Spring share artist Karin Olah recently sat down to chat with CSA co-founder Anne Trabue Watson-Nelson. Read on to see what she said about working as an artist, being a full time mom, her time in Colorado, and the daily dance parties she has in her studio!

ATWN: Do you remember the first piece you ever made? 

Image:  I Like Being a Kid, 1982, crayon, pencil, and marker on paper, 11 x 14 inches

ATWN: What is your process for creating work?

KO: I work from photographs that I take while on family walks, days at the beach, and even views from favorite playgrounds.

When in my studio, I reference several photos when making one painting. Sometimes using the sunlight or clouds from photo A and the distant coastline from photo B, I can patchwork together my own Southern place and time.

My process begins with an under-drawing akin to an architectural draft. Sometimes these lines peek through, revealing a history of mark making. I add more layers with opaque gouache, acrylic paint, watercolor crayons, pencil, and pastels. Then a layer of what makes my work uniquely “Karin Olah” - intricately cut fabric, soaked in rice starch, and applied as brushstrokes. Then I repeat: drawing, painting, and fabric collage, up to 12 layers deep. From a distance, the painting has a depth in color and texture. Up close, a viewer can see the hand-dyed cotton, linen, and silk fabrics I use.

ATWN: Do you have a favorite fabric to work with?

KO: Seersucker - it’s southern, it’s preppy, it’s summery, and it’s fun to use stripes.

ATWN: Did living in Colorado change your work in any way?  Have other cities that you’ve lived in affected your work?

KO: I lived in Colorado in 2012 and 2013.  In those years the series was very bright, gem-toned abstract paintings (some are at Corrigan Gallery right now). One winter, my unheated studio was too cold, so I took over the kitchen table with my fabric and paints.  I worked on small studies of the veggies, herbs, and fruits from the fridge.

Image:  Strawberry Rhubarb, 2013, Fabric, Gouache, Pastel, Pencil on Linen, 14 x 18 inches

ATWN: Has becoming a mother affected the work that you do?

KO: Keeping the business going while having two little girls is not easy. When I have my designated studio-time and my husband has his designated daddy-time, I focus on painting with calm colors… and channeling a peaceful moment.

ATWN: What does your average day in the studio look like?

KO: 9:15am  Make a big ol’ mug of Earl Grey tea, drop off kids at Preschool.

9:45am  Tie on an apron, crank up some dance music, and pick up where I left off.

I work on about 5 paintings at a time.. each at different stages. One will get an undercoat, another will need a layer of fabric arranged and adhered. I need several hours of drying time between layers - so having multiple paintings in the works keeps me busy. If I’m starting a new piece, I dig through my iPhoto, select a landscape, and begin with a pencil sketch.

12:15 pm  Clean up, wash brushes, race to pick up the kids.

8:00pm   When possible, I work on marketing, inventory, framing, social media, website, and business stuff in the evening.

ATWN: What are your goals as an artist?

KO: To live what I love, to support myself as an artist, to find inspiration, make art, and share my ideas.

ATWN: How do you enjoy your spare time?

KO: Every morning, when my 3year old daughter crawls into bed, she asks, “What mission are we going on?”  And then I have less than 5 seconds to come up with something fun before she starts jumping on the bed. We like to go walking through the woods at the very end of Fort Johnson Road (my favorite view of Charleston Harbor) tooting around downtown, stop in at our favorite playgrounds, or get messy at the beach or in our backyard.

Then, at the end of the day, after tubbies, jimmy-jams, and beddy-byes, I crash on the couch, timber-style, and laugh very hard because it feels like midnight, but the clock says 8pm.  And my husband pats my shoulder and says, “There, there,” because we miss going out on the town like we once did, but are so grateful for our full lives with very little time to spare.

ATWN: What do you take away from being a CSA artist?

KO: I feel like I just completed a full solo show.  It’s a collection that will never be on exhibit together for anyone but me.  I lined up all 46 paintings and enjoyed a private showing.  Then I picked out my favorite 32 paintings and wrapped them up for CSA.

ATWN: What do you like to listen to in your studio?

KO: Crazy Dance Music.  Usually a mix of Chromeo, Daft Punk, anything Michael Jackson, Motown, electronic, techno, house music, neo-disco.  I’ve had 1, no 2, roommates who were DJs and shared studio space with turntables - so I like loud dance music and enjoy turning a Tuesday morning art-session into a dance party.  My neighbors must think I’m nuts.

ATWN: Can you describe a single habit that you strongly believe contributes to your success?

KO: Community.  My success is because I cultivated relationships with gallery owners, artists, art students, art teachers, designers, town leaders, and art lovers.  I met many through working at an art supply store when I first moved to town and didn’t know a soul. I say: Accept invitations.  Show up to openings. Offer to help your art friends - hang a show, tend bar,  help photograph, organize a group critique -  Love and support your peer artists near and far.  Support your local galleries and artists and they will support you back.


Karin Olah is one of the 2015 Spring season artists.