Is Art a Life Raft For You?

I first saw Katie O’Hagan’s work when it was projected onto a large screen in a dark room where I sat with my colleagues of The Artist’s Magazine. We were reviewing entries for last year’s Annual Art Competition. This process is never easy, but I always looked forward to it. It was quiet, intimate. We’d go through hundreds and hundreds of paintings and drawings, considering each one. Often we would agree unanimously if we should keep or cut any given work; sometimes any one of us would strongly disagree with the rest. In the end, the best paintings would stay within our list of finalists, and then our jurors would take the reigns from there, choosing the best of the best.

Life Raft by Katie O'Hagan, oil figure painting

Life Raft (above; oil, 38×60) by Katie O’Hagan is one of these. Personally, I loved it for several reasons: the figure itself was incredibly well rendered, the colors were balanced and the contrast of the figure’s skin and dress against the turbulent-looking sky made it stand out from the background. And then there was the story. She’s in trouble; she’s saving herself; she’s doing so by painting. I related to her; I too, must express myself artistically or I will sink. It seems the only way to stay sane and happy, really.

I was so happy that our editorial team chose to feature Katie’s work in The Artist’s Magazine ‘s April 2013 issue. In it, she describes why she painted Life Raft. “As most of the solid ground I’d depended on seems to be eroding,” she says, “my art emerged as the only thing keeping my head above water. I woke up one morning with this image in my head. I built the raft myself and spent the next couple of months completing the painting.” She went on to describe her technique: “I wanted it to look as if I’d left an underlying sketch for the unfinished portion of the raft. In reality I don’t draw on the canvas, and that area was one of the last sections of the painting I completed. The rest of the raft was finished, and I extended a sketch over the raw canvas to give the impression that there was an underlying drawing.”

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Until next time,

Visit Katie O’Hagan’s website at

Enjoy outtakes from The Artist’s Magazine’s interview with Katie O’Hagan—a compelling personality and talented contemporary portrait artist. Learn some of her methods for contemporary family portraits.

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