Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman
We’ve talked with so many city folk, we felt it was time to interview a country mouse. Corianna Brown is bleached blonde Wonder Women, or she might as well be. She’s a mother of six kids, sells five or more commissioned paintings a week, and has a huge fanbase on Instagram that she inspires on a daily basis. She’s a true testament that you don’t need to live in a big city to make it as an artist, especially today. Her bright color palette and fun painting style will make your mouth water for tasty cupcakes — no, but literally, she uses a lot of pink, which makes you crave sugar. I’ve been lucky enough to witness her style evolve over the last 10+ years. Take a few minutes and read our interview and get to know Corianna.
SHANON WELTMAN: First question. How many kids do you have, and more importantly, how has it affected your art?
CORIANNA BROWN: Oh gosh. We have 6 kids. 3 of them mine, 3 are Glenn’s, so we’re kind of like the Brady Bunch. Honestly, it has affected my art for the better in the long run, not so much when they were babies, but it’s brought back making art for a living. It’s pretty easy to stay home and paint and keep your kids at home, vs. I used to work in the corporate world for 80 hours a week. I did that for 6 years as a district manager, and they had a full time nanny. So I’m making about the same money, really, at the end of the day, but now I’m able to stay home more. …I totally dedicated myself to AT&T for 6 years. Started as a sales rep, became a manager, moved to Asheville to be a district manager. Then shortly after I moved there it kind of fell apart, they ended up closing my store and they said ‘hey you could move across the other side of the world’, they wanted to send me to, like, Texas or California and work out there. They said ‘take this severance package’, so I literally took that severance package and stayed at home — this is when we were into sustainable farming at the time. It was 10 degrees outside pretty much all winter long and lots of snow everywhere, and I was painting in the little tiny cabin that didn’t even have power. I had to go down there early in the morning to start a wood stove so that it was a tolerable temperature to sit and paint. So now I’m totally in suburbia, living in a rental house and it’s easier for me to paint because I’m not chopping firewood and warming up my abandoned cabin, but I was doing that back then with kids. It’s pretty awesome.
SW: That sounds really surreal almost.
CB: Yeah it was really surreal, it was an awesome place to live with my own little magical 60 acres of fairy mountains and the Appalachian mountains. I’m so glad and thankful now. Glenn and I were just sitting the other day talking ‘this is awesome, we push a button on the wall and the heater comes on, and the U-verse TV, and high speed internet, and you don’t have to drive 50 miles to get to the nearest store, so we’re totally spoiled. It’s making it easier for me to create art, because I have all these luxuries of civilization. The art store, now, is down the road, before I had to drive an hour to find paint for sale.
SW: So, between 6 kids, are any of them interested in art and are you teaching your kids about art, or they just kind of in awe of you?
CB: Actually they are all very interested in art, they all want to know what I’m doing all the time. I don’t paint in the studio, I use the kitchen table. I keep my stuff on top of the washing machine and dryer, and I have this multi-functional living space, but they’re always in the kitchen. I turned that into my painting studio. So most days I’m sitting at the kitchen table and doing my thing and painting, and they’re all sitting there doing their homework or playing with their Pokemon cards or whatever it is they do, and we have conversations while I’m [painting]. I’m like a multi-tasker, I’m painting and parenting, and sometimes I have to put down my paint brush because my 4 year old is like ‘mom, wipe my butt’ and then I wash my hands and go back to painting. It’s really what I want to be doing and what I’ve been trying to do for the last 10 years and just now figured out to make it work and make money off of it.
SW: Next question, what are your favorite materials and art making processes?
CB: For materials it’s always acrylic paint. I don’t care about oil, I don’t want to mess with it. I like to paint on wood panel boards, or any kind of wood surface, just because I really like how paint texture mixes with wood grain. So most of the paintings I sell are just on 1/4″ or 1/8″ plywood, and then I seal them, so basically it will last forever. Once I put that polyacrylic on there it’s completely sealed, it’s waterproof. You could soak it in water and the paint wouldn’t come off. So I like the paint durable, just from having kids I know that I need things durable, and I know a lot of other people appreciate being able to windex the surface. Or have something that’s not going to fade.
For art making process, because I’m doing so many commissions, about 5 or 6 paintings a week on commission, shipping them in and shipping out like everyday, so I use a light projector. I project the image onto my board and trace it proportionality and then paint it. I’ve made kind of this machine of painting so I can get all the proportions correctly and then create them quicker. I haven’t had one person upset with their final outcome. People are paying me in advance and saying ‘I want a kitty cat, this is my pet’ and I send it out the next week. I always have orders coming in.
SW: That’s great, it’s like how the old masters plotted out paintings with their light boxes.
SW: What are some of your inspirations and favorite artists?
CB: My kids are really my biggest inspiration, I think for anything, and love. That’s basically where my inspiration comes from. Favorite artists, I would say I always like Gustav Klimt, and Francis Bacon. I really appreciate Janet Fish, even though she’s not really a well known artist, she does reflective still life stuff.
SW: I looove her… So, you just kind of answered this, but I want a more specific answer, how many paintings have you done on commission recently and when did you start doing this commission project?
CB: I started doing it a year ago and then the 10 first paintings I did were on really large scale canvases, really detailed. Basically I was getting really into hair and I was painting people swirled in their hair, swirled in their favorite things. I got the inspiration from my sister because her hair, literally, and she’s 5’8″, drags to the ground when she walks. She’s never cut it. I started out with her painting first and then this whole kind of thing just happened from it. I wasn’t even intending on doing it a year ago when I started out, but from doing those 10 pro-bono paintings, and them hanging up in cafes and people’s homes and their offices, I’ve just gotten so much referral business that it’s allowed me to make a steady 5 and 6 paintings a week. I’ve also been doing a little bit more recently ’cause I have a lot of orders for Christmas. And I’ve been doing smaller paintings recently, so that’s working out.
SW: My next question you kind of already answered, but maybe there’s more to it, how has living in the country vs. a city influenced your art?
CB: Oh yeah, if you go back and look through my paintings from a year ago when I first started, they were very much more organic in colors and line and shape and subject matter. I was painting, like, women growing out of mountaintops, ya know, very zen. Now it’s more fun and edgy and little poppy, and a lot of people told me that my stuff reminds them of folk art. I think it has transformed in style, but then again before I was using Oops paint from Home Depot to paint with, and mixing it with pigment, because that’s really all I had. Now that I have all these art stores that readily available, I just have a broader palette, really.
SW: Oh wow. Were you using synthetic pigments or natural pigments?
CB: A lot of the stuff I started out using a year ago was left over from 10 years ago. It was stuff from high school and college. A lot of it was my mom’s old craft paint that she used to do painting with when I was a kid and I was just basically using up all my old stuff. Now if you’re doing as many paintings and being able to make a decent living off of it, I’ve acquired a whole new crazy set of colors. So, I think it’s helped a lot. Before we were living and eating lima beans and picking our own mushrooms from the forest to make dinner and stuff [laughs]. Spending $8 on a tube of Cadmium yellow just, like, was not an option.
SW: What is your personal mantra?
CB: I would say that the love that you give is the love that you get. And probably one that I chant to myself a lot is just remembering to be grounded and humble and modest and have grace all the time. I try to remind myself that quite often and by doing that and by implementing those kind of mantras through my artwork I just randomly give free paintings away. I did one for a lady in England. She was telling me she wanted a painting of her three children, I think the boy was 8, the daughter was 4, and then the smallest baby was one year old. I later I come to find out that only the two older children were alive, the baby passed away when he was one year old. So I was like ‘I have to do this painting for free.’ She wanted her kids all painted together as superheros, so the other two children who are still alive could hang it up in their bedroom that they shared. So, sometimes I like to just do random acts of kindness through artwork. Even though it might not be something necessary to keep someone alive, having a painting made is like a novelty thing. I understand that a lot of people don’t have money for art or time for art. It’s like giving your time and your love.
SW: Okay, last question. If you could be a famous lady throughout history for one day, who would you be and would you pick a specific moment?
CB: I’d probably want to be Dolly Parton to be honest with you. Singing on stage with Willie Nelson or something, at that point. That’d be pretty awesome.