Katrina Thibodeau's work is filled with emotion; it is raw, intense, leaving a permanent mark on each of her viewers. If not for their intensity, you will surely remember her work from their incredible detail, as the artist has an incredible talent for realism. Join Thibodeau and I in this intimate discussion, the artist tells us about her obsession with details and oil paint in light of the pandemic, her journey delving into her own mental health, and what she says to her younger self.
Katrina Thibodeau is a Canadian self-taught contemporary artist. Opening her first business at age 17, this young artist was awarded the Young Entrepreneurship Award of Ontario and has since gone on to be featured in Bridges to Better Businesses, CTV News, and was awarded the Excellence in Entrepreneurship for Sault Ste Marie in 2018. Katrina is an established Canadian artist, and has been gaining traction internationally within the past year. She was the only Canadian artist to be featured in the Top 18 Finalists at the International Contest of Contemporary Art for 2021, where her artwork was on display in Milan, Italy. She has also been featured in publications in Spain and for Create! Magazine recently, and just gained news that she will have a Solo Exhibition in Seoul, South Korea, during Spring 2023. With hyper realistic monochromatic and full color portraits being her main focus due to the boldness and raw ability in allowing her to capture emotion, this artist's talent is depicted on the canvas as she lets the art speak for itself to draw out deep emotion from her viewer. By leaving the background of her works predominantly untouched, it intends to draw focus onto every expression, no matter how subtle, hoping to impact the viewers in different ways.
Your highly skilled paintings are just mind-blowing. Where (or how) did you go about learning how to achieve such an impressive level of realism?
Thank you for the kind words. I have been working in realism for over a decade but it wasn’t until the Covid-19 lockdowns that I really saw an improvement in my skill set. Living in Canada, my small business was forced to close down for 9 months total. During this time I dove into oil painting, to a point of obsession. It seems as if that was the only thing I really had control over anymore. Painting couldn’t be taken away from me the way my ability to work had been. I took some online self directed oil painting courses and ran through a number of Youtube videos. Some of the biggest steps I’ve taken has come from the critiques of other artists. When I thought something was good, I would (and still do) send it to my mentors and they tell me everything I didn’t want to hear but needed to. Constantly being humbled and surrounding myself with artists who are at a higher skill set is possibly the most driving force for me to continue to grow.
What is it that brings you back to portraiture again and again? Who are the people in your portraits?
There is something about a portrait that is undeniably powerful. The most subtle expression or lighting can change how the viewer is impacted. It goes beyond my obsession for detail and into my longing for connection. Most of the portraits I have done are self-portraits, simply because I painted so much during the pandemic I was an easy model choice. Deeper than that, I was longing to process the emotions I had and putting them onto canvas allowed me to be seen by the world--but mostly by myself. Portraiture is the single most impactful subject I can think of that shows such raw emotion--that in itself brings me back each time. I approach painting as if to say, ‘how can I say something without having to say it.’ I try to impact the audience by having them feel the emotion, not just see it.
Many of your works are highly psychological. What emotions do you aim to capture in your paintings and drawings? Are you intending to delve into the human psyche through your work?
The human soul, mind, and spirit are forever evolving. If I can show a glimpse into my own and attempt to capture whatever my dominant emotion is in that moment of reflection and genuinely have the viewer feel it, I am satisfied. My works are predominantly viewed as heavy and even negative, however my intention is to simply express onto canvas the true emotions people feel yet have a difficult time verbalizing. I had been diving deep into my own mental health and healing during the time I discovered oil painting. The topics and subject matter came out organically but it is definitely an intention at this point to dive into the human psyche in my work.
What has been your proudest moment as an artist so far?
There are typical CV achievements that come to mind but when I really sit with this question what surfaces is my younger-self. I wanted nothing more than to be an artist when I grew up and be able to impact people with something I had created. I can honestly tell that inner child that I have made it, I am an artist, and that feels damn good to say to her.
Who in your life inspires you (artist or not)?
My Dad. He never gives up on something, I call him MacGyver. No matter how difficult the task, he is patient and waits for the answer to come to him, the man basically invented manifesting without knowing it. His dedication to see things through inspires me even as an adult. I also believe this is where I get my inspiration for emotional expression. My father outwardly is a blue collar tradesman but not far under that exterior is a very emotionally in-tune man. Seeing him be vulnerable and express emotion makes me feel safe and strong enough to step into my own self reflection.
What advice would you give other artists who are trying to share their work with the world?
I think there is this misconception that those who outwardly have found “success” are lucky. You create your own luck. If you don’t put yourself out there to receive, it’s not going to happen. What I mean by this is give yourself the opportunities you’re envious of. If you don’t apply to that gallery, magazine, or competition, they most likely aren’t going to come find you. The fear of rejection is crippling but the regret of ‘what if’ is far worse. I get accepted to maybe 8% of what I apply to, but every time I do get accepted it feels that much better. If it was easy everyone would do it. I have only begun to scratch the surface of success but the little that I can proudly say I have only leaves me wanting more. Find it within to give yourself at least the opportunity to say you tried.
On your website, you mention that you started your first business at age 17. I’m so curious—what was your business? Can you tell us a bit about your interest in entrepreneurship?
I was always the artsy kid growing up and would draw portraits and doodle on just about anything. At age 17, a friend of mine passed away and being the artistic one in the group I designed tattoos in memory of him for us to go get done. Long story short, the tattoo artist asked to see more of my work and 13 years later I am still tattooing. It wasn’t so much of an interest in entrepreneurship as a love for art and the many mediums it comes in. I still tattoo today and have a studio with 7 staff in my hometown. In tattooing I also specialize in realism portraiture.
Do you have anything coming up that you want to share? What are you looking forward to?
I have a solo exhibition in South Korea coming up in the spring. This project in particular is something I am very excited to share with the world as it is a deeper dive into mental health and the emotions surrounding it. My intention is to help change the stigma on the topic and show that everyone who is affected by it is not alone in experiencing intense and deep emotions. As a whole we are very similar beings but yet so many of us feel alone when in reality the majority of people deal with mental health struggles at some point in their life.