Catherine Anderson - Interview & More

An artist for over 40 years, watercolorist and acrylic painter Catherine Anderson was born in Chicago and became inspired by the paintings on the museum walls at the Art Institute of Chicago. Anderson attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Art, University of Cincinnati and San Francisco Art Academy but it would take many years to find her own path as a professional artist. Today Anderson is a Signature Member of the American Watercolor Society, National Watercolor Society, and the Rocky Mountain National Watermedia Society just to name a few.


When did you become interested in art?
I became interested in art at a very young age. My grandfather took me many times the Art Institute of Chicago. I still remember our walk through the museum.  We'd go see the Impressionist paintings and when we got to George Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon in the Park" we stopped for what seemed a long time as my grandfather held my hand stared at the painting.  It was huge and meant something to him. After that we went through the other paintings. All I wanted to do was to see the The Thorne Room where thee most perfect dollhouses lived. That was last on our tour.  He would pick me up in his arms so I could look at them. Papa had several art books I would look at for hours and hours.  So...thank you Papa!

What inspires you?
Landscapes, seascapes and animals and especially misty moody days.

Is art a spiritual experience for you?
Painting is a meditation and when I feel closest to God.

Did you go to art school?  How did it prepare you for a life as an artist?  How did it not prepare you?
I went to the Chicago Academy of Fine Art, University of Cincinnati and San Francisco Art Academy.  I don't think it prepared me for my life as an artist, but at least I felt I was working toward becoming as artist.


Catherine Anderson Landscape Watercolor Painting

When did you decide to make a career of it / become a full-time artist?
It took years and years to get up the courage to paint full time.  There was my full-time job as a secretary so I had a steady paycheck. Something always got in the way of me painting. Mostly my head that got in the way.  After all the what "ifs" I quit my full-time job and began cleaning houses for income where I could make my own hours, leaving time to paint.  I cut way back on what few expenses I had at the time. There were so many voices in my head telling me things like "there's too much competition" "you'll starve" "how would you support yourself?" and "you're not good enough". I quit all my housecleaning jobs and just took the Leap of Faith and jumped right in.  Enough excuses. I don't want to sit in my rocking chair regretting the fact that I didn't even try to paint full time.

How long did it take you before you felt like you could call yourself an artist? Was that a long and hard transition to make or was it a quick one? Do you think it's important for artists to call themselves artists?
It took a while.  Traveling around to art shows helped me get the fact that I was indeed an artist. I must be doing all the festivals. It was a very hard transitioning.  I really didn't think it would be hard calling myself an artist, but it was.  One day I finally felt comfortable calling myself an artist.

Catherine Anderson Landscape Watercolor Painting Hillside

Earlier in your life, before becoming a full-time artist, how did you find the time to paint? Was that a struggle?  How did you balance life and art?  
Holding a full-time job, I painted at night, but not every night.  It was a struggle as I didn't put my painting first.  I'd find any excuse in the world not to paint. I found a quote by Anais Nin "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom".  I found this quote inspiring because that was me tight in a bud. And boy! I blossomed!

How did you approach learning to paint? Was it self-instructed? How did you use teachers, art videos and books to direct your learning process?
I took a class in oils and then one watercolor workshop and the rest is history. I learned only from myself.  The more I'd paint, the more I learned.  I learned by making mistakes over and over again.  I did not look at books or magazines for about 5 years.  
What advice would you give about self-teaching to someone who wants to learn to paint?
Paint every day.  Set a goal of say 2 hours a day, then 4 hours.  Before you know it, it will turn into a full-time job of painting all day into the night.

Catherine Anderson Acrylic Painting 

How much time do you spend painting now? Do you set a weekly or daily schedule or do you just see where the week takes you?
I spend at least 5 hours painting each day. I have no schedule.
Have you ever changed mediums you work in?  What did the new medium say that you couldn’t express in the previous medium?
Yes.  I've been painting small acrylic paintings which come out of my head vs. looking at a photo and copying that.  My small paintings come right from my heart.  It's very freeing.  I love experimenting with all sorts of mediums.
What type of images move you to paint? Do you paint from reference photos? From memory?  How do you approach a piece? Do you work through thumbnails before beginning or do you go directly to the page?
No thumbnails except when painting outdoors. No reference photos.  I plan out my colors first and go directly to the page.
Do you work on more than one painting at a time?  Describe your process.
Yes.  When I'm doing my watercolor glazing technique, I work on 4 or 5 at a time.  Each layer of paint has to dry, leaving me time to work on others while it's drying. My small acrylics take no time at all so I do several at a time.

Catherine Anderson Acrylic Landscape Painting
How do you know when to quit (a painting)?
The age old question. I finally figured this out.  You have a plan of what you want to convey the viewers and you stick to it. Once you've said what you had to say, STOP!  It's hard but simple.
How can less experienced artists find their style?
By painting every day.  After a while you'll find out what you really love to paint and eventually you will have figured out your style of painting.
How important do you think it is to have a particular style as an artist? How does it play in the marketability of your work?
I think it's pretty important. Consistency is good.  Once you find your style of painting, you're on your way.  If you don't have a style, then your paintings when hung together won't look like several artists painted them.  

Catherine Anderson Acrylic Landscape Painting

What advice can you share with other artists about what has worked and not worked for you?

When I first started painting, I did local shows and festivals in my area. Then I started branching out and doing festivals in different areas of the country.  Think of it as a coil.  You work close to home and then further and further the coil expands. I'm not crazy about galleries, although they worked well once I found the right one.  I have tried Etsy, Facebook and my website.  I sold a couple of paintings on Facebook, none on Etsy and none on my website.  I'm the worst at marketing my own art.
 Where do you see your art taking you in the next 5 to 10 years?  Any hopes and dreams?
I honestly don't know.  I'd like to find a gallery.  And I hope and dream of having my paintings in a museum.  In closing, what one or two pieces of advice would you like to give to newer artists? Paint every day.  Have a plan.  Make many mistakes and paint what you love.  Don't give up!


To learn more about painter Catherine Anderson, visit her website -