Artist Interview - Lexi Hannah
Every artist has their own unique background, style, experiences, techniques and perspective. We can all learn from each other, be inspired by one another, and continue to share the joy of art. Here's what artist Lexi Hannah had to say:
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Lexi Hannah, I'm an artist from Albany, New York. I'm currently traveling through South America, where I'm doing custom murals for people's homes. I've been doing this for the past few years across various other locations, such as a B&B in Italy, a church in Albany, and a few schools across New York. Aside from mural work I tutor students and regularly take commissions in a variety of subjects and styles, which helps keep the long hours in my studio interesting! I recently completed illustrating my first children's book while cranking out landscape and portrait commissions; I'm also experimenting with a series of colorful drip paintings.
Why do you do what you do?
I don't know if I could not do what I do! I'm fully present in the moment while painting, which offers a release from my often too-busy brain. It's become an almost meditative practice for me; it's healing, gratifying, rewarding.
How and when did you get into art?
I've been painting and drawing since I was very young. When I look back on elementary school, high school, college, I can't think of a time when I wasn't working on some sort of artistic project. I did, however, struggle with that dreaded artistic self-doubt for quite a while… While it's a wonderful thing to be self-motivated, I believe external encouragement can really help an artist blossom. I think that turning point for me, when I started taking my art more seriously, was in college; there I took every class I could with a master watercolorist named Tom MacPherson, who helped me develop the skills and confidence I needed to believe in myself as a professional artist. Thanks, Tom!
How has your practice changed over time?
Although I thoroughly enjoyed being a student, I believe it turned me into a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to proportion, perspective, details… Now that I'm free from a given criteria and able to experiment with materials and style, I'm more focused on the moment than the outcome. In terms of my practice, this means less frustration, more enjoyment.
What's your favorite piece of art you've created? Why?
I really love this tiger drip-painting. This is a new style that I've been experimenting with, where I put down water-resistant material before dripping watercolor and gouache over the paper. I've been recording the end of the process- where the watercolor reveals the image underneath- which makes for a pretty neat time-lapse video (a compilation can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Km3BU5oZNg). Because the water-resistant material is transparent, I don't have much of an idea of how the painting will turn out (a practice in letting go of precision!), which means a lot of failed attempts… After producing more than a few indistinguishable pieces, it was nice to see this tiger emerge from the page.
What's the best piece of art advice you've been given?
The aforementioned Tom, post-graduation, told me that if I really soak in inspiration from as many avenues as possible, the possibilities will be endless. I studied art history, which definitely helped provide me with a wide scope of inspiration and influence, but there is definitely a desire among artists to be fresh, new, and unique… I've definitely come to realize that, as my mother says, "nothing is original under the sun;" that is to say, it's all been done. But this isn't necessarily a negative; if we attempt to be merely unique, we may disregard the beauty created by the many amazing artists before us and around us. If we can instead allow ourselves to acknowledge and integrate the many styles and influences into our artistic reference… and combine that with our own unique perspective formed through study, experience, travel… just imagine what you can come up with! In short, inspiration is everywhere; let it in.
What's one art tip-technique you can share with us that you find really helpful?
This may go against my more recent attempts to "let go" in my artwork, but with my art students I find that the cliché rings true- if you're trying to capture likeness, you have to "draw what you see, not what you know." As we grow older, we develop a pretty thorough understanding of what certain things generally look like- a cat, a face, the sky, a tree… and these ideas get in the way of drawing that cat, face, sky, or tree in front of you, because you're mixing the direction of your hand with the idea of where everything should go. While drawing from life, you have to get out of your mind, and fully into the moment. Drop what you think it should look like, and observe the object in front of you as if you've never seen it before; separate the image into a series of lines, shapes, and shadows. This helps you to better capture likeness to the subject, and the more you practice this, the better your eye is trained for drawing to scale.
Do you have any secret tips or techniques you use to salvage a piece when you make a mistake?
When I make a mistake, I like to let go of the "rules" I'd set up for the painting and create something out of it. I love working with watercolors, but it's a common occurrence for a splash of paint to find itself where it doesn't belong. Who's to say I can't turn that blob into a balloon, a flower, a tiny googly-eyed monster? The painting may be far more interesting for said googly-eyed monster. Sometimes mistakes can produce works of creativity far greater than you originally intended to, and that may be a good thing (this mindset is great for the less-coordinated artists among us, myself included).
What is your favorite Strathmore paper?
I've been loving the large-scale Mixed Media. It works perfectly with both wet and dry media, which allows artistic freedom... Whether I want to drip, splatter, or blend the paint, it always dries exactly as I intended it to, which is definitely not always the case with other brands. I also love the Strathmore watercolor postcards, as I travel quite a bit and it's so nice to be able to paint scenes from far-away and send them home to family and friends!
What art materials could you not live without?
I've fallen in love with water brushes; they already have water inside, so all you need is paint and a palette and you're ready to go! I love to paint the view after a long journey (especially after a hike!), and these brushes make it super easy. For on-the-go paintings like this, I like to use my Strathmore Visual Journal.
See more from Lexi: