Vonn Sumner

Constantly Learning and Refusing to Quit with Figurative Artist, Vonn Sumner


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What is it that keeps you going as an artist? Where do you find your “Can-do spirit?” Is it a constant struggle for you to stay motivated and energized in your work? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone! My guest is figurative artist Vonn Sumner. In our conversation, Vonn talks about growing up in Palo Alto, CA where he was exposed to a lot of art, specifically bay area figurative artists. Vonn also talks about his decision to study at UC Davis and his experiences there with the artist, Wayne Thiebaud. Further on in our conversation we talk about painting, the eternal gap between the artist’s vision and what comes out on the canvas, and much more!

Why it’s important to have a mindset of constantly learning.

As many eager art school graduates launch out into the choppy waters of navigating their new careers, the mindset often shifts from learning to creating. What has been your experience of the shift from formal education, if you went that route, to building your portfolio and marketing your work? My guest, figurative artist Vonn Sumner shared with me what his mindset was after leaving UC Davis. Vonn worked hard at continuing to cultivate a mode of constantly learning and questioning. He points to this attitude and mindset when we talked about his inspiration for painting. What can you learn from Vonn’s unique take? Make sure to view images of Vonn’s work located at the end of this post!

Wisdom learned from studying under Wayne Thiebaud.

Which individuals have been some of the important figures that impacted you in your career as an artist? Were they family members, mentors, instructors, or someone else? For figurative artist Vonn Sumner, it was his time studying under renowned artist Wayne Thiebaud at UC Davis. In our conversation, Vonn shared a few important gems of wisdom that he learned from Wayne. As hard as it can be to convey through words, Vonn said that Wayne taught him and his peers “How to see.” Vonn says that this is more than translating the world through art, it had a deeper component, it was about how to see painting and the world in a way that was rigorous and personal. I loved hearing all of Vonn’s stories and insights from studying under Wayne and I hope you do too.

Setbacks and challenges along the way.

What has your journey as an artist been like? Have you been through the mountain tops of success and down in valleys of despair? What have those experiences taught you? In my conversation with Vonn Sumner, he walked me through his early career and what it was like to find success and then make the decision to walk away when the market started to change. While Vonn’s move from sunny and artsy California to quiet Pennsylvania was difficult at the time, he now looks back at that episode as a period of growth and flourishing. It was really refreshing to hear Vonn’s take on this chapter in his life and I hope artists like you can connect with his journey.

You’ve got to make the decision to refuse to quit.

As many of you know, the life of an artist can be full of exciting highs and frustratingly long lows. What do you do to keep sight of the reason why continue to create? My guest, Vonn Sumner opened up about his own struggles and some important advice he received on this topic. When Vonn was working at UC Davis as a teaching assistant under Wayne Thiebaud, he approached him looking for advice about his career. In response, Wayne said that most artists quit when they are about 45 or 50 years old. From that experience, Vonn walked away with a determination to stay in the game and refuse to quit. How does Vonn’s take resonate with you?

Outline of This Episode

  • [1:00] I introduce my guest, Vonn Sumner.
  • [2:30] Von talks about early art influences.
  • [6:00] The gap between what you imagine and what you can create.
  • [12:00] Von talks about his inspiration for painting.
  • [16:30] The mindset of constantly learning.
  • [23:00] Takeaways from learning under Wayne Thiebaud.
  • [28:30] What did Vonn do after art school?
  • [38:30] How 9/11 impacted the art scene in New York.
  • [43:00] Setbacks and challenges along the way.
  • [55:00] Refusing to quit and pushing through.
  • [1:02:00] The struggle with art and business.

Other artists mentioned on this episode

Resources Mentioned on this episode

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