From Photographer to Artist - Carla Coulson
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From Photographer to Artist


Dear Friends,

I am hoping to start a Podcast soon called The Creative Career Backstage very soon which will have lots of interviews with creatives and their keys to success. In the interim I wanted to share this lovely interview with Katie Graham.

I met Katie Graham when she attended one of my photography workshops almost 4 years ago in Sydney so it was an incredible surprise to see that she was launching a solo exhibition as a watercolour artist in Hong Kong this week (see below for details).

Her work is stunning and I was fascinated how she made the jump so quickly from one medium to the other and with such mastery.

I will let Katie tell her story.  

What was the catalyst for your switch from photographer to painter?

After many years of photography, I was at turning point in my life and the technology required to create a digital picture was frustrating me. The computers and cameras began to feel like a barrier. In my search for a new creative outlet I discovered the world of watercolour. The ability to pick up a paint brush and create a picture with my own hands, was magical.  And now I cannot imagine doing anything else.

Are you self-taught or did you train with someone special?

I started by having lessons with an incredibly special person who is still very much my mentor today. Initially she shared the watercolour techniques with me. Over the years, she became a life confidant who believed in me and inspired me. After a couple of years of formal sessions, I found that I preferred to paint by myself in my own studio. I needed the physical and mental space and freedom to experiment and make mistakes. From these mistakes I was able to learn and grow as an artist so that I could progress to a stage where I was able paint the pictures that came from my heart.




What have been some of the big hurdles to overcome?

Learning patience has been a very big hurdle for me. Learning the techniques of watercolour has taken many years.  As a watercolour artist it’s essential to have intention and purpose with every brushstroke because you can’t erase what you don’t like.  Watercolour is a medium where the artist is not responsible for every mark on the page. If we are patient and respect the process, the most beautiful “happy accidents” can happen which create unique marks on the paper and give the artwork life and soul. But this only happens if we can practice patience. It is like meditating.

Learning to be simple has been a very big hurdle for me too. Simplicity in art and life is actually extremely difficult.  As the saying goes “the most complicated skill is to be simple”.  For years I had way too much information in every painting and it took me a long time to understand that the reason I didn’t like the finished artwork was because it was not simple enough. As an artist the most important decision is not want to put in the painting, but what to leave out.

Why elephants and animals?

My art is born out of a love and nostalgia for my first home, being South Africa.  For me these animals represent everything that is beautiful about the world. They are so perfectly created in every way and I am inspired by every shape, colour and tone in their details and features.  I love painting their eyes, because it is like taking someone’s portrait. Their eyes tell a story. I allow the eyes to create a connection and intensity and give the animal a life and soul that goes beyond just a physical form.

You teamed with The Elephant Society, how did this come about? 

The Elephant Society auctioned one of my artworks at their “Hope for Wildlife” Ball in November last year. We have since aligned in the hope that we can raise awareness and discourage purchase of Ivory in China. At the current rate, elephants will be extinct within 15 years.  Hong Kong is a pivotal city within the illegal ivory trade and to prevent elephants from becoming extinct, people must stop buying ivory.  If there no demand for ivory there will be no market for it.



Your colour palette is so soft and feminine, was this a conscious choice?

I have always had a love affair with soft muted colours. And over the years my paintings seem to have evolved into soft muted impressions of animals. But this has been a process and a very subconscious one. In the beginning I experimented with so many vibrant colours. But these paintings never survived my own curation of my work.   When I step back and look at anything I have made whether it’s an artwork I have painted,  a photograph I have created,  or even an outfit I have chosen to wear, there is always a consistency. The heart of the artist is always reflected in their work.

You open your first solo show in Hong Kong this week, do you have any words for someone who is doubting their artistic abilities?

Believe in yourself. And work hard. Nothing in life comes easily. Dedicating yourself to creativity can be incredibly hard and frustrating and there are plenty of dark days.  But the moments when the magic happens and you are happy with something you have created, is one of the biggest joys possible! So if your heart is telling you to do it, then do it! But you have to be truly committed.

What has been the top 3 personal learnings from this adventure?

Be bold and take risks. On and off the paper. When the risks pay off it is so rewarding.

Slow down and be grateful for everything – it’s the foundation of happiness.

To always surround myself with positive people. Their energy is so infectious!



Is there one smart move whether it be a connection, your marketing, waiting to be ready, perfecting your craft or being visible that helped you further your career??

When I started as an artist, I asked a friend of mine who was achieving great success in his career, what his number one piece of advice to me would be. He said he had asked many successful artists over the years, exactly the same thing –  And consistently over the years, all of their answers had been exactly the same. “To achieve success, you have to treat art as a business”.  So that includes, marketing plans and mission statements. Pricing strategies and long term and short term goals etc etc. I have in no way achieved this yet, but I can appreciate that the only way that we can dedicate our lives to our art is if we can in some way make it commercial. Otherwise there is no way it is financially feasible to continue – especially living in a place like Hong Kong where the cost of living is so expensive!

If you are lucky enough to be in Hong Kong this week you can see Katie’s Show here.





Thursday 9th March all day.  6:30-8:30pm Drinks & Canapés

Otherwise you can follow her on Instagram or check out her work here.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” Scott Adams




Check out my Portrait Lightroom Presets here.

  • Julie Spruce

    Thank you for introducing us to Katie Graham. Her work is amazing. I dabble with watercolour and pastels but never in my wildest dreams could I create images like Katie’s. The sad death of the rhino at the Paris zoo this week reinforces once again that it is vital the trade in ivory is discouraged. Hopefully Katie’s work with The Elephant Society will help to enlighten more people as to the plight of both elephants and rhinos. I am looking forward to more inspiration from your interviews with creative’s!

    March 8, 2017 at 10:19 am
  • Love, love, love her art and the timing of this is so funny! I’m a photographer who just in the past few months have started thinking about learning watercolor. I mentioned it to my husband the other night and he said Why? I replied: because if you create something from scratch, you can shape everything about it, and I’m starting to feel a bit limited with the photography. I have a lot of images in my head that I want to create, but they can’t be done with photography. Sure, you can digitally alter an image, but even so, there are limits. This was so inspiring, thank you for sharing it, and I can’t wait for the podcast!

    March 8, 2017 at 3:47 pm