Below is the interview published in ShoutOut Colorado on December 27, 2022.
We had the good fortune of connecting with Maddie Stansell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Maddie, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I created Art unBlocks at the end of 2020. I had decided in early 2020 that I wanted to become a full-time artist. I started attending workshops, developed a website, and was painting every day. But there were days where I just looked at all my supplies, stared at a blank canvas, and felt so overwhelmed with possibilities. I also recognized that it had been ten years since studying art in college and I wanted to grow my skills, but felt, again, overwhelmed with what specifically I needed to work on. I also had a wonderful teacher named Angel Ramos who told me that creating daily and approaching it from a place of joy was the key to getting better and making great art. Thus, Art unBlocks was born! I chose 6 different mediums, 6 different subjects, 6 different design elements, and 6 different moods and put them on different dice. This allowed me 96 different combinations and essentially endless possibilities to ensure I was never looking at a blank canvas again. It also focused how I was practicing art and took the guess work out of what I was doing each day. I was specifically working on 1 of 6 subjects—landscapes, portraits, animals, still lifes, figures, and abstract act. I only had to use 1 of 6 different mediums—oils, acrylics, graphite, pastels, ink, or digital art. And with each roll, I was increasing my proficiency with 1 of 6 different design elements– movement, emphasis, scale, contrast, balance, and pattern. It was magic. And it took the fear and anxiety out of creating and provided me guard rails towards my ultimate goal.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
I know that general dice games are not new, dice games with prompts aren’t new, and art prompts aren’t new either, but despite searching high and low for art dice prompts, I couldn’t find one! I found an old (now defunct) company that made dice prompts many years ago with pictures on them (for example, draw an alien in a desert), but nothing that approached art from an educational standpoint with clear prompts for methods to get better at the intellectual part of composing/creating art. This game is such a revelation because although there are 96 different possible rolls, there are millions of possibilities. Say my friend and I roll the same prompt: A dreamy still life done in oils focusing on balance. We’re going to paint two completely different things! And if I painted a dreamy still life in oils focusing on a balanced composition every day for the rest of my life, I could never run out of ideas. I’d have thousands of different paintings. It’s also approachable for artists just starting out as well as professional artists who have been in the game for 40 years. For me, it has been a daily part of my art practice for the last year and the improvement I’ve seen in my art and my confidence to create has been night and day.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh! Denver is such a marvelous place to visit. When people come to town I typically make sure they see the Denver Art Museum. The whole team there does such an incredible job of curating amazing exhibitions. I could spend all day every day there and never get bored. For more art, we then head over to Meow Wolf to see more installation and interactive based pieces. I also love how Meow Wolf is connecting music and art, late night fun with art, and just making art more accessible. Then, depending on who is visiting we would either go hiking, do a food tour, go to any one of Denver’s gazillion sporting events, wander around downtown Littleton, and/or drink our way through town. The food and brewery spots around town are top notch—personal favorites include Potager, Mercantile, Mango Tree Coffee (Englewood), Postino, Green Russell, and Sunday Vinyl.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would be absolutely nowhere without the support and guidance from those ahead of me. When it comes to Art unBlocks, I have SEVERAL people to thank– including the amazing Cate Hartenstein who came up with the name, Astrid Sheil and Anne Scott-Putney who have been my biggest cheerleaders since it was just an idea, Chris Campbell who did the gorgeous box design, and last but not least my mentor– the inimitable Angel Ramos.
Finding Angel was a stroke of dumb luck. I was searching for online art programs in 2020 to help breathe life back into my soul and I stumbled across a platform/school called Pushing Colored Dirt (sadly no longer around!) I signed up for their landscape painting class taught by the master himself: Angel Ramos. I truly believe I’ll look back in 20 years and still believe with all my heart and soul that it was this class that changed everything for me.
Angel is soft spoken in a way that automatically brings your guard down. He can give you a direct and honest critique of your work and it never registers as personal or snippy. He is the first teacher I’ve had to immediately pin point my issue and give me simple solutions. My favorite Angelism is this: Draw every day. When he first said that I just rolled my eyes (sorry, Angel!) but then he followed it up with this—and this will stick with me FOREVER:
The reason artists need to draw every day is the same reason NBA players practice regularly and Olympic athletes spend their entire lives training. If the only time you painted was when you needed to create a masterpiece, it would likely be a colossal failure. Drawing and painting daily takes the pressure off and gets you (figuratively) “in shape” so that when it’s game time, you can approach the canvas confidently and at your best.
I had never in my life heard it explained that way and it stuck with me so much that it’s the reason I created Art unBlocks. I wanted to make it easy to create daily so I made dice to give me prompts. I even chose the dice colors from one of Angel’s paintings and he was lovely enough to do the featured artwork in each box.
All images are paintings done and photographed by me (Maddie Stansell) and done through Art unBlocks prompts.