Smile Politely

Mastering new mediums with self-taught artist Selma Prado

Mixed media painting by Selma Prado. A front view bust of a black woman wearing a green strapless top and a colorful turban. The turban and necklace are actual materials placed on the canvas. The background is abstract brush strokes of light pink and blue.
©Selma Prado, Beleza Africana; photo by Serenity Stanton Orengo

This year’s Boneyard Arts Festival introduced me to a lot of fantastic artists from the Champaign-Urbana area. One of the highlights of my visit to the ReGroup Art Collective showing was the stunning large mixed media work Beleza Africana by Brazilian artist Selma Prado. Displayed right in the center of the back wall of the second floor of 119 E. University, I found my eyes wandering back to the piece constantly as I made my way around the room. I wanted to learn more about Prado’s work, so I recently corresponded with her about her creative process, favorite mediums, and how she ended up in Champaign-Urbana all way from Brazil.

Smile Politely: Tell me a little bit about yourself. You are originally from Brazil, right? How did you end up in the Midwest?

Selma Prado: I moved with my family from Brazil in 2015 following my husband’s assignment to an office in Illinois. Champaign was the best choice for us due to my son’s desire to study at the University of Illinois.

SP: I read that you are self-taught and started painting as a child — can you talk about the progression of your art making and your personal learning process? How would you characterize your practice?

Prado: My interest in painting started early, around five years old. My mother used to do handcraft work, painting on fabric and embroidery. I would play around her after school, reproducing cartoons with color pencils. A few years later, I was already able to follow my mother on watercolor work. At the age of fourteen, I started giving oil on canvas painting private classes to finance my consumption of paint and brushes. As I don’t have formal education in arts, there is no milestone showing that I’m ready. Every new piece is another tentative [attempt] to learn new techniques and improve my skills.    

Selma Prado stands in a home in front of a fire place and french doors holding a large painting of a warrior-type woman with her head bent back and hair flowing.
Selma Prado

SP: Can you walk us through your process when you are starting a new piece? Do you have a clear idea of how you want it to turn out before you begin, or is there a lot of experimentation or improvising along the way?

Prado: Day one of the execution of a piece gives me a lot of pleasure. This means that finally the research is over and the theme, media, size, colors, and everything is defined. Planning is hard, some pieces stay in draft format for months, a few never move ahead.

SP: Your piece at Boneyard Arts Festival, Beleza Africana, was one of my favorites from the festival — a truly stunning piece. Can you talk about the creation of that and how you incorporate the different medias? 

Prado: Sometimes, in the middle of the execution of a project, I feel the need to develop something else. Beleza Africana is an example. This piece came to my mind during the execution of an oil on canvas portrait. I wanted to see the impact of mixed medias: in this case, a real African necklace and turban.

a collection of three impressionistic paintings by Selma Prado, each featuring houses along a street.
Selma Prado

SP: How was the experience at Boneyard Arts Festival for you this year? Have you participated at Boneyard in the past?

Prado: It was my second experience with the festival. This year, the venue had space for several artists which made the event way more interesting for the visitors and a celebration for the artists. I will always recommend the festival for young artists and do my best to support the execution of the next events.

SP: What are you currently working on?

Prado: Currently, I’m dedicated to an oil painting of a waterfall named Foz do Iguaçu. It is considerably large, 30” x 48”. It will take a couple of months.

SP: What media do you prefer to work with? Is there a medium that you find frustrating?

Prado: Watercolor brings immediate satisfaction. Quick and beautiful. Painting glass was frustrating in the beginning. It took me quite some time to get the first results.

SP: What have been the most rewarding and most challenging projects you’ve completed to date?

Prado: Most rewarding are always portraits. It is a combination of the technical challenges that need to be overcome during the execution with the emotional reaction of the owners when they see the results. Even pet commissioning can be funny. A dog of a friend was intrigued, barking at its own image for quite some time.  

A collection of five abstract paintings by Selma Prado
Selma Prado

SP: If someone wants to check out your work for the first time, do you have something in particular you recommend?

Prado: As I was focused on different themes over the years, a quick overview of my portfolio might bring something interesting.

A painting a mother panda with her two babies in a forest on green grass.
Selma Prado

SP: What’s next for you? 

Prado: I have some aluminum sheets waiting for me. It will be my first time with this material.

To see more of Prado’s work, check out her Instagram.

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