Junior unwinds through oil painting

January 21, 2022 — by Christopher Chen
Yee’s painting 28x22” oil painting, titled “Trapped in Curtains,” depicting a curtain wrapped around a figure seated on a couch.
Junior Carina Yee, who mainly works with oil paintings, has been drawing since age 13 at Art Hub Academy.

At Art Hub Academy, student artists work on their paintings propped up on desks and on easels lining the walls. The well-lit room smells heavily of oil paints and carries the ambient mix of audio — folk rock artist Don McLean’s lyrics blending with teachers talking to students and rough brush strokes against canvas. 

Most of junior Carina Yee’s oil paintings are created in this studio and at her home, with canvases carried back and forth between each location.

Although Yee started drawing at 5, she began to take art seriously as a teen. To Yee, art is a calming influence in her life — as long as she meets her own deadlines! — and it has taught her to explore topics on a deeper level. To construct her portfolio, Yee needs to find different aspects of specific topics to create art from.

“Learning how to expand on ideas has helped me in English, actually,” she said. “It’s a skill to look at something and expand on it a lot more than what you initially see.”

Each piece Yee creates starts with an idea or a prompt and a collection of reference photos, with her generally using self-taken photos of “mundane things” as inspiration. In the search for things that appear visually interesting, she also looks to connect them to something she could portray in her art.

For example, Yee was inspired to paint a moth mask due to an interest in the insect’s aesthetic; she looked at pictures of moths online and connected the predator-repelling eyes on moths’ wings to human eyes to create a mask.

A recent painting, “Trapped in Curtains,” features a figure whose torso and head are completely surrounded by a thick gray curtain. The curtains trap the figure, symbolizing the feeling of academic stress and other responsibilities engulfing students.

“I was just taking pictures of curtains and then I wanted to see how I could twist it visually to fit my message in that painting,” she said. “Often I hold myself back, and I feel like what seems easy in concept — staying organized, paying attention, and being on top of responsibilities — is always difficult for me. I should just be able to stand up and take off the curtains, and things would be clear, but then I just sit there waiting for something to change.”

For this piece, Yee took inspiration from a hotel room where she stayed, incorporating the hexagonal pattern of the curtains to add dimension and create interesting shapes. Although this patterning was a struggle, they were also what Yee was most proud of.

Yee chose heavier colors for this piece, shifting the tones from clean and bright colors to pallid greens and browns, to emphasize the concept of stressors. 

“It’s not a super pleasing color palette to look at, and I wanted people to be vaguely confused and put off when they looked at the piece,” she said. 

Yee said she usually starts paintings with a rough sketch in graphite or charcoal, then creates an underpainting — an initial layer of paint to help plan out where the rest of the colors should go. Her style incorporates bright highlights, smooth gradients and fuzzy edges in a semi-impressionistic way. She attempts to emulate Mark Tennant’s high contrast and “collage-esque” artworks, as well as the “raw emotion” of Egon Schiele paintings.

When adding detail and refining the painting, she starts with dark colors before moving on to mid tones and highlights. Sometimes, she covers the final painting with a thinned layer of paint to create a filter effect, or gauze to add shine, before she steps back to survey her completed work.

For each art piece Yee creates, she thinks carefully about how to incorporate her ideas and messages into the piece, twisting the original image into something different.

“Instead of just having the imagery of someone trapped in a curtain, I wanted to see how I could incorporate the feeling of the artwork into an unsettling experience,” she said.

In college, Yee plans to major in fine arts. Although she is certain on pursuing traditional art over digital formats like design, the uncertainty of financial success as a fine artist deters her from pursuing that career path, and pushes her instead to a career as an arts professor or art curator.

“I’ve been doing art for such a long time that I just feel like it’s part of who I am,” she said. “Recently, I’ve been trying to revolve my life around furthering my art.”

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