Asia Renée‘s ambitious portrait project has been in the works since 2016.
Her colorful portraits and bold journey from med school to fulltime artist made her the perfect cover artist for Issue 23 “ULTRA SUPER PLUS.”
We were so excited to talk to Asia as she was in the process of creating the cover.
Are you originally from Austin?
I moved from Houston for a job. Back in the day I wanted to be a doctor and I needed a job that was in the medical field. My background is pre-med and Chemistry. I’m a science nerd. I started working for an immune chemistry lab and throughout that time I discovered, I don’t want to be a doctor anymore, I want to be an artist.
I’m not one of those artists that’s been painting since I was in the womb. I was always creative but my creative outlet was writing. I went to a high school that was a medical field driven school, like a magnet school, and my senior year we could take an elective ad I chose art and for one of projects we could do whatever we wanted as a grid drawing. So I chose Johnny Depp.
I was in this echo chamber, I didn’t know if it was good. One day on the bus people asked, why do you have a poster of Johnny Depp? And I thought they were fucking with me. I look at it now and it’s terrible but people really liked it. I think that was the lightbulb moment where I realized, oh I can produce something that’s good and that people actually like. I got the same feeling of creative release when I wrote but it was different. I could recreate something that was in my brain and share it with the world.
I loved the creative freedom. I didn’t start painting until 2015-2016 and oil painting in 2017. This was my second oil painting.
What’s your process like to make these portraits?
I start by drawing with prismacolors in black and white in my sketchbook. There’s specific way I see it in my head so in order to bring that out and reference when it gets to this big scale, I need to reference it. Basically my whole method is drawing and redrawing and repainting it.
On the canvas, I do a drawing first of the figure greyscale. I meticulously plan out my paintings, I’m not one who goes to the canvas and let it speak to me. I then do a line drawing to transfer it to a big canvas with a projector. One thing is I love a busy background, I love patterns, tedious things, something that looks like oh god, ‘why did I do this to myself?’ Then I paint the main color, and add the background. Then I start the grisaille, and get that as detailed as possible. And then I glaze over with the base color and go through it with thin layers to punch up the saturation or darken and lighten places.
How did you learn these techniques?
When I started oil painting I was intimidated. I was using acrylics but I love to blend and unless you work really fast, they’re not going to give you that. So I researched on Youtube and this woman said, “if you can blend with acrylics than oils will just be like cheating to you,” and I was like, ‘tell me more.’
I got an idea to do a dry brushing. When I discovered you could draw with oil paint this way, I thought that’s cool. So I did a dry brush drawing then went over it with oils. That was my original process.
I paint from right to left and it’s because I’m left handed. Being a lefty you have to adjust your life for everything. I have to paint piece by piece. The majority of the time, I paint across the canvas because I don’t want to smudge.
And you incorporate anatomy because of your medical background?
That is what it is to me but a lot of people interpret it different. A lot of people attribute it to death. I put it in my bio, ‘bones in my world do not equal death.’ In fact. It’s the opposite. We all have a skeletal system and it’s just paying homage to my favorite part of medical school, which is anatomy. That’s the simplest way I can pay homage, but it also has that macabre feel, and I do love creepy shit, so…
What was your inspiration for the cover?
I originally was very nervous and you mentioned you liked my work so I thought I’m just going to do more of what I usually do. So it’s a skulled out portrait with an animal. The first animal I thought of was a parrot because of the bright colors and I just went off of that. I can’t explain the idea but I knew I wanted a woman with a parrot on her shoulder and it just grew from there with this tropical theme.
How do you choose colors for your series?
The series started because I had come to this impasse very early, that I felt like I needed a style. I think a lot of artists go through that, like what’s my style? I heard on Youtube that someone said, when you’re starting out you should do a series, and they should all go in the same theme. So I thought okay, but I had this naive dream where I thought, I’ll do 27 paintings in a year.
The idea was I love painting portraits in color with some sort of costumery, so I’ll pick out people or characters and do three a piece with different hues of each colors. Like this is red, but I’ll have a crimson or a scarlet. I picked out primary colors in red, yellow and blue.
The secondary colors are male figures. There are a few more to do, more with a monochromatic brown and less contrasted and highly contrasted whites and blacks. That will be the whole 27. It’s become this journey so looking at my work from the first year to now, I can see the snapshots of where I was over this 5, going into 6 year period. It’s tipping my hat off to coming into your own as an artist. Now I’m getting more consistent and confident. My goal is to finish all of the secondary colors this year.
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