Artist of the Month: Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS

by Andrea Hupke de Palacio /
Andrea Hupke de Palacio's picture
Jul 01, 2016 / 0 comments

We are very happy to present you Carla O'Connor and her wonderful watercolor art. I have been following Carla's art ever since I took a DVD workshop with her. I loved being introduced to her technique and also to her open-minded generosity. Thank you Carla for accepting to be presented as our artist of the month at The Wandering Educators.

In her watercolor paintings, Carla achieves a quiet complexity through the well balanced juxtaposition of light and dark, of bright and muted colors. Busy areas shifting into quiet zones take the eyes on an adventurous journey. 

There is a lot of movement in Carla's paintings, splashing drops, spheres and other shapes travel over geometrical color fields in the background, enhancing the beauty of the central human figures in Carla's dreamlike compositions. 

How long have you been an artist?
I have been an artist my entire life. At 9 years old, while traveling with my mother, I painted on location with oils in Paris and with watercolors in Venice. At age 13, I took classes at the Instituto de Allende, San Miguel, Mexico and after graduation from Kent State University, Ohio in 1966 with a Fine Arts degree in Painting, I began working professionally until the present date.
Carla in Venice at 9 years old. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Carla in Venice at 9 years old.
Carla's painting of Paris at 9 years old. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Carla's painting of Paris at 9 years old

Is your art a full time career?
Yes, but I have worn many different hats through the years. I had jobs at a billboard company cleaning silk screens, doing magazine layouts, and working in the display department for a major retail company. Fresh out of college, I married a dashing brand new Lieutenant and all the Air Force years began. We pulled up stakes and moved 14 times in 22 years. I paid my dues at art fairs and festivals with our babies in baskets at my feet. I showed my work in small town galleries when I could find them and even started my own small school and art supply business. I also began my first forays in teaching, with small private classes in the dining rooms and in local community colleges. We were fortunate to be assigned to a NATO posting and lived in The Netherlands for four years. I joined a Dutch art gallery – the only American artist—and did children’s portraits in pastels to fund frequent trips to Paris and the Louvre. Needless to say, I visited as many of the world’s famous art museums as possible. Our last Air Force move landed us in Washington State and the Puget Sound area, where I realized a life long dream and opened a fine art gallery to showcase my work and that of other artists, and gained invaluable knowledge about the other side of the fence. It was the time of national and international exhibitions, with some amazing awards including the American Watercolor Society Silver Medal and Dolphin Fellowship and of course some rejections. My experiences eventually lead to invitations to teach watercolor workshops. The last 30 years have been spent teaching 1-2 week long classes booked 2-3 years in advance around the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The most I ever taught in one year was 17. More recently I put down the suitcase and hung up the apron in order to work in my own studio and concentrate on gallery commitments and exhibition competitions. With the World Wide Web at your fingertips, it is only a button push away to all the art being made on the planet and more and more exhibition opportunities. I have shown work in China five times and had a feature article in an art magazine in France and the UK.
Gallery Walk. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Gallery Walk
Time Travelers. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Time Travelers
Between Poses. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Between Poses
Kim and Megan. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Kim and Megan
Black Gown. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Black Gown

What materials do you prefer?
Since I was classically trained in oils, it was a smooth transition to acrylics on canvas and then to watercolor on paper. I have always been a two- dimensional artist and it was usually someone’s work that I admired that led to each change of medium. I added Gouache to my works on paper in order to give variance to the surface and more subtlety to colors. The Pacific Northwest is all soft blues, greens, and greys, and gouache is the perfect medium to capture this environment. There is the added advantage that Gouache can be applied like oil pigment, leading me full circle and I now paint on Clay board panels with a cold wax sealer, as often as paper. This has allowed me to return to ‘pure direct painting’ without gimmicks or hindrances attached to the medium. In the classroom, I often expressed strong feelings about “the Medium” having too much importance. It should not be the first thing a viewer sees or remarks about. 

The major art supplier here in the NW is Daniel Smith Inc. and a number of years ago, at my request, he made the acrylic Gold Gesso you see demonstrated on my DVD - The Process. In the classroom, I found the biggest obstacle to the students was a debilitating fear of fatal mistakes. Applying this gesso as an undertone gives the artist several advantages - freedom to correct and change at will, free of fear, and a warm unifying golden glow in the tradition of old masters painting process of staining the canvas for atmosphere and value options. (Sadly, D.S. Inc. has stopped making acrylics but a gold acrylic gesso is available from Holbein art supplies.)
The Courtesans. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
The Courtesans
Of Kimonos and Kabuki. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Of Kimonos and Kabuki
Spirit Pouch. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Spirit Pouch

Where and how are you inspired?
The human form has always been my deepest inspiration. However, upon moving to the Pacific NW, I fell in love with the rocky shore of Puget Sound. I seesawed between figure work and abstract landscapes until I realized I was fragmented and both subjects were suffering. Settling on the landscapes led to a series called “Rock Rhythms” and gave me national recognition, inclusion in books of others, and numerous magazine articles. At the conclusion of the series, I was able to return to figurative work all the better. 

A recent local exhibit exploring the tradition and history of wearing masks in all cultures and through the centuries was the inspiration for a large body of new work. Since we all wear masks, be they paper or facial expression, at various times for many reasons - love, fear, power, courage, mystery, respect status, insecurity, intrigue, or just play - it is interesting to think of what these disguises do for us and to us. 

But usually, I have found that the best inspiration comes from getting in the studio daily and just plain working – and working hard! 
Rock Rhythms I. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Rock Rhythms I
Rock Rhythms II. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Rock Rhythms II
Watergrass. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Hourglass. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS

How do you know when your piece is done?
Most watercolorists are told “Don’t Overwork,” but I have found that stopping too soon can be worse than overdone. It can be a crutch for giving up and not analyzing or critiquing one’s own work. By pushing on, the painting says to a juror that this artist gave some serious thought and effort to go beyond the usual. Personally, I try to let the painting breathe, rest, and just ‘be’ for some time before signing it. Almost always, it is not done when I first think so. There have been occasions when a piece was so unresolved that I set it aside for as much as a year. Coming back to it with an entirely different perspective, I found the solution easily.
River’s Edge. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
River’s Edge
Passing Fancy. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Passing Fancy
Bellissime. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Still Water. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Still Water

Do you work on more than one piece at a time?
It is my habit to have several pieces going at one time because they feed and inspire each other. I am better able to see common threads or unique differences and capitalize on those aspects – or not! The human eye cannot see the entire painting at one time usually focused like the camera. You can only concentrate on a small area at a time, so working on several pieces at once allows you the time to study each individually. Discovering something that was missed at first glance keeps the work fresh and stimulating.
Behind the Mask. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Behind the Mask
Disguise. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
On the Wind. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
On the Wind

What does a typical day look like?
I used to rise, get coffee, chores done, and hit the studio at about 11:00 am and stay till 4-5ish. My husband had not yet retired so the day was my own. Now my clock has slowed down a bit and I find my most productive hours are in the afternoon or even into the early evening. Now it’s after breakfast, after exercise, after all the chores in and out of the house. There is a progression for every artist -- age, time, circumstances, commitments, obligations—and we each find our own rhythm.
Hunters and Gatherers. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Hunters and Gatherers

If you were not a painter/sculptor/photographer, etc. what would you be?
All the years teaching made me a student of communication and psychology. It was both challenging and frustrating to meet 25 new people every month and try to clearly explain something so personal and visual. If I had another lifetime, I would go back to school and study the human brain and its emotional responses to visual stimuli and how we translate the spoken word and process instructions. 

 OR…. I always thought it would be a great job to be the person who gets to name all the color chips in a paint store!
Men of the House. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Men of the House
Antelope Mask. Artist Carla O’Connor, AWS-df/NWS
Antelope Mask


Find Carla's work at The Art Spirit Gallery of Fine Art:'Connor/works/

Or at her website,  and, of course, Carla's email, should anyone want to contact her, is art [at]


Andrea Hupke de Palacio is the Arts Co-Editor for Wandering Educators. Born in 1957 in Giessen, Germany, Andrea began studying drawing and painting at an early age, encouraged by her family. She studied arts at one of the private Paris art schools, the Ecole Supérieur d’Art Françoise Conte and graduated as a textile Designer in 2005.  
For a short period, she discovered the Fashion and Interior Design World, with its précision, style and finesse which helped her to develop her love for the détail. Today she uses these skills to develop her painting. For her sketches and drawings, as well as her paintings she uses different media(s) on various materials, with liberty and intuition. Watercolor, Pencil, Gouache, Ink, Egg-Tempera, Acrylic on Paper, Canvas, or textiles.

Andrea’s paintings can be found in private collections througout Europe and she regularly organizes exhibitions and participate in art markets in Germany and France. She is also the co-founder of Atelier 325, together with Kim Rodeffer Funk, a Washington, DC-based artist.



All photos courtesy and copyright Carla O’Connor