Barb Black, Mixed Media Artist, Tells Her Story

In terms of art, I was a late bloomer. It’s a fact that if you had told me ten years ago that I would be making and selling art, I would have laughed, rolled my eyes, and said, “Yeah, right.” I was always clever and creative, but my dad was a gifted commercial artist and I had friends who were artists, so the intimidation to create art of my own was fairly overwhelming. I spent decades telling myself, “You can’t do that, you just aren’t capable.” Instead, I lost myself in music, having begun piano lessons when I was six years old. I’ve had a huge love of writing ever since I learned the alphabet. I learned to sew clothing and make quilts. I fell into a job as a florist almost right out of high school. Why I thought I wasn’t capable of more, well, I just don’t know. I guess if you tell yourself something long enough and often enough, you start to believe it.

In 2003 my mate, John (who since passed away in 2007), and I were living in an apartment complex. One of our neighbors was hosting a rubber stamp party - structured much like the Tupperware parties from days of yore. She invited me to come, but I was ambivalent. I told John, “I don’t need another hobby!” He encouraged me to go, insisting that it was the neighborly thing to do. So, I went. I returned three hours later with a fistful of cards that I’d made and a huge grin on my face. John shook his head and muttered, “What have I done…”

What he’d done was to open a door for me that had been shut for so long that I wasn’t even aware of its existence. It had been all but obliterated in a tangle of ivy-like stuff with which I’d filled my life, especially my creative life. I fell head over heels in love with the world of rubber stamping. I made cards for everyone I knew and for every occasion I could think of.

About a year after I began stamping, someone introduced me to the wonders of alcohol inks. I thought I was in love with the craft before, but nothing compared to the richness of the colors and the depth that could be achieved in using them to create unique backgrounds for my cards. I spent hours experimenting with them, combining colors and techniques to figure out what would work best. I’ve yet to tire of it. I sometimes spend an entire afternoon just making backgrounds, and more often than not, it’s the background that dictates what happens with the rest of the design.

A couple of years into stamping and friends were asking if they could buy cards from me. I was flattered and gladly gave them away for a pittance. My confidence in my ability was very slow-growing. It wasn’t until after John died of a short, but fierce battle with cancer, that I realized I needed art in my life. I needed to have that outlet as much as, if not more than, any other. I had to have a way to translate what I was feeling. I wrote a lot of it out, but I wanted a way to get it out without having to choose the right word or worry what someone might feel upon reading my words. Art is much more subjective and open to interpretation, and I needed that freedom. Making cards, although still an obsession, wasn’t enough to release what I’ve come to refer to as my soul gunk. I needed bigger. I needed more. 

I began doing mixed media collage work - slapping paint and bits of paper onto canvas, rubber stamping on it, maybe adding fiber or little bits and pieces of stuff. It worked. It allowed me to make a certain sense out of seeming chaos. It was just the translation my soul gunk needed.
 Then an astounding thing happened. Somebody I barely knew through social media asked if they could buy one of my pieces. My hands shook as I messaged my reply, quoting a ridiculously low price which I was sure they’d think was ridiculously high. She answered back with, “Are you kidding? That’s all? SOLD!” Then a couple of people asked me to design logos for them; a couple of others commissioned me to create pieces and paintings. 

At some point, about five years ago, I glanced up at the picture of my Dad that hangs on my studio wall. I found myself grinning as I whispered, “Guess what, Daddy? I’m an artist.” Then I said it a little louder, “I’m an artist!”

To see more of Barb's work, go to 

This is Week 12 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Barb's story today!