Ask artist Karlin Hovasapian to paint a still life illustrating a fruit bowl and tea cups, and she would probably decline. Ask her to paint a picture of a young child gripped in the ravenous jaws of an octopus, and she would do it in a heartbeat.
One drawing and painting after another, she reaches into the depths of her imagination and spawns a netherworld of full of brightly slathered color and off-beat characters that serve as a diversion from the satirical, yet dark, undertones that exist in her works.
Karlin has been drawing since her early childhood and now, at 23, she recalls playtime as a time where she would sit in a corner and sketch.
“My toys growing up were crayons and pencils,” she said. “I didn’t really play too much with other kinds of things because I was too busy drawing.”
Her early drawings were much like the works she creates today. She is fixated on drawing little girls, all with big eyes, Mona Lisa smiles and sinister glares that beckon to be seen.
Curiously enough, the little girls drawn from her imagination bear a striking resemblance to herself when she was younger. She recalls many times when she would present a new drawing to her father who would jokingly blurt, “it’s another self portrait.”
“I think that a lot of artists, they don’t know it, but certain traits of themselves come out in the artwork,” she said.
The genre that Karlin caters to, pop surrealism, for the most part, consists of cleverly eye-catching artwork. Mark Ryden, one of the genre’s most prominent figures and Karlin’s favorite artist, creates the type of works that she aspires to.
“Mark Ryden’s stuff is just overwhelmingly beautiful,” she said. “Not only is he classically good, he goes above and beyond with his detailed, complicated and humorous imagination.”
It was not until high school that Karlin’s interest in the arts started to take a more serious turn. During these years, Karlin learned about various careers open to artists. She then realized that she could make a living creating art.
In high school, Karlin won several small contests here and there for designing bookmarks, book jackets and CD covers, which is something that she still does. Karlin has some friends in local bands who have paid her for doing their album covers.
“I’ve pocketed some cash through some freelance work here and there, but above all, it [doing freelance work] was all about the challenge to work as an illustrator,” said Karlin. “As an illustrator the point is to get a general idea from someone and see if you can visualize and create what they’re looking for.”
Karlin has had her work on display on a large scale at Herbert Hoover High School, her alma mater, where selected art students had the opportunity to paint a mural on a wall of the art building. Unfortunately, the mural was painted over two years ago.
Karlin has had the good fortune to have her works showcased in small, local galleries, clubs, at Borders bookstore in Glendale, and, more recently, in the Gallery Annex on campus.
I think that as an artist who wants to get her work out there, it’s so incredibly important to take ever opportunity that comes to you,” said Karlin. “And I guess I was just lucky enough to have my work up.”
Jody Smith, Gallery Annex coordinator, first met Karlin in a painting class. The following year, Smith saw her work on display at Borders and was left in awe.
“Particularly her drawings, her attention to detail is immaculate,” said Smith.
According to Smith, Karlin’s works managed to draw several people’s attention from across the room and into the Gallery Annex to check out her work.
“Within these females she draws, there’s such intricate, detailed patterns that are somewhat three dimensional versus being really flat,” said Smith. “She really understands detail and has a really good understanding of what a trained artist should do.”
One of the things Smith admires about Karlin is her family.
Throughout Karlin’s artistic career, her parents have been cheerleaders for their eldest daughter. While her father tells her that she will make it as an artist and encourages her to continue to pursue her passion, her mother’s “tough love,” according to Karlin, inspires her to be more detail oriented and practice her craft. Linka, Karlin’s younger sister who is also a GCC student, admires her sister’s accomplishments and admits that seeing Karlin succeed is not only a proud moment for Karlin, but for her as well.
“One of the greatest things that has ever happened in my life is being able to see her prevail,” said Linka.
Linka is an artist herself, but unlike Karlin, she doesn’t draw, she’s a poet. Actually, it’s in Karlin’s plans for the future to someday combine both their talents in a book, Linka writes while Karlin does the illustrations to go along with the story line.
Karlin’s little sister thinks back and tries to put a finger on when exactly Karlin started drawing seriously, but she cannot seem to find an answer.
“She’s been drawing ever since I remember,” she said.
One of Linka’s favorite things to do is to go into Karlin’s bedroom, not so much to snoop around and dig through her stuff, but to sit back and stare at her drawings. She is amazed to see every step of the creative process, from the blank sheets of paper, to the final drawing when, according to Linka, “it’s drenched with detail.”
The response to Karlin’s work while on display at the gallery was generally positive. But if ever confronted with negative criticism, Karlin wouldn’t mind, but she would respond.
“I’d say, ‘I didn’t paint it for you,'” said Karlin. “If it’s [the artwork] not inspiring to you, go find something that is.”
Since her start at GCC in 2000, Karlin has taken several art classes and participated in a Study Abroad program to Prague. Prior to her trip, Karlin had done research on some of her favorite artists who had exhibitions in galleries in the Czech city. She said that her trip to Europe was a huge, artistic eye opener.
During her stay in Prague, Karlin would frequently take out her watercolors and paper, and painted landscapes, something that Karlin rarely does. She grew inspired by the beauty of the architecture, nature and art scene, which she claims was unlike the one her in the states.
“There were mom and pop diners and next to them there would be these crazy, scary art galleries. You don’t see that around here,” she said.
Last semester Karlin was accepted at Art Center in Pasadena, the school that one of Karlin’s favorite artists, Ryden, attended. But this is not the first time she has been accepted into a fine arts institution, or Art Center, for that matter.
Out of high school, Karlin was accepted at several art schools like Otis and California College of the Arts, among others, and she visited most of them, but wasn’t sure if she wanted to attend such institutions.
“[All of these schools] are wonderful establishments, but the money that is necessary [to attend these schools] drops my jaw,” she said.
Karlin has decided to attend Art Center, but not to pursue a degree, only to perhaps take some classes.
“The tuition is a bit crazy,” she said. “But let’s get real: I’m a struggling artist after all.”
Karlin keeps herself busy doing freelance work, regularly sketching in her drawing pad and working on her children’s book. It’s not really going to be a children’s book, per se. If anything, Karlin said it will be a book aimed at teenagers. Aside from doing illustrations for the book, Karlin will also do the story to go along with it. So far she has developed some characters, a partial story line and some drawings.
Her goal is to put the book out next Halloween. But of course, this all depends on her current workload, although she does tend to put art first. This is why she claims to not be “doing so hot” in her math class this semester.
She wants to keep the book simple, a la Edward Gorey, an author-artist who she admires a great deal. Gorey died of a heart attack in 2000, but left behind an extensive collection of works consisting of dark poetry and Gothic writings.
One of Karlin’s favorite books by Gorey is called “Gashlycrumb Tinies,” an ABC book that tells the stories of 26 children and their untimely demise.
“The first time I looked into that [book], I thought, ‘wow, so simple yet so wonderful and funny,'” she said. “It’s cool if you can add some humor to your art.”
Dark humor is what makes her work stand out and she hopes to bring some of that humor to the next student art show. The theme “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even,” lends itself perfectly, according to Karlin, for some creative and interesting artwork.
She is currently working on a pencil drawing titled “He Loves Me, I Love Him Not” that she hopes to submit to a student show. According to Karlin, the piece is a delicate drawing with a sinister underbelly. The drawing itself tells a story of unrequited love and/ or lover’s revenge.
“Stella is pissed at her boyfriend. Well, she was pissed; now she’s just smug,” said Karlin.
“Sometimes [a girl has to put down her lip gloss and ribbons and fix problems in her life, and her boyfriend was a problem. Keyword, problem. Stella took care of business and she may have just killed him.”
Of course, this will not be the first time she will submit a piece for a student show. In 2003 and again in 2004, Karlin submitted drawings that did not win, but were showcased in the exhibition. One of the drawings was a pencil drawing of musician Willie Nelson, while the other was a general still life drawing.
Karlin tends to not ponder so much about the future; at least, it does not consume her everyday existence. But when she does take the time to think about the future, she maps out what she would like her life to be. She hopes that she will still be able to do some freelance projects, work for a company, and live out of Glendale. So long as it’s art, it really doesn’t matter to her what kind of art it is. She just wants to continue feeding her artistic desire, and as far as accolades are concerned, she doesn’t care much for them. Awards and accomplishments come in all shapes and sizes, and for Karlin, it all comes down to one thing:
“If I’m drawing or painting ’til the day I die, that would be an achievement all on its own.”