Thanks so much for taking the time to do this, Hanna. First off, can you recall the exact moment where you wanted to become an artist? Was there a particular moment, say a field trip in school or someone in your personal life, that really pushed you to explore that interest?
I don’t remember the exact moment, but I know that ever since I can remember, I wanted to become an artist. I always loved to draw. It was something that just came to me a little bit easier than other things. My dad had wanted to become an artist, but had given up that dream and went the more traditional route to provide for our family. He was very much into art, especially Van Gogh. I guess you could say that he lived vicariously through me. He would take me to museums in my youth and we would also watch Bob Ross together; I would mimic him on my child-sized easel, dreaming of becoming a painter. But I didn’t get to fulfill this dream until after college. I’ve always been drawn to art and I think that he saw that in me. He would always talk to me about it and made sure to nurture that passion in me when I was younger.
Had you been painting throughout college? Or was there an impetus to explore after college? Was there a defining moment where you realized that you wanted to follow through on this path?
I originally went to the Rhode Island School of Design, where I graduated in Apparel Design. Well, there’s Fine Arts and Design. I wanted to do Fine Arts or Animation, but the feeling that I wouldn’t make a living from it pushed me to do Apparel Design. I was eighteen years old and it seemed so easy. I didn’t really paint in college, because I felt it wasn’t practical. I was told being a painter meant being a starving artist. As I got further along, I wanted to do costume design, being very much influenced by Tim Burton and Jim Henson. Honestly, I was lost for a while after graduating school. I entered the industry at an entry level position, but left after being unhappy with it for about two years. Steady payment and health insurance, all of that, I just turned my back on it. I couldn’t be creative the way I really wanted to. It was then that I thought about revisiting my childhood dream and slowly taught myself how to paint from scratch. When I am feeling a strong feeling or going through something difficult, my work becomes an outlet for my inner feelings. Other times, it is a story or image I envision in my head built around something I may have seen that day. I guess this would be using it as a source of inspiration? Or it could be both. I would say that various emotions and inspirations help create my work, and as I create it triggers different emotions as I grow and learn, which then become a source of inspiration for my next painting.
Turning your back on a career to pursue something that is a passion is a bold move for anyone. After all these years, did you make the right decision by leaving your previous job? Is this something that you absolutely love and know that it was the best thing to do?
Yes, I am in love with I am doing now. It’s everything to me. Everything revolves around it. Even with the not sleeping at all and working, it’s so satisfying. When I get an email from someone who appreciates what I do, I love it. These pieces are a part of me, something that I’ve created; in a way, they almost become your baby. Of course, there are times when I have to take a break, but you know, I’m not a robot. You need that time to recover almost.
Can you explain what you meant saying that you “taught yourself” how to paint? Was there a bit of a learning curve or growing pains, so to speak, throughout this process?
Yes, I would look at paintings and would teach myself how to shade and make things look three dimensional. Of course, I had some knowledge, but I had to study all this in depth. It’s a bit tough when you start from scratch and in the dark. There was a time, I accidentally found out I was using the ‘wrong’ kind of paints all this time. The problems I was running into have been solved now that I am using paints that are more suitable for my work. I guess those are just growing pains. After these problems and obstacles that I’ve run into along the way are solved, I find it pretty rewarding. You just have to pick yourself up and try again.
This might be a tricky question, but can you walk me through your creative process from start to finish? Also, on average how long does it take you to finish a piece?
I would say, usually when I am starting something, you just enter this world. The wheels start moving, you have all these ideas. I’ll think of an idea, and sometimes it’ll fit if the gallery has a theme. I start off doing chicken scratch sketches, the initial layout. But there are also times where I just go to the wood panel and start painting and see what comes from it. It’s different all the time, I guess. I spend generally about a month or so on larger pieces, and about a week on smaller sized paintings; and that’s not working day and night on them. I’ve had those moments and pieces where I would work on little or no sleep.
From my perspective, your work has this almost broken fairy tale theme to it. Would you agree with that statement? Also, in response to that, do you ever paint with a narrative in your head for the piece that you’re working on? Is there a story you’re trying to tell?
Oh, absolutely. I love fairy tales. I like the dreamlike state that those stories exist in. Even more so the really dark ones. Hansel and Gretel in particular. The earlier Disney movies as well, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White. I just loved the look of them and it’s always stuck with me. As I mentioned before, Jim Henson was a huge influence, especially The Dark Crystal. Your imagination just sort of goes into this world when you create something, almost like you’re in a television set looking out. It’s always in your head. It’s all you’re living and breathing while working on it. They might connect only in my head, an extension of one piece into another that relates. I’ve always brought in different elements from other works to a new piece, it’s inevitable I think. It gets to a point where I need to complete it, that the painting needs to be finished and away from me. I think everyone who creates something can relate to that.
Was there a particular piece, maybe early in your career, that served as a milestone lesson, for good or for bad?
Oh god, the first time I was in an exhibition. I sat there looking at everyone else’s work and just thinking that something was missing from mine. It really opened my eyes up, I guess. I seriously hated that piece. It was after that, that I really had a breakthrough and discovered what I really wanted to do. That really sucked, but it was so important to me. It really forced me to rethink things in a way. I still have it, it’s wrapped up and behind my living room couch so I don’t have to see it.
You’ve also been living in New York city for sometime now, correct? Is there something is about this city that inspires you?
Ten years actually. Oh, absolutely. There’s just so much out here, with so many people doing different things. I’ve really found it to be so motivating to me, personally. I wanted to move out of the city and to Los Angeles for a while, I love the weather out there. But having to get a car, being so spread out and far from everything…I just love the hustle and bustle of New York.