The first time I saw her mixed media work, I was in complete awe. I myself do not carry one iota of drawing or artistic ability, save for stick men and a funny little crazy face I draw when I’m nervous. Needless to say, when I laid my eyes on these brilliantly blended pieces of paint, paper, and intense colour, I was hooked.
Natasha Harvey began cultivating her love of painting at the young age of five, spending afternoons having tea and painting sessions in her very English grandmother’s garden, exploring realistic landscapes in oil paint and watercolors.
“My grandma was a painter, a hobbyist, “ she recalls fondly, “so when I was little, she would paint realistic watercolor and get me to paint with her. It just developed into this love and has always been close to my heart.”
Throughout elementary and high school, Harvey continued to refine her skills, taking extra art classes on-top of her regularly scheduled courses. When she began college, she decided that receiving her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts would be the best route to continue her journey, taking it further by completing her Bachelors of Education.
In her mixed media creations, collage is an integral part of the piece. Harvey usually begins with an existing image as a starting point. “I feel that the use of an existing image allows me to build upon and change its meaning or context completely. The image can dictate the feel or theme of the painting; however, I also search for images that will complete the visual and contextual puzzle.” She then layers it with an abstract visual language of shape, form, color, and line to create a composition. Through this technique, the paint is given a voice.
“I draw my inspiration from anything – a feeling; any emotions that I’m going through. It could be popular culture. I could be watching a movie and be impacted by that movie and I need to create something that corresponds to the feeling that I got when I watched it. Or a music video or a hike in the woods, which I love, and has spurred a whole series of landscape abstract pieces. It really depends on whatever hits me, and then I express that response through painting.”
Music is also a large part of her process. At any given moment, you can probably hear The Lumineers, TV on the Radio, Phantogram, or London Grammar blaring in her studio. The sounds set the tone for Harvey and can inspire her to pursue a certain theme in her art work.
To understand Harvey’s techniques a bit better, she invited me to join a class she was teaching called “Mix It Up” – quite appropriate for the type of work she does. The title could also double as a singles mixer, so I wasn’t quite sure what I was about to be walking into. Her studio was filled with works in progress, and was quite tidy for an artist. Her station was at the front of the room, with the necessary materials grouped together. Her other works were on the walls.
Watching her, she starts off with a black background after painting the entire canvas earlier in the day, which she mixed with a matte and gloss medium for more of a satin finish. It has to be completely dry before placing her drawings of quail, which she uses a photo of for inspiration.
Harvey admits to the class that even though she loves to draw freehand, she prefers to use a projector when it comes to drawing larger pieces. She explains that it’s much quicker, and she achieves the appropriate proportions than if she’s sketching. She then takes white paint, and with her husband’s scraping tool - he’s a contractor, and I have no idea the official term for this tool, and neither does Harvey - she scrapes the white paint across the black background. Then she takes a paint brush to give it texture.
Harvey moves on to show the class her collage technique, and proceeds to rip the bottom portion of a black and white vintage poster. She slathers the half matte, half gloss medium she’s mixed all over the front and back of the torn poster, and smooths it out with a nondescript yellow scraping tool over the middle of the painting, right below the quail. She then proceeds to do the same thing with a white textured wallpaper, which she smooths out at the bottom of the piece. Now it just needs to dry.
When I first started doing collages back in college during my 4th year, I started by finding posters from billboards and tearing them off - which I probably shouldn’t have done - and then I would get large photocopies printed at an architectural printing company. To this day, I’ll take photos during a hike or whatever I'm doing then email the printer the photo to copy a large print so that I can use it in my collage,” she says of her process.
At any given time, Harvey will be working on around five paintings in order to do the layers required in each piece. While one is drying, she begins on another, and then another. If she uses too much of a certain paint mixture- well, that can’t go to waste- so she starts another painting incorporating that color as the base; revolving from one painting to the next until she completes them.
To draw inspiration, Harvey goes through all of her hoarded material which she keeps in various folders. They’re full of pictures that she’s found in new and vintage magazines, old sheet music, interesting scraps of textured or vintage wallpaper, and old books or posters. She then will pull together things that fit into her theme of the piece; colors, textures, or the look she’s wanting to portray. Harvey is always scouring thrift stores to discover interesting effects to use in her art. She likens it to treasure hunting.
“If you take a look at some of my paintings, I use the collage as an extra element which I paste on with a transparent glaze over top - one of the ways I do this is by using watered down acrylic paint, which does really cool things to the paint. It gives you little surprises, the pigment disperses and you get other interesting colors happening; happy accidents - and it settles into the grooves of the paint that is already there, which makes the painting look really interesting - or I water down ink, which works really well and gives it a really strong pigment and a very bold color. You can also take your acrylic paint and dilute it with your medium more than 50% and it’ll give a transparent glaze. I find this technique very effective. Then I'll paint the abstract on top of it. I like to combine the collage, an image and the abstract paint which achieves a really unique composition.”
Due to the time constraints, as the class only last a little over an hour and a half, Harvey informs the group that she won’t be able to complete the painting because of its many layered elements. She tells us the rest of her vision for the piece, and that she sees deep blue in which she will use a dry brush technique to create the abstract. I’m excited to see this painting when it’s finished.
The people in attendance thanked Harvey for her time and all of the wonderful techniques they’ve learned, as they proceeded to rush home to put paintbrush to canvas. The experience was full of laughter, fun, and gave Harvey a platform to showcase her talent to students eager to learn. I was left with the realization that my painting career would need to be put on hold, at least until stick figures make a huge comeback, and crazy faces are the normal signatures in greeting cards.