Anna Katrina Gibson is compelled to make art and always has been. Largely self-taught, Anna is now enrolled at Portland State University working toward a degree in Art Practices. She has learned so much in her formal training that it’s hard to find enough hours to paint and draw, but she works her art as much as she can, combining formal lessons with natural talent. And she makes a mean cup of coffee.
Have you always been creative? What are your earliest memories of making art?
Ever since I was very little, I loved to draw. So it has always been a way for me to express my thoughts and ideas. The earliest drawings I could find were from when I was three. I drew pictures of cats all over my mom’s books.
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After working as a self-taught artist, what inspired you to pursue formal art studies? How have your BFA studies influenced the way you create?
To be honest, I decided to go for a BA in Art Practices due to costs; there are other experiences that I’ve decided to invest in. I wanted to pursue formal studies in order to improve and refine my technique, collect resources, and gain experiences. I want direction, to discover new pathways and open new doors through experimentation. And often, a little push is quite necessary in my case.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work? Do you do series work? How does that affect your approach?
I’m inspired by the human condition; our frailty in the face of ambiguous or irrational fate. My work often conveys feelings of repression; of reaching towards something and being held back from it; of drowning while the sun pours down.
Much of this is derived from my own fears and feelings of isolation, especially my dreams. And I can see that there are many who can relate. In the end, this is a messed up and confused world. No one knows what they are doing – what they’re really doing. Every single one of us, rich and poor, young and old, fast and slow…. every one of us has that perpetual thought bubble suspended above our heads containing a question mark. And that’s all there is. And if one can’t seem to realize that we are all walking each other home in the grand scheme of things, then they must be lost. We’re all fragile and confused, yet we can be strong and resourceful if we can conduct ourselves.
I have studied the Post-War Existentialists such as Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti. I especially love Giacometti’s sculptures; long, thin figures swallowed up by the space around them; there is a drowning void, yet a stillness…. a certain element of stoicism. I’m also very inspired by Post Impressionism, German Expressionists and Abstract Expressionists. My favorites are Toulouse Lautrec, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Egon Schiele, Vasily Kandinsky, Oskar Kokoschka, Joan Mitchell, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, etc. Some of the Romantics, such as Eugene Delacroix and JMW Turner also inspire me.
I did work on a series of paintings last Spring where I drew and painted portraits of the homeless in Portland. This was quite emotional for me. My purpose was to expose the humanity and soul of those who are often ignored and treated without any dignity in our society.
What draws you (if you’ll pardon the expression) to the different mediums you use to express yourself? What are the qualities of oil, watercolor, pencil, charcoal, pastel, etc. that speak to you?
Malleable mediums such as oil and watercolor attract me tactilely. I love the effects of tenebrism you can achieve with oil painting. I love it’s malleability and the many mediums you can mix to create the perfect texture. Impasto, color mixing, I love it all. I love getting messy! I love the luminosity and the peaceful feeling I get from watercolors. It’s also much easier to clean up, albeit, not so forgiving if you make a mistake.
I also love to use pencil, conté crayon, gouache and soft pastel. I love the flowing lines and vibrant colors. I’m a very tactile person; so, just the feeling of that crayon, charcoal or a freshly-sharpened pencil to good paper sets my mind in a whirl of intense delight.It’s music to my eyes…. sublime. I can barely put it into words.
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Everything in my studio serves as a tool, be it a book, brushes and palette knives, precious treasures from friends. I have also been accumulating used blobs of dried oil paint left over on my palette in jars. They can produce interesting textures in my work – I stick a semi-dried blob to the canvas and paint over it, manipulating it’s stretchy form.
When is your most productive creative time?
My most productive time to create tends to be around 8pm, after dinner.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
While I paint, I listen to a lot of different music, especially Bob Dylan. I also enjoy Patti Smith, Lou Reed, the Stones, Classical, Blues, etc. And I listen to a lot of audiobooks. The last one was an autobiography about Keith Richards, read beautifully by Johnny Depp and Joe Hurley. Sometimes I listen to NPR or philosophy podcasts, particularly The Partially Examined Life.
Does your creative work come easily or do you struggle with your ideas? What obstacles (if any) do you experience when you are creating? If you do face obstacles, how do you get past them?
Oh boy. Yes, I do struggle to force creativity. Usually, an idea will seem to come out of nowhere; something which emerges from my subconscious. When I face a creative block, I turn to my art journal in order to generate ideas. I try to fish for and combine different elements of inspiration into something of my own. It also helps to go to museums, watch documentaries, or look at art books.
As a creative individual, do you believe that you perceive the world differently from other people? Do you think that any unique thought processes are involved when you create something?
In this day and age, I worry that people are becoming less empathetic and trap themselves within the constructs of consumptive society. Many look but don’t really see. Then when everything moves so fast, reducing us to cogs in the machine, there is little time to step back and observe the world, let alone art.
I think that a lot of people pretend to understand art, much like many pretend to understand what love is. So we become tired and cynical; we often try to shut out our human emotions. In America, emotions are shameful and embarrassing – pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Stop crying! So it is not a kind place for sensitive souls. And many artists are quite sensitive.
A lot of people are drawn to the material aspects of art; what is considered trendy and kitsch. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but I might argue that a vast majority of the people do not have a true artistic sensibility. I don’t know if my work is especially unique; as with others, exterior sources of inspiration inspire me, even nature.
I believe that we all have it hidden within us. Life is art. Art does not only ignite the human spirit, the human spirit ignites art. It is a mystery. So I cannot explain how ideas come. It just happens. A small nuance, a Bob Dylan song – anything might formulate a vision.
How have other people supported or inspired you?
My dear friend Adrian has inspired me profoundly through his stories and insights regarding life. I was often reminded of how John Steinbeck’s East of Eden expressed the beautiful resilience of the human spirit. It is mind over matter – always.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
I’ve received a lot of good advice, but my dear friend once told me, “You can carry it like a load, or you can dance through it.”
What do you hope the next year will bring?
I hope that the next year will bring wisdom, confidence, knowledge, new experiences and ideas…. Then I hope to expand my body of work into something distinctly my own.
Do you sell your work or take commissions? If so, how can people connect?
I do take commissions. You can reach me at 503-547-3154, or by email at [email protected].
Some of Anna’s earlier work
Portrait of Bernie Sanders in Portland, OR. You may remember this moment during the 2016 Presidential campaign when a bird visited Bernie’s podium while he was speaking to an enthusiastic crowd. The bird got applause, too.
Pencil on Toned Paper.
This Portrait of Virginia Woolf, the English author, captures one of my favorite writers. Oil paint and impasto medium on canvas capture her haunting face. This technique uses a palette knife instead of a brush.
“It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness thus (she looked at that long steady light) as for oneself.”
― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
Self Portrait: On My Way is a pencil drawing of me with a destination in mind. So I might be on my way to work, to class or to visit family and friends.
Pencil on Toned Paper.
My dear friend and muse, Adrian, inspired this portrait drawn with pencil on toned paper. The drawing captures Adrian’s personality through his expressive eyes and easy smile.
I drew this quick Portrait of a Real Angel, my little sister. We shared and enjoyed each other’s creativity while I sat across from her at table. I am in love with watercolor pencils because of the effects I can achieve.
“Secret City Between the Hills” is a charcoal rendering of an urban landscape from my imagination. A train descends from the sky as it whistles and blows towards the city on the hill. Meanwhile, two foothills cradle the city; they might be sandy or they might be covered with lupins (like the way John Steinbeck described the Salinas Valley in East of Eden). Then a great fissure divides the land with lamps aligned on both sides. Below, you can see the groundwater. When I drew this landscape, I listened to Melancholy Hill and thought a lot about my dear friend. I drew my first urban landscape on 22 inch x 30 inch BFK paper.
Self Portrait with my painting of Bob Dylan. I call it Self Portrait with Bobby, and I think it captures each of our unique personalities.
Pencil on Toned Paper.
For a long time, I used to believe that my sensitivity was weakness. I believed my vulnerability a pity. But I AM sensitive, and I am proud of it. I don’t like to/can’t feign emotion which isn’t sincere or truly felt. I’m quite sensitive, but I have learned that it is a good and human thing – a gift – a strength, but not a weakness if it is understood.
I have painted Nude Portrait in order to show, unashamed, who I am as I am, unapologetically human. And everything you do…. who you love, the words you say, your handwriting, the sounds and sights all around, fleeting memories and eager anticipations, a familiarity… it is all art. Everything can be perceived as art. And you are all beautiful and stronger than you realize. So don’t let anyone bind you down or tell you who you are. Now go make art. And f**k the system.
Oil Painting on Canvas Pad.
In my charcoal portrait of Bob Dylan on 22in x 30in BFK paper, Dylan appears to be on his way to a destination with purpose. His upper body implies long strides with the legs hidden behind the wall.
Chair and Hat is a charcoal still life drawing of my chair and hat, working on light, shading and perspective.
Charcoal on 18in x 24in sketch paper.
On a yellow February day, I took a walk by the Waterfront, quiet and solitary. The still air; the murmurings and sounds of the city muffled like slowly submerging a dreamy head into a serene basin flooded with yellow light. It was my 25th birthday and it was around 6pm. I sat on a bench in front of the Hawthorne Bridge and then began sketching, drawing. I became so absorbed in my activity that I only subconsciously acknowledged the descending sun and the gradual circus of sounds around me, the lights appearing, casting dancing reflections aglow upon the undulating water. Then my own mind became alive with the shift, like waking from a surreal dream and into the impassioned force and brilliance of life.
On my way back to the apartment, I bought myself a cappuccino and read a little. It was a good day. The result was Hawthorne Bridge, Waterfront.
This is how I see John Steinbeck, one of my favorite authors, pondering the human condition, lighting the old cigarette. So I drew and painted this Steinbeck portrait, first drawing with lead, graphite, and charcoal. Then I added color with watercolor pencils. Watercolor pencils are among my favorite mediums to add color to a drawing.
Portrait of John Steinbeck is oil on gesso board. John Steinbeck is my favorite author, and his books have enriched my life and my mind.
“I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?”
― John Steinbeck, East of Eden
While it looks like it took more time, this was actually a very fast piece. I completed it in four hours using only Faber Castell watercolor pencils. It is an expensive brand, but the result is totally worth it if you’re into watercolor pencils. Well, I guess any decent brand will be a little pricey. I am just a beginner, having used these pencils only five times in the past month or two, but I think the quality is excellent. Even on a limited budget, they are worth the price. I also used Canson watercolor paper.
What inspired this drawing? Asachild, I had a pug dog named Mason and then this deep obsession for pugs developed. “Jabba the Hut” and I became the best of pals and we lived the “pug life”. I used to use a pug as the signature of my art. I think that I shall try to continue that, in honor of Mason’s memory.
Mason, Living the Pug Life
I painted a Nebula using a Sumi-E watercolor set. This is one of the few times I have experimented with watercolor. Since I’m rather new to this medium, I pursued simple practices. Maybe I will continue with this medium and make a nature journal and sketch plants, trees, or any type of life. Or, I could paint simple and bright little illustrations of the Tang poems I love to memorize. I have lots of Sumi ink as well and I love to combine watercolor and ink. I see lots of possibilities for further creative exploration and experimentation with this new-to-me medium.
My books are very important to me, worthy of a portrait in charcoal. So Portrait of Books is the result.
My books. Charcoal.
Portrait of Carl Sagan, oil on wood panel, is a tribute to one of my heroes. I admire his thoughts on writing and the insight it gives us inside the mind of another person.
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
[Cosmos, Part 11: The Persistence of Memory (1980)]
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos
A portrait of a dear friend, a sardonic and sentimental reader whom I much admire. I drew with charcoal and lead on multi-media 100% cotton fiber paper with a durable vellum finish. It seems to create just the right mood for The Reader, A Portrait of a Friend.
Here, I have one of my dearest works. Bedtime Story is an oil painting on birch wood. It is a painting of my brother and me when we were little. I used to read him stories till he fell asleep – those are memories which I shall always treasure. My brother is a young man now. This precious memory makes me smile whenever I look at it. The captured moment is precious. I remember how he loved ostriches, how our pug Mason would cuddle with us…. when I think about it, it brings me joy. I just had to paint it.
Interview posted September, 2018.
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