In the Fall 2016 issue of Acrylic Artist, we feature Karen Yee’s work which spotlights a group of people many of us may not even know exists—aficionados who dress and assume the characteristics of swashbuckling pirates. Many are simply enthusiasts while others are actors looking for another outlet to express their creative energy.
Yee’s paintings capture these remarkably colorful characters full of life and adventure. Yee told us that she’s discovered that those in masks and in character often feel more freedom to reveal their true selves than they do when dressed in traditional street clothes.
We asked Yee to take us deeper into the details of one of her pirates, Lt. John Ash of the Royal Navy.
Acrylic Artist: Karen, Lt. John Ash of the Royal Navy makes me think of the good guy in a sea of bad guys. What drew you to this character?
Karen Yee: I liked the fact that he was different, and a foil for all the pirates. Every Hatfield must have his McCoy, just as every cop must have his robber. He stays totally in character when in costume which is delightful!
AA: You’ve said you think many of your subjects are “more themselves” when in costume, and that what some may see as an attempted escape from reality is more a pathway toward freedom to be who they really want to be. When you are painting are you escaping from reality or is painting your true reality?
KN: It has been said that every painting is a self-portrait to a point. I suppose a part of me gets into the mix, but when I paint, I escape time for awhile. As for the models, I don’t think the costumes they choose are done so by accident. Something draws them to it, something that is revealed about themselves, maybe even if they are not aware of it.
AA: In the feature story you share that it can take years to complete a painting. How do you stay drawn to and inspired to work on one piece over such a long period of time? How are you able to recapture the momentum and motivation?
KN: That is a very good question. Sometimes it is very hard, which is why it takes so long to complete. Sometimes I have to simply stare at the composition for hours or days to remember why I was attracted to it in the first place, and grow the motivation to finish it. Sometimes motivation to work on another painting can act as drive to finish an older one.
AA: How do you maintain color consistency over such long periods of time?
KN: I paint in layers or washes. When I am done with where I want to place a color, then I can move on or take a break. So, when I return, even if I am painting the same object, let’s say a hat, I am working with slightly different color, perhaps darker or lighter than the earlier color.
AA: What advice do you have for artists who want to create but are frustrated that they do no have large blocks of time in which to paint?
KN: I think that would depend on the personality. I know many artists who do very fine detailed work which takes them years to finish, and they have no problem with that. Some with less patience might need to find either a way to work more quickly, or choose a subject that better fits their painting style. I do get frustrated; I wish I could paint quicker (and better) than I do, but you work with what you have, right?