Challenging Yourself As An Artist: In The Studio With Patricia DurJava


Interview & Photographs by Tricia McCarter

There are many who have told me I should focus on just one thing, but I’ve never done that.

At 73, Patricia DurJava is living her dream as a full time artist in Maryland. A retired teacher who did a stint with the Peace Corp in Africa, she shares studio space at an art gallery where she devotes her time to her paintings. But these are not just regular paintings; these are pieces created by instinct. A sort of inner compass that helps her navigate herself to a place that feels complete. This process takes time and admittedly she has sometimes failed in her quest. At such times she pushes on, continuing to use her skill and instinctual creativity until she is satisfied. “It’s awesome, the surprise,” she said to me.  

Her work is exhibited at various art galleries around the metropolitan Washington, DC area and currently three of her collages are on loan at the offices of a local women’s entrepreneurship organization. Below is my chat with Patricia and her creative process.  

What type of art do you specialize in? 

I started as a young person in drawing and I became quite skilled at it. I also did a lot of drawing when I was abroad working for the Peace Corp. Prior to the Peace Corp I took a little bit of acrylic but not much. Then when I moved [to Maryland from Ohio] I started working in acrylic again. I also began to ask myself what did I need as an artist because I had taken many workshops and courses, so what did I need to get me moving forward. And it was color and I had been in Africa where everything was dull except people’s clothing. So I wanted color and I wanted to learn how to manipulate color better and I wanted to be more conscious and develop my skills in composition. So I decided to do collages but do it in a way that I hadn’t preconceived what I would be creating. With my collages there is no brush work on the canvas, only paper. And that’s the challenge because it makes me be creative. 

With my collages there is no brush work on the canvas, only paper. And that’s the challenge because it makes me be creative.

How did you become interested in being an artist? 

I always liked to make things and I made all of my clothes by the time I was 12. My father was a steel worker and my mother a stay-at-home mom. But they were cultured in their own way. My sister and I were into ballet and we had musical instruments and we had a solid foundation in music. Although I never pursued art as a career, I was always drawing or painting on the side throughout my life. My uncle took an interest in my art and was very encouraging during my childhood.  

While I was living in Ohio I was really impressed with some of the local watercolor artists and I got some very good one-on-one training from these expert, traditional water colorists who worked for American Greetings and the wallpaper industry. And interestingly enough, without any marketing I was able to sell things because people came to know me because I contributed to charity auctions and things like that. And people started to become interested in what I was doing and wanted to see more of my work. So I had a good network and that was great. And that interest encouraged me to keep going. 


What does creativity mean to you as an artist? 

I’d say it means daring to just go ahead and take a thought or an idea and move with it whether it makes sense at the moment or not. To just push until there are results. It’s awesome the surprise. There are other times when I know what I want to accomplish very specifically and I know what I want to achieve. I go through the papers that I made and I pick 2 to 3 colors and then I tear the art tissue paper and place it on the canvas and I start building and at some point some concept takes shape. Then I focus on composition, to get the movement and the idea across. This process has stretched me to make better choices and I’m getting more confident because I have a better sense of what I want. So I think creativity is daring because when things get difficult I keep reminding myself that I can do this. We all are creative in many different ways but whether we have the courage to act on it is another thing.  

At this stage of your life and with all of the experiences that you’ve had, what does being an artist mean to you? 

It is my passion and it’s always been my passion. It’s exciting the realization to be able to pursue it in a more concentrated way now, in a way that I couldn’t before. So to me it’s an important part of my life and how I manage the years I have left. 

Patricia’s work can be found  

Tricia McCarter is a photographer located in the surrounding suburbs of Maryland, just outside Washington, DC. Driven by creativity, Tricia loves to tell stories through her lens. Whether it's a love story, birth story, or life-changing story, she helps capture what is important and meaningful.