Sitting down for a digital interview with Kara Dee Harrison it was easy to see why the otters in her Hub City Walls mural are so captivating. Kara’s tone was so full of light that you could hear her smile. Throughout the call, her excitement for art, it’s impact, and how this project spoke to and through her was contagious.
This was Kara’s first time working on such a large canvas, and she said, “honestly the most exciting part of being able to do this project was just being able to work on that big of [a] scale.” Though it might’ve been her first time with a large work, Kara is no stranger to detailed and high-quality artwork. One look through her Instagram account, and you can’t help but feel lighter and happy. Between her original work, dinosaur of the month, and her fandom tattoo series, Kara has captured the imagination and admiration of local art lovers.
Though none of the challenges she faced were catastrophic, there were consistent smaller challenges to overcome in bringing Adventures in Otter Space to life.“Even silly things, like knowing how much paint to ask for!” Kara had said. “When I put in my application to be considered for the festival, I didn’t know what kind of walls were going to be available. Or where in town or what kind of shape those walls might be. I just sorta submitted this idea and tailored it once we had more information.”
Kara touched on working with the helpful experience and advice of Lys and Lauren, the creators and organizers of Hub City Walls. “They were fantastic. They had so many great suggestions for me and were able to kind of lead me through all of them—all the basic steps so that I could make sure I was starting off with the right foot. I felt super supported the entire time, so it actually did not end up being as scary as I thought it would be.”
“It’s not like I had a bunch of walls to practice on before I started. Acrylic painting for the first time, or watercolour or when I learned to tattoo—or when I started working on a tablet, it’s like all a new challenge, but with a mural I just kind of had to jump in and try.”
Kara explained her process starting from the initial concept to the last drop of paint. “The initial process was quite drawn out, of course, because applications were due back in March. So I had sketched it up on my tablet. I had made a bit of a design and a colour palette.”
“When I was actually selected for the piece, I had to do a proper composition with the actual dimensions, of course, but I was paid for it. So I had the measurements of the wall so that I could make myself a scaled-down version of it so that proportionately it would make sense. Obviously, I didn’t draw to that scale.” Being her first large scale project in this format, she did what she knew and adapted on her feet when necessary.
“I ended up just printing it out and sort of bringing it physically with me. To translate it from the initial sketch to large size was using stencils, which I wouldn’t have thought of initially, because that’s not something I’ve done.”
Working in front of the public, even with pandemic protocols, had some great moments. “It was kind of funny because the stencils had the otters drawn on them, like where you could see them right away. As soon as I put the stencils up, as soon as I taped one up, people kind of came by and were like, oh, wow. And I’m like, no, no, just kidding. It’s paper.”
Even though this project was a type of collaboration, Kara really enjoys working with other artists and does so often. “I think collaborations with other artists are super fun, especially when the other artists, when they’re small, their style or their strengths differ from your own because then you can kind of bring together a final product.”
Can the festival still be experienced fully without the crowds, mainstage, and parties? Yes, but more than that—public art of this scale goes beyond a specific timeline or schedule of events. As long as it’s still there to be viewed, experienced, and photographed, it will continue to impact more people than we might think. “What I sort of saw and heard when I was working on it, was every imaginable kind of person, every demographic everybody could possibly see walking around, from little kids to seniors to people in wheelchairs, to homeless people, to people, you
know, women shopping to whatever everybody was, was able to walk by and see and enjoy this piece without any barriers between them and it. And I think that that’s incredibly important in any community.”
Specifically, Kara recalled when a self-identified homeless man approached her to express how much they were enjoying the piece. “I think that public art is incredibly important because it is [the] art that is accessible and available to absolutely every person in the community. You don’t have to pay to see it. You don’t even have to have the ability to walk into a building.” Public art removes barriers and ignites imaginations in a way only open spaces with creative concepts can.
Kara’s palette mixed mediums and dipped into Montana’s specialty spray paint: SICO paints, Chroma mural paint, Posca paint markers, and Montana Cans from the Gold, Black lines, plus Chrome, Glo and Glitter. You can check out Adventures in Otter Space on Front Street, between Port Place Mall and the Port Theatre.