"Gloria Garret, also known at the Mother of Make-Up Art, is a self-taught artist who has been drawing and making jewelry all her life. We first met at the 2010 SoWeBo Arts Festival in Southwest Baltimore, when I was selling the Jewelry Project products. Gloria’s energy is truly contagious. It was a real privilege to interview her, and I am so happy to be able to share that."
Do you want to start introducing yourself?
Hello everyone, my name is Gloria Garret. I’m the mother of makeup art. When I say I’m the mother of makeup art that means I paint beautiful pictures with makeup: lipstick, eye shadow, eyebrow pencil, and I use other household items like ink pens and white out and scissors and rocks and markers, and I draw people doing everyday things. One of my favorite pictures is one I painted of children playing in the playground. Got one of grandmother cooking cookies; I have one of my daughter helping me roll dough to make cupcakes. So I do things that people can enjoy looking at- people doing happy things.
Did you make the jewelry you have on?
Yes. Another thing I’m really passionate about. I’m a recycle artist- that means I take everyday things and make things out of them. The necklace that I have on- can you guess what it’s made of? Yes- it’s made of soda tabs. My earrings, ok? My beautiful earrings. I had a girlfriend who made these; you know what she made these from? Soda cans. Then these are recycled beads. I also make beautiful dolls from bottles, from toilet paper rolls, and I also make earrings from marbles. So I do a lot of things.
What is it that you like about those materials?
Two things: First of all, all the materials I use are recycled. Means that people give them to me instead of throwing them in the trashcan. They give them to me and I make beautiful things out of them. I don’t melt them down, ok? I don’t hoard them. They give them to me and God gave me a special talent, where I can beautify them and they can beautify his world also.
So how did you get started as an artist?
That goes back a while. When I was five years old, my mother used to buy coloring books for my siblings and I. And she would buy me plain paper. And I could look at the coloring book and draw the pictures without tracing, so I didn’t have to share.
Also when I was eight years old I was taught to write poetry. And that was really nice. I performed for my family and they gave me a quarter because I would come up with songs and dances. And I do that now- I am also a performer. But when I really started making things was, I guess I was in my 20’s when I got my poetry copyrighted and I started selling my poetry. That was really special to me. And then I was about 25 years old, I got my hair cut short, I stopped getting perms, and I needed earrings to accent it. So I went to the craft store and I figured out how to make earrings. Then once I made the earrings I said, I want a necklace and bracelet to match. So people came to me and said, “That is really nice.” So they would ask, “Can you make me something?” and I said yes.
Then after that, I wanted to do something with my poetry and children’s books. So I called my mother and I said, “You know what, I want to do children’s books, but I am going to have to hire an illustrator.” And she said, “What you mean you have to hire an illustrator? You’ve been drawing since you were 5 years old. Pick up a pencil and paper and start drawing!” I forgot that I had drawn as a child! So I started drawing and now I have over 100 children books, done in ink pen, black and white.
Five years ago, someone died in my family, and I said, “God, please help me bring beauty back in my life.” Then my mother called and said, “Gloria I have some makeup for you.” And I went picked up the makeup and I said to myself, before I picked it up, “Wait a minute: you paint your eyes with eye shadow, you paint your lips with lipstick, you paint your cheeks with rouge, maybe I can paint a picture with it.”
I take every September off. Like I said I am a performer, I teach line dance, I do history shows, I do craft shows for senior citizens. But every year in September I take off because it gives me a chance to create something new. So that year I took the whole month of September off, and I figured out how to paint with makeup. People ask me what’s the secret, what’s the secret? You know I can’ tell them the secret! [laughs]
That first year I know I painted about 2 or 300 pictures and I just loved it. Loved it. And I had these pictures and I started showing everybody these pictures. Then I went to the office store and I reproduced them and I laminated them. And people started asking me, do you sell them? I said of course! They said how much? And I didn’t know how much to sell them [the prints] for. So I did it for donation. Give me a donation. And I was surprised what kind of donation I got.
So someone told me, go to the American Visionary Art Museum. Go there, call them! Gave me a name, Rebecca Hoffberger, and I called up and she wasn’t there of course so I left a message. The next day, Ted from Sideshow (that’s the gift shop there) called me up, said Rebecca asked me to call you. And this was in November 2005, I had started painting in September 2005. And I brought them down to him. I had prints then, because I had the originals but wasn’t selling them yet. He bought the prints. The he asked me, do you have the originals? I said sure. He said bring the originals down. Then I brought the originals the next day and he’s been buying them ever since.
And I sell my stuff at farmer’s markets, at festivals, at fairs. But I dress the part too. So people come up to me and say did you make your earrings, did you make this? And they come up and then I tell them I’m an artist. Then they say what’s your medium? And I say make-up. So then they will give me a donation for it. And then I know how to price it because I know what people want to give a donation for!
I had a show at Creative Alliance in 2006, and I they sold my originals, and they helped me price them, so I knew how to price the originals. I have a safe that I keep the originals in- but I also sell copies, my husband takes pictures of the originals, 4x6, and we frame them, because I want my artwork to be affordable for everybody. It’s beautiful artwork, the colors are bright, bold and full of energy. I’m an impressionist, I’m not a realist, so you really have to feel this artwork. And I know when a picture is finished because I feel it. It takes a long time, Sometimes it takes 10 or 12 hours, sometimes days or weeks. But when I get finished I have a beautiful picture for the world to see.
You know what’s so nice about it? People donate the things I need! It takes me ten tubes of lipstick to paint a picture. And women from all over donate just bags and bags of it. I have gotten makeup from Pennsylvania. I met a girl in 1997, she contacted me in 1999 and said I haven’t forgotten you, and I am mailing you the makeup. I have women who take tubes of lipstick from their pocketbook they say here you go Gloria. They call up and say, “I’m collecting from my church.” And it’s really touching.
One thing I am trying to figure out is how people get to be an artist for a living, you know, that’s their job? Part of it is that you are really resourceful, but how have you gotten to be an artist as a living? Have you always had other jobs at the same time?
Oh yes, yes. I’m working now! [laughs] I work for Baltimore City Parks and Recreation now. But I teach arts and crafts there, OK? So I come up with these ideas and then I teach them. I’m an exercise teacher, I love to dance, so I teach dance. I love history so I teach history. What’s so special is I work with my husband on these things too. So he’s a musician, he’s a DJ. He plays the records and we put music in with our programs. And I think that’s what makes it so wonderful too, because I can work with my husband, and I can make people smile or laugh.
And the main thing is you have to get out there and you have DO it. And you can’t be afraid. If God gave you a talent, you have to get out there and just share it!
Was there a moment when you decided to just be an artist? Like you might have had another job at the time?
Yes. For 21 years I had worked for the government, Department of Defense. And the whole time I worked there. See the whole time I had the job I was selling my poetry, I was putting on poetry recitals. They used to call me the poetry lady because I caught the bus and I was selling my poetry on the bus. And when I was 18 I always said, by the time I’m 40, I’m going to quit my job and I’m going to sell my poetry, I’m going to be a performer, because I tell short stories too. And then all of a sudden, I said, I want to do this full time. I can do it. So thirteen years ago I quit my job and I’ve been doing it ever since.
What made you feel like you could do it at that point?
My husband, he retired from his job and he was getting his retirement. And he said, “OK Gloria, you know, we can pay the bills, and you do what you want to do.” And that’s when I quit my job and I’ve been making a living at it. It’s been fun and I’ve been having a good time.
It’s almost like another life…
It’s a whole different life than what I was doing for the first 21 years of my life. So I do this full time and it’s just wonderful. And I love it.
What are some things you’ve learned along the way about how you can really market yourself? Because you’re really good at it.
Enthusiasm. You have to be enthusiastic about yourself and what you do for anyone else to. You have to look the part, you have to be the part. You can’t just walk the walk, you have the talk the talk. You have to look it! You’ve got to look like, yes, I can come up to her, I can approach her, yes I want to do business with her, yes I believe that she is a great artist and she can bring beauty not just to my world but to God’s world, too. So I want to support her. And they get that from my look! And you always, if you’re an artist, have to look the part.
And I’m a self taught artist. You know what that means? It means that I never went to art school, that God gave me this talent. And I believe that God gave me this talent to share with the world. So you have to be out there. You have to be alive, enthusiastic, you have to say “World here I am and I got the best product out there, I’m the greatest artist THERE.” And that’s what you have to believe for them to believe it. And I believe it.
The great artists, they’re not dead! There’s a lot of great artists that are still alive. And the artists have to let people know that, because people have been programmed to believe that all the great art was painted 200, 300 years ago! That is not the case. So the artists of today have to go out and shout that, and say, this is not the case, I have beautiful artwork.
And I think what you do that’s really great is that you are really good at marketing yourself to people who maybe can’t afford expensive paintings, but also good at getting involved with museums and galleries. Are the ways that you talk to different people different or always the same?
You gotta know your clientele. I have something for everyone. That means you gotta have something from five or ten dollars, you understand what I’m saying? And a lot of people, you have to realize, gonna want originals. So you have to always have some originals with you at all times. I learned that. Because I was at Artscape- no Bookfair- and it was a lady from the Young and Restless, she came over to me, and I didn’t have any originals with me. She said, “I don’t want to see anything but originals,” and I didn’t have any. So I gave her my card, but still…
You’ve gotta have something for everybody. Some people just want originals and they willing to pay the price. But some people want to be able to just look at a picture to lift their spirits. And you want them to be able to afford that. That’s why my husband does the prints small, they were bigger at first. He said, “No, I want to do something smaller because I want it to be affordable. Like art for donation.” Most people gave me five dollars for the donation. It just made them feel good. So I always have something for five and I always have my originals too. [laughs]
Do you consider your husband your business partner?
Oh yeah, he’s my business partner, my husband, and we just do everything together. Because I knew I couldn’t do it without him. You know, he said, “Gloria, let’s go for your dream.” And anyone who can say that to you, let’s go for your dream, that’s somebody who’s special.
Do you think people can do it alone?
You know, being alone to me just not fun [laughs]. I’m not sure you have to have a husband per say, but I think if you have good friends and someone can support you, , that’s very important. Then if you have the lord in your life. That’s what this is about, it’s about stepping out on faith! And I just believe that if you have…It could be a mother, a sister, it could be a brother, but somebody to tell you, “I believe in you, you can do this.”
Maybe your husband should be here for this interview! I did notice that he was always with you at the craft fairs.
Giving you a hand.
It’s not as much fun alone at all. It’s really something special to have someone do it with them. Some people have their children, you just have to have somebody in your corner. It can get, I always say it’s fun but challenging. But you got to take the fun part and run with it. You hold onto that good and you run with it.
And you still enjoy doing it?
I love it, that’s what it’s about.
Do you ever start to feel [negative], when you have to manage the business stuff?
The management part of it- you have to deal with paying taxes. And the retail, so I have to pay retail tax every 3 months, and you just have to do it. You have to fill out schedule c for the business. You just have to do it. My thing is, it’s not my favorite thing t do, but if I don’t do it, you can’t do what you love. Like this year, I’m going to pay someone to do it [laughs].
Did you ever take any classes about taxes for artists?
No classes! I am not one for school. I’m older, now, and what I had to do was, figure out, I knew from my other businesses (from selling my poetry) that you have to do these things, because I always had a business, and I always did them because I didn’t want to pay anyone to do it. This year I am breaking down.
Because you’re doing more business?
I have to tell you the truth- I like to be on time with things and my taxes have been late. So this year ima get someone to do it on time. Because that takes away the good feeling a bit! [laughs]
So some of the business stuff drags on you. But you do a lot of business in terms of networking and making contacts, would you say you enjoy that?
I enjoy meeting people, I love meeting people- that’s the best part. Because people just fascinating. You hear about the bad in the world and you hear about the good. There is so much good that people are doing, there is so much talent out there. If you just sitting behind a TV, you won’t know about it because they not going to tell you. And then you see it. You have to go outside, feel the healing power in the trees, the beautiful people saying hello and hi, then your car break down and they give you a jump. And the people I meet in the art world, they are so wonderful.
So, and you got into the Visionary.
I just called them up. They’ve been buying my work for five years on a monthly basis. Oh, I am having a show at the AVAM, they are giving me a show! They are. I don’t know when, sometime next year. I’m really excited about that, because they the number one museum. I am just really proud of that.
And they promote outsider artists, or visionary artists, and that’s what I am. That means that I come up with new things, and I haven’t had any training. All this is from the Lord. I want to say thank you Lord and thank you world.
The visionary, was that the first big..
Creative Alliance was the first show. I got into that.
How did you get that show?
That’s another good story! I met this girl named Ashley. You know I perform for Parks and Rec, for senior homes. It was a senior home, she was there through MICA, she was there teaching art. I was doing a craft project, and I told her what I do. She said, “Gloria you know what, I work at Creative Alliance part time, I have to tell them about you.” So, I guess about two months later she calls me, and she said, “Gloria, Jed is going to be calling you!” He’s the program coordinator. Sure enough, he calls and says, “Gloria we want to give you a show!”
That was 2006, that was my first show. It was called Junteenth. Juneteenth is when the slaves in Texas didn’t find out until 1865 they were free. Abraham Lincoln freed them in 1863, and they didn’t find out because someone didn’t tell them. So I did that in artwork, the story of Juneteenth. It was really good. I still have some of those works. Yea, some are on my website.
What are some other markers of your success?
Two things- Waverly Farmers Market. I was up there, people around there were wonderful. It was great. I did it once a week. From that, I sold three or four originals, I know I sold hundreds of prints, I sold a lot of my other creations. So it was wonderful. I’m still benefiting from being up there. I met these people who buy my work. And I do the Charles Village Festival too.
How did you get this show?
Oh yes, let me tell you how my artwork got to be at Maxie’s Pizza Bar and Grill. I guess it was maybe about four weeks ago, I was next door and I came in here to wait for my husband and I got me a soda, and someone came up and said, “I sell coffee, would you like to taste my coffee?” So I said sure and I listened to his spiel. And I said, “Well, can you listen to what I do?” He said sure. So I pulled my book out. He said, let me introduce you to chef Mike. So he [Mike] said, “It’s really nice, give me a card, when the owner comes in I’ll tell him about you.”
I thought that would be two or three days later- it was two minutes! So I meet Luigi, he says fine, he says, you paint big? I said mhm! [laughs]. He said you have frames? I said yes. So let me tell you what happened. He says when can you put the pictures up? I said next week.
Now, my girlfriend has just given me- she moving to VA- she has just given me these great big frames, I didn’t know what to do with them, but I took them. And I had big canvas home already. So you know what I did next? I started painting on big canvas!! And my husband framed them. And there are seven or eight here, they are wonderful. I am very proud because it’s the first time I painted big, they inspired me to paint big. I’m selling my artwork here, it’s for sale. So Maxie’s inspired me to paint big! I’m letting the whole world know.
So I think it’s a really good point, it’s all about taking advantage of the opportunity.
It really is. They didn’t have anything on their walls!
I create something every day, just a bracelet or necklace at least, but I don’t paint every day. I did a couple of new things recently, one is shadow art, like silhouettes. I just started that in July, that’s my new project. Then I just painted big. We are here at Maxies Bar and Pizza Grille and I got my artwork here. Everyone come down and look at it, 31st and Charles, Gloria Garret, mother of makeup art.
Gloria's artwork is currently on display at Maxie's Pizza Bar and Grille, 3003 North Charles St; and it is part of the American Visionary Art Museum's current exhibition, What Makes Us Smile?, which will be on view until September 2011.
Finally, check out this video of Gloria talking about enthusiasm: