Deep Expressions: An Interview with Michelle D. Ferrera

Deep Expressions: An Interview with Michelle D. Ferrera

“hazy grainy daze” by Michelle D. Ferrera – 24 x 24 x 1/4, Pencil on Wood Series: Simple Flavors

The art of Michelle D. Ferrera is a journey into emotion and self exploration. The wood she creates on is an extension of the natural beauty of her subjects. Her work has been displayed all around San Diego County and continues to gain accolades for its passion, grace and elegance.  I caught up with Michelle this week and was able to interview her via correspondence, between her many responsibilities.

Brian Baxter, Art Guide San Diego: Hi Michelle, thanks for taking the time for an interview. I imagine it is quite a challenge to work around art-making, child-chasing and all the other things that go between the two.

Michelle D. Ferrera: Haha fitting first question…I get this one a lot since having my lil Ava. I definitely don’t like to sugar coat things so yes, it is extremely challenging but ridiculously rewarding. I get to be with her, watch her grow, play with her, be a kid again myself, be inspired living through her new innocent eyes and see life for the first time, again.

The challenge is balancing the two lives…but an Artist is who I am and I don’t want to lose that, and more importantly, that’s what I want to show her. They go hand in hand. Being a mom inspires my art and being an artist balances me and reminds me of my identity when the responsibilities get overwhelming. It also helps that prepping and multitasking, I must say, are my best attributes! Far gone are the days waiting for inspiration or creating in the middle of the night for hours at a time. Now it’s making sure I have my art all around me right where I left off so that when my daughter goes in for her nap, it’s GO time! And that’s totally cool, I love it.

I’m thriving off the challenge of it all and feel so proud when I finish a piece.  I also can’t get over how many more ideas I have now since being pregnant. There’s just this different motivation and fuel to create and live for her, for my incredibly supportive sexy husband who I couldn’t do this without, for our three amigo family. I can’t help but feel extremely blessed and still can’t believe that I get to say I’m a Mom and full-time Artist!

AGSD: Sounds like you stay amazingly positive in a whirlwind of activity. Do you feel an even more emotional attachment in your work with the limited time you have?

MDF: Haha! These days, it’s easy to be negative or fall into a spiral of depression, and harder to stay positive. But keeping positive and supportive people around me helps, waking up everyday and knowing I’m alive, just looking at her (my daughter) makes me sigh and remember where I am and what I’m doing, and living in the best place in the continental US doesn’t hurt. When I feel anxious, living here in San Diego, it’s easy to just go outside, take a breath of fresh air, feel the breeze as I run and chase my girl, be near the water, hear the waves…

I feel an attachment to all my work no matter the time it was created, really, I mean it’s all so personal, even my first pieces…but even more the reason to let them go and free up some space in my head for the incoming of ideas! For me, once I create a piece, it’s ingrained in my head forever, not just the image, but the feeling that went with it. It’s not good for me to keep things bottled, I now know this is where my nightmares stem from, drawing for me is letting it out. No matter how many pieces I sell, it’s like new every time and completely surprises and humbles me to know that someone felt something, found themselves, felt, a connection of any sort to my work…just motivates me to continue to share.

“hold on my heart” by Michelle D. Ferrera – 24×24, Pencil on Wood

AGSD: As artists it is sometimes hard to see a piece leave our lives. I would think this would be especially true for you with the very personal nature of your work.

MDF: There is a handful. I do tend to keep those or if I show them, I just say it’s not for sale, but only a few. Honestly, it makes me so happy to see it go, especially when the collector/buyer shares a story, piece of themselves with me. Isn’t that the point of art, to share, to connect? I know it’s easy as artists to get in our head, be so alone in our thoughts while we work, but I think that’s why I get excited, clutzy and goofy when I’m at an art show. Those who know me and are reading this know how I am at shows…I spend enough time with tedious layer upon layer of pencil work so when I’m out and about it just feels so fresh!

AGSD: It is good to get out, for sure. So, tell us what you are working on now. What are you exploring?

MDF: Series wise, I’m continuing to “chronicle” the balance of motherhood and being an Artist, creating moments that just smack me in the face, while simultaneously working on a new series, “eden” which I’m creating more landscapes/scenery and animals which I don’t normally do and much larger scale nudes than I’ve been doing. There is much more mixed media that I’d like to add but might have to save that for my dream studio space. For now I’m also finding more confidence in my technical abilities.

I used to always use reference photos, have them near me while working. Now I’m finding myself using them to just create the basic sketch and then trusting my instinct on knowing lighting and how it hits the figure, difference in tones and shading and feeling such empowerment as I finish pieces faster…not that I’m rushing, just discovering different layering and cross hatching techniques along the way. It’s fun and exciting to have those aha moments!

“down to the wire” by Michelle D. Ferrera – 24 x 48 Pencil on Wood

AGSD: Do you feel that your confidence also leads you to more exploration?

MDF: Without a doubt. It’s that sense of accomplishment fueling the drive to try something new! Whether it’s technical or goal oriented. These little confidences give me thicker skin to go more out on a limb, take more risks! For example, rather than seeking calls for art, I’m now actually making phone calls or sending emails to gallery owners directly, taking more initiative, speaking more for me, for my art, for my future so I can continue to create.

AGSD: That seems to be working. We have seen your work in several galleries lately, like Sparks Gallery in the Downtown San Diego Gaslamp District and Adelman Fine Art in Little Italy. Where else are you showing? I know you have a solo exhibit coming up soon.

MDF: Yes, I love having work spread out in different areas, right now the Gaslamp and Little Italy! I also have artwork in the Gift Shop at the Women’s Museum of California (Liberty Station) and just recently met with Irina Negulescu where I will be showing work alongside her and a handful of figurative artists for Erotica at Negulescu Fine Art in Barrio Logan on March 11th. And I have my solo exhibition, Chronicles, that will run from March 9th – May 4th at the Encinitas Civic Center Gallery at City Hall (505 S. Vulcan Avenue, Encinitas), with an Opening Reception on Friday, March 31st 6-8pm. To see where my work will be, I have listed upcoming exhibitions, shows and events on my website:

Art NEEDS to be seen. It’s what breaks down barriers and taboos, opens up conversations and dialogue and connects us through visual stimulation.

AGSD: That’s fantastic. People have a chance to check out your work in just about every part of town. What is your goal now after these shows? What is your “dream” show? Where would you most love to show your work, if you haven’t already?

MDF: I’d love to show everywhere, who wouldn’t? I don’t have any intentions of leaving San Diego but wouldn’t mind figure based galleries in LA, San Francisco and of course, NYC. I’d love to be able to physically invite all my NJ family and friends! They’ve been so supportive since I moved out here, in every way except to obviously fly out to a show, it’d be so rewarding to see their faces, show them what they’ve been supporting and just be silly all together. International exposure is the real “ultimate” goal, exhibits in Italy, Spain, Australia??

My other, hopefully in the next few years, goal, is to have a real studio space, one where I can really bust out some “bigger” more functional, building type ideas I’ve had for some time but never have the space. One day I’ll be able to add it to my check list! In the past I’ve curated a few small shows and really enjoyed the process of scouting artists, marketing, event coordinating.

A “dream” show would be to assemble all of my (late) father’s artwork into a cohesive exhibit deserving of his talent. He was an incredible, but modest artist. I’d give anything to pick his brain, talk art, draw together, map out goals together, or just stare at the San Diego skyline together….ahh to dream.

“Eden” by Michelle D. Ferrera – 11 1/4 x 13 1/4 Pencil, Watercolor Pencil and burning tool on Wood

AGSD: When did you discover that you were drawn to art?  It sounds like your father would have been an early influence.

MDF: Yes, it was early on…but not thought of as a career. Though sort of frowned upon, contrarily my sisters (3 older, I’m the youngest of four girls) and I were raised in such an open, playful, and creative household. My dad who had retinitis pigmentosa (a deterioration of the retina which leads to blindness) was a stay-at-home, Mr. Mom, when it wasn’t popular to be, dad who did our pigtails in the morning, painted murals in our grammar school hallways so we could see him from the classroom as he made faces and rallied all our friends up between classes, created the backgrounds to our school plays and wrote all the music (oh yeah, he was a musician too), coached our softball teams, was the leader of our make believe games, talked about our dreams under the life size mural he painted in our Belleville, NJ basement, and put us to bed making up his wacky version of Goldilocks & the Three Bears…so yeah you could say we were influenced creatively very early on!

Personally art was mostly an outlet. I filled journal upon journal since I can remember, wrote stories making my own books, writing novel size cards to family and friends. I loved drawing cartoons for a while but didn’t take art seriously until I tried every other major in college and realized that art is what I naturally and yearned to gravitate to. I just fought it too long and heard so much that I’d be another “struggling artist” so I stayed away and worked on the corporate side of creativity, as a Wedding Photography Studio Manager, Event Coordinator, Project Manager for a technology company…ugh. It wasn’t until I got laid off, had a bunch of personal blows and deaths in the family, that finally woke me up and made me shed everything I owned, weight I had gained in that spiral of depression, and drive out west in my truck named Bertha, where I decided to accept who I really am, an Artist, and tackle it head on as full time career, not really knowing what I was doing but loving the adventure of it all.

What’s really nice about artists in San Diego is not only are they inspiring but everyone is extremely approachable which makes it easy to collaborate or just openly discuss ideas.

AGSD: And by the time you made the journey west you were already well into developing your signature style…

MDF: The series I did right before moving out was my first stab really drawing the figure with pencil on wood. At the time I didn’t know or understand signature style, it was just an experiment, really. But I found myself completely enveloped in wanting to expand on self-portraiture, pencil tones, the figure, the wood itself and just what I was experiencing. I sold almost that entire series in my first exhibit experience at the Contemporary Art Fair 2010 at the Jacob Javits Center NYC, a month before taking off on my life changing trip. It was such a last minute thing to do. They had a sale on booth space, and I didn’t expect anything from it except experience. Boy, did I not only walk away with some gas money to get me across country, but met great artists that I’m still in touch with and loads of advice from experienced artists that was inspiring and motivating to start this journey!

AGSD: That sounds like an inspiring start! Do you find inspiration from artists you have met in San Diego?

MDF: Without a doubt! What’s really nice about artists in San Diego is not only are they inspiring but everyone is extremely approachable which makes it easy to collaborate or just openly discuss ideas. I don’t know about everyone else, and won’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve had nothing but positive experiences within the artists of the SD community. If they aren’t teaching me something new they are welcoming and sharing of their connections which is great. I mean, there is no competition, room for all of us to create. All our styles are so different that they complement one another! And no joke, everyone I met, we’re all on the same page as far as “lets pool our efforts together, so we all succeed!”

AGSD: Tell us about your “Art of…” book series.  I understand you have a new one on the way.

MDF: The “Art of…” series started because I wanted a way for people to see the whole picture, I needed to see it to help me heal, to again, get it out, release it to make room for more and hopefully help others heal themselves or in the least, make someone feel less alone. They are handwritten books, literally ripped from my journals. They are where my art stems from: late night ramblings, quotes, music lyrics, things people told me, nightmares, dreams, goals, how to’s, recipes, post it notes, sketches and of course photos of completed artwork.

The Art of the Dark, the first in the series, focuses on when I really started creating, when I was at my lowest spiral of depression, sleep the enemy as I struggled between insomnia or nightmare filled dreams. The art I was creating at the time wasn’t even remotely close to what I’m doing now. I was working on wood but creating collages of images with magazine cut outs, throwing paint, writing with marker…just releasing way too many demons. It was a bit chaotic but it was a part of the journey, that I felt compelled to not ignore.

The Art of Life is when I started taking care of myself, my art reflecting that, more celebratory nude self-portraiture, comfort in my own skin, when I first met my now husband, when I began creating the life I really wanted.

I think I just got to this point after writing in journals so long that I want to write to someone other than this inanimate object.

The newest, The Art of Moga is basically a 10-15 stretch routine that I created when I was struggling with panic attacks and anxiety. It’s a starting point. I don’t claim to be a yogi or trainer or anything of the sort, just your average joe, wanting to pass along this little creation of sorts that anyone can do that I continue to do daily which helps me balance my mental state, keeps me physically healthy and just a breath of fresh air in the lungs. Of course its self-published in my style, handwritten, includes an illustrated breakdown of the routine, along with some recipes (some given to me, some created by me, some right from Pinterest), references from my chiropractic step-father and massage therapist/musician sister, a playlist, and even a funny journal entry post my first Spartan Race! I will have copies at my upcoming solo exhibition!

The “Art of…” series is nothing new, really, art & writing at its most basic tool, therapy. I got through some of my hardest times keeping my bibles close by:  books by Sabrina Ward Harrison, Dan Eldon, Sark and Frida Kahlo’s published journals.  I think I just got to this point after writing in journals so long that I want to write to someone other than this inanimate object. Though I continue to fill up journals, it feels good to share more, talk about things we tend to keep bottled up. I just want to help like those authors/artists did and continue to do for me, in hopes to even make one person smile, feel good about themselves, take that one baby step into the following morning with fresh eyes, clear mind and open heart!

AGSD: Well, Michelle, thank you so much for spending the time to chat with us. Before we part are there any words of wisdom you have for those starting out on the path of a life of art?

MDF: Before I moved West, my sister Marianne gave me the most powerful and poignant gift. It was a photocopy of a letter from the Metropolitan Museum of Art rejecting Andy Warhol’s Art for the, like, hundredth time. Like his art or not, you know his name, you know his art. That never stopped him. My advice is the advice that was passed along to me. Like anything else in life, if you want to do something, just do it. Sounds like a Nike ad, but that’s the basic truth. No one is going to do it for you. Take the risk, make the effort and do the work. We are the only ones holding ourselves back, our own worst enemy.

But think of it this way, each rejection in the art world is a lesson, another layer of skin building tough armour to help us forge on and weave through another lesson, one more rejection, each creation at a time. There are so many rewards in putting your art out there…sometimes financially rewarding but mostly humbling and therapeutic as you connect with others on deeper levels, you meet like-minded people. It’s a selfless act to give a piece of your vulnerability, a thank you to the universe for its impact and inspiration whether positive or negative. Art NEEDS to be seen. It’s what breaks down barriers and taboos, opens up conversations and dialogue and connects us through visual stimulation. But, whether you decide to put your art out there or not, as artists you never stop creating, maybe for a phase, but overall we create because we don’t know how NOT to.

Brian Baxter, March 5, 2017

Contact Info:

Michelle D. Ferrera

Art Guide San Diego:

Brian Baxter:


Comments are closed.