Catholic Creative: A Painter
An Interview with Kortnee Senn of Studio Senn
“Art creates conversations, either with another person or hopefully a heart-stirring conversation with our Creator. The importance lies in helping everyone start that conversation.”
Katie Warner interviews Catholic artists and artisans about their crafts, asking how their art impacts the Church and their faith impacts their work.
Tell me a little about who you are and about your craft.
I am a Navy spouse and mother of two energetic toddler boys. My earliest memories are drawing at my grandparents’ breakfast table and telling people I wanted to be an illustrator when I grow up. I have always loved being crafty and found great joy in painting with all mediums growing up. It has taken me almost four years of calling this my part time job for me to actually find my niche in religious artwork, but now that I have, I couldn’t imagine painting anything else.
When did you start painting? What inspired you to do this as a career, part-time work, ministry, or hobby?
Other than for fun during high school and a few elective courses in college (my degree was in science education), I started painting custom wedding invitations in 2014. I was working as a florist when I found out we were expecting our first child. My boss gave me a push into custom invitations for her upcoming brides. Knowing I wanted to stay home with our son, I said yes and it all sort of evolved from there.
After about two years of feeling less than inspired painting invitations and custom watercolor maps, I started exploring where my real passions lie. A few ideas were keeping me up at night and it wasn't until I finally put brush to paper that I realized this was the direction I definitely wanted to go.
The first Catholic piece I created was my Saints Alphabet Poster. I really wanted to create products to help hand down the faith. I stopped painting wedding suites about a year after that and focused my energy primarily on Catholic children’s products at first, before branching out into more fine art.
How does your art impact your faith?
My favorite devotions show up in my art all the time. While creating them I am able to reflect on them, pray with them and grow in deeper knowledge of them. Some of my favorite subjects are the Holy Family Hearts (the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Chaste Heart of Joseph), saints as witnesses and roll models for our children and the notable apparitions of Mary.
Can you pick a favorite work you’ve done recently? Tell me a little about it.
I recently worked on a series that included more abstracted figures of Mary to bring to a conference. Among the more popular images of Mary was Our Lady of Knock. I had no idea why I chose her because I have no special devotion to her, but she came together so beautifully. I loved the final product! When I got to the conference there happened to be a group from Ireland that were immediately drawn to her and thanked me for creating it because she is not often the subject of modern artists. It felt like the Holy Spirit must have nudged me in that direction and I love looking at her now knowing He is guiding my work.
Why do you think Catholic art has such an important role to play in the Church?
While I agree whole-heartedly with the popular answer of truth, beauty and goodness changing the world, that is not my answer. In my opinion, one of the beautiful things about art is that everyone is allowed their own interpretation and reaction to a piece. If that art happens to be religious in nature, it is allowing someone to have a reaction to Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints or another aspect of our faith. That reaction is the first step in a relationship. Even if the reaction is negative, starting that conversation within someone is far better that the lukewarmness that person might have felt prior to viewing that art. Art creates conversations, either with another person or hopefully a heart-stirring conversation with our Creator. The importance lies in helping everyone start that conversation.
To whom do you turn for inspiration?
My confirmation saint is Saint Veronica. I pray about how she helped create something that reflected the face of Christ (with His help) in hopes of doing the same. I also look to other artists in the secular world, whether it's children's art or more fine art techniques and think about 'how could this apply to my mission'. I love Sarah Jane Studios for children's inspiration and illustration and Emily Jeffords for fine art and business inspiration.
Name one piece of advice/wisdom that has had a great influence on your work.
“If only for the one.” I’ve heard this catchy phrase tossed around in Catholic circles but it really hit me when I was doing my Sacred Heart Series during Lent of 2018. If a piece of my art can speak to one person, draw one person into a deeper relationship or knowledge of Jesus, then all of the effort would be worth it. When I keep this in mind it’s easier to not try to paint for the masses but from my heart, hoping it impacts just one other person.
If people want to explore your work in more detail, where can they look?
@studio_senn on Instagram