Heather Day Interview: Abstract Painter Explains How Henri Matisse And Travel Have Inspired Her Work [EXCLUSIVE]

Heather Day - RAW - Exclusive Interview
(Photo : Courtesy of Heather Day - Artist Heather Day - Kathryn Rummel )

Our latest "Real Artists to Watch" highlights abstract painter Heather Day. As her one-year mark of being a self-employed artist approaches, she excitedly, and humbly, expresses her enthusiasm for being able to thrive in San Francisco, the city she currently calls home. 

Heather openly shares her unusual childhood, during which she moved frequently, ending up in various cities across the United States and even at one point living in Japan. She received an education in painting and art history from Maryland Institute College of Art and through her life experiences and changing environments, she has found ways to allow her unique relationship with people and places to manifest in her work.

With an optimistic attitude and look to the future, she plans to explore her aesthetic through potential brand collaborations, while vowing to continuously push the boundaries creatively. 

She has accumulated a following through social media and built a connection with the collectors of her work. Heather even offers beneficial career advice for students entering design fields!

Read below for the full interview with Heather Day

(Photo : Courtesy of Heather Day - - "Portraits of You #1-10" /acrylic, soft-pastel, graphite on stretched canvas)



MB: Tell us about yourself, who you are as an individual and how you've reached the place you are at now.

HD: Well, I currently live in San Francisco, specifically in the Mission District, so I take Bart every day to get to the studio. I moved out here about two-and-a-half years ago, before I was living in Baltimore where I went to college and majored in painting and art history. I was looking for a new city after finishing school, Baltimore was an issue because I wasn't generating sales.

I realized I needed to live in an expensive area to actually make some money. I looked into moving to New York, but it didn't really seem approachable. I am attracted to essentially more populated, urban environments so I chose San Francisco over Los Angeles.

MB: Did you immediately begin painting when you got to the Bay Area?

HD: When I first moved out here I was working at the Design Center in furniture sales, the average nine to five salary job and it was just a quick position to sustain life here. While I was working there during the day, I would spend my evenings and early mornings painting, it got a little crazy and eventually I was being picked up by galleries.

Very soon actually, it will be my one-year of being self-employed. I've been painting full-time over the last year, and it is really exciting.

(Photo : Courtesy of Heather Day - - "You Were Saying"/acrylic, soft-pastel, charcoal, ink on stretched canvas)



MB: Congratulations, that is a big deal! Let's dive into your work, could you describe a typical day working or tell us your creative process?

HD: In terms of painting and my work, it is abstract, yet I find it very interesting how abstraction tends to be something people are intimidated by, or they don't know how to talk about it. My goal recently in social media has been to share my work through simple, yet personal posts on Instagram

I've used Instagram as a way to get people to talk about art and for people to understand my personal process. My work is simply the act of painting, about making a mark and reacting to it — similar to how you would have a conversation.

I think abstraction is very similar to our reaction to people, painting has a lot of layers just like our relationships with people. You can get as literal or as physical about it, but painting has a unique relationship with colors and textures, and when you look around a little more you begin to see abstractions in everyday life.

(Photo : Courtesy of Heather Day - - "Backtracking #1" /acrylic, soft-pastel, charcoal on stretched canvas)



MB: Your reactions while painting or your method of layering which is evident in your work, could you describe this approach further?

HD: I work in so many series, I usually have about five to ten paintings going at once, varying in size. It is almost like writing a book, the next page is a reaction to the previous and so on. My work goes through ebbs and flowers, it may be energetic and the next may be an excerpt of that, more modified.

MB: Was this your approach to painting even during college?

HD: I don't know if I can really pinpoint a change in my method during college years, but I was painting urban decay and I began looking at the walls of Baltimore and interpreting what I saw going on architecturally.

I thought about the upkeep and maintenance of the old exterior walls, it wasn't about graffiti, but let's say an artist makes a mark and the city goes to cover it up, it's like this process of other people going in to "fix" the wall and, essentially, everyone making their mark.

I would just get into these creative streams, or flows, and I now take things to a more conceptual level instead of just painting along with what I would see on these walls.

(Photo : Courtesy of Heather Day - - "Confronted By Mountains" /acrylic, soft-pastel, charcoal, thread on stretched canvas)



MB: That is a unique way to decipher the human connection to our surroundings. How do you think people, your clients, are connecting with you and your work.

HD: In the art world, I really hesitate to use the word "client" and would rather prefer collector. I am always walking this line of not wanting to come off as a commercial artist. I guess the most interesting thing this year has been the amount of people I've attracted simply through Instagram.

When I first moved to San Francisco, I had about 200 or 300 followers and now it has grown exponentially. I think this is owed to simply taking photos of my creative process, the behind the scenes. Instagram has been an outlet I really connected with and especially living in such a tech-savvy city like San Francisco, I figured I had to zoom in on this.

It is a bit difficult to understand where my traffic is coming from through my actual website, because I would be receiving these direct hits, and I began to figure that individuals were finding me through Instagram and going to my website to see my work on a larger screen.


(Photo : Courtesy of Heather Day - - "The Things You Told Me Today #5" /acrylic, soft-pastel on stretched canvas)


Currently, the majority of my sales come from Instagram, and it is really great to have my work in galleries in New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta who actually found me as well through my Instagram.

MB: Well, that is funny because I found you on Instagram also!

HD: Ha! See, I am such a fan of it, it is obviously doing something for me!

This week I actually shipped paintings internationally to Australia and France. It has really opened international doors and my career seems to evolving.

But having my work in other cities allows me to be in more places at once and it has been great to attend art fairs.

MB: I've noticed you recently took an international trip, to Rome and Paris, could you describe how your travels have facilitated growth in your work?

HD: Yes. It was my first major trip, and I was traveling by myself for most of it. I definitely have the travel bug now from it. It was kind of a little experiment, but I announced on social media that I was going to take on seven commissions while I was traveling and I wasn't sure if it was going to be a hit or if people would think it was cheesy, but I opened up a platform where people could purchase small drawings from my website.

(Photo : Courtesy of Heather Day - - "Borders Drawing #39")


It was the idea that I was going to finish each drawing in a city and ship it from that location to the person who purchased it. On the back of each drawing I included little details on what exactly inspired it, it was a really great experience. Even though it was incredible to visit all the museums, I became really most interested in meeting new people while wandering and staying in hostels.

I made a friend while I was in Rome who then actually let me stay with her in Paris. She had this great apartment that was extremely tiny, but it kind of turned into my studio during the day while she was at work. The drawings were about the textures and sounds of the city, of a new culture and the fact that I didn't speak the language. In Paris it also rained for a few days and the colors became so saturated, I was soaking in all of the interesting compositions.


(Photo : Courtesy of Heather Day - Artist Heather Day)



MB: This all sounds like a dream. I love Rome and Paris, they are both incredible cities that are overwhelmingly inspirational. You've talked about culture, communication, both verbal and nonverbal as being means for your creative growth, what other elements would you say feed your inspiration?

HD: I am working larger, and I am trying to find ways to make sure that painting is not a commercial thing. I am constantly experimenting and making sure I am breaking the formula. I've recently taken on a large mural project in Seattle and the mural will be an experience as I am painting part of the ceiling and trying to really explore what painting can really mean.

I would love to do a large commission where you walk into an interior and my painting is actually on the walls, rather than on the canvas. I guess you could say I am currently inspired by range and scale.

MB: What originally attracted me to your work were your wall murals. I thought how incredible it would be to experience an interior space that you've paint directly onto and view art that isn't on a canvas or within a frame.

HD: Exactly. It really does change everything. After my first mural, I was like wow, how am I going to go back to painting on a canvas? I did, but it really got me thinking of how many other objects I could be painting on and further pushing boundaries. I even see potential in taking things in an interior design direction.

Matisse has been such a big inspiration for me, he was not a commercial artist and he really experimented. He went into wallpaper, ceramics and was exploring with all types of large- and small-scale paintings. He was very bold and tried everything, I've been thinking about him a lot lately.

(Photo : Courtesy of Heather Day - - "Things We Hold" /acrylic, soft-pastel, thread on stretched linen and canvas)



(Photo : Courtesy of Heather Day - - "Question #1" /acrylic, soft-pastel, graphite on stretched canvas)



MB: You mentioned interior design or painting on new surfaces or objects in the future, where do you see yourself in 2-5 years ideally?

HD: I just moved into my new studio last week and it is a larger space that I finally have to myself and the reason I did that was because I really want to push sculpture. I have ideas for these larger and bold paintings inspired by nature, I imagine things being life-size and something you can physically experience, similar to my wall murals.

I also have a few companies I am in touch with about potential collaborations, I've got a few things up my sleeve and we'll just have to see how those will work out!

MB: What has been a significant experience or recent self-discovery that has impacted the direction of your work?

HD: I think recently I've been experiencing textures and movement in a new way and how those translate into painting. There is this fun game I often play, and the last time I played this was on the train from Milan to Paris. I woke up and was really out of it, but I lied there thinking about how we are moving forward but we are very still.

Whenever I think of movement like that, it is kind of an interesting mind game to think how that would translate as a color or how if it was a texture, what type would it be? And what material would I make it with?

My entire trip was very much an awakening for me. I was taking in experiences by myself and figuring out how that translates when I am in the moment and how could I make those into a mark. It was eye opening to think about how I couldn't understand what anyone was saying at the train station, but I began sketching while I was experiencing this disconnect.

(Photo : Courtesy of Heather Day - - "We're Not Going Anywhere" /acrylic, soft-pastel, charcoal, thread on stretched canvas)



MB:  I understand you've moved around a lot as a child, could you talk a little about that?

HD: Well I was born in Hawaii, my sister and I were. My dad is from Hawaii and currently still lives there, but my mom was a marine and they divorced when we were younger. I lived in Japan, I spent the most of my childhood in Arlington, Va. and went to high school in Chicago. I have definitely moved quite a bit, it can be hard on some people, but I think it has helped me to adapt to new surroundings. I'd say it has been a positive.

MB: And life in San Francisco? Is this a long-term city for you do you think?

HD: I toy around with the idea. I really love the Bay Area, San Francisco is a great city and I am not far away from my dad and I have that urban component. I really love the idea of showing internationally. There are so many galleries in Paris, and I would love to do more work in New York and Los Angeles.

It excites me to think of calling San Francisco my home base and potentially traveling maybe even 6 months at a time for residencies in different cities. I am hoping to eventually test that out, but ultimately I really love California and I am not done with it yet!

(Photo : Courtesy of Heather Day - - "Outside Places" /acrylic, soft-pastel, graphite on stretched canvas)



MB: What would you say makes you most proud in your career so far? Would it be becoming a self-employed artist?

HD: I think being self-employed makes me very proud, definitely. I've been thinking recently of writing a little essay at the end of the month about what it has been like to be a self-employed artist in San Francisco. I have been realizing that I do have a lot to be proud of and I think the main idea of the essay would be able to give other people advice. When I was starting out, I was able to reach out to other artists in hopes to learn from them and when I left my job, it was a very real and scary thing.

I want to share my story, whether it be this essay or on social media, being self-employed is a roller coaster and I want to be as real and authentic as I can be in telling people. It makes me proud to think of how I can help certain design students and maybe veer them in a certain direction and hopefully have a positive effect on where their career.

MB: What career advice would you give now?

HD: There are so many things I think about a lot and then I am constantly contradicting myself. But I think the biggest thing for me, although it may not work for other people, but I am actually really impatient and persistent. Sometimes that can come across as annoying, but following up with people goes a long way. People are very busy!

Just do not take no for an answer and really use all of your resources and make connections. A resolution I had last year was to be really open-minded and meet as many new people as possible, because you never know how they can help you and how you can help them!


(Photo : Courtesy of Heather Day - Artist Heather Day - Kathryn Rummel) 

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