“Creativity does not run in my family by any means, none of my parents or siblings have had the desire or propensity for art,” says Claudia O’Steen, illustrator and founder of CO Creations. “For some reason, I fell in love with it very young, and it just stuck.”
interview JULIE JOHNSON
pictures courtesy of CLAUDIA O’STEEN
Claudia won her school’s annual art competition as a 4th grader. It was the first time she realized she was good at drawing, and the win instigated a relentless act of practice. She decided art was what she wanted to do and by high school, Claudia O’Steen was synonymous with artist. She challenged herself and used the time of learning to experiment with styles and media. Claudia also found an ally and cheerleader in her art teacher Megan Johnson.
“She inspired me daily to push myself, and she taught me to see things completely differently,” Claudia says. “It was through her I realized my love for photo-realism. I enjoy drawing detailed and realistic portraits of people.”
Broke artist is rarely a career people aspire to. Thankfully, in Claudia’s case, her family focused on her talent and abilities instead of negative what ifs. She attributes her strong support system of family, friends and teachers with her ability to take necessary risks, allowing her both space to soar and a safety net to cushion her bad days.
Looking at my artwork throughout the years is like a photojournal of my life and how much I’ve grown as a person and artist.
“There have been both financial risk and emotional risks involved in my artistic career, and I haven’t regretted any of it,” she says. “I have participated and continue to participate in several shows across the Midwest and started an official freelance business, CO Creations, where I sell prints and custom drawing orders. Both of those came with more expenses than I expected, to be honest. I’m currently 21 and started doing shows when I was 18 and registered my business when I was 19.”
Art has been a constant thread, weaving through and throughout Claudia’s life: beginning in elementary school and continuing now as she prepares to graduate from college and builds her business. Because of that, she has wrestled with attributing her self-worth to her career.
“It took years and a few really disappointing business endeavors to realize I am so much more than the art I create,” she says. “I draw because I enjoy it and have therefore found a way to make money from it, but it does not define me as a person.”
Julie: Some of your illustrations and art are personal — couples, homes, pets — why are you drawn to capturing important moments in another’s life? How does this feed your heart?
Claudia: This is an interesting question and one I struggle to answer for a couple reasons. I think because of the emotional nature of art, people assume artists’ intentions are typically deeply intune with their feelings and in service to making the audience feel a certain way as well. Art is unique in that viewers can take whatever they want from a piece; it’s all completely open to interpretation.
I have never been an artist who created work to send a message or have some intricate backstory to explain my creation. To say it simply, my art is not that deep. I am someone who can’t turn my brain off; I am a Type A perfectionist who has the tendency to sweat the small stuff. In my life, I have found few things that make me feel as calm and at peace as I do when I draw.
I love creating the drawings, packaging them for my clients, delivering them and seeing their faces light up in reaction to all my hardwork. I create drawings out of a pure love of the craft and a desire for the peace it provides me. The wonderful reactions from my clients and continued support from them for my business is just an added plus. For me, it is more so about the process of drawing than it is the subject or final product.
Julie: When you give the final product, what do you hope the recipient sees through your perspective?
Claudia: I did my first ink drawn couples portrait, which ended up being my best selling commission, in my freshman dorm room. I was struggling to think of a Christmas present for my boyfriend and decided to draw one of my favorite photos of us. It gave me all the warm fuzzy feelings when I finished it. There is something about drawing the people you love that is so comforting, and he absolutely loved it. I posted it on my Instagram after that and started getting a few DMs, then a few more, then it became my part-time job that carried me through all my years of college.
The drawings were equally beneficial for both me and the client. Not only did they keep me from living off Ramen noodles my whole freshman year, but they provided a much-needed form of therapy during a difficult time of new challenges. My clients got personalized drawings of important memories in their lives, and I got to enjoy their reaction and the simple fact it gave me a reason to draw. People come to me already knowing what they want; I draw based on pictures since my style is so realistic. I think it’s less about clients seeing something through my perspective and more about me being part of them reliving a beautiful moment in their lives.
Julie: Has art come naturally for you? How has it evolved through the years?
Claudia: Art has always come extremely naturally to me. I started to become serious about art when I was 14. From then to now (my senior year in college), I have gone through some serious transformation. As I’ve grown, changed my interests, challenged my beliefs, met new people, and gone through life, my art has grown with me.
This year I’ve seen the most transformation in my art as I’ve begun to allow myself to let go and make mistakes more than ever before. I’m pretty hard on myself when it comes to commissions and work for clients because I’m doing it for someone else, but the work I’ve done for myself has been much more free and guestural lately. Looking at my artwork throughout the years is like a photojournal of my life and how much I’ve grown as a person and artist.
Julie: Tell me about a disappointing moment that included your art or talent. How did you persevere through the pain?
Claudia: Life as a young artist has not always been glamorous. Just like every other career, it has its ups and downs. Some of the most difficult, and sometimes disappointing, artistic moments in my life have been in my design schooling. I invest a lot into my art. I spend countless hours on each project, making each line purposefully. I am constantly going down the Google bunny hole, learning how to be more proficient in Adobe software.
In school, we do critiques at the end of every project, and boy oh boy do those teach you to have thick skin and be humble. To put it simply, sometimes people tear your work apart.
At the end of my sophomore year, we went through something called “Candidacy Review,” where the design faculty review your portfolio to decide if you should continue in the program. By this time in my schooling, I had been through numerous critiques, and I was still petrified for this Review. I had invested so much of myself into my work, I was terrified they would turn me down. We had one workshop where the professors who would judge the work gave us their initial opinions. Mine went TERRIBLY. I went home and sobbed. I felt like a terrible artist. It took some serious self-reflection and several all-nighters for me to pull it together and complete a kick-butt portfolio that ended up getting me into the Dual program at Missouri State University for Graphic Design and Illustration.
Julie: What is one piece of art you have illustrated that has brought you joy?
Claudia: It’s hard to pick just one piece that has brought me joy, but my favorite would have to be a drawing I did this last semester in my figure drawing class.
Our final project was to pick a narrative, and draw it. My narrative was about the emotional and internalized trauma we all went through during the global pandemic. I took several pictures of myself and combined them in a messy tornado-like form.
Each face had a different emotion, all of them tangled together as one. While it may not seem like a joyful piece to an outsider, it was an incredibly important drawing for me. It was so far out of my comfort zone stylistically, and I felt it represented a time where we were all forced outside of our collective comfort zone as a society. Everytime I look at this piece I’m proud of myself.
Julie: Why is bringing art into someone’s life important to you?
Claudia: I think there is a lot to learn from artwork. It’s in every aspect of our world now. Every logo you see, murals you drive past, sculptural landmarks, even the commercials you watch on TV have been thoroughly planned and designed.
I never wanted to be an artist to bring art into others’ lives; I do it because it is something I love to do. But, as I get older I see how art can make an impact on society.
We have such division in today’s world, it seems like there isn’t a single thing we can all agree on. Art has the power to blur the lines, to bring people together, and make them see past petty differences.
I am satisfied knowing I’m in a unique position as an artist to be able to create work that could bring people together. I can make an impact, and knowing that gives me hope for a better future.
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