Q & A with Hannah Surace

January 1, 2023
Q & A with Hannah Surace


  1. Where are you from and how does that affect your work?

I am originally from Northeastern Pennsylvania. My family still lives there, and it is very much where I consider home. Northeastern Pennsylvania is a blue-collar working-class environment, and although my work is not directly commenting on the social issues of this place, it is part of my experience and definitely influences my decision making and practice.

  1. Where did you start as an artist?

I began college at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with my major undecided and gravitated towards the fine arts electives. It wasn’t until I took a glassblowing class and had a fantastic instructor that I realized I could make being an artist or arts educator my career. I eventually transferred to Moore College of Art & Design, an all-women’s art school in Philadelphia, and received my BFA. I then went on to receive my MFA in Sculpture from The Savannah College of Art & Design in Atlanta, Georgia.

  1. Where do you currently live and work

I live and work in Salisbury, North Carolina. I am a full-time instructor in the Art & Design department at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

  1. What is your artistic process from start to finish? 

I collect images of color combinations, textures, and patterns that inspire me and invoke feelings of comfort or nostalgia. I draw on an iPad using those sources to create formal compositions. I draw digitally at this step because there is no risk involved and I can continuously change and edit. Once I arrive at a composition that I like I will decide on a scale and begin to translate the digital image onto canvas. I follow the digital sketch loosely, changing and adding to that original idea along the way. This process continues until I feel like the work is complete.

  1. Do you plan out your works before or let them take shape during your process? 

A little bit of both. I begin by drawing digitally and model my paintings from a digital sketch for the majority of the work, then towards the end I add to that original sketch until I feel like the painting is finished.

  1. Tell me about your medium of choice. Is there a specific environment or material that's integral to your work? 

I like the physicality of painting. It’s funny because the general composition usually comes together quickly for me, but the large size I like to work at forces me to slow down. So does the application of texture. Those processes take a long time and allow me to reflect and learn during the process. I am a relatively petite person and I like the challenge of making something bigger than me.

  1. Let’s talk color - how do you decide your color choices? 

Like I said before, I often pull from reference images or notes and sketches. A vintage Moroccan rug may have a color combination that I integrate into a painting.

  1. Let’s talk about surface texture - how do you manipulate the surface? 

I love texture. I often pick an aspect of the composition to emphasize with texture. I use acrylic mediums to build up an area. They often end up looking like cake frosting or sand. I think it is a fun surprise in the work, from a distance you may not realize or notice the texture, but once you get up close to the work it is a fun contrast and an additional visual layer.

  1. Where do you find inspiration?

I find a lot of inspiration online. I grew up during the 90s and we got a computer when I was like 10 years old. I love saving images of interiors or fashion on Pinterest and a lot of my drawings and ideas have origins there. I am also inspired by lowbrow culture, and I like using materials or imagery that some might define as non-serious. I like incorporating imagery like stars, moons, or hearts into my paintings. They feel like what might be scribbled in the margins of a notepad with your crushes name or a star drawn on a graded paper. My mom is a teacher and used to let me help her by drawing the star on her tests. 

  1. What motivates you to create?

Staying busy in my studio motivates me to create. The more I make the more I am motivated to continue making. I am fortunate to have a job where I look at and talk about art all day long. Seeing my students inspired by art and motivated to make their work gives me motivation as well.

  1. How does your personal narrative play a role in your art making?

I reflect on my own personal history and narrative when creating my work in hopes to better connect with others.

  1. Do you have a network of other artists, and how do they support you?

I have a group of friends and mentors from my time in undergraduate and graduate school that are an incredible source of support. I also utilize Instagram to connect with artists. I think using social media as a way of connection and finding new artists is awesome, this has been particularly helpful throughout the pandemic. 

  1. Who are your biggest artistic influences?

I am always inspired by Julie Mehretu’s work. Experiencing the scale of her paintings in person is exciting and overwhelming. I am also inspired by the work of Hilma af Klint. Her use of color is so beautiful.

  1.  How has your style changed over time?

Visually my work has changed a lot over the years, but my interests and ideas have stayed the same and I really do see the thread throughout it all. I received my MFA in Sculpture in 2019 and was working almost exclusively three-dimensionally at the time. I eventually began to experiment more in painting and drawing and once I began working at a larger scale I fell in love with that process. I do believe that working three-dimensionally will make its way back into my practice at some point.

  1.  Let’s talk about this body of work featured at Charlotte Russell Contemporary. What is this body of work about?

This body of work began at the beginning of the pandemic. I had finished graduate school, moved to a new state, and started a new job. I got married and then the pandemic began. It came after a period of not making anything and feeling guilty about that. At the time I had nothing but time and was stuck inside, so I began generating a lot of work and experimenting. This body of work was born out of not fussing too much and letting go of expectations. In my statement I say that the work is about memory because I am purposefully collecting images of color combinations, textures, etc. that generate an emotional response. The source imagery is not necessarily important for the viewer to know about the work, it is just a part of my process. The work becomes a filter for all of it that at the end of the cycle speaks to personal history and experience. I know others can relate to that and that is where my interest lies.

  1. To title or not to title - how do you come up with the titles to your pieces?

Trying to title a work used to be so stressful for me and made me feel kind of dumb for not automatically having some impressive name for my work. This is something I have worked on- not only with finding a title for my work but also the entire making process. It isn’t fun anymore if it is stressful or anxiety inducing, so I don’t let it be that way. It can be fun and silly. I sometimes name my paintings after music or podcasts I am listening to or just let imagery in the work dictate the title.

  1.  What do you hope viewers will take away when engaging with your pieces?

I hope my work generates happiness and allows people a place to reflect. I love when someone viewing my work says, “this reminds me of xyz..” I am always referencing things in my paintings that bring me comfort and joy and it is exciting when a person viewing the work has a similar reaction.

  1.  Which art trends inspire your current work?

Artists who are making in an authentic way.

  1. Describe your most favorite artwork you have made of all time? 

I think the last thing I make is always my favorite. 

  1. Describe your dream project. If you could make anything, what would it be and why?

I would love the ability to spread out and experiment with working even larger than I do now. My studio is in my house, and I am very limited with space. I really can only have two large paintings out to be worked on at a time. I would love to be able to experience the making process and my work in a bigger environment.

About the author

Charlotte Russell

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