Art Should Be Everywhere: Interview with Courtney Hannen | Featured Artist Series

 

The artist Courtney Hannen sitting at a cafe table, smiling at the camera

 “Art should be everywhere.” 

Courtney Rose Hannen, one of Pulsar’s Featured Artists, is an Asheville-based visual artist with a distinctive style and a passion for using art to convey emotion. Pulsar has been fortunate enough to be able to imbue that creativity and passion into our work by showcasing Courtney's art on our most popular products, bringing the extraordinary into everyday life. We hope this spotlight deepens everyone’s appreciation for her craft, the way only a glimpse at the inner world of an artist can.

Born in Rome, NY, Courtney moved around often due to her father’s job in the Air Force before eventually settling in our lovely Blue Ridge Mountains in 2011. She lives and works in Asheville with her husband and cats. Pulsar has worked with Courtney since 2019, when she first contributed two designs for the signature Artist Series. Pulsar team member Jade Louise Alexander interviewed Courtney to get more insight into her work, her connection to Pulsar, and how businesses and artists in their community can have mutually supportive relationships.

*This interview has been edited for clarity and continuity. 

courtney hannen, a woman with brown hair, sits at her computer desk working on a digital art piece

 

How did you get started as an artist?  

I have always been surrounded by creativity, I definitely had a family that loved crafts and coloring, and in my vicinity, there was drawing specifically that felt so close to me, and I have just never let it go. I definitely had an understanding that it’s very competitive and people love to be able to create for a living, and it was always kind of on the back burner in my head. Throughout high school, it was something that I had that helped me study; I even had teachers that would allow me to draw in class. It was part of that ‘absorbing the world’ process that has always just spoken to me. 

In college, I was recommended by some really wonderful professors at High Point University that art should be my major. It confirmed that I had a decent skill[-level] because they offered me a scholarship as a freshman that was only provided to juniors. When I decided to transfer to UNCA, I loved to be able to be a part of an artistic community. Slowly, it's something that has come to the forefront of my identity, not just something that happened in the background. And that’s how I have gotten to today, just being so grateful to be immersed in creativity and having people who really react well to what I’m putting out there. 

art by courtney hannen featuring a fish and the text "save the ocean"

What inspires your art?

I would say… this need to digest what I am surrounded by in life. I was so interested in and connected to life drawing, and just how to process having a body and what it is that you’re seeing around yourself, and processing through having emotions by just… having an angry go at the paper. There was so much connected to how I was processing things and how I felt about myself. 

I loved anime. I thought that was just such a cool thing to draw because it is so based on emotion, high stakes, and big ideas. I feel even more inspired now to incorporate the passion and the kindness, being kind to myself and the world, and this eternal need to try to visually capture that. 

There are so many different mediums you can work with. I think that art is so many things; it can be far beyond what it is thought to be, such as music and cooking. I love fashion, and it was also something that helped me express [myself]. I felt that sometimes it was hard for me to showcase my fashion because I was a happy little chunky kid, and I definitely got some flack for being a bigger girl. I love that embrace of how you feel, and designing, planning, and plotting on paper is very helpful. 

My sketchbooks are very much my diaries. I have over ten volumes, and you know…people collect those things that bring them back to a moment, recreating that time and space. So it does help me with just time and remembering things. It’s so connected to my body. It’s how I take notes. 

close up of Courtney Hannen holding a cannabis grinder with her artwork on it

What is a particularly meaningful piece of art you have made, and what place does it take you back to? 

I have a painting series. I don’t normally do a lot of paintings, most of my stuff is digital, but I love this one that’s called “Peace Calls.” I started it in the basement of our new house, where all of my art stuff is laid out, and it has an old vintage kind of gold phone ringing with a snake coiled around it. 

Funnily enough, right before the pandemic, I was having a showcase at ZaPow, which was just a phenomenal, wonderful gallery that, unfortunately, is no longer open. So I was feeling this swell of being called to say things that were important while also being in this beautiful new house that I have here, and things were very much in disarray. I remember the basement just being…exploded with paint all over; I still hadn’t sorted or organized it. I’m normally the type of person who needs to do things [like this]: have nothing else available to me and then sit down and start my work ‘cause I will get pulled away to go do dishes. 

I love that painting, and I remember having a pure moment of flow and that being my one attention, my theme, for a good period of time. So I think back to that whole series and preparing for that showcase, and that painting was definitely a good one. That one stuck out to me, especially since I picked it for my flier to show around town. I remember it very fondly. 

close up of a hand placed on a mural wall

How did you start working with Pulsar? How did that come about?  

Dean [Pulsar’s Graphics Manager] went to ZaPow, the gallery I mentioned, and walked through. He connected with my art through that gallery, which connected me with so many businesses, and after walking through and seeing my pieces, they reached out to see if I would be interested. Dean was so great and gave me a lot of advice, and I definitely am still working through how to work on that side, still learning how to use Photoshop, but that was the main connection, and they have been so patient with me about creating sketches and ideas. I’m really grateful that they [my art is] out in the world on useful things! 

 

art by courtney hannen featuring two human back to back and the text "Love seat"

Do you have a specific relationship to the cannabis/vape industry? 

I don’t really have much use for the grinders, but I am a vaper; my husband and I have that in our household now and again, which has helped me. It helps connect me with ‘the flowiness.’ 

I am very much a supporter and an advocate of understanding that vice, or whatever you may call it. I feel like it is helpful in this world to process, and just like anything can be something that can overtake your life, it’s you processing all the things. So I love being somebody who can enjoy a puff now and again. And the lighters, oh my god, I love the lighters -- it’s cool to have those things in my house that I can pull out to use if the event arises! 

a hand holding a Zippo style lighter, featuring a Courtney Hannen design

Yeah! I’m a huge fan of your designs for Pulsar; they are some of my favorites, especially the cat skull (MrOw). What did you enjoy the most about working with Pulsar? What was the most satisfying part of that? You have mentioned it’s cool to have your art out on stuff in the world. 

That, I think, is one of the biggest positives. Art should be everywhere. It should be on buildings; where we create our spaces, we create things that bring us joy. And knowing that that art is on items that are used in the world is just super cool. 

I would say that another big positive is that it’s a global business. [Pulsar is] outreaching and trying to give opportunities to artists…It’s cool being a part of a business that is specifically trying to find different voices and give them space to be able to create. It really is…a dream to be paid for something I love to do. 

I know that, that cat skull - I love being able to confront big things and big ideas, death and joy, and the complexity. With the cat, playing the violin, you think of all the variations that a certain instrument can bring joy and all these feelings. It’s the same thing with emotions, it is a palate to embrace every single feeling, and I’m very grateful to have Pulsar not shy away from such funkadelic cool things. I’m glad so many people resonate with that - that’s really pretty sweet.

close up  image of the MrOw design on a Pulsar hoodie

As an artist, how can businesses support the artists they work with?   

I am just thankful for the chances I’ve been given. I have had such wonderful experiences. I worked at Strada Italiano for a very long time, and it’s such a wonderful restaurant, the owner and everyone I worked with, that whole community, is great. He [the owner] let me paint on the side of his bar, on his wall, and I was like, oh my god, you don’t even know if this will look good yet

Courtney Hannen standing in front of a mural she painted in a restaurant

I’ve been around, and we live in a particularly community-heavy place. I would say, keep taking chances and leaning into that curiosity and creativity. I have a hard time saying what else, other than that. 

You know, it sounds weird to say, 'cause it’s the [Asheville] motto but…Keep it weird! Keep it quirky. I think we all have these quirks that we don’t even realize we all have, and by leaning into those kinds of unknowns, you are gonna connect with so many more people than you think. But again, Asheville is Asheville, so that sounds like preaching to the choir. 

What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of working with a company as an artist? How do you balance that passion for something meaningful to you as a form of expression with needing to pay the bills?

I mean, yeah, that’s a real concern for artists! Growing up, hearing “starving artist,” and wanting to make sure you can take care of yourself and your loved ones. 

I am so grateful to my husband, he is working very hard and is able to be a supporter and giving me these chances. I am very well aware that I try to let my heart and my true feelings lead a project, but don’t shy away from a project because you don’t think you’re gonna like it. You need to give it a good old-fashioned try and push [yourself], because you have to. Because that is a reality for the majority of people, and even if I am taken care of, for now, it doesn’t mean that things are always gonna work out in the future. 

So you need to have this balance to make sure you aren’t just turning down things because you’re in a position to. 

But I definitely want to be able to say that I gave it my best shot when it comes to a project. That means leading by my values, that means leading a project that is worth leading. It's a delicate balance of those two things, knowing that I need to make living. And I want to make a living, you know, I want to be successful without having to compromise my values in the process, but again that depends from project to project. 

Courtney Hannen holding a Pulsar SK8 tray featuring her MrOw design

 

To see more of Courtney’s work check out her website at www.channenillustrations.com and check out her artwork featured on multiple Pulsar products in the Courtney Hannen Collection.

Can you find the hidden Pulsar logo in the MrOw design? Let us know in the comments below!

Jade Alexander, Thomas Richmond, and May Toropova contributed to this post.


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