Carolyn Utigard Thomas is a contemporary artist working primarily in watercolor. Her paintings are adventures of the spirit and landscapes of the mind.
Carolyn was born in Chicago, grew up in St. Paul and Indianapolis, and graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Cincinnati, with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Science in Education degrees
Her varied career has taken her from designing for Hallmark in Kansas City to working for Astroworld in Houston, designing and painting everything from posters and murals to stage sets. Carolyn then had a commercial art business, creating logos, advertising illustrations, and wall graphics.
Find out more in the newest MysticMag interview.
Your paintings seem to delve into the inner realms of human experience. Could you explain how you conceptualize and portray the notion of “adventures of the spirit” within your artwork?
I do think of my paintings as adventures of the spirit rather than depictions of physical subjects, which do not interest me in the least at this time. I’m 80 now and after a long career as a commercial artist, carefully designing, planning, and executing projects to please clients, I love working more intuitively and spontaneously, often beginning to play with paint before having a plan. I allow the subject to appear, rather than drawing it first. I am interested in bridging the gap between physical reality, dreams, emotional feelings, and spiritual experience.
Sometimes this is achieved by the use of transparent watercolor layers with multiple images, much like our brain works, holding multiple juxtaposed subjects at once or as in dream, where subjects can imaginatively morph from one subject to another.
I currently count daily meditation as a major source of inspiration. If I can communicate the feelings of peace, awe, and love I have experienced there, I’m so happy. Music can also enhance my process by creating good energy and channeling rhythm and movement that I incorporate into my paintings.
The mind is a vast landscape of thoughts, emotions, and ideas. How do you approach translating this complexity onto the canvas, creating what could be described as “landscapes of the mind”?
Referring to my paintings as “landscapes of the mind” was an observation made by a customer many years ago after viewing my work. I loved this and have used it in my bios ever since. It is always rewarding when a viewer sees meaningful connections in the work. My intent, of course, is to communicate my own feelings and thoughts. It’s even better when they find personal meanings that go beyond my own! To me, landscape involves a scope of area containing many elements of vision and I do try to do that.
Your choice of colors and visual elements in your paintings is quite evocative. How do these artistic choices contribute to conveying the depth and richness of spiritual exploration and the mental journey?
Soft overlapping colors and veiled layers of images help to create a dreamlike effect. I work standing at a vertical easel. Wetting the entire area with water first, I then start applying diluted watercolor with a large, flat brush with upward strokes allowing the paint to roll down the page and then apply more colors, overlapping and also leaving some unpainted areas, playing” with the spaces and colors. Almost all work is begun this way. Then it needs to dry. Now a lot of imagining and staring happens in order to see what is suggested. Often things totally change in the process before a painting is finished.
Sometimes, during or after it’s done, a message comes to me that goes with the painting. When that happens, I write it down to be included on a slip of paper that goes with that piece. Many times, these words are as important to my customers as the painting. It has definitely added another dimension to the healing aspect of my art.
In your artwork, there’s a sense of movement and progression, as if the viewer is embarking on a voyage. How do you guide the audience through these adventures and landscapes using the language of art?
The multiple images on many pieces allow you to project a story or personal journey element. When I’m listening to music, the movement and rhythm of it are automatically instilled into a painting. The music’s frequency and energy level really translate and become an integral part of the ability to communicate the emotion I feel.
Imagination plays a significant role in both spiritual exploration and mental landscapes. How do your paintings capture the interplay between imagination and reality in the context of these inner journeys?
Being open to my inner connection to the Source, higher self, God (as in meditation,) allows ideas to come forth, sometimes very directly and sometimes in ideas that form. After a piece has begun, the work, itself demands certain things. Then one thing leads to another.
Viewers might find personal connections to the themes of your paintings. What do you hope they take away from experiencing the adventures of the spirit and the landscapes of the mind that you’ve portrayed?
I hope viewers enjoy my colors, energy, paint quality, and imagery, but also that they feel peace, joy, or inspiration. It’s especially exciting to me when a customer relates a personal experience with one of my paintings and finds something different than I ever imagined!