Watercolor artist Carrie Waller explains one of her most recent paintings, “Incandescent”: “Incandescent bulbs are no longer going to be sold in the U.S., and I was inspired by the idea that we won’t be able to find these much longer. … I wanted to see how the light would play with the bulbs. I love the way the light poured through them, creating amazing shadows, reflections and colors.”
Carrie Waller’s life as a military wife will never paint her art career into a corner. The interior decorator, mural painter, art teacher, blogger, watercolorist and mom to two little boys seeks new outlets for her talent wherever she goes.
“I decided I would do something creative, always,” Waller said, and she has. Creative thinking is as integral to her career pursuits as it is to her artwork.
When she married her Air Force husband, she gave up an interior design job to relocate to Ramstein Air Base, but she held on to her ambitions.
“I wouldn’t ever have passed up moving to Germany,” she said. “My career just took a whole different trajectory.”
Interior design positions were predictably scarce on base, she said, so she became an art teacher and muralist. She taught painting through youth programs, the skills center and to home-schooled students. She signed an Army contract to paint murals at base facilities.
“I realized I can make my own thing,” she said. “I was proud of myself … for figuring out my own way without relying on my husband or waiting for a GS position to open up.”
By the time she moved again, Waller had learned opportunities were abundant for artists with initiative. She waited for weeks to move into her house in South Carolina, but she didn’t sit around waiting for a job.
“Day 1 at the hotel, I’m looking in the phone book for mural artists and immediately went to work for a lady and became a partner in a mural business,” Waller said.
“I was painting murals in dream homes on the beach. It was pretty amazing. I loved that experience.”
Two babies and a few assignments later, Waller wanted to stay home with her children, so she began painting as a serious pursuit. She focused on watercolor, created a home studio and began blogging about her artwork.
“I was at home with two little kids, and I had no art friends,” she explained. “I starting reaching out to moms who were artists.”
The blog had another purpose too: connecting her with opportunities to show and market her paintings.
“To sell your work you need to have some kind of bond. People want to know you,” Waller said.
Marketing is especially important for an artist who has to re-establish herself in a new community every few years. Waller said having a professional online presence as an artist, utilizing social media and proactively creating contacts are essential.
“You have to start immediately,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re still in boxes, start searching out art organizations. Search out galleries. Make a list, start at Day 1 of what you would like to accomplish. I research everything before we’re even there. Start contacting artists in that area. Don’t be afraid to reach out.”
Waller’s method shows impressive results. Her website includes a list of art magazines that have published her paintings and international shows where her work has won awards. Last year she curated a show in Washington, D.C., of artwork by military spouses.
Waller said the mobility of military life has shaped her career for the better.
“It has pushed me to think outside of where I am,” she said. “I figure out the best opportunities, locally, nationally and internationally. Just like with moving all the time you have a larger world view. That’s what it’s given me in the art world, a larger world view, and I just go for it.”
Waller said she likes to take ordinary objects and make them extraordinary in her watercolor paintings.
Her paintings are often domestic — glass bottles, toys and books, even light bulbs — and she said her subject matter and inspirations change with each place she calls home and with each season of her life.
“Everywhere we go there are different places, different inspirations, different artists. We’re about to move to Japan. I’m really excited about what that’s going to mean,” she said.
“Everywhere I go, I hope it sends me in a whole new direction that I wouldn’t have ever thought of before.”