While sipping on cocktails, the remarkable Ingrid Luna speaks in an exhilarating stream-of-consciousness way about art, life, love, and her passion for Santa Barbara, quoting Dorothy Parker and other poets along the way. She’s fully immersed in the arts herself, making a living as a scenic artist for the Ensemble Theatre and painting instructor at the Painted Cabernet, not to mention working as an art teacher, musician, writer, and bartender. Oh yea, she’s also a mother.
Her life story is as extraordinary as her personality. She was born in the hippie commune, many would say cult, called Sunburst in the mountains above Santa Barbara. After escaping in the middle of the night, her family was often homeless while she was between the ages of three and seven. Her mother was a costume designer for the Lobero Theatre and made a living selling homemade dresses and quilts at the Sunday beach show. They lived in a tiny VW Bug, but Ingrid was “actually really happy despite our circumstances.” As a young kid, she knew she wanted to be an artist, and eventually studied both art and philosophy.
She’s worked for the Ensemble Theatre off and on since she was 19 years old. Five years ago, she officially became their scenic artist and truly enjoys painting the sets. “I love creating crazy treatments,” she tells me. “You find creative things to make it work.” Speaking of theater in general and her role in it, she explains, “It’s ephemeral. There’s a moment it has to be born and then you have to break it down.”
Her husband, Terry, is a professional jeweler and, like Ingrid, a native Santa Barbaran. “I have watched my beloved hometown change a lot over the last few decades, from an eclectic beach community to a very affluent seaside tourist spot,” she says. “It’s been sad to see it change and get increasingly more gentrified.”
But her determination to stay in Santa Barbara is enviable. “It’s almost impossible to live here in Santa Barbara as an artist,” she explains. “I work 80 hours a week. I have something to offer. I’m going to stay here.”
Here, she answers the Proust questionnaire.
What do you like most about your job?
Ha ha! Which one? I have about four million jobs right now. In this town, especially as an artist, you really have to hustle. Professionally, I am a scenic artist for The Ensemble Theatre, a painting instructor for The Painted Cabernet, an elementary school art teacher, and a freelance muralist/painter.
What I love about all of these jobs is that they require constant improvisation and problem solving. They are never ever boring and I meet amazing and interesting and weird people.
As a scenic artist (which is a fancy way to say “set painter”), I get to go into the theater when no one else is there, plug in my headphones, and crank out a set. Or it will be me and the rest of the techies all working around each other on huge ladders, talking about everything and nothing and cracking each other up. It’s like being part of a pirate crew. And it’s always really awesome to hear the actors when they first see the set completely painted. They are usually so gracious and excited!
I love the people I meet at The Painted Cabernet. I have taught people with early onset dementia and super drunk bachelorettes. It’s always different and always fun.
As a school teacher, I get to bring my love of art to kids, some of whom have never experienced making art before, and some who love it but get no support for that love anywhere else. It feels like important work.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Attic apartment in Barcelona. Sold out gallery opening. Erik Satie constantly playing in the background while I paint. Unlimited croissants.
No. My husband and I riding our Vespas through Italy. TV on The Radio constantly playing in the background. Unlimited wine.
No. Free healthcare. The fight for minority, women’s, animal, and LGBTQ rights is over and we won! Trump is not and never was running for president. People stop eating animals. The Smiths constantly playing in the background. Unlimited Happy Hour. Maybe??? This is hard!!!!
All of the above and a lot more but honestly I think perfect happiness is something that I will always work towards but never attain. I think it’s an illusion. I think that going for it is the fun part. I think if I achieved it I would get bored.
What is your greatest fear?
Boredom. When I get bored, I get self-destructive and annoying to be around. I mope around the house and google my various imaginary symptoms until I just know I have lupus. I also binge-watch true crime and get very nervous.
Also ignorance. I am terrified of ignorance.
Who do you most admire and why?
I know this is going to sound cheesy, but I have to say my mom. All of my heroes are writers and artists that I wouldn’t have ever heard of if my mom hadn’t gotten me reading at a super young age and instilled in me a great curiosity for and love of all things artistic, strange, and brave. She and I lived in a car for a while when I was little and I know that could sound really sad to some people but my mom made it into a great, fun adventure.
We are makers and doers in my family. Growing up, if my brothers or I wanted something, we were usually encouraged to try making it before buying it. If we wanted to know the meaning of a word, we had to look it up in the dictionary. Experimentation and creativity were everything. They still are. She’s the reason I say “yes” to almost everything and feel pretty confident that if I don’t know how to do something, I can figure it out. She’s also a really awesome artist in her own right.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Extravagance? Ha ha. I am an artist living in Santa Barbara. How about, paying for anything other than rent?
Just kidding. Sort of. I would have to say travel. I travel as much as possible and have happily eaten weird stale pasta for weeks so that I could afford to go on a trip.
What is your current state of mind?
“My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends —
It gives a lovely light!”
— Edna St Vincent Millay
What is the quality you most like in people?
I’m going to give you another quote!
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
— Jack Kerouac
But seriously, I love people that are really alive, really trying for something, really passionate and compassionate. The people that will stay up talking or arguing with you all night.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Apathy and willful blindness.
What do you most value in friends?
I was in a band for years and have done a lot of touring. I love the feeling you get when you tour, like you are this wandering pack that belongs together. I love my friends that make me feel like that. I bet there is a word for it in German.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I am willing to try anything once with the illusion I’ll be good at it. I bet that is really annoying.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Awesome! Also, I tend to quote Dorothy Parker a lot.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be searingly funny, like Amy Poehler or Tina Fey. I am a terrible joke teller and know how to silence a room in about 20 seconds.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I have crippling anxiety and panic attacks occasionally. I would love to get rid of those. It is hard to describe what a panic attack feels like if you haven’t had one. You absolutely feel like you are dying which just makes it worse.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I have two things I’ve done that make me really proud. One is giving up a well-paying job to become a full-time artist and making it work and the other is raising an incredible daughter who is secure in herself and kind to others and whip smart.
Where would you most like to live?
I would most like to live on a beautiful piece of land in a tiny house just outside of a huge, thriving, up all night city. Doesn’t really matter where!
What is your most treasured possession?
If my house was burning down, I would grab my violin that I’ve had since I was tiny and a painting I did that marks the moment I figured out what I want to say with painting.
What makes you laugh the most?
My favorite podcast in the world, Last Podcast on the Left, my husband, and really good live improv. Also, Porch Puns with my BFF Gretchen and her husband Zach. Oh! Also, homemade Pictionary with my family on “poor nights.”
What is your motto?
“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”
— Charles Bukowski
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Dorothy Parker. Anyone who knows me would have guessed I would say that. I am about a tenth as witty, though.
On what occasion do you lie?
Honesty has always been really important to me. I value it highly. I try to be honest all the time, but I bet I have lied to spare someone’s feelings a few times.