Interview: Heather Day

Heather Day grew up in Hawaii and along the east coast of the United States, finally moving to San Francisco after graduating from Maryland Institute College of Art with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting and art history. Her background in travel and culture encouraged her to see more of the world, where she discovered a connection to nature—her main source of inspiration.

Day’s art is a form of visual storytelling interested in conveying moments of interactions. She works primarily with paint and non-traditional materials, and is known for her murals. The philosophy that everything is a product of an experience frames each work, conveying stories of movement and ideas of color through seams,lines, and layers.

Day is currently preparing work for her solo show with Athen B Gallery in San Francisco this coming fall 2017. Recent group exhibitions include The Affordable Art Fair in New York City, Hashimoto Gallery in San Francisco, and Athen B. Gallery in Oakland. She is currently working on murals around the Bay area.  

(Above photograph by Margaret Austin)

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We are incredibly inspired by your process. You bring so much energy and poetry into making your paintings. Tell us about how you get in the right mindset for making art and what inspires you.

To be honest, I think this is something that varies by the week. Oftentimes I need a break from the studio and don’t want to think about picking up a paintbrush; other days I can paint for 8 to 9 hours a day, six days a week. There seems to be a common misconception about artists being perpetually inspired. Rather, we have to seek it out and not wait for it to show up like a lightning bolt from the sky. Just as Chuck Close says, “Inspiration is for amateurs--the rest of us show up and get to work.” To paint, I need to get into a “flow state.” This state is the result of a mass of images, thoughts and feelings joining together and cracking us into action. For me, it’s the moment in the studio when the music stops and I don’t even notice because I’m absorbed in painting. I like to backtrack after a flow state starts and figure out what triggered it. Sometimes it’s going for a hike outside the city, or a particular chord in a song, a cloudy day or a documentary. The order in which we feed our brains certain images or ideas creates a domino effect, and that is what causes the state.

What are a few of your favorite travel experiences so far?

The most rewarding trip I’ve ever taken was a solo road trip to the Canadian Rockies. I went last fall, right around the time I started dating my now boyfriend. I reflected on the transitions happening in my life and career. I thought about myself as an artist and human while I camped in my car and stayed in an off-the-grid cabin in the town of Golden, B.C. Each morning I woke up, hiked and painted. I rose with the sun and went to bed when it set. There’s something about traveling in nature that makes me fully aware of the sun and present moment.

Photographs by Margaret Austin

Photographs by Margaret Austin

How do you manage to travel and paint? Do you have a special kit you take with you?

I have a pretty good system for painting on the road. I sleep on one side of my hatchback car and keep supplies on the other. I always travel with a large paper portfolio, a backpack with pastels, markers and sketchbooks and a box that I keep in the car to hold paints and jugs of water. While I’m on the road I’ll scout out good places to stop and paint. Sometimes I’ll use my car as an easel, or I’ll use campsite tables or just the ground.


What would you say has been the most exciting moment in your art career so far?

I left my day job a little over three years ago and ever since I’ve been moving at light speed. I felt excited during the first year when I could pay my rent and student loans with sales from my paintings. But even more exciting was the encouragement from the community in San Francisco and the one I found on social media. They believed in what I was doing, which blew me away.

Photographs by Margaret Austin

Photographs by Margaret Austin

What inspired your paintings for the exhibition at Athen B. Gallery?

My upcoming show with Athen B. is called Conversations and Color. It evolved from a year-long project of observing the connection between conversation, lines, emotion and hue. To some, conversation and color have nothing in common. But to me, they couldn’t be more connected.

Conversations are interaction and exchanges, not only between people but between nature and human. Observing the rhythm of a tide and the rhythm of a city—it all breaks down into line, texture, color and constant reactions. Conversations are merely reactions to this rhythm. There are also the conversations that live within us. Our own voices and those of others affect the way we think and go about our day. These conversations become ideas and memories that grow and evolve—or dissolve. At the center of everything is color.  It’s pure emotion, movement and response. It’s the means to control energy and direct the eye. Each new painting is me exploring and delving deeper. With each piece, I’m in a new place—one only seen through my language of dynamic motion.

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Give a few emerging artists a piece of advice for getting more recognition and advancing their career.

Take a step back and try to look at your current work with more perspective. Dissect all aspects of both your practice as an artist and as a business. What are you good at and what needs work? As a whole, artists need to get organized. Naturally being an artist, your work is the most important aspect, as it should be. But how do you make sure your hard work gets seen? It’s a balance. Use social media to support your work and on the flip side, support your community. For everything you expect from you community, I think you should give.

Photograph by Margaret Austin

Photograph by Margaret Austin

What's next for you? What do you hope to accomplish and look forward to as an artist?

The last three years have been so much about balancing painting and getting my work out into the world. Now that I’m at a stable place, I want to step back and dive deeper into my work. I want to be a better painter and think wholeheartedly about experiences. I want abstraction to be more approachable. That means leaving the canvas and jumping into new mediums that create experiences for all of the senses.