Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrew Barker.
Hi Andrew, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I’m an artist and designer based in Boulder, although I ended up here in a rather roundabout way. I was originally born in Utah but then my family moved to Somalia when I was eight so my father could teach rangeland science and resource management. I was very fortunate to have been exposed to so much of a wider world at such an early age, and traveling to new countries has been a mainstay throughout my life. It also began my early obsession with birds and animals. I still have and use field guides that my parents bought for our safaris. We were in Africa for 4 years before moving to Oregon where I would grow into an adult-ish human, getting my degree from Oregon State University, and then beginning and solidifying my design career in Portland.
The Colorado chapter of my life began in 2013 when I accepted a design position in Boulder. For no better reason than just the urge to create, I began reconnecting with drawing. I had always been artistically-inclined growing up, and focused on drawing and printmaking for studio electives while in college. However, I had set personal artwork aside for more than a decade after graduating, putting my efforts more towards design and photography. As I got back into it, I slowly developed a signature style, eventually practicing with watercolors, and built up a small body of work that I really had no intention of doing anything with. About 5 years into my Boulder phase, I ended up losing the job I had moved here for. While devastated at first, this ignited a transformational period that has likely been the most meaningful in my life. Not only was I able to eventually find enough freelance design work to support myself, but it also prompted me to start pushing my art practice into the professional realm. Self-sufficiency is very empowering.
While my oeuvre was pretty modest at that time, I was accepted into a couple of galleries, and began showing and selling at events and festivals. I wasn’t hitting home runs every time, but I was getting enough positive feedback that I was confident that I needed to keep pursuing. This year has by far been the best for me. I’ve pocketed a couple Best in Show awards and I’ve got a commission list that stretches a few months deep. It’s been very encouraging and I’m extremely grateful that people appreciate what I do to the level that they’re willing to support me and my work.
Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
My challenges have largely tracked similarly with other early-career artists. I’m a natural introvert so everything as simple as showing my work to painting in public used to induce an immediate resistance. I’ve largely gotten past that now and I can actually enjoy both showing my work and process. Social media is a different story though. Although I do like to show my work, I just can’t get excited about the posting frequency and practices required for ‘maximum engagement’.
Aside from that, my biggest challenges are time management and the business side of having an art practice. It’s kind of a cruel paradox that once you start experiencing artistic success, you actually have less time to create. Marketing, inventory management, materials acquisition, accounting, and events can all be very time- and energy-intensive. I’m also very quickly outgrowing my workspace in my home, so finding a suitable studio space is going to be my next big hurdle.
Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
For about 5 years now I’ve focused on watercolor and ink mixed media pieces on both wood and paper. I’m a nature and wildlife junkie and that’s largely reflected in my work. Although more implicit than explicit, the thinking behind my subjects and compositions are heavily driven by our current era of climate change, population growth and defaunation. In effect, I want to celebrate the natural world through the imagery of natural conflict, death, rebirth, and the shared struggles of survival and existence. Stylistically, I’m influenced by mid-century commercial art, tattoo design, the golden age of naturalist illustration, and early 20th-century Japanese printmakers and watercolor artists.
Process-wise, my compositions are carefully constructed, iterated, and built upon in study after study before I ever even put brush to paper. I work much more detailed than most who use watercolors, but I absolutely love the effects. The way the pigments can move, bloom, and interact with the paper makes it feel so alive. It’s also very honest – mistakes and missteps can’t be covered up. Blemishes and inconsistencies must be accepted, especially when working on wood. Since my work is fairly geometric and graphic, this isn’t always apparent, but it’s always there to some degree.
As I’ve progressed, it’s become more important to me to have a grounded personal connection to the subjects and narratives in my work. I spend a lot of time in the outdoors, so I’ll often incorporate my own experiences and wildlife encounters, as well as use my own photos as reference points.
Is there any advice you’d like to share with our readers who might just be starting out?
Develop a unique style and build a body of work that is recognizably different and yours.
Work every day. Especially when you’re lacking inspiration.
Get in the habit of routinely sharing your work with others. Focus more on finding your audience than trying to appeal to everyone.
Prioritize and protect your creative time.
Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to others.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: ovoworks.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pdx_barker/
Portraits © Nicole Barker All others © Andrew Barker