'Artists can speak in a language that can be understood by everyone. No matter the culture, language, or personal experience… art can speak to all people.'
Barbara Hack is a realist figurative artist, working from her studio in Texas, USA. Through her figurative paintings and portraits, Barbara explores moods and feelings, revealing shared human emotions that connect us all.
Where is your current studio? What would be your dream studio?
Currently, I work in my home studio. I find it convenient and accessible to have it in my home because I can to paint at all hours of the day or night. I have found over the years that my environment does not really have an effect on my painting. I think I would paint even if I only had a closet. Right now, I like just having a place to myself to paint and create in. My dream studio looks similar to my dream house… larger with an amazing view, probably of the mountains or water. Though, if I could have both, that would look even better! I grew up near Lake Michigan, so I feel very connected to water. I have always loved the mountains or a rolling countryside, too. If I had to pick one dream location, I think I would choose Italy for its history, connection to art, culture, and landscape.
Do you prefer to work in silence or does certain music inspire you?
I can work either way. Sometimes, I even have a T.V. show on while I paint. Although, I
have to choose something I have seen a million times, so it works as comfortable and familiar
background noise. If I put on something I have not yet seen, I tend to get more caught up with
the plot than my work. Music works well as background noise too, but I generally pick
instrumental because lyrics distract me at times.
Studio life can lead to isolation, how do you address this/keep a balance?
I keep a pretty good balance, so isolation does not really serve as an issue for me. I
continue to teach a few students during the week, and I have family and close friends to keep me grounded. I find that these outlets serve as enough social interaction. Staying connected to
students, friends, and family has really helped me keep a balance between working in the studio and taking time for myself.
Describe a moment you had an epiphany concerning your creative life.
I feel very fortunate that, throughout my life, I have had a career, or several careers, that
involved creative outlets. That includes working as a courtroom artist, a fashion illustrator, an illustrator, an art instructor, etc. Each one of those jobs presented a fun and exciting opportunity; however, they did not provide me with the personal creative outlet that I hoped for. Three years ago, I made the scary and exciting leap into the fine art world to work as a full-time artist. I realized if not now, when?? I never looked back and have never regretted that decision. My creative life continues but on a different level. I think that the ability to change paths, reinvent yourself, or shift directions entirely presents one of the best parts of working as an artist. I love that I have had the chance to experience all of the paths that I have taken.
What is your favorite/least favorite part of the creative process?
I love the part of the creative process that involves coming up with ideas and getting
excited about a new project. It gets my creative side moving. On the other hand, I would say that my least favorite part involves the actual mechanics of gathering my reference materials, scheduling a time to take photos, etc. If I could, I would skip over the “getting organized stage” and move right into painting. I dislike anything that takes me away from the easel, even if it really it’s a necessary step for a project.
Do you have a personal mantra or quote which serves to motivate you?
Over the years, there have been many quotes and motivations from different areas. Robert
Henri’s book The Art Spirit is certainly one that I have taken a lot of personal growth and
direction from. He served as an inspiration over the years. However, the most important
motivation came a few years ago when I made the decision to become a full time artist. My
daughters were my main support. My oldest sent me a card that said “People don’t become
artists. In time, artists become themselves,” and she wrote in the card, “It’s your time.” I think,
now, I am finally starting to become myself. I’ll always be grateful and remember that quote.
How has your style evolved and what contributed to the changes?
After years of working to illustrate other people’s ideas and stories, my work now
represents my own story. I oscillate between a loose and tight style, so I constantly experiment
with new things and try not to follow one distinct pattern all the time. I find that I have become more comfortable with painting what I want to paint. I still work on commissions and projects
like those, but my own style continuously evolves as I work on projects inspired my own ideas
Describe an obstacle you have faced and how did you overcome it.
Because, over the years, I have worked in so many areas that required me to fulfil someone
else’s ideas, portray someone else’s passion, or simply reproduce someone else’s idea, I
sometimes lose the ability to come up with a concept and idea to tell my own story, my own
passion, and my own ideas. It has gotten easier, but I do still struggle with that at times.
Nature versus nurture – do you believe you have inherited abilities from creative parents, do you have creative siblings? Can you identify environmental factors or influences which led to your choices or directions?
I definitely believe that my family nurtured my abilities. My earliest memories are of
drawing, and my family always encouraged me. However, they had not ever worked as artists themselves. I had to pursue what I wanted to do with my abilities on my own. My mom would
have loved to have been an artist. She certainly had artistic ability. Unfortunately, due to the time and environment she grew up in, she had to take another career path. She supported me entirely, and she always encouraged my journey. I always have the desire to tell my mom and share the excitement with her about every show that I get into, every accolade I receive, and just the fact that I can paint for a living. I did not have any specific art classes or instruction, per se, until I went to college. I just knew that I wanted to learn to draw when I got there. I consider myself very fortunate to have had a professor who acted as my academic counselor and completely believed that art involved learning a skill, a marketable skill, that would follow me out of college. Even though I attended a small, Catholic college, I had very strong classical training, and I will forever feel indebted to that professor. The ability to draw has provided me many opportunities over years that I might not have had available to me if I had not had drawing as part of my skillset.
I also had a friend in college whose mother worked as an artist. I looked at her work with
extreme respect. She was not only physically beautiful; she was intelligent, creative, and an
amazing architect. I wanted to be just like her. She treated me with such kindness and always
lent me the support and nurturing that I needed at that time.
Is there something you regard as essential to your preparation or process?
In general, I would categorize myself as a very messy painter, but I cannot start a new project
until I have cleaned and organized my workspace. It becomes messy, disorganized, and
destroyed in the painting process, and I do not really see that as an issue. However, before I start anything new, I have to get back to an organized state. The one thing I know to be true of myself is that I never start a painting or drawing the same way twice. I don’t have a pattern or procedure that I follow for each project. I rely on the figure in front of me or in the photo to tell me what direction I take to start.
Detail a moment which was the highlight for you, thus far.
Having started this journey later in my life, I have felt excited and honored to have had certain
accomplishments. I never thought that I would have two paintings accepted into the Art Renewal Center (ARC). As a part of my process, I have entered competitions and gotten a sense of belonging and recognition in the art world. Some of the most exciting moments of this adventure involves the number of artists that I have met and become friends with. Their friendship and ongoing support motivates and inspires me daily.
If you could time travel, what advice would you give the younger you, regarding pursuing your
I would encourage my younger-self to become more business savvy, now understanding art has many business aspects. I do not want to take away from the romance of working as an artist, but I have found marketing, business, and promotional skills key to this job. While it certainly does not drive or excite me, those skills present a necessary evil. I never want that part of the job to overshadow the fun and excitement of waking up every day to paint.
How does your work respond to social trends?
I do not really follow too many social trends. I feel grateful, since I work predominately in these
fields, that contemporary realism and figurative realism have experienced more widespread
appreciation and acceptance. I would say that I follow a trend in that the main focus for my work has become more popular; however, I do not think I tend to follow any other trends.
What do you hope to convey through your work?
I focus on figurative work because I want to tell people’s stories. The majority of my inspiration
comes from things or people that I see, and a voice in my head tells me that I need to paint that subject. It can come during a ride on the subway, in a hotel lobby, or from the people around me. Sometimes, the reason that I paint that particular subject or the meaning of the painting does not come out until I have begun the process of painting. I like to tell a story with my work. Sometimes, the painting shows the person’s story, and other times, it shows my own story. Quite often when I paint someone else’s image and show their narrative, I learn a lot about myself.