We had the good fortune of connecting with Austin Howlett and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Austin, what is the most important factor behind your success?
The most important factor behind the success in my career so far has to be the development of a growth mindset. This meaning that I have learned and continue to believe that my abilities are not fixed talents but rather skills that can be improved and developed with time and effort. This has taken time to learn, but it has undoubtably been the biggest key to what I have achieved so far. When I reflect back to when I started to understand the distinction between talent and skill I see that it was my athletic career that was the catalyst. During my college years I was a Division 3 springboard diver as well as an art major and over these four years I found myself walking back and forth between the pool and the art studios. It was in this time period that I started to make the connection between practicing as an athlete and practicing as an artist. If I was able to improve my diving abilities through consistent and purposeful practice, why couldn’t I do the same with my art? Up until this point in my life I had almost always been told that artistic talent was an innate gift and was therefor unchanging. Yes, art can often times be less straight forward than athletics, but I started to understand that I needed to shift my view of myself from someone who possesses artistic talent to someone who can grow their artistic skill with practice. And since then this has absolutely been the key to what I have achieved so far. Ever since this realization in college, I have dedicated myself not to perfection but artistic growth, making every painting just a little bit better than the last with the understanding that there is always more room for learning and improvement. I now see the concept of creativity as a skill as well and the more you practice it the more unique and interesting your ideas will become. Even when I look back on old paintings and am tempted to criticize and judge them I try to remind myself that each painting was the best iteration of what I could have created at that time and is simply a marker of my progress. Even now when I finish a painting that I see as the pinnacle of my skill and creativity, I still tell myself that there is always more to learn. When I’m in the studio I try to approach every new painting with a willingness to learn more about the painting process as well as a desire to learn more about myself. Another component of my growth mindset that has been especially relevant during this pandemic has been the idea of taking baby steps when starting any project. I’m not ashamed to admit that starting something new can be intimidating and borderline paralyzing at times. Whether you are starting a new painting, a new career or just trying to start your day, each of these feel like a terrifying mountain to climb. And my best way for dealing with this fear of beginning is starting in the smallest way possible. I try to be kind to myself by giving myself seemingly microscopic tasks when tackling a big project so that I can break it down into manageable pieces. When I want to create a new painting I try to keep my eyes only on the task right in front of me so that I don’t become overwhelmed by the scale of the project ahead. And this mindset continues into my painting process because I mostly enjoy tackling my paintings in sections. So if I have a gigantic canvas sitting in front of me and I feel intimidated by the long project ahead, I can just start with a small section of the canvas and focus solely on that for the time being. Now this may seem like a minute detail but trust me when I say that when you know that you are going to be putting over a hundred hours into a painting it can be really hard to take that first step. So that is why no matter what the task is, I always advocate for baby steps. The final incredibly important factor in my success has been communal support. I’m extremely fortunate to have a strong support system made up of family and friends who have encouraged me from day one. Some may consider the idea of become a working artists as foolish or lofty but the people around me never even indulged these falsehoods because they took the time to understand me and my goals. I am irrevocably grateful for the community of people around me who have taken the time to see me through my art.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I am an oil painter specializing in figurative imagery. I am more specifically known for my Terra Human series which are surreal paintings that merge large scale humans into landscapes blending the beauty of the human form with the vast and dynamic terrane of the natural world. I feel that my combination of technical skill and imagination set my work apart from others. I am a very detail oriented person so even though my paintings depict surrealistic dreamlike scenes I still want them to make sense to the viewer so that they can live in this new world and feel at peace. A combination of patience, dedication and communal support have gotten me to where I am today and even though this process hasn’t been easy I am incredibly grateful for what I have learned from the every step of the way. A very interesting aspect of this career I have learned over the years is that being an artist requires a lot of quiet diligence combined with a sometimes uncomfortable amount of self-promotion. It is no secret that an artistic career encourages introversion and a lack of social interaction but no person or gallery is going to promote your work as much as you so its very important that you push yourself to step out of your comfort zone and get your work out into the world as much as possible. If there is one thing that I would want people to know about my art it is that I want my paintings to encourage emotional vulnerability in its viewers. I believe that one of the biggest things our world needs right now is for all of us to be vulnerable with ourselves and each-other. And I think that art can be one of the strongest ways to deliver this message. I really believe that art can change us for the better if we allow it and I’m willing to dedicate my life towards helping people in this way.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If I had a friends visiting the area I would orient our whole trip around food and hiking. I love getting brunch at Snooze every chance I can get. I would also take them to RiNo to check out breweries and foodtrucks. And one of my favorite dinner spots is definitely City, O’ City. I would be sure to take them hiking in the mountains as well as in Lakewood or Golden.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I feel very lucky to have many people in my life who have supported me and my career over the years but there is one person who stands out above the rest. So I would like to specifically dedicate this shoutout to my wife Katy Martinez. From the very beginning of our relationship in college she has encouraged me to do what I was passionate about even when it can be hard to see where it would lead me. Her willingness to talk through the technical and conceptual aspects of my work whenever I need it is incredibly invaluable and keeps my every aspect of my career progressing where it would otherwise get stuck. Over the years she has helped me at festivals and art shows while enthusiastically talking to strangers about the significance of my artwork and why it’s a worthy investment. Everyday she inspires me to grow my art and expand my paintings into more nuanced and complex concepts that I would have never explored otherwise. Her thoughtfulness, patience and adaptability will never go unnoticed or unappreciated and I feel unbelievably lucky to have her in my life.