Inspired by the beauty and movement of nature, Randi Ford has made a career of her “flow” paintings.
Growing up in southern Michigan, Ford went to Grand Valley State University for college, where she discovered the majestic power of Lake Michigan. Inspiration struck, and she began working hard to capture the feeling of being outdoors with her semi-impressionistic landscapes.
Between visiting arts festivals and teaching at Grand Valley, Ford is now able to paint full-time, living the dream of every artist. She even creates custom pieces for clients looking for a specific image for their home or summer getaway.
We talked with Ford about how she connects to painting, music and people.
How did you get started on the path of being a full-time artist?
I started showing my work at Fulton Street Farmers Market in like 2013. People started being really attracted to my work, and then I started meeting new people, connecting with new people, and learning about different art markets. So I started showing my work at the fine art festivals along the lakeshore. I’ve been doing that for about eight years now.
Do you have a festival that really stands out to you?
I really like doing the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts festival. It’s a really big art festival that’s put together really well, and they have music and a lot of people come to that. And I do one in Saugatuck, it’s called the Saugatuck Waterfront Art Fair. That one’s nice. And then also I do the Charlevoix Waterfront Art Fair.
What’s your process like in the studio?
When I’m working in my studio, I like to listen to music. I’m really involved in the live music scene here in Grand Rapids. I really like going to The Intersection, and music and dance are a big part of my life. That’s incorporated into my work as well. I’m kind of creating a visual dance with my paintings that are filled with beauty and movement and life, just like nature is — very beautiful and peaceful. I’m giving a visual representation and a feeling in my work that’s based off of the colors and patterns in nature. Whatever the landscape, I’m painting the feeling that it brings when you’re there.
Which spots in nature really inspire you?
I’ve painted Lake Michigan a lot, but I’ve also turned toward a lot of forest scenes. I did an artist residency up in Porcupine Mountain State Park for a few weeks. That was really cool. The park there allows artists to donate a piece to them, and then you get to stay in this little cabin that’s kind of secluded on a river. Then Pictured Rocks is another beautiful place in Michigan that I like to paint. I’ve been traveling more throughout the years, taking a few trips out west, like Colorado, Arizona, Oregon and Washington.
Do you have your eye on anything out west in specific?
In Colorado, there’s an art fair there in Sedona. So after I make some work from those places, I want to continue to make connections with people throughout the country and throughout our state. That was important for my work, just making connections with people. When people come into my booth, they open up and tell me a bit about themselves, and I tell them about myself. That’s what it’s about, making these connections with people and bringing happiness and beauty into their lives.
What do you feel you’re trying to evoke in your own art?
I want the viewer to feel a sense of love, beauty, inspiration and happiness. So, a peace and calm sense. Basically what they would feel when they’re out in nature, I’m bringing into my work, that feeling that you get when you’re outside.
You have a unique style, the ‘flow’ painting. How did that develop for you?
It slowly developed over time. The more I painted, the more abstract I became. And I started on flow paintings because when I paint I get into that flow state of mind. You know that creative state of mind, where you’re really present in the moment, like really connected to your spirit or heart space. So when I’m painting, I get in that moment and flow space, and my paintings also have that visual flow to them. It just was natural for me to call it a flow painting.
What kind of music do you use to enter that space?
I like to listen to electronic dance music, but not super crazy intense. I really like CloZee. She’s an artist that comes through Grand Rapids at The Intersection often. That’s just really a lot of rhythmical, deep and beautiful melodies, and incorporates a lot of sounds from different genres of music or different cultures. So I like a lot of down-tempo, atmospheric, bass-y, beautiful music that you can get lost in. STS9 would be another band that I like. A few other musicians I like are Odesza, Sunsquabi and Griz.
Local artist eRoy would be someone to mention who is a part of the music scene I’m in. His stuff is really good! I am thinking to ask him to play at the art show I want to plan for either next spring or the year after.
Outside of music, who or what else would you say inspires and motivates you?
An art group that really influenced me when I first started to paint was the Group of Seven. They’re Canadian painters that painted just north of Michigan, actually. They were producing work at the same time that Vincent Van Gogh was, so they were also impressionist painters.
What advice would you give an artist starting out?
Instead of trying to copy other people’s art, just be true to yourself and create what you want to create. The best way to have your work bloom or grow is to just start showing your work wherever you’re able to have the opportunity to connect with others, because I know a lot of artists are kind of afraid to show their work or think that it might not be good to show their work. But we’re making art and it’s not just for us. It should be shared with other people, and you can make a lot of great connections with other people by just showing your work and sharing what you have to say.
That’s interesting, because we only have so many full-time artists in West Michigan. It seems like that willingness to put yourself out there is important.
Yeah, and I’ve just gone full-time within the last few years, but I’ve been actively showing my work since like 2012. I’ve definitely learned over time the most important thing if you want to be a full-time artist is to make connections with people and follow through, and just be honest too.
See Ford’s work at randifordart.com
Left: Randi Ford. Courtesy Photo Middle: Let's not think about age. Right: Pictured Rocks Edge. By Randi Ford