Interview with Catherine Anderson, AWS
Were you interested in art as a child? What person influenced you the most? In what way?
Very much. I was born and raised in Chicago. My grandfather was the gift in my life. My parents and I (the first grandchild) lived with my grandparents in Chicago. We lived in the attic until my parents were able to save some money to buy their first home. When I became a little older, my grandfather took me with him everywhere. I believe he found someone to “play” with…another free spirit like himself. We went to every museum in Chicago, boat rides on the Chicago River, ferry boat rides across Lake Michigan, every Disney movie that came out, White Sox games, church, train rides, the Lincoln Park Zoo, walks on the beach along Lake Michigan. You name it, we did it.
The Chicago Art Institute was his favorite, and we visited that museum several times. I cherish my memories of our visits there. We began our journey looking at the Impressionists paintings. The first one he’d take me to was George Seurat’s painting, Sunday Afternoon in the Park, a very large piece of art that took up an entire wall, painted with thousands of little dots of paint (although I didn’t know that at the time). We’d hold hands staring at this painting, for what seemed like hours. Next, we would walk through and look at the other Impressionists paintings, then the Masters.
All I wanted to do when I walked through those doors was go downstairs to see The Thorne Rooms, which were like dollhouses to me. The room was dark, and lined with various rooms filled with the most perfect miniature furniture, enclosed in glass. Papa would pick me up and hold in his arms, as I peeked into each room. I felt such an incredible sense of wonder. But, only after the looking at the paintings and lunch, did we get to go downstairs to The Thorne Rooms. Smart Papa.
The art books in his library kept me busy for hours, just looking at the paintings. And he was always encouraging me to draw.
When we moved to the suburbs of Chicago, I didn’t see Papa as much, but during my summer vacations, I would design paper doll clothes with crayons day in and day out. I had only one paper doll and she had quite a wardrobe of hundreds of paper outfits for every occasion.
My grandfather is still is a very special person in my life. He opened my eyes to the “world of art.” It is because of him that I am an artist today. Papa died suddenly when I was 12 and I suffered a great trauma and loss. He was my best buddy and it was very difficult to comprehend at that age that I would never see him again.
Was art always a career option for you?
No. My parents never paid any attention to what I wanted; only what they wanted me to be. Certainly, no one became an artist back then. There was no future in it, no money in it…it was just not a good thing. So there I was on the road to becoming “whatever” in college. All signed up for college prep courses and not very interested in any of them; I didn’t do well in school.
The only classes I did well in were those requiring you to do a long report in order to get a good grade and pass the class. I seized the opportunity by “spiffing” up my reports with beautiful drawings dispersed throughout, putting them in the best looking three-hole punch folder I could find, and labeling the front of them as artistically as I could. I spent more time on the drawings than on the reports, but always passed the class!
During my sophomore year in high school, Latin class was on the agenda. I hated every minute of it (the Latin, the nun). Each day I’d sit there wondering how I was going to make it through this one. This was going to be a tough to pass this class. Because I didn’t want to waste my time in the class, I began working towards my art career that I knew I would have one day. Every day, I would sit in class and write my name over and over, backwards, forwards, square and round, trying to figure out how I was going to sign my paintings when I became an artist. I wanted to be ready. By the end of the class, I had created my signature that was to go on my first painting. The signature was pretty dorky but I used it for awhile…and also flunked Latin.
Since my grades were so poor, I knew I wouldn’t make it into any of the fancy colleges my parents wanted me to go to. They still insisted that I fill out the applications. When the responses came back, they would make me open the letters. I knew they were all rejections even before I opened them. I felt awful and that “I wasn’t good enough.” All I really wanted was to go to art school.
I ended up going to a Business College just to get out of the house. My College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin happened to be right across the street from a big art school. This broke my heart, as most of the women that attended the art school lived in the dorm with the business college students – my roommate was one of the art students. So, I hung around with her and other artists most of the time.
I took my first art class at age 20 and enrolled in the Chicago Academy of Art in the evenings while working as a secretary full time. My first art teacher was Irving Shapiro. It had been many moons since visiting the Art Institute with my grandfather, but when I arrived, I walked straight to the Seurat painting. Instantly, I knew why he stood there for so long. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I studied the painting for a good hour … awe struck at this amazing piece of work. This experience propelled me to study harder.
While majoring in Fine Art at the University of Cincinnati, I continued taking private lessons. Enabled by a loan from my mother in 1982, I enrolled in the San Francisco Academy of Art and worked full time as a secretary. Still torn between my parents’ practical advice and my passion as an artist, I began going to Green Gulch Farm Zen Center to meditate and study Buddhism. I was astonished to find that, despite my fidgety nature, I could meditate three forty-minute periods a day.
Meditation caused me to look hard at my life, particularly in realizing I needed to find the son I had given up for adoption in 1967. There were no options to keep him back then. I had no choice and it destroyed me … my spirit … my soul. In 1990, I searched and found Scott in good health living in Tallahassee, Florida. This was the connection I needed to make to go on with my life. In searching for my son, I also found “me” again. I have dedicated myself to painting full time since our reunion.
What first attracts you to a subject for a painting?
Anything that takes my breath away! And I if I hear myself say, “How in the world could I put that on paper?” I paint it.
Are you inspired most by composition, color, emotion, etc?
Emotion. If something doesn’t evoke an emotion out of me, then what’s the sense of painting it? I am very tired of seeing people copying photographs. They could be the most beautiful and technically well done paintings, but they leave me cold…there is no soul, no feeling, no guts in these paintings. Why not just take a photograph? Painting is about feeling and emotion. It’s an expression of one’s self. Andrew Wyeth said, “When you lose simplicity, you lose drama.” Most paintings are so busy, I don’t have a clue what the artist is trying to express.
Do you work out the design and composition first or just dive in and paint?
I’ll do a vague sketch and then dive right in. When I used to use photographs, I would only use them as reference material, i.e., enough to give me “a start” which I would change around anyway, and then the photograph went by the wayside. I didn’t need it anymore. The painting took on a life of its own.
Now, I am completely breaking away from photographs and just diving in. I have all of this information in my head. I can paint a tree, clouds, mountains, flowers, structures, and a cow upside down! I’ve got it all in my head…there is no need to use a photograph or even use one as reference material anymore! I am learning how to be free, and boy, does that feel good!
Do you paint with music on? If so, what do you listen to?
I listen to everything really. I have hundreds of CD’s and it just depends on the mood I’m in. I sing all the time while I’m painting. What a job, heh?
What do you find most appealing about the medium of watercolor or acrylics? If you use both, which do you prefer?
My love affair with the medium of watercolor has deepened and deepened over the years. Today, I paint with my whole heart and soul. Once I learned this medium, everything starting coming from my soul and I began trusting my intuition, enabling me to go deeper into the force that drives my work. I am able to take more and greater risks.
Recently, I have been working with both – acrylics and watercolors in the same painting, or just acrylics. I must say, I do like them. First of all, I’m so used to watercolor paint drying so fast and being able to make those quick decisions, I’m finding that acrylic works the same way. They dry fast too and if you don’t like what you painted, you can paint right over them again when dry! Secondly, over the years, I’ve learned how to mix my colors, so now I can get rich colors similar to the colors you see in oil paintings.
Which of your paintings do you consider “special”? Why? Briefly describe how it was painted and the colors you used.
God, I love this question. The best paintings that I consider special are the ones that I don’t have a clue how I painted them. How’s that for an answer? In other words, these paintings were created when I was totally “just painting.” I wasn’t worried about calling so-and-so, cleaning the toilet, how the rent was going to be paid, was it going to get into a show, if it did, was it going to win an award, etc. I was “present” with my painting the entire time. You know you are “present” when all of the sudden you wonder where the time went and you’ve been painting for hours! And you know what else? There are none of those thoughts nagging you, and most importantly, there is no fear.
These are my “special” paintings because I know that I could never paint another one like it. How can you? You don’t even remember what colors you used as you’re painting completely from your intuition and soul.
What comes first – the painting, the title or the inspiration?
Definitely the inspiration is first, the painting, and then the title. Walking through the vineyard with my dogs in the fog is incredibly exciting. Driving along the highway and you “gasp” looking at the light because it is so breathtaking! When I can’t believe what I am seeing, I am so inspired that I want to share the wonder of it with everyone and to somehow convey that feeling on paper. Artists see differently. Most people when they drive along the road, just see the road, they don’t see the shapes of the trees, notice the buds on the trees, the light coming through the trees, the colors. It’s amazing that we’re allowed to drive at all. We ought to have special licenses or a bumper stickers saying something like, “Sorry I’m going too slow for you, but I’m an artist just enjoying my drive. Hang on…I’ll pull over for you.” I cannot believe what people don’t see!
I remember one night I had a friend over and I looked up at the stars and about scared her to death with my “WOW! Will you look at that!” “What?”, she said. “The stars up there!” “Oh, yeah….you know, I should look up at them more,” she commented. There isn’t a night that goes by when I don’t look up at the stars and thank God (or my lucky stars) that I am an artist with a gift that allows me to see these wonderful little things that just happen to be my life.
What paint, paper, and brushes do you prefer? Why? Do you have a standard palette of colors that you always use?
I use Holbein watercolors because I believe they are the purest pigments that you can buy. For me, my paper is crucial. It takes a while to find a paper that you like and that likes you. It is your most important supply. If you run out of a certain color, you can always mix your paints to get that color. If you can’t find your favorite brush, you can substitute another. But, if something happens to your paper, you cannot do much about it in the middle of a painting. Your paper is everything.
I use Sable Kolinsky round watercolor brushes, which I feel are the best brushes made. These brushes hold a great deal of paint, keeping me away from small details, however, they also have a fine point if I need it. For my washes, I use both the 6″ and 4 ¾” Holbein Hake brushes. The larger sizes are difficult to find.
As far as a palette goes, it has taken me a while to create my own. When I first began painting, I would buy whatever colors that were required for class or a particular workshop. But then you see other colors, fall in love with them, and you either stick with them or they sit by the wayside. The more I painted, I discovered that I pretty much used the same colors all of the time, both cool and warm colors. Eventually, I found my palette.
If I need or want to use another color that is not on my palette, it’s usually one that I’ll use only for a particular painting I’m working on. One important thing I learned is that you must have all of your colors out to create a painting…like playing a piano….you need all of the keys to play a concerto. If you have only blue and black out, then guess what? You’ll have a blue and black painting.
What would you suggest to a “beginning” artist who wants to make a career of art as the most important thing he/she can do to reach that goal?
Just do it. And never lose sight of your goal. Don’t let anything get in the way of it. Work with your inner critics, as they will keep you from doing what you love. I call these “mind techniques.” If you don’t work with these nagging voices that are telling you that you “aren’t good enough” or “you should be doing something else more constructive”… or whatever, then you will never paint. These “mind techniques” are just as significant as your “watercolor techniques,” if not more important.
Make a commitment to your art. When I made my leap of faith to paint full time, I had very little money and had to cut way back on my expenses. In the beginning, I found myself running to the bank, the grocery store, the doctor, etc. One day, a friend said to me, “You’re never going to paint the way you’re running around like that. You have to treat this like a job. This is your job now. Make your appointments on your lunch hour, etc.” Boy, did she push a button. The next day, I began keeping track of my hours. I set a goal of painting a minimum of six hours a day. If I painted more than six, that was okay. I kept track of my time on a sheet of paper for two and a half years so I could get myself in the habit that all of this fun I was having was really my job.
What single factor has helped you succeed as an artist?
My commitment to paint everyday, whether I was having a good day or a bad day, I painted.
Do you think art associations aid in the growth of an artist?
Yes. I started small and joined the few that were in the area and would participate in some of their shows. I never even knew about the national shows for five years of painting full-time. Someone mentioned them to me and told me to only concentrate on the top shows and she gave me the names of those top watercolor societies. So I did. My first year, I entered every one of them, got in every one of them, and won an award in each one also. What a year!
The shows are good because they give you exposure all over the country, and this is what you want. If your paintings are sitting against a wall in your home or studio (like mine were), how is anyone going to know that you exist? And if you’re afraid of rejection, get over it, as this is part of the life of an artist. Not to worry, your work will be accepted one day, and those are glorious moments. I used to let rejection really get to me…for weeks! Now, as I mentioned, I don’t even give it a second thought. It’s such wasted energy. And thank God, everyone has different tastes in art, yes?