It’s time to make art when you feel the need to create and that can happen at any time. I always remember that Grandma Moses, one of my favorites, didn’t start painting until she was 79.
This statement alone This statement alone sums up why I’ve wanted to feature Natalie Wargin for some time. I’m in my late 30s, and so often I hear people younger and older say that it’s too late to start something new. It is never too late unless you refuse to start and take that chance. There is nothing to lose except more time spent that you could have been doing instead of dreaming. Natalie started painting after retirement, and there is such clarity in her work and an evident love for her surrounding environment and the living things that inhabit it. Thank you for inspiring us today, Natalie.
Would you share a bit about your background about life and career in Chicago or before you started painting?
I have been a very lucky person. I grew up surrounded by creative, supportive people who all encouraged and enabled me to explore my creativity as well. My mother had been a knock-off designer before she married. She was an accomplished seamstress and I learned to sew and do needlework from her. My father, a draftsman by trade, was an artist after hours. He introduced me to watercolors, oils, pastels, pen and ink, colored pencils, charcoal, lino cuts. He gave me art books to read and bought a gorgeous set of reproductions of famous paintings that I could look at as long as I was careful with them.
I studied graphic design at the University of Illinois in Chicago. During two years of foundation classes, before I got into my major, I learned lithography, etching, silk screening, photography, animation. I worked in a woodshop and a metal shop. I had a drawing class with a famous artist for a teacher that I nearly failed because I hate to draw. And I had a painting class that was actually a color theory class which I adored. I look back on these foundation classes as one of the biggest confidence builders I’ve ever experienced. I graduated with the plan to get some experience and open my own studio which is what I did.
I look back on these foundation classes as one of the biggest confidence builders I’ve ever experienced.
How did your life change when you moved to New York? Was it a hard transition? When did you pick up the paints again and feel compelled to paint?
Moving is always unsettling, all the packing and unpacking, getting there and having to learn to find all the things you need. Country living is nothing like city living. There’s no neat grid of streets, no alleys to use as a short-cut, hardly any short-cuts at all because there are so many fewer roads. But once I caught my breath and started to get comfortable I was so happy with this change. I’m in the foothills of the Catskills and nothing is flat. Houses are scattered, kind of topsy-turvy, and sometimes you can’t even see an access road. My house is in the woods with farms nearby. I’m surrounded by trees and animals and birds. We’re on a migratory route and the bird song is astonishing. I wanted to start a journal but it didn’t seem enough. That’s when I decided to give watercolors a try. It was time.
I wanted to start a journal but it didn’t seem enough. That’s when I decided to give watercolors a try. It was time.
You mentioned starting over. Your work is skilled and beautiful, it does not look like someone who started over, but who has had years of experience. Was there a learning curve? What transferable skills from your prior life helped shape your aesthetic or practice?
I did mention starting over but maybe it’s more accurate to call it starting something new. Aside from childhood projects I had never really painted. This won’t be helpful probably but I don’t know why my paintings look the way they do. I’m flattered that you think they’re skillful. When I made the decision about 4 years ago to give painting a serious try I had no idea what they would look like. But I think everything that came before was valuable. I had tried so many mediums as a kid, had that fabulous color theory class under my belt, and had learned a lot about space and composition from graphic design. I haven’t had any formal painting classes, I still hate to draw. I work mostly from my photos. When I first started painting I wasn’t very happy with the way things looked but I have no problem throwing things away and starting again. I begin with a thumbnail which I sometimes scan into my computer and enlarge. Then I draw over the thumbnail on tracing paper, refining as I go until I get something I can work with. Then I put the sketch on paper or board and I paint.
Do you have any regret for not starting sooner? Would you have changed anything? What advice would you share with people who think it’s too late to learn something new?
No, I have no regrets. I started painting when it was time for me to do that. It wasn’t until I came to the Hudson Valley and saw what I saw that I was moved to pick up a brush. Creative pursuits can’t be forced. It’s time to make art when you feel the need to create and that can happen at any time. I always remember that Grandma Moses, one of my favorites, didn’t start painting until she was 79.
What is next for you? Do you have other mediums you’d like to learn, or new projects or bodies of work you’re thinking of? Is there a dream project you’d love to work on?
There are other things I want to do. As for the painting I have always admired
. I like to paint animals and landscapes and may want to do a similar series. I have some experience working with paper mache and I think I want to work with that again, specifically building furniture. As for a dream project I feel that whatever I’m working on these days is just that. After years in graphic design, dealing with clients and deadlines, being able now to do what I feel like doing is pretty much perfect.