My greatest inspiration comes from children. How they think, how they respond to material—I just think it’s so magical.
Nothing is organized and pristine in Benz Amataya Kuipers' studio loft in Chicago. On the floors, against every wall, in every corner, there are paint bottles with dried paint and half-screwed-on lids, paint brushes so worn that there are no bristles left, and half-completed canvases. There’s paint on the carpet, on the wall, on the furniture—and it looks just like what a painter’s studio should look like.
It’s the process of experimentation right before my eyes. Of perfection and imperfection living side by side in harmony. It’s success and failure displayed together in one room, on one canvas and it’s SO INSPIRING.
Benz was not always a visual artist. In fact, she didn’t discover her deep passion for art until she was 34 years old. Now she spends her days painting abstract art with her children and inspiring others to do the same. Here’s her story...
Mandy: I know you found your way into art later in life. How did that happen for you?
Benz: When I was growing up in Thailand, I was not the kid who drew. I was a bookworm. So I always thought I wanted to be a writer. I started out in marketing, but there are just too many meetings and I felt like I wasn’t able to make enough difference.
When my younger son was in preschool, he was really into painting so we would spend the afternoons together and he would teach me how to make art. That started me looking into why kids paint so freely and how they do it.
I had always had the urge to create, but it never seemed to work out. I’d taken an art class here and there, but I got hung up on learning the techniques instead of just creating. I felt like I couldn’t draw the way they wanted me to draw. I couldn’t paint the way they wanted me to paint. So I gave up.
Still the urge was there. And when I saw this creative play in my son, I knew what I’d been missing. I got some books and studied it myself, and then I found the Open Studio Project in Evanston, Illinois. They have a wonderful space and supplies for you to create, and you have 2+ hours to just make. They don’t judge or teach you. And it was so amazing. That’s how I was born as an artist at 34 years old.
M: That sounds really cool! Tell me more about the Open Studio.
B: I learned so much from them. I had never painted before I went there, but they are so welcoming. It’s kind of like you’re in a bubble. When you’re in the studio, you’re not supposed to comment on anyone else’s art, whether positive or negative. Instead, you’re encouraged to comment on the process, so you say something like “You worked so hard on this” instead of “That’s beautiful.”
In reality, especially out in the world, people will judge you so they counsel you to just tell yourself that you’re immune to their criticism. You can’t control what people think or say about your work, so you have to manage your own thoughts.
I used to try to change my art based on what other people liked about it or how people reacted on Instagram. But I don’t do that anymore. I appreciate what people have to say, but honestly it doesn’t affect me or change how I work at all. If they like it, I’m happy, but if they don’t, I’m going to do it anyway.
M: Sounds like the Open Studio and your kids really unlocked something for you.
B: Yes, exactly. My kids wanted to paint all the time. So I trained with the studio and I’d come home and train with my kids. Then in January 2016, I decided that I wanted to teach art. In order to do that, I needed to make lots of my own art first.
That’s when I started my Instagram account (@amatayastudio) to document this personal journey. I grew pretty quickly that year and I didn’t expect to. I didn’t make money off it at all, it was just my journal and a genuine connection with other people.
M: Do your kids still do art with you?
B: Yes, all the time. I can see as they are growing older that the desire to play is lessening and they are more critical of themselves and get frustrated more easily. When that happens, I just go off on my own and do my own painting. Usually they see that I’m having fun with it and then they want to join in too.
M: That’s a great idea. Have you done any art shows or anything?
B: At first I tried to be part of that world, but it’s difficult and it’s actually the opposite of why I do art. My first two years, I applied to a lot of shows and sent my art to magazines. But this year, I decided to screw it all and see what happens. If someone comes to me, that’s fine. But I’m no longer trying to to get into that world.
The art world has many great people and great artists, but it can also be a dangerous zone. I’ve known a few artists who stopped creating because they didn’t get selected by a certain show or because they didn’t receive the verification they needed. And that kills me. Just because the world hasn’t discovered a use for your art, it still has value.
My passion is to help more people create art.
M: Oh, I love that! What are your plans to make that happen?
B: Right now, I teach private classes by request. And I have a 10-year-old artist-in-residence who spends time in my studio once a month. I also just launched an online art class called The Art Playroom, where I try to replicate the experience I had with the Open Studio Project and bring it online. I know a lot of people who want to take classes with me, but they don’t live around here. And it’s really hard to teach art classes when you’re not meeting in person. This was a big project for me, and I’m really excited to see where it takes me this year!
M: How would you describe your classes?
B: It’s all about freedom and discovering the art that’s already inside you. People just need a tiny bit of structure and someone to hold their hand through the process. And that’s what I’m there for. There’s no judgment.
I create because I like the process. I like to be in that moment. It’s a very special feeling. I want my art to look good in my own eyes, but not necessarily “pretty.” I want to create art anyway I want without thinking. And I want others to experience that too.
M: Any lessons learned so far? Things you wish you’d known when you started your business?
B: Failure is really common. When I first put my paintings up for sale, I only sold one painting and I felt like I must be the worst artist in the world. But I talked to some other artist friends, and I found out it’s not just me. It happens to everyone. It’s ok to know that other people mess up too and it’s not always going to work. You just have to keep going.
So true! Thanks so much for sharing your story, Benz!
After the interview, I flip through her paintings to find artwork for the giveaway and I secretly covet the ones she’s told me are too dear to her heart to sell. They’re gorgeous, emotive and raw, and I can see why she doesn’t want to part with them. I wouldn’t. But lucky for you, everything Benz does is beautiful and I have an amazing piece for this week’s giveaway! Stay tuned to @therealfreelancelife on Instagram for details.
To follow Benz and see more of her art, check out: