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Monologues interviews, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

Cara Mason: Person of Interest

Cara Mason

≫fine arts grad & painter ≫wife & pet mom ≫mental health advocate ≫self proclaimed zombie expert ≫winnipeg, mb ≫

 Cara chilling in her yard with Virtute

Cara chilling in her yard with Virtute

I met Cara in the middle of my hair career. She was an amazing temp at the salon where I worked.  I ended many shifts trying to get her giggling, which wasn’t very hard.  Thanks to social media and trading our skills, we’ve been able to keep up marvelously ever since.   

I’ve had the pleasure of observing Cara moving from being an art student producing self-reflective works, to the beginning, and evolution of her pet portrait business. 

Cara invited me into her home and chatted with me about the unfolding of her life as an artist to date.

 

What's your current Job title? Artist. *pauses* I also work at the gallery. (That is the Winnipeg Art GalleryThat title is Studio Programs Assistant, but I don’t feel like it’s a good description of what I do.

Which is what?  I make sure that the courses run smoothly and that people get registered for what they want. Come up with ideas and programs to bring more people into the gallery and the studio.

So you’re looking at what’s current and trending. Do you want to change the demographic of people coming in? Yeah. the programs that we’ve been coming up with are going to bring more people in and hopefully create a more inclusive and enticing environment.

Formal education?  I have a BFA from U of M.

focused on... painting?  My focus was painting. I also worked photography, and in the last year of University I did printmaking. I really, really liked that.

Coming out of school what was your expectation for employment: After leaving I was like “oh yeah I’m going to do great” and then everything kind of fizzled and mmm….

Cara has been fairly active in speaking about mental illness on Instagram in the past.  Her followers witnessed and celebrated with in her weight loss journey as a dynamic part of her focus on her mental health.  We have often talked about how to "guard our happiness" throughout our friendship.  She graciously shares more about Borderline Personality Disorder in an effort to remove stigma related to mental illness. 

Did it fizzle within or without your circle of control: Uh, I think it was within my circle of control because once I started painting again outside of school assignments I took a really, really long time to do things. My first oil painting after school took a year and a half to complete, and I think that’s kinda why things fizzled. I wasn’t producing enough work. 

**I want to take a moment to attend to this: please notice artists talk about what they do as “work” regardless of whether it’s a commission job, self-initiated project or gift. Cara and I talk about how hard it is to motivate ourselves to do work that doesn’t have an exacting deadline or structure.
 
 "Heavy boots" is a term Cara read and connected with as a description of the hard times she's weathered with BPD. Jenny Ramone took this photo as part of her ongoing photo project on hands. (click the photo to view the project)

"Heavy boots" is a term Cara read and connected with as a description of the hard times she's weathered with BPD. Jenny Ramone took this photo as part of her ongoing photo project on hands. (click the photo to view the project)

What was your exposure to arts growing up? My dad owned a kitchen cabinet business and did all the drawings.  That was something that I was able to kind of connect with him on, I liked to draw.  My brothers were both athletes, so that was where they got to show off and for me it became almost like that’s where I was competitive. I think a lot of kids draw and color because they like it and find it fun.

But you were like “I’m better at this than other people.”  Yeah!

I get that. We can all be awesome but, it’s good to be competitive in certain contexts. Like when I’m trying to develop new skills. Yeah I’ve never been like “I just need to do my art to relax.”

That’s peoples misconception. People see you while you’re promoting yourself. They’re like “it must be so relaxing to do that,” and I think: Actually it’s infuriating, and, defeating. A lot of people don’t value what I/we do because they think I’m just sitting there pouring joy out of my soul while it happens the whole time.[yep] When really I’m putting way more hours into this than…{my shoulders slum in defeat} yeah that’s my bone. f*ck those guys.

Do you have a place that you go for peace? umm.. I am very in control of everything outwardly and I think that's kind of to make up for inward lack of control. So, yes in this house in general I’m very in control. The pillows have to be just the way I like them and I can’t go to bed unless the dishes are all put away *oh my god Cara, I think my dream is to wake up in your kitchen!

Social media vulnerability, mental illness etc: In terms of talking about mental illness, when I was in University was when I first started actually being open about it. I started doing art about it. In my crits I would hesitantly talk about it.  People would come up to me after and whisper that it connected with them. Just the fact that they kind of had to whisper about it made me really hyper aware that I also felt that same way, that for me to talk about it was really scary. I didn’t like that.  It got me really upset that something that was beyond my control that is not very different from someone having Diabetes or anything like that was something to be ashamed of.

Responses?  Yeah I’ve had negative experiences. I’ve had a boss cut my hours. I’ve had instructors tell me that I shouldn’t be in school. I feel for the most part it has been really positive though, in that I’ve had a lot of people open up to me in return. People that are having issues with friends or family that are going through the same thing have been able to ask me questions that they are maybe too nervous to ask their friends & family.  I hope by being open about it some of the stigma gets broken down, and people realize it's not so scary.

That is huge for people who want to support other people. I’ve definitely felt like I needed a resource for humans that I love before and I don’t know who to ask.  I already don’t make a lot the appointments in my life that I need to go to already so making an appointment to talk to someone is pretty unlikely. Reaching out to someone on social media is more appealing.

Childhood hero?  oOoooh. *silence* This is going to be awful, but it’s probably Ken (Cara’s now husband, then camp counselor.) Childhood is a very loose term, I was a teenager.  He represented a male figure in a different way than I had experienced before.  My brothers and dad are all kind of boisterous, loud men. He was a funny, friendly guy that got along with everybody but, was fairly opinionated.  That was really interesting to me.   Hehe. Yeah. Then I married him

Niiice

Borderline Personality Disorder traits: It’s different with everybody. With me the most common thing is the sensitivity, and intense emotions. I'm a very “sensitive” person and get emotional easy. I’m also sensitive to light, sound, textures, and stuff like that.  I started group therapy. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is kind of considered the “cure” for BPD.  The foundation of it is mindfulness.  It's 24 evening sessions and I’m kind of hoping that it will provide tools to feel like I’m capable of more. I feel healthier than I have in a long time but I still know that there are days.

What’s the best place for an introvert, socially awkward, or socially anxious person to network?  I would like to know the saaaame answer.  I definitely also struggle with that, I struggle with keeping friends because I don’t like to reach out to people, umm and ask people to hang out.  That’s something that I *we have simultaneous giggling fits* uhh, am hoping that by the end of the therapy that..

Ok so that’s something that you want to change? Yeah.

**Cara and I laughed pretty hard after she explains not reaching out to others. Let’s just say we’ve taken a long time getting to know each other, not for lack of interest in the other’s life or work.  It makes more sense to me now… and it’s nice to know.
 
 Besides my own darling dog portraits, I think Milly is my one of favorites.  I've seen many of my furry face friends become beautiful watercolors through Cara's work.

Besides my own darling dog portraits, I think Milly is my one of favorites.  I've seen many of my furry face friends become beautiful watercolors through Cara's work.

On cats and dogs, pet portraits: beginning & evolution of the business:

You want me to explain how I started?  Cool, so like I said the first painting outside of university took me a year and a half to do (self-initiated, self-portrait.)   When I was finished it I was like “nobody is going to be able to buy this. There will be no price that I could put on this that someone would be willing to pay that would match what effort I put into it.”  The first ones that I did were gifts for some of my coworkers.

They still represented who I am as an artist, it’s still portraiture, and it still has an illustrative element... 

...which, was what I was doing in my oil paintings. It was something that I could create within a couple days or a week and have it in someone’s home. I started doing them because I was finding that the majority of my paintings were all based on my experience with mental illness and I was doing things about memories being messed up and finding comfort in anxiety. I was forgetting the other things that were just keeping me sane, like my pets.  I know that whether you have a mental illness or not your pets are a source of comfort and joy. I wanted to start doing things that I could kind of connect with other people on.  It became this way that I started getting paid to look at other people’s pets and hear stories about goofy things their animals do and how they wanted to incorporate it into the work. It was a nice way for me to balance my style with their stories and add on a mental well-being twist.

Is this mostly online that you're getting commissions?  That’s the only way that I’ve been getting them.  And consulting through email.

That’s a huge part of it. When I graduated from school all of the people that I graduated with that were doing the same level of work that I was doing were these huge social butterflies that would go to all these gallery openings and be invited to collaborate with other artists and that just wasn’t me at all.  Every opening I had I was just miserable at. I enjoyed connecting with people online through talking about my story and it seemed seamless to move from those same people that I was connecting with about my mental illness or life in general to then connect with them about their pets and doing art for those people.  I did a whole bunch at the very start for free that I sent to people that had large social media followings.

*This is not something that I would normally encourage - giving away work for free can result in undercutting yourself and other artists, and really devalues your work.  However, I saw this as an opportunity to share my gratitude for these people, as well as get a little promo.

I think it’s okay for some of those people to promote you because, you’re still giving them value.

I didn’t ask any of them to post them. It benefited me in the beginning anyway because I was creating content for my portfolio, and expanding my social media following.

What’s the last thing you quit and don’t regret: My method of taking commissions.  Before I was taking on every single one that came in and I would line them up.  I was booking 6 months in advance.  That was starting to make me really anxious and really stressed out. I was also accepting portraits that didn’t really appeal to me.  That maybe the photo wasn’t a good reference or the subject matter they wanted to do didn’t really go with my goal for the series.

So I changed it instead to being open for a short period of time and taking the ones that interested me then closing shop.  A huge chunk of time more so than me actually painting was spent time emailing and telling them how to take the best photo. That was taking up so much time and was very draining. Now if people are emailing me and it’s not during that period of time when I’m not taking commissions.

 Do you have an auto response?  I have an auto response!  99% of the people who are interested in my work follow me on Instagram. So I post on my website when I’m open and I post when I’m closed.

 

 I think calling this a labor of love would be an understatement! This is the work Cara talks about having worked on for a year and a half following University.

I think calling this a labor of love would be an understatement! This is the work Cara talks about having worked on for a year and a half following University.

 Cara’s work is breathtaking.  Her self-portraits are so detailed I could lose myself in those tiny, meticulous brush strokes.  Check out her work @carajmason & caramason.com

 

 

out takes:  *cat barfs* Cara giggles a bunch....  You cat owners know.
Amy Krahn1 Comment