Wild Life Art with Carla Grace

Hello Carla! We were stunned by the quality of your work – and extremely impressed with your background. We have seen that you were born in South Africa and has immigrated several times growing up before settling in Australia. How has that influenced you as a person? And do you believe that living in Africa and the experience you had there has led you somehow to become the type of artist you are today?

Hello! Thank you so much. Yes, I have immigrated 5 times in my life so far, and believe it has formed the fundamental approach I have towards life. After you pack down your entire life to 30kgs of luggage on multiple occasions you soon learn the truth about where value lies. Not being able to keep things like art and luxury items due to moving so much, has made me seek to create them for others. Being around wildlife in the 90s while living in Zimbabwe was a truely unique experience. It formed in me a deep love and intuitive understanding of nature which I have carried with me through out my life.

Correct me if I am wrong, but you have been, most of your artistic career, focused on realistic wild life painting. I have seen on your social media side by side photos of the photographs you use as reference and your finished artwork – and it’s amazing how your paintings bring so much life, depth and strength to your characters, more than you can actually see from the original photo of the animal. Is that how you bring the “artist personal touch” to your realistic paintings? And being self-taught, how difficult was it for you to develop your artistic style on the realistic front?

The changes I make to the painting compared to the reference photos come from my gut feeling about the animal itself. There is also an element of technical challenge I like to give myself with each artwork - testing out new ideas on lighting or method of detailing - while representing the animals in the best possible way. I guess this would translate into the personal touch. I don’t always know how I will alter the painting until I am in the thick of it, as usually the animal creates its own language on the canvas as I work.

I love that I have been able to teach myself and develop my technique over the years. I didn’t notice any specific difficulty in doing it myself, as I would just adapt to the limitations I faced and work through it. I am still developing my technique, and I think I always will be. I feel grateful that I wasn’t handed an instant method from the start, because the stubbornness I needed to cultivate in order to work through all the hard times taught me a lot. I think that it’s because of being self taught that I have the endurance I need to make this line of work a success.

Beauty in art is a very discussed subject where most people simply agree to disagree. What is beauty for you, and is beauty something you try to portrait in your paintings?

Beauty is the core focus of what I create. But beauty is such a vague term when it comes to art as it also relates to an emotional interpretation as well as the aesthetic quality of the painting. To me, it is everything that encompasses an artwork - the visual image, the talent needed to create it, the quality of the physical materials, the way it is presented, the story behind it and how it makes me feel.

I guess in the art world, the ‘ugly’ drives just as much inspiration for artists as the ‘beautiful’ does, and sometimes those ‘ugly’ things can become a thing of ‘beauty’ in the eye of the beholder - depending on the type of emotive response it generates. To some people, to see an artwork that is so grotesque that it makes you feel sick is a wonderful artwork simply because the emotive response was so strong. ‘Pretty pictures’ are created in volume by a large amount of artists. However, the truely phenomenal, the pieces that really take your breath away for inexplicable reasons, are done by very, very few. That kind of beauty is where I find myself going.

Some of your latest paintings follow a quite different and (in my opinion) extraordinary concept / thematic where you put together incredible wild animals with very human scenarios. For example, “Uncouth”, where you have two tigers enjoying a lovely stake on a marble table around a bottle of wine. Where the idea for these series came from? And how challenging was it to incorporate so different elements together – and still make it work?

This series has been in the making for over two years. Ever since I started working with wildlife, I’ve been battling with the need to take it further, rather than just creating a pretty portrait of a specific animal. However, I did not have the skills or the imagination to do this. So I spent the first 3 years essentially training myself to get to the level of skill and understanding of my materials. The decision to create a hypothetical scenario where wild animals were invited over for dinner came from my love for food and being a hostess. It also teased my interest in wanting to try painting still life elements that area associated with the table setting from drapery, food, liquids, vases and maybe even bugs. Incorporating all the different elements posed a challenge because even the actual animals themselves would have to be created from multiple different images. I would have to stage all the elements for the painting and recreate the lighting that I saw on the photos in order to make it believable. I think I also really like that there is now a story associated with the wildlife, where as before, when the animal was just depicted in a portrait, the story was very limited.

You are now based in Australia – what some would say is quite far from…well, the rest of the world. Does that make it any more difficult for your collectors to buy art from you? How they usually find you, and are they more local or more international?

I think I could live anywhere in the world and it wouldn’t make a difference to how accessible I am to my collectors. I have the world of social media to thank for that! It is so easy for collectors to contact me directly and invest in either a commission or an original. They find me online, and just simply email me. I don’t think I have had any local sales (South Australia is more interested in landscape art I think), they have all been international or interstate.

Following you Instagram, your fans can see a bit of your personal life, the “wonder woman” behind the paintings. You prepare your own panels and canvases, you take care of your beautiful daughter Emily, and is also in charge of your whole business model and social media – that has over 130k followers. How is it for you to juggle all of it? And which “jobs” you love more, and which ones you would not do if you did not have to?

To be honest, juggling multiple tasks is something I am good at because I am an organised and disciplined person. However, as I have started to scale up my business, I have accepted that I need to delegate the tasks more. This has meant hiring an assistant once a week and sending Emily to day care - which she absolutely loves! I definitely don’t consider myself much of a “wonder woman”, I just feel tired all the time. I love doing the correspondence, and marketing side of everything. I absolutely do not like packaging and shipping! The logistics and the amount of time it consumes is very frustrating for me.

With such an outstanding talent, it is natural that you will inspire many other artists out there with your ideas and painting. I have seen you have created extremely detailed tutorials sharing your art techniques, and you also share videos with tips on the most diverse topics, from working with galleries to prints and copyright owner of commissions. It’s so rare to find artists willing to share their knowledge and technique secrets! Tell us a bit more of that side of things! And is teaching something you enjoy doing?

This is so interesting that you picked up on that. I never thought I would be able to teach what I know, but it turns out it is something I am pretty good at. Naturally, I enjoy doing something that has good results, which means I have found unexpected fulfilment in this side of what I do.

I agree that majority of artists keep their knowledge close to their heart for fear of enabling their competition. I used to think like this at the start, but struggled with the greediness of that mentality. Everything I know has been learned through watching others, researching and experience. I do not ever claim to be an expert, I just simply have figured a few things out that work for me, or are relevant to my journey. I figured that maybe someone else out there would find it useful too. There are also a few things that I wish I had been told when I was leaving high school, or at uni to help make things a bit more clear. So for a while I had a passion for wanting to be invited to talk at high schools, to talk to the kids that wanted to know more about being an artist. Obviously, without an invite there wasn’t much I could do, so I decided to just put the information out there anyway, hoping that the people that needed to would hear it.

I think that since I became a parent, I have found greater value in being able to influence the life of another person through sharing my experience and knowledge. To enable your child to exceed your greatest successes is a massive honour. This is also how I feel about other artists. If there is a world class artist out there, who has their break through because of something I shared, imagine the incredible honour it would be to be remembered by that artist as being a key role in their career? Like being named personally by Da Vinci for some key bit of information he needed to paint the Mona Lisa for example. Being a successful artist is one kind of achievement, but being part of the careers and lives of many successful artists is another thing all together. There is no price tag anyone can put on that. Withholding information and experience from others out of fear for their potential greatness is the saddest and most selfish thing humanity can do to itself in this era. An artist should celebrate their success based on their own merits, not based on the failure of other artists.

Carla, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your work and your thoughts with us! We wish you all the best luck in your future endeavors.