My name is Carla Grace. My art practice has grown from the essence of what makes me who I am, so I guess the best place to start is the beginning.
I was born in South Africa, but grew up in Zimbabwe and Zambia, so have been exposed to a rather large amount of poverty and desolation. Alternatively, I have also been blessed to have grown up among raw nature and exquisite wild life that David Attenborough talks so nicely about. These two conflicting environments planted an intense interest in my childhood and teenage heart to search for the beauty in the world around me. I found that this was the most pure in animals and in the nature around me.
It would be easy for me as an artist to demonstrate my resentment towards the harmful effects humans have on the world we live in. However, if I took that angle, so much beauty would be over looked. The amount of thriving things with a heartbeat that still needs to be seen is too great for me to ignore in my work! And so that is what has become the underlying defining concept of my work: beauty. Simple as that.
After graduating high school, I went on to study fine arts in New Zealand, however, the push for my work to take on a more contemporary and conceptual form strangled the life from my bones and so after achieving my diploma, I moved to Australia which is where my art career started to take shape.
In August 2015 I named my brand Carla Grace Art and focussed my attention on creating work that was simple in concept, but visually powerful.
This power would be created by the beauty of the piece, and the emotion in the eyes of the subject I painted. I have always been very dedicated to giving the eyes true depth and definition. If I don’t get the eyes right, I started the piece again. I wanted whatever I drew/painted to be felt as a presence in the room, not just a pretty picture, but something that could draw breath at any given moment. This is why my style took on a realistic and detailed appearance.
My process is a little bit of a guessing game at this stage. I started off using pencil mediums, as this was all I could afford in Africa, and so was what I was and am more confident in. However, to make an art piece that is both striking and practical, acrylic or oil on canvas would be the most obvious direction my art would take. This is where the guessing comes in.
I have no idea what I am doing when it comes to painting!
But I understand colours and form and am very patient with my process. I try my best to recall how I created each and every painting I do to write a blog that describes the process and colours I used for every layer, but I never seem to remember anything useful! Every painting gets a “how to” blog written about it and can be read on my website. As time goes on I know I will become more efficient at the whole artist thing and will be able to give lessons and pass on what I am teaching myself to others. But at the moment, I can’t really claim a technique… unless winging it is a technique.
The Big Ideas
My ideas come from a set of criteria that I dedicate to a series of paintings. I work according to a schedule and have the next three years of art already mapped out. I have set out a series of wildlife paintings that I give myself three months to do as many pieces as I can in. These series are defined by an animal’s characteristic. For example, animals with spots/stripes/talons/spottless etc and I browse the internet for photographs that fit the idea I have in my head.
I am inspired by the photographs I see, and find the photographers for their permission to paint them. Sometimes (as in the case of Alfred the giraffe) it might be a huge landscape photograph where the animal is off in the distance, but I just liked the feeling I got from the pose, the lighting and where I saw myself taking the image as a painting. I then crop the image and edit it in Photoshop to get it as close to what I see in my head as possible, and paint from there. It never turns out as I initially plan, but I generally just roll with it. For some, like “Under the Waves”, I used ten different images to make my vision come together. I always paint from photographs, if I can’t see the detail, I can’t paint it. I have zero creativity.
The process is a hard one. I spend the first four days at least “getting to know” the paintings. This is actually four days of me trying and failing with different colours until I get it right and then I spend the next 6 days painting with those colours. In the case of the life size Grizzly Bear, I spent a week getting it wrong, put it aside for a week, came back to it and spent the next 10 days getting it right. Often I will research on Youtube or Google to find an artist that has done something similar to what I am trying to do and read their blog or watch their video to give myself some handy helpful tips.
My studio is my spare room, and my gallery is my home. If I don’t love what I have painted enough to hang on my own wall, I will not sell it.
There are many artists out there that can do what I do, many even better than me when it comes to being realistic. I am blessed to be able to do what I can do and will always be getting better. I have no desire to make my work hyper-realistic as I really enjoy seeing the paint strokes and the odd clump of paint. I like seeing that a human being has had a hand in creating a piece of art that looks pretty close to the real thing. I don’t want to create something that can easily have come from a camera, which is why my originals are so great to have on the wall – they look so real from far, but as you get closer you can see the marks on the canvas, the direction of the brush work and the layers in the paint.
Some parts are left a little unfinished, and some are left out completely. It feels cared for. You just know by being close to it that someone has loved every second of this art piece and has poured enough of their heart into creating it with such care that it seems perfect, yet it is not so perfect that the humanity is completely removed.
A Final Note on Beauty
Beauty is a character, a personality, a brief encounter with something mysterious. It captures the things that make us feel safe and alive and creates wonder in our hearts. Wild things and creatures that we cannot experience in our daily lives evoke that exact wonder. We want to touch them and feel the texture of their fur the way we experience our own pets. We want to feel their breath and listen out for the sounds that vibrate from their bodies. I have found that when I am in the same room as one of my paintings I get all these emotions rolling into one, and I experience that animal’s mystery and beauty just by being there with it. I celebrate its beauty rather than mourn the loss of it.
Check out Carla Grace Art and find some Beauty today.