Painting Watercolor: Annika’s Obsession
What’s up with Annika? A couple of weeks ago, Sessions staff were finding it hard to get in touch with Fine Arts Certificate instructor Annika Connor. After some phone and email tag, we learned why: Annika was totally obsessed with a painting she was working on. Huh, we thought, how interesting! And then—we gotta see that painting. And so, we visited Annika’s NYC studio to find out the source of all this artistic intensity.
Q: In your message, you described yourself as obsessed. What’s it like to be wrapped up in painting watercolor?
It sounds clichéd to say I got obsessed with a painting, but it happens. As an artist you get caught up with paperwork and busy stuff and the computer and then you get into the studio and sometimes you have to work hard and plug away before something comes out of it—but other times, a painting will take you by storm and force you to pay attention to it.
This painting was really greedy. This woman (I’ve decided to title the painting Galina) was just extremely demanding of all my attention. She didn’t want me to focus on anything else. She’s aloof and ignoring me but she wants my attention and I think she kind of wants all the viewer’s attention too.
Q: When you really get drawn into a work, is it a 24/7 thing?
Time for me becomes really strange when I get obsessed with a painting. Because of the way I paint watercolor I have to wait for the paint to dry so I can only paint certain areas and then I wait for it to dry and then I go for another area. So a lot of times when I get into that crazy bananas art space I will just sleep while the paint dries and everything blends together—I’m going to sleep at two and waking up at four in the morning to paint the next part.
Q: What was the inspiration for the piece?
I wanted this piece to feel very cinematic. Sometimes in my work I do little high fives to artists that I really like, and so this piece is my high five to Edward Hopper. He has a lot of people looking out of the window. I think that the idea of a solitary figure searching for something was very prominent in his time. He was working in the Depression era when people were searching for something.
That’s happening a lot in our time too; we see images of the exalted entrepreneur or individual who’s searching within themselves for something to strike out into a larger world. And I think that’s something that’s both nostalgic and which we feel a connection to today.
Q: How did the piece get started, and how does it connect to the themes in your current work?
This piece is based on a photograph of an actress friend of mine. A painting that isn’t intended to be a portrait sometimes morphs away from the individual. I was really using the photo of her as sort of a starting point, and then I blended elements of myself into the painting, and also elements of this nostalgic, idealistic woman from an ambiguous time period. She connects to this idea of glamour and beauty in my work—I love the idea of kissing couples looking to other eras, decadent rooms that look even further back, connections to a paradise place.
The way I describe my work is that it’s all about beauty and romanticism and this ongoing exploration of a daydream. I think that when you’re daydreaming you’re exploring memories and nostalgia and your own imagination. You kind of push them all together. It’s not surprising that memories of this beautiful chateau I visited have blended with the ballet and the memory of a kiss and film noir and 1950s cinema and love of vintage clothing—it all goes into this dream space that becomes almost a story for the viewer to create their own narrative from. The work as a whole can be read as ongoing fairly tale of frames from a daydream, much like cinema frames.
Examples of Annika’s watercolor work
As a SAG member I do films and commercials and TV ads and so cinematic lighting is something I’m very aware of, especially when I stand in for a star or do photo-doubling, because they’ll line up all the lights and camera angles on me. For me, movie work gives me a sense of dramatic lighting and how it’s used to illustrate a story and that has come through in my work. At first it was subconscious, but after five years in the industry, it’s clearly now a conscious decision to integrate it.
Q: What else are you excited about in your work right now?
I’m very interested in the evolution of an idea and how one aspect of your art can influence another. I consider myself to be an artist and an entrepreneur; I’m interested in the business side of the art business and how you can use your imagination to reach a larger audience. About a year ago I was approached by the boutique wallpaper company Cavern who asked me to develop a line of wallpaper and upholstery fabric inspired by my paintings.
For my wallpaper, they took a chandelier motif from my paintings and made these two different color variations and silk screened them to create a repeating pattern. They licensed my name to create “Annika Connor for Cavern.” And then they wanted to do some upholstery fabric with my florals, based on line drawings of flowers. Of all the line drawings, they liked the roses. The fabric can be bought by the yard to cover chairs or you can buy prefabricated pillows, silk-screened on 100% linen.
It was really fun because with the wallpaper, one of the paintings [used as a source] had already been sold and this was a way in which the art could be seen and used in a different way. Though painting watercolor remains my main focus, of course!
Gordon Drummond is the President and Director of Instructional Design at Sessions College. He's passionate about education and the arts and likes to surround himself with more talented people.