Realism- Heather Horton interview


This interview is the first in a series where I reached out to local and international artist who’s artworks were really amazing and I really wanted to find out how they ticked.

Heather is a Toronto based artist whos work really gave me an emotive response with her ability to capture the pleasure of being in the moment with your surroundings. Heather’s work is amazingly well executed and a fantastic reminder for me to stop and smell the roses.


Hi Heather,

First off I’d like to thank you so much for taking the time to do this I really appreciate it.

My first question to you is pretty straight forward: What is it that drove you to realism? and what keeps you doing what you do?

I think pursuing realism with a concerted effort was due to the fact that to me, art is about capturing what you see in front of you. Not abstracting it, but maintaining a dedication to reproduce what you see in the world on canvas, with paint. The style comes in when you transition from subject to the canvas. I keep doing what I do because I love what I do..if you enjoy something you tend to keep doing it, and that is very true of art. I have been fortunate that my collectors also like what I do, but I haven’t deviated (consciously) in style or what I like to paint ever since I graduated from college 11 years ago.

How do you go about developing your ideas for your pieces? Do you have a method for inspiration or is it more like “something pops into your head suddenly”?

Both. Usually I have a general idea of a composition. Anything can inspire however. A person, a dress, a landscape. So there are two main ways that I approach a piece…basing it around a subject in a place they love, or thinking of a composition/idea and incorporating myself or a model into that concept. However, sometimes ideas jump out at me. I can meet a stranger and want to paint them immediately, irrelevant of who they are, or their personalty. It sounds superficial, and perhaps it is, but to me, to faithfully try to capture the mysteries of a human being’s form is more than enough reason to paint them. The flip side is sometimes I have a photoshoot with a friend and my ideas do not work out well…something is missing, the reference doesn’t excite me. It is a very immediate reaction when you see a photograph/photographs and think “that’s it, I need to paint that”.

Is there someone else’s work that you can always return to for inspiration?

The artists who inspire me have remained the same since college: Lucian Freud, Andrew Wyeth and Frida Kahlo. Freud for his rendering of skin, Wyeth for his compositions, and Kahlo for her painful and acutely personal pieces. People say write what you know, and I would say paint what know. Experience is the best food for transformative art.

What are your thoughts on conceptual art and it’s value? What about the conceptual art process?

I think concept is very important, but I am not a fan of conceptual art as a movement. I think that art should need no explanation, and there seems to need to be one with conceptual art. I think art should stand alone and need no Coles Notes. But then again I am biased toward realism ;). Yes, an object on a pedestal in a gallery does not art make, but then we can get into the concept of what qualifies as art. It is a slippery slope! The only thing that conceptual art does for me is make me want to get into the studio and keep doing what I’m doing.

What are your thoughts on the production art industry? and the processes of having an army of artists working on a single project?

Do you mean murals where teams work on a piece? I think art like that is ok for the purpose it serves. However there is an intimacy that happens, a different sort of connection, when a piece is produced by one person.

When it comes to your own artmaking, how much time do you dedicate to the planning process? Is it a conscious effort or do you just go into autopilot?

I have a general idea of what I want to do for each piece. There are some exceptions in that sometimes things happen spontaneously but generally each piece is more or less thought out…sometimes just as an idea and other times as the exact composition that I am after.

When was the Aha or Eureka moment when you realised that you had grasped the ability to paint realistically? Was it a massive breakthrough that made you want to jump up and down? Or was it a natural quiet progression?

It was absolutely a natural, quiet progression. I remember in college (Sheridan College for Interpretive Illustration) my instructor in figure painting class was explaining about how one has to consistently look and compare tones, colours, lines…a constant assessing and adjusting to maintain accuracy. I remember thinking “this is going to take forever, there’s so much to think about!” But you know what? I kept going, kept comparing and reassessing, and now it is like effortless, or close to effortless, like breathing. It was like taking broad strokes and getting into smaller and smaller strokes, without getting too smooth. A rough metaphor but you know what I mean.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced when learning art and especially making realistic art?

I remember how tough it was to have light change, and the annoyance of having the model not have the pose quite right when a second class for the same model was scheduled. I remember thinking “I don’t like that things change. I want a static image to work from, to develop my piece from. When I graduate I am using photographs. No more light changing on me”. So in school having models move and change and light altering was the toughest thing. I really haven’t changed my routine or practice at all since graduation.

What importance do you place on Realism in the world of art? Why do think it’s still one of the most popular styles?

I love it and think it is still important because at its simplest level we respond to what we see within ourselves, which is usually realism. People adhere to what they connect with, and I think realism provides a perfect way for people to interact with and connect to pieces that move them. Abstraction and other forms of art separate us from reality, they do not connect us. Realism ties the thread of humanity together I feel.

There are so many artists out there who want to do what you can do — because its awesome! For those aspiring to become realistic painters, what is the biggest mistake that you see them making? What do you think are the biggest wastes of time in the earlier stages?

First of all thank-you! Study who inspires you. Paint in a way that makes you happy but try not to change your style too much. It will progress naturally. Forced changes are not wise I think in the grand scheme of things. Keep working and your work will evolve in time. Don’t let anyone change you too much. In college there was a push to stylize and I didn’t like it. I told my teachers I wanted to paint the way I painted, not make it into something else. They were gracious and let me stick to doing what I wanted to do. I thank them for that. I can’t think of any specific wastes of time in the early stages. Try not to be dissuaded by rejection letters. They will only make you work harder. They are not a defeat but an invitation to keep trying. Most of all keep working.

And concerning the professional level: What are most common mistakes that you catch yourself and other fellow pros making?

I would say pricing your work is an art in and of itself. Work with your gallery or if on your own, think carefully about pricing. You can’t go back once you price a work at an amount. It is an investment. Also, don’t price your work too low. People won’t respect it otherwise. Also, keep promoting yourself. You are your own best marketer. Get out there. You can have masterpieces in your studio but no one will know about them unless you get them out into the world.

Finally, do you have any strong thoughts or opinions on the public’s perceptions of fine art? Particularly, can you comment on the audience’s common feeling of disconnectedness between a piece and the message behind it?

I wasn’t aware of an audience feeling that way. Perhaps this is more common amongst other styles of art but I think realism invites the audience to be much more connected on the whole. I think some people just don’t understand with or connect to art, but that is not a bad thing. It just is what it is. I think when someone does connect it is special. If there is a feeling inside upon seeing a piece, no matter the feeling, the art has succeeded.

Thanks so much for you time Heather I really appreciate it!
Thankyou to 🙂

if you want to check out more of Heather’s work head to

IWillNotJettisonMyDreams Hannah,Surfacing EmilieTakhiniNorthweb