In elementary school, Carrie Pittman was magnetically drawn to creating and making things with her hands. But a refrain that went something like “You can’t make a living as an artist” skewed Carrie’s career path from art to finance. So when she finally decided to quit her Birmingham banking job, Carrie returned to art for herself and no one else. As demand grew and others were moved by the brightness, joy, and color of her work, she couldn’t help but make it a job. Now, Carrie prides her craft on its wide range of mediums and prices. From giant statement pieces to Christmas tree ornaments to pillows to clutches, there is a Carrie Pittman piece for every art lover. We got a firsthand look at her incredible journey to the spotlight she’s currently enjoying. Meet this wildly talented Southern artist!
Tell us about your life’s trajectory. How did you end up as an artist in Birmingham?
I was born in Birmingham. I went off to college at SMU in Dallas. After graduating, I came back to Birmingham and got a job in banking. Banking is about the polar opposite of what I am doing now. However, it gave me a good sense of money and not being scared of the business side of painting and selling my art. I had probably 10 jobs until I followed my passion to paint full-time.
What sort of training have you had in art — formal or informal? Did you always want to be an artist?
I have no training or degree in art. I went to art lessons in elementary school. I remember as a child wanting to live a life creating but being told you couldn’t make money as an artist. I was quickly discouraged, so I went in another direction. Much later in life, I began painting as my own personal therapy and as a hobby. I worked an 8-t0-5 job, and the only thing I wanted to do was paint after work and on the weekends. I got hooked on how it made me feel. I never thought anyone would ever see my artwork, and I didn’t really want that, either. I started out with a lot of household objects like flour, spatulas, nail polish and lipstick because it was free. I taught myself by continuing to experiment in mediums and textures. I quit trying to figure out how someone was doing something and put all that energy into my own expression and style.
Tell us about the type of person who has Carrie Pittman artwork in their home.
My clients are typically 25 to 50 years old [and] want affordable, contemporary art. They like movement in art and are either totally neutral or love wild color. They usually don’t mind gold either, since gold sneaks its way into almost every piece. I’m fortunate my following has snuck out of the Southeast and spread across the country. I shipped to every state last year except for six. This is incredibly rewarding. I’ve shipped one piece overseas! The reason I like to create on different mediums is that it creates different price points and markets. It isn’t about making money as much as it is different formats to get art into people’s hands. Last year, I sold ornaments for $10 and my largest commission was for $8,000. There’s so much in the middle for others to be able to buy.
Your art has moved from the canvas to other things like jewelry and textiles … do you plan to keep expanding your media?
Yes! A huge part of me being an artist is the constant need for new things. I hate repetition. I love to find new ways to share with people on various mediums. There is something rewarding about being able to express yourself in so many different ways other than just paintings and on canvas. I feel like I’m like a shark — if I stop moving, I’ll “die”! I would really like to work on my designs this year for textiles, wall coverings, etc. I have been anti-print for so long because I want everything to be original and authentic. However, I know I can expand further with some of my designs printed while maintaining originals, too. I’ve been very stubborn about the printing business!
What’s your studio space like?
My studio is evolving. It is currently downstairs in my house. I’ve moved out three times, and I keep coming back. I feel safest and free there, in terms of being able to create. I don’t have to stop, pack up, clean up … I’m already home! It’s very messy. I have no system or organization because too much order starts to feel restrictive, and I can’t create freely.
How do you choose the commissions to take on?
I really try to take on every commission I can. Why? Number one, it’s a client who loves and values my work. I appreciate that and love to deliver to them. Number two, it keeps me sharp. Each commission is a challenge and a different experience. Commissions keep me on my toes! The only commissions I would decline would be portraits. I think people can understand why.
Do you ever feel like you are actually done with a project?
Yes! I used to really struggle with this early on. Now it’s where I can rest in the painting. I can look at it and not have an “itch,” anxiety, or frustration. It’s a great feeling.
Do you know how a piece will end up when you begin?
I really don’t have an idea of how something will end. I really have to trust myself and trust the process. That’s why it’s so important I am in a good frame of mind. If I feel like I’m forcing something, it rarely works. This has taught me so much about life and relationships as well. What is meant to be yours will find you naturally and stay!
Is there anything you wish you knew when you started your career?
Ha! I would say how lonely it is. I’m a huge extrovert. I crave deep conversation and understanding. I’m by myself all day, every day. And now COVID has shut down all art shows, so this year has been especially challenging. I have to work hard to not isolate myself all day, so I plan coffees and lunches and use social media to stay connected!
What’s a common misconception about painting that bugs you?
The time that goes into a painting. Some paintings don’t take very long, but others take months to complete. It takes a lot to be tapped into your inner voice to be true to yourself in creating. If something is going wrong in my life, it comes out on the canvas.
What’s something people are often surprised to learn about you?
I hate queso. I used to be fluent in French. I’ve never been to Washington, D.C.
Where can we find you in Birmingham when you’re not creating?
I love to spend time with people. I love to be outside. I love to shop! I love the beach and anywhere warm!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received and from whom?
My dad used to instill in me, “To whom much is given, much is required.”
Aside from family, friends and faith, name three things you can’t live without.
Coffee, travel, a good massage
Thank you, Carrie, for chatting with us! See more of Carrie’s art online here — and maybe snag something for yourself!
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