What’s Up With the Floating People?

1 Jun 2014

Oil painting by Caitlin Hurd, Cows
Hurd's work (above, Cows, oil on canvas, 2009, 72 x 72) is a bit
tongue in cheek when it comes to the idea of the American dream,
playing on the idea of sleepwalking to achieve those "dreams."
That’s one of the first questions I put to artist Caitlin Hurd about her oil paintings, which feature dazed, inert figures floating through the landscape. But they aren’t floating as much as sleepwalking, according to Hurd.

“It all started with how I wanted to live my life,” she says. “Dealing with expectations of finding a husband, making babies, living in a house—it felt like I could go through all of the motions but be sleepwalking through life. That’s why I try to do whatever I do with purpose—thinking about what I’m doing before I do it,” she says.

That kind of purposeful focus has driven Hurd to explore many artistic platforms—computer animation, furniture design, and public art murals—but her decision to pursue painting came out of a desire to really learn the nuts and bolts of how to paint. “As an undergrad, the style of teaching was more ‘make what you feel,’ not a lesson in technique,” she says. As a result, Hurd found herself abstracting things that she didn’t know how to paint instead of choosing what to abstract based on her concept. After grad school at the New York Academy of Art, Hurd came away with a high level of technical ability that allows her to paint any way she wants.

Oil painting by Caitlin Hurd, Family Portrait, oil on canvas
Hurd often depicts loved ones and family members
in her work (Family Portrait, oil on canvas, 2010,
60 x 84). The floating animals are somewhat like
angels to her—benevolent, gentle beings.
In any oil painting by Hurd, the viewer can see the artist’s process. Hurd draws directly on her canvas with a paintbrush, totally rendering some parts and abstracting others. She likes the fact that the viewer can see the drawing underneath the finished work.

In any given work, Hurd paints what suits her, keeping parts that she likes and not feeling pressure to render everything to a high finish. Instead, each oil painting reveals parts of the whole painting process—sketching, drawing, and final rendering.

But what I most wanted to know from Hurd is how she got her figures to look like they do. “I have this theater harness. I put models in it, but sometimes I just put a dress on top, and hoist it up and take pictures,” she says.

Hurd’s story interested me because she wasn’t really happy with her artwork until she was able to paint with a high level of technical ability. That same desire exists for many of us, including me. I want a solid foundation in oil painting, even though I’m not able to immerse myself in it as a full-time student. That’s where resources like Basic Color Mixing Techniques and Painting Techniques of the Masters with Mark Menendez, and more, have come into play for me. Each one has allowed me to work at my own pace as I strive to master the techniques that I know can put me well on my way to painting my own visions and concepts. I hope they do the same for you. Enjoy!

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