of course, wouldn't meet any kind of code but I got away with it. Let's see, I didn't have too many hurdles in that way. I can be pretty creative and I let my other artists be creative. I just would maybe make a little bit of a suggestion to them about, you know, roughly what I had in mind and then I knew that they all worked with the same passion that Minnie Evans did. We all have this need to be original and to do our work no matter what. I really trusted them and they just came through wonderfully. I love all of their contributions to this. The struggles-- so they were not people telling me what to do. It was just the elements of working outside almost all day almost every day for a year. Mixing cement, packing it all in there one bottle at a time. I never could get faster than six bottle an hour and there are thousands. (laughs) I didn't count them ever. It was just easy, at the end of the day, to see what was wet cement and six per hour was it. You can't stack too many anyway because it'll be give from the weight so that was really difficult. Then all this political stuff. The director was supposed to apply for grants for us and he didn't. He left in the middle of the process. There were just all kinds of things like that that made it harder than it even should have been.

Diesenhaus: With some of the other larger works that you mentioned, the Columbine, the 9/11 murals, were the elements of fitting within institution's goals what the institution might have been...

Wright-Frierson: Oh, absolutely, yeah.

Diesenhaus: ...different, whereas you just had what sounds a lot like technical issues with the bottle chapel. Were there aesthetic issues that emerged with the other projects?

Wright-Frierson: Oh, absolutely. Technical, yeah. I had to work with the architect at Columbine and he was doing a ceiling, which, what was it, 65 by 85 feet, I believe, and he put what he called clouds on a ceiling. They were panels that are suspended from the ceiling. Beautiful, undulating shapes. They're all, gosh, there are 40 of them, I think, and they were to baffle the sound in this cafeteria space. So I had to work with his blueprints to fit my design on these clouds. It was like a big jigsaw puzzle and it didn't help that he kept having to change them all the time. "Oh, we have to put a sprinkler head in here," "Oh, we've got to do ductwork" and so they kept changing, which would affect the perspective so I had to keep changing. It was hard. My husband and my son had to do the math on it. We had to take it to the university and spread out the panels and then go way up above and look down to try to get the perspective on it that-- because I did it here, not there, to get that perspective that then you would see when you look up. My daughter helped quite a bit with painting it. She was right there in the summer. She was only 15 and she really-- this project, it was really important to her so it was a nice thing to do together.

Diesenhaus: Can you talk about doing work whose function is to memorialize something or respond to tragedies and how that might affect your approach or your vision for the works?

Wright-Frierson: Yeah. It really-- it was heartbreaking to do, very painful. I never questioned doing them, never. I never thought, "Why am I doing this?" It was an honor to do be able to do them but, yeah, it was just so emotionally and physically difficult to do those, all of these. I don't want to do that any more, you know? I don't want to listen out for tragedies and say, "Oh, here's another chance to go do a mural." I mean, I gave the one to Columbine. It took-- well, a year to plan it and then I only had a month and a half to paint the whole thing. The canvas was 50 yards. So, no, I don't want to do that any more. I can't say that I would never do it but I would-- I love the idea of, you know, the bottle house as a tribute to someone, not a tragedy. But, I mean, I like the chance to do something healing.

Diesenhaus: I wonder too, took, for the works you've done which are in closer proximity to you, does that give you a feeling of interacting closely with your community? Is it different for works that are geographically farther away and to places maybe you may not be as familiar with?

Wright-Frierson: Mm-hmm, yeah.

Diesenhaus: How do you kind of come to know those places to make the work feel like it fits?

Wright-Frierson: Yeah. Well, like, for the books and Columbine and all, I went there and spent a lot of time, you know, taking pictures, studying the Aspen trees and all that and walking in the rain forest and I had lived in the Arizona Desert for six years and really, not that I knew all I needed to know, I certainly did the research, but I have lived out there long enough to have a lot of stories and to have seen so many of the things that live out there. But it's nice for me to do local things, too. It's so much easier, for one thing, to live at home and do these. I really like just being part of the community and doing things for my home.

Diesenhaus: I'd like to talk about education. It sounds like it might be related to what you just said. You mentioned you got your B.F.A. at UNC Greensboro and you've completed substantial studies at other places. I guess I just wonder your thoughts about how the arts, whether it's visual art or writing, you know, how can they be taught or the question of can they be taught? How does instruction play into...

Wright-Frierson: Oh, I do think that you do need to teach. I mean, I say that and yet, Minnie Evans did this wonderful body of work without being taught anything but the teaching I've had has been so important to me. And then you can depart from that, once you have a real foundation of techniques and history. I just think it's so important, if you're a writer, to read so much and to have somebody guide you in doing your writing and make you as good as you possibly can before you're out on your own. Same with artwork but then it is-- you're on your own after that. It's a very isolating difficult thing to do because you're alone, you have no feedback, you have no teacher saying, "Okay, now that you did this, why don't you try this?" You just have to set up your own problems and figure out what you want to do and need to do and so it's tempting to go back to school to brush up, to learn some new ideas and inspiration and to get some feedback but I will not go back to school and I've taught a lot over the years. I think that that's something I'm not going to do any more.

Diesenhaus: Is there a reason for that?

Wright-Frierson: I feel like I've done a lot of that and it's offered me some wonderful opportunities to travel and get my way paid to Italy and all these wonderful places but it takes so much energy and time. When I'm there in front of some Tuscan landscape working with this whole class of beginners or something to show them how to paint, I mean, I care about it so much but I would love to be just sitting there doing my own work. So, you know, as you get older, you just-- you know, you do want to narrow your focus a little bit. I don't have to do all this stuff all over the place any more. I think I just maybe have taught enough and just want to kind of do my own projects and painting and maybe writing again.

Diesenhaus: Another question about balance, it sounds like that's exactly what you're talking about, you know, between your work and other obligations and I wonder if you could just maybe talk a bit more about how you do that and especially in terms of family. You've talked a lot about that and I know that your children are moving more to the adult stage.

Wright-Frierson: Yeah, they are.

Diesenhaus: Has that shifted your balance, changed it?

Wright-Frierson: It's really completely changed it, yeah. Balance is the key to life, I think. That's what it's all about is to balance maybe your obligations with your joys and needs and that changes constantly. I mean, of course, as a grown up, with my kids away, you still have things coming up all the time. My children always every minute of their lives came first to me and I would never do it any other way. I'm so glad that I did, now that they're gone. They're just the most important things in the world to me and I'm so happy with how they are turning out. They're wonderful people, artistic and creative and brilliant. (laughs) So I loved that time I spent with them and yet it was so frustrating for me, too, to not have a balance with my work. I felt I have two kids, I felt like I had a third child screaming for attention that I just had to put on the back burner. So I did nothing but paint and parent for years and years and years. Nothing else. I parent and then, if I had an hour or two, like, when the kids were in preschool, I'd come tearing home and paint the entire time and-- I mean, I always talked to friends on the phone but I never had any time to meet with them or be around any adults or have any exercise. So that was not real healthy. We couldn't afford babysitters much. My husband, I thought, would kick in and do it half time but he was working so hard so that didn't happen. He did as much as he could and adores the kids, too, but it was my responsibility mainly. I was the real mom and the one who took them to the doctors and just spent pretty much all day every day with them. I loved that but, looking back, it was a-- it's hard, it's hard to get that balance. Now that they're gone and on their own more, I see them whenever I can but I have these days where, I mean, I can go have lunch with a friend as well as painting and doing all the basic household things and travel more with my husband and it's easier. It's so much easier. And, like I said, I'm glad I did it the way I did but it's a real struggle. I can understand how there have not been any more women artists in the world than there have been. I mean, there's certainly more than we know about because so many of them were just written out of art history books but still compared to the men artists, there's just not nearly as many and I still have so few role models who are wonderful artists and mothers. There are not many.

Diesenhaus: I guess I wonder, too, and this has come up with other folks as well, given that you talked about rushing home and using the time, maximizing the time, now that the time has shifted as you've described, are you the same kind of habits? Are you able to kind of just sit down and get right to something or has there been any changes in that, given that you now have larger expanses of time.

Wright-Frierson: I'm still pretty compulsive about doing it. I still am able to ignore the dirty dishes and the million things I should do in the house and just come out here and do it. I just have always been like that. If I have the energy, I mean, obviously, if you look around this studio, it's a disorganized mess. Some day I'll clean it up and get it organized but, when I have time to do-- and the energy and all and I feel inspired to do a project, which is, like, every day, (laughs) I can do that and ignore other stuff unless it's something I have to do. Friends are hugely important to me. My women friends have saved my neck over the years and so I spend time with them. They help me and I help them so that's been wonderful and it's nice to have more time for them now. So, yeah, I now have the luxury of relaxing a little bit more. I can walk the dog and just, you know, take time out and do something besides just painting and, you know, being a mom and all. It's nice to have a little bit more energy and more sleep.

Diesenhaus: If you're in a social situation where you're meeting new people who may not know you and ask you what you do, I wonder how you answer? Would you have answered differently at different points in your life?

Wright-Frierson: I've always said I'm an artist. When I was a mom, that's first. (laughs) And I, you know, that just was so I always-- I'm sure I always said my most important job was being a mom whenever I talked to children or anything in schools because it was. I've always said an artist. I never go into the kids' books much or other things I do or details, you know, unless somebody's interested and wants to know more about what I do.

Diesenhaus: Being on your own, not having an institution or place of work, feedback, one of the things I've heard, especially from faculty people, is that they often say I'm a professor. They may say writing but they sort of foreground the institution.

Wright-Frierson: That's the immediate everyday obligation.

Diesenhaus: Yeah.

Wright-Frierson: So writing, it's hard when you have to make a living and writing and art or music are not very appreciated in this society. So, yeah, you can't do it all but work-- your work to make money and your work from the heart are, you know, you're always trying to find that balance to do both.

Diesenhaus: I ask for advice for aspiring artists or aspiring writers, or the combination you've done, things you think are helpful, that might be older or younger?

Wright-Frierson: Well, that's good to do for anybody who might be hearing this, I guess, and needed advice. I would say get as much training as you can. Always have friends to give you feedback since you'll not be in school any more, friends you can trust. It's nice to have somebody in your life who loves your work and will be honest and that you respect enough that they can criticize you and you might hate it for a minute but you know they're right. You don't get too many of those. I mean, that's a very valuable thing for anybody and maybe in my life there are, like, three people who know about my work and I can just, you know, I value their advice and also have a mentor, have friends. Get your training. And then it just takes an incredible amount of discipline, an every day kind of discipline. There's so many other things you'd rather be doing and being an artist and a writer doesn't mean that you just love every minute of it and, oh, I want to go paint. It's torture a lot of the time. You would rather do anything than go face the music alone in the studio and figure out what in the world you are going to do next. You're constantly plagued with doubts and thinking my best work is behind me. Why should I even continue? You have to have faith in yourself and have people who will be supportive and encouraging to you. And so being disciplined is 99% of it and try to be a little easy on yourself, be patient. Don't expect to be famous immediately. Try to not care about being famous because that probably isn't going to happen and you just do it because you have to and you just stick with it, persevere, that's how I've gotten anything, I guess, that I've gotten is hang in there. Well, good luck with your career as a writer. I hope you enjoy your training and have success with your work.

Diesenhaus: Thank you. Thank you for your time.

Wright-Frierson: Thank you. I enjoyed it.

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