i’ve mentioned before just how much i love instagram, right? i have found it is an amazing tool to connect you to people you might not otherwise meet. case in point is hilary christensen, local artist, mom & funny woman. christensen builds beautiful mosaics using found objects, broken pieces of toys, and other goodwill finds, to create these amazing portraits and paintings.
first off, tell us a little about yourself. where are you from? what brought you to austin? fun facts about you?
Hi there, I’m Hilary. I grew up in the Midwest in a town similar to Austin – Madison, Wisconsin. I’ve lived all over the place. I’ve lived in California, Utah, Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin, and recently Vancouver, Canada. When we decided it was time to come back to the U.S. we picked about 10 cities that have enough work opportunities for my husband (he works in video games) and then rated them based off a bunch of things that are really important to us. It was a totally left brained thing to do, but we’ve always followed the work, and often it’s led us to some pretty miserable situations! So, neat arts community, good schools, cost of living, amazing food, and so on, led us here to Austin.
i read that you went to Savannah College of Art and Design – what was your area of focus?
I majored in Historic Preservation at SCAD. I had this romantic vision of restoring important artworks and antiquities. In reality, it’s a lot of grant writing for absolutely no money whatsoever. I sort of chickened out of painting as a major and realized I should try and find at least one decent job skill before I left, so I minored in Computer Art. I got work right away in film and television making 3D animations and using my painting and Photoshop skills in commercials.
*Fun-ish Fact: I spent a rather miserable year in Dallas working on about 4 Barney Specials. I think I stayed up for 3 days straight trying to get some sparkles just right on a doll that magically came to life in a Christmas Special. I quit not too long after that.
i loved your description of the first mosaic portrait that you did- how it is a reflection of the subject in not his likeness, but also his interests. how did you come up with this project? what is your process? (it looks like you first paint your subject?)
The idea for “Brannic” came about when the two of us were looking at the mosaic tile work of Pompeii in National Geographic. There were close ups of the Battle of Issus, and the idea just finally came together.
I have come up with a process after some trial and error. I started painting the canvas first after realizing that the paint helps things adhere better to the wood canvas. “Brannic” doesn’t have a paint layer, and stuff has had to be re-glued a few times. I also began painting the portraits first to help me learn the face better. That wasn’t as necessary when I used my kids as subjects, as I know their faces pretty well. But others, like the girls, I needed to learn.
I usually pick out a bunch of stuff from a bin that I think will work and then move it around and see what feels right. I try and work on one area at a time, so things fit better and don’t get too random. I love eyes. If you get the eyes right then everything else seems to fall into place. When I do a portrait I usually start there.
where do you collect all the pieces for your mosaics?
People give me stuff. I get calls from friends at garage sales wondering if I want a giant jar of buttons. My kids still break stuff. I sometimes pick stuff up off the ground, but my family thinks it’s “really super embarrassing” when I do that. My Mecca is really the Goodwill Outlet over by the airport. I find the craziest shit there. I love that place. I probably go once a week…I may have an addiction. I don’t really feel challenged to find “stuff”, its everywhere. I like going to Goodwill because I’m taking stuff that no one wants, making sure it doesn’t go into a landfill, and providing work for someone. That feels awesome, and then I get to make something!
how long does it take you to complete the process?
That is an embarrassing question, because honestly, its takes me a while. I feel good if I can get a piece done a month. Right now, that feels like the speed I can go where I don’t get really behind in other parts of my life. I don’t go in for late nights and long stints in the “studio”. With two growing boys, If I get caught up in something and look up, one of them has a mustache and wants to borrow the car. I feel rather sloth like at times, but I try not to beat myself up about it.
where do you find your inspiration?
I am a pretty shy person and I find cultural themes very hard to engage. I seem to be drawn to nature. I love History too, and often I go looking for inspiration in History books. I’ve been pinning to do a bunch of historical portraits – think the romantic era with big white wigs for example.
who are your biggest influences?
I think impressionism is probably my biggest influence. I like to look at mosaic art a lot as well. Both are based on the idea of breaking down an image into shapes and colors, which I think is a fascinating. Lately I’ve been learning more about sculpture and absorbing some of the ideas of street art. I think my work has a lot in common with street art. The vivid colors, the impermanence, non-traditional materials.
do you do commissioned pieces?
Absolutely, I love commissions! Last year I completed a really fun commission, it was a portrait of two girls. My favorite part is watching the kids explore the piece and find things that they love in it. The two girls are involved in cheer and love dogs and unicorns, so I put as many of those things in there as I could.
what do you do when you aren’t working on creating?
I read too much, avoid doing laundry until its an emergency, buy food over and over and over again, yell at people for leaving their socks all over, help with math homework, watch questionable YouTube videos I’ve caught the boys watching, question my parenting, and lots of other glamorous things.
Do you have any exhibits coming up?
I will be participating in the WEST Austin Studio Tour, which is May 14-15 & May 21-22. My work will be up at *Austin ArtSpace Gallery
I also usually have a piece or two up at *Terra Toys Gallery. They have been a really great place for my work. If you’ve never been, it’s an amazing local toy store/gallery/cappuccino bar.
My portrait “David” is currently on display in City Hall for this years People Gallery.
I will also be in a show in New York this summer, themed “Recycleart”
*Austin ArtSpace Gallery 7739 Northcross Dr, Austin, TX 78757
*Terra Toys: 2438 W Anderson Ln, Austin, TX 78757
why do you love austin?
Austin has such a great vibe. It’s like the big city that never got the memo that it’s a big city. I have met more people here that just amaze me with their creativity and intelligence. How can a town be boring when all these amazing people live here? And Bonus, everyone is friendly! Austinite’s take great pride in this town and want nothing more than you to love it too.
how can we keep up with you?
I have been pretty good about updating my website, or I am also on Instagram and Facebook.
Facebook: Hilary Christensen Artist
thank you, hilary, for taking the time to let me pick your brain- i love your work!
with love, as always,