Prolific painter Caroline Wendelin walks us through a life of art and motherhood.
With massive canvases, romantic imagery, and two children at her side – Caroline Wendelin is a living example of how motherhood can empower one’s art and passion. We sit down with the Marabella-based painter to get insight on her process and growing collection of work.
Good art innovates on beauty. This becomes apparent the first time you lay eyes on a Caroline Wendelin painting. At the forefront of her portraits are strong, yet vulnerable women, accompanied by abstract symbols which seem to dance around them – delivering messages one could never put to words.
Looking through the artist’s catalog of paintings – one can see an evolving story playing out on massive canvases. You may wonder how these dream-like scenes came to be – and how Wendelin finds the time to get into her Marabella-based studio while faithfully raising her two children.
For the full story, here’s Caroline Wendelin:
You’ve painted everything from landscapes to portraits. What are the uniting themes of your work as a whole?
Oh, people have told me that they can recognize my work because it always has a bit of romance and cuteness to it, and there are always beautiful things in it.
I tend to avoid painting sad feelings, anger, or using strong colors like red or orange. Instead, I prefer to use soft colors. I focus on the beauty of women and my art often features women and soft backgrounds. Interestingly, adding flowers to my art seems to automatically make it more romantic.
That’s what unites my artwork, even though I create very distinct kinds of pieces.
Right now your work is focused on portraits. How did you get into this?
I started with more traditional landscape paintings inspired by Monet, which you may have seen on my Instagram. Initially, painting was just a hobby dream for me since I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue it as a full-time career. However, as I’ve always loved painting and my mother used to paint when I was young, I decided to take some inspiration from Monet and try my hand at landscape painting.
I didn’t initially plan on selling my paintings and just wanted to see how they turned out. However, I eventually took a break from painting as I was traveling and working in fashion for a few years.
During my travels, I realized that I still wanted to pursue art, but I didn’t have much time. That’s when I discovered fluid art, which allowed me to create a piece quickly by choosing colors and pouring the paint. Although it wasn’t challenging enough for me and I didn’t really like the style, it was perfect for creating art amidst my busy travel schedule.
As I continued to travel and work with photographers, I found myself taking beautiful photos of models. While I didn’t want to become a photographer, I wanted to experiment with the photos and started playing around with them on Photoshop.
Initially, I didn’t think much of the experimental pieces I created, but I shared some on Instagram and received positive feedback from friends who encouraged me to try selling them. I was hesitant since it was a mix of photo and Photoshop, but I decided to give it a try.
To create my first portrait, I printed one of my photos and painted on top of it. That’s how my journey with portrait painting began.
Many of your portraits are collage-style. What inspires all the details you add in the background?
Currently, all of my backgrounds are abstract. When I first started, I was inspired by street-style art and took photos of walls with graphics, much like Banksy and Mr. Brainwash. This led me to create a mix of graphics with bold colors as the background and a model in the foreground.
However, I eventually grew tired of the bright colors and wanted to create softer backgrounds. So, I started using more basic colors like beige and pink, adding gold details to create a soft and gentle look. I love working with gold, and it comes naturally to me.
I have never studied art, but I have always loved creating it. I usually create previews of my work on Photoshop to find the composition that I like and then transfer it to the canvas.
What can you say about the subjects captured in these portraits?
The models I paint are often women who are inspiring to me, someone who I consider a “muse.” I usually choose women who are also mothers, because mothers often have to be strong and yet they are vulnerable at the same time, which I find beautiful.
As an artist you expose your feelings and your inner world when you show your art, which makes you vulnerable to other people’s reactions and feedback. But in allowing yourself to be vulnerable you open up to healing and becoming stronger, and I think that showing those feelings of vulnerability in my art resonates with many people when they see my work.
Let’s dive deeper on the topic of motherhood. How have your children affected your art career?
Motherhood has had a very positive impact on my work. While pregnant the first time, I was initially worried about how things would work out once the baby arrived. However, it surprised me how well everything worked out.
Even if you believe it would be complicated, you always adapt to any situation. The baby will also adapt if they are used to being around, if you take them with you to the studio. I used to carry my daughter in a sling carrier while I painted and she slept for 2-3 hours straight. Finding a way to make things work is key.
It has changed my way of working. I had more time before, but having less time makes me work more efficiently. I know I have limited hours and I make the most of them. It has also had a positive impact because I focus on other things.
With children, I learned what is important in life. Before I might have been more concerned about what others think of me, how I look on Instagram, how many likes I get, and what others think of me. However, now with my children, I know that the only people who matter are they, and being a role model for them is important. Therefore, they have had a good impact on my work.
I also find it nice to share content on Instagram showing that I am working while my children are with me. It can be chaotic and doesn’t always work out, but it inspires others to think they can do it too. In fact, one fellow artist on Instagram told me they were motivated to start working again, even with kids around, after seeing my posts. It’s great to have that kind of impact.
We all have passions, but as mothers, sometimes it can be difficult to find time to explore these. What advice would you give to women balancing art and motherhood?
Of course, it requires a few things. I would say two important factors are having a support system, typically a partner who takes on their share of responsibilities, and organizing your time in the studio.
It’s essential to have a well-planned schedule and understand that the kids will need your attention throughout the afternoon while you may have only four hours in the morning to paint. Without organization, I don’t think it’s possible.
What’s it like sharing your passions with your children?
It’s amazing that my older daughter now enjoys painting, because I used to think she made a huge mess every time I gave her a few paints. Sometimes, she even put the mess on my painting.
I thought it wouldn’t work. However, one day she became old enough to understand that she has her own canvas and I have mine. She is turning three soon and her paintings are still very abstract to me and others, but she sees things in her own paintings.
For instance, she points out the nose, the eye, or a flower, even if it’s not clear at first. It’s just amazing to see her imagination. I shared a clip of her painting on my Instagram, and it received the most views and comments ever.
I think people see how incredible it is to watch a child paint because they don’t worry about what other people might think of their painting. She is an inspiration to me.
You’ve painted everything from landscapes to portraits. What are the uniting themes of your work as a whole?
It’s about creating the right scenario. You need to have the paints, papers, and other materials that they need. I think most kids will just start painting without you even telling them.
I’ve heard that you shouldn’t judge or comment too much on what they paint. If you go crazy with everything they do and tell them it’s beautiful every time, some studies show that their motivation becomes your reaction. If they want Mommy or Daddy to say, “I love your painting” every time, and they lose their inner motivation to paint because of their own desire to do so.
Instead of saying “it’s beautiful” every time, you could ask the child about their process and say things like “What did you think when you were doing this?” or “Tell me about the colors you chose.” This will involve the child in the conversation and encourage them to explain their process. I’ve tried that with my daughter a lot, but she’s still very small, so she has a hard time explaining many of these things. I think that’s the first step.
You have a big community following your work online. What can you tell us about them?
I would say that I have two different groups in my social media community, other mothers and other artists. The artists are usually very supportive of each other, which is amazing, and there’s not often any jealousy or anything like that. People are just really happy for you and ask questions about your work.
There’s one artist whom I’ve admired for a long time, and suddenly he followed me back and started answering comments. I just felt like, wow, this great painter is acknowledging my work. That was a really nice feeling for me. We also ask each other for advice on things like canvases and frames.
In the other group of mothers, those groups are also really good. When you have a meltdown because you have too much work and the kids are throwing tantrums and everything, you see these other mothers and they are talking about the same things, like their child’s behavior. Then you realize, “Oh, I’m not alone.” Everyone else might be going through the same things with their children as I am.
You also find other mothers who have maybe a more complicated situation than your own. Okay, your child is not sleeping and not eating well, but there’s always someone having a harder time than you. If they manage to stay positive, then you should too.
Your work seems to be constantly innovating. What’s next for you?
I have had a great start to the year as an artist. From January to April, it has been my best month, and it has prompted me to sit down and examine my list of sold artworks. This realization has made me want to experiment with something new.
Since I have sold a lot of paintings this year, I have a few months to do what I want to do and experiment with new ideas instead of solely focusing on orders. Although I enjoy making art and experimenting, I have to consider what my clients order. However, now that I have put a hold on orders and only have a few small ones, I have time to experiment, and I want to delve into something more abstract.
I still want to paint women since I enjoy it, and it is part of my artistic style. However, I do not want to rely on photographs as I have been doing until now. Currently, I use photos as references and paint them using pencils and acrylic paints. The portraits are still very photographic and inspired by a photo.
I want to be free from that constraint. I do not want to use a photo as a reference; I want to find something else. The painting does not need to look perfect or beautiful, and the woman does not need to be a top model. Instead, I want to focus more on the colors and the painting as a whole.
Interviews have been condensed for clarity.