Ask an Artist, Part 1

Since I am the artist on the team, Tiffany and Claire posed some interesting questions for me on what it is like to be an artist.  There are many ways to be an artist, and my answers to these questions are based solely on my experience.  Other artist’s answers will be different based on their own experiences, so I cannot speak for them, and can only answer for myself.

That being said, I hope you find my answers interesting, and maybe a tiny bit informative.


Q:  What is your first memory of art?

A:  I have been making art for as long as I can remember.  One of my earliest distinct memories of making art was drawing mermaids.  Inspired by Disney’s The Little Mermaid, I drew mermaids all the time in colored pencil when I was little.  I liked coming up with different color combinations for their flowing hair and tails.  However, I avoided drawing hands because they are so difficult.

One of my earliest memories going to an art museum was going to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles with my family, including my grandparents.  My grandpa and I were sitting in a room with still lives by Impressionist painters.  He asked me, “Why do you think so many artists paint fruit?”  I thought about it for a little bit, and with all the seriousness of a young child answered, “Well, fruit is easier to draw than people, and no one really cares if you paint a lopsided fruit, but they do if you make a lopsided person.”  He got a good chuckle from that.


Q:  What got you into your specific art forms?  Why paint?

A:  Well, like all children, I started with crayons, then graduated to colored pencils, and as I got a little older I drew a lot with graphite and then charcoal.  You are limited to the materials available to you, so I didn’t make my first real painting until I was in 10th grade.  Well, I had worked with acrylic on paper a little bit before then, but a 10th grade art class was the first time I worked with acrylic on canvas board.  Honestly, I was very pleased with how well the painting turned out and everyone was surprised that I really did not have much experience painting before that.

Peony, Catherine Harlow, acrylic on canvas board, 16 x 20 in, 2009.  My first real painting.

With that first real painting, I found that I liked searching for and mixing paint colors until I found the right match.  I discovered that it was easier for me to use a brush than a pencil to depict the form of my subject.  Later on when I tried oil paint for the first time, I realized I had been trying to use acrylic paint the way you work with oils—working slowly to softly blend colors together and slowly build up the painting.  Oil paint as a material is one that seems to naturally work the best for me.

Beyond the aspect of skill and affinity for the material, I like the process itself and the statement creating a painting makes.  Painting takes time.  Painting requires the physical touch of the human hand.  That kind of involvement isn’t necessarily required anymore, which is why when photography was invented, painting was declared dead.  Yet artists continued to paint, and the medium evolved.  For me, the direct involvement of the human touch and the investment of time impart something special to painting.  I am not sure how best to articulate it, but I think it significantly, yet subtly, contributes to the presence a painting has when seen in person.  The painting is more than just an image, it is something the artist has lived with for a time and you can see traces of the artist in the work.  I know this can be said about a lot of art media, but for me painting has its own unique aspect in this respect.


Q:  Is anything taboo?  Are there some topics that we should just not make art about?

A:  This is an interesting question I have not thought much about, though I suppose I should.  This does remind me of an artist one of my art professors told me about.  Unfortunately, I cannot remember his name, but his email account was temporarily suspended because he had his friends send him pictures of their anuses for him to paint.  I did not feel the need to look up his work at the time, but apparently the paintings were undeniably beautifully painted.  With that body of work, he wanted to make the point that nothing should be taboo as a subject for art.  It’s a conflicting concept for me, because as in this example, on one hand the subject matter is rude and I don’t think you should always do something just because you can, but on the other hand when the technique is impeccable you have to look and maybe you can get something good out of it.

So, maybe it comes down to the combination of intent and execution.  I do not think graphic imagery should be shown or glorified purely for a shock factor.  But if it makes a valid point or brings social injustice to the table for discussion, and is done well, then it should not be taboo.  After all, a large point of art is to spark conversation and challenge the viewer in some way.  This takes many forms, and as society changes so too does art, which is why the need to create art and the role of art to challenge us in new ways will never die.


Stay tuned for part two for some more questions and answers on the creative process.


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