Like many of the artists we work with, we discovered Carolyn on Instagram. Her whimsical, bold colors are right up our alley and the fact that she is the sweetest person ever just makes us love her even more! Carolyn is a Dallas native who has lived and worked all over the world. While it's hard to say which of her pieces we love the most; her iconic portraits of Frida, Willie and Iris, her bold abstract florals or the grafitti inspired pieces, her work shows her sense of adventure and vibrancy of living, and honestly just makes us smile!
SGD: Can you briefly walk us through your story? How did you get started and how did you get to where you are today?
CJ: It feels a bit like I’ve been painting forever, as though making art is a 25+ year long ribbon of color tying together my memories.
Like a lot of creatives, I loved art as a kid so I signed up for oil painting, pottery, sewing classes, thrilled by color in all its shapes and forms. I majored in Painting & Print-Making at Wake Forest University and minored in Art History. Late nights in-studio and early mornings working in a bakery fueled my creativity, always a sucker for coffee + cookies and the doodles they inspired. I studied at Oxford and interned in some incredible art galleries in Sydney, Australia where I worked with Aboriginal art and Asian Pacific Rim contemporary art.
I came home to Dallas to work for Neiman Marcus, then 9/11 happened and changed our world forever. Some soul-searching and a continued love for painting led me to teach children’s art & art history… to my great joy. I began meeting and painting for interior designers during these early days.
A few years later I moved to Austin to pursue art of a different kind, culinary arts – culinary school was a childhood dream of mine, as my extended family had Chinese restaurants and the noisy kitchen fascinated me with its sizzling sounds and fiery flavors. During culinary school, I continued to paint and sell my paintings in coffee shops, happy to share my color-filled travel-inspired pieces. Austin was vibrant and always-encouraging and I’ll forever be grateful for such an inclusive community.
Fast forward a million years, babies + a whole lot of living, and I realize painting has been this life-giving faithful friend, no matter the city, no matter the season.
Today I paint from my home studio with my studio pup + a couple of bearded dragons and I can’t wait to see what the future holds. I’m represented in Dallas by Maestri Gallery and feel lucky to work with designers creating custom pieces for residential & commercial spaces. My art has been adapted a dozen ways in new media, and I’m grateful for all the collaborations along the way.
SGD: Has it been a smooth road? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
CJ: Well maybe the adventure’s in the twists & turns; smooth roads are boring, right? I do believe whole-heartedly that “creativity” is an infinite thing, that it can’t be used up, so even when I find myself discouraged or out of ideas, I try to remember that it’ll be fresh again tomorrow. No matter how crazy life can be, it’ll be there for us, ready for our return. This brings me comfort in the dry seasons and helps me go to bed late-night when I’m afraid I’ve over-worked a piece.
I love collaborating with designers and collectors and I’m a people-pleaser, perhaps to a fault, so it’s been a valuable life lesson to learn to speak up for my ideas and find my worth in the joy creating brings me personally, even if a piece doesn’t always please someone else.
And then all the back-end office stuff, maybe the typical administrative struggles many artists face… taxes, licensing agreements, legal docs, ha! I’m so thankful for my husband and his finance-savvy ways!
SGD: What are you most proud of and what sets you apart from other artists?
CJ: I’m humbled by and most grateful that I’ve been asked to collaborate with some amazing brands. We’ve adapted my art by changing the scale & medium to giant wallcovering installations in hotels by LookWalls, and to Roma Boots rain boots that give back to children in need all over the world.
My art was part of a bespoke line of dresses by Dallas’ Rosie + Belle, and it’s on athleisure yoga pants. I’m on insulated sports bottles by Austin’s clean & green ThinkSport, and I’m in Home Goods via Wexel Art’s innovative acrylic shadow box line. My “Y’all Means All” Pride painting was adapted to street banners for Deep Ellum’s neighborhood initiative, and I was asked to design brand assets for the international olive oil brand, Carapelli.
I’m so thankful these companies thought of me for their ideas, and saw possibility in my artwork… I know I could never create this kind of impact on my own. Art keeps bringing us together and we’re better together.
SGD: What advice would you give to someone at the start of his or her career?
CJ: Just keep at it, little by little, give it your 10,000+ hours, as Malcom Gladwell suggests, and you’ll hone your craft and more importantly, become an expert at being YOU. Make time early in the morning or late at night and do it a little bit every day… keep showing up for creativity. Also, be curious, stay playful, stretch yourself and give yourself so much grace… you can always paint over it. Take classes. If you’re traditionally a 2D artist, sign up for a new medium, try a 3D glass-blowing or metal-working class. Try new things, go back to what you love.
I look back at works from 15-20 years ago and smile seeing similarities in my form and use of color, calling cards all my own, poured out by the unique length of my two clumsy arms, splattered and drizzled in a way that only I splatter (messy).
Imagine and render what genuinely interests you and makes you smile and chances are you’ll feel & share joy. Resist the temptation to ask an Instagram audience what they want to see, just be you and keep creating mini versions of you. We need more you.
SGD: What artists do YOU admire and why?
CJ: I love so many! Chagall for his use of childlike figures and dreamlike color, his whimsical story-telling. I love Matisse for his scissor-cut shapes that have influenced the blobby-shapes in my portraits’ faces. Christo + Jeanne Claude, for the ways they disrupted the landscape by colorfully wrapping objects we might have otherwise overlooked. And then for living artists, I love and admire my friends at ALG Collective (@algcollective) they have created this incredible co-op in the Dallas Design District, using their space to bring together and inspire all kinds of artists. They’re amazing.
All of these artists make me feel a sense of wonder and bring me joy, and in the end joy is what I pursue, my work’s highest goal – to bring a little joy. Even if you forget what my art looks like, perhaps you’ll remember how it made you feel.
SGD: If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?
CJ: I’d for sure be a zookeeper. My Instagram feed is equal parts paintings, cacti, and quokkas/otters/whales/puppies. I just think animals are amazing living works of art.
We are always looking for new artists to collaborate with and to feature in our Artist Spotlight. Send us your info or suggestions here!