Artist’s Notebook: Karen Farmer

February 16, 2015 | Aymann Ismail

ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished artwork or project. This week, Australian painter and graffiti aficionado Karen Farmer talks about the process behind her fine art renderings of graffiti artists, which have garnered attention from across the world.

I love graffiti and I live in an ever-changing environment of graffiti and street art, sometimes gone the next day due to the city buffers, or added to brilliantly by another late night creative. I also love that graff writers are artistically-driven rebels, capable of creating a social identity through their voice by belligerently creating their own creative mark.

I wanted to capture it… not through photography as that is too easy and throwaway, but through oil painting. To align the street creativity with the white wall austere traditional gallery. I make all types of art and use whatever medium it takes to express the idea most cleanly. And with this idea, I use oil painting as a representation of a traditional art form. I want to remove the dismissive stigma of art on the street and create an acknowledgement of the cultural identity that is being expressed so unfiltered by memorializing the scenes created by graffiti artists in an oil painting.


My first inspiration was when I photographed this awesome graffiti covered abandon and was struck by this photo, knowing that soon the whole building would be knocked down. So I painted it, my first one. First I sketched in charcoal large A1. The finished painting (right) – is in acrylic paint as I started doing them in acrylic, but found deeper meaning in the oil.

We all live under the influence of social media, so that became an acknowledged tool in my work. I paint images randomly provided to me by requests, through social media, instead of taking or commissioning my own photos. That way I create a painting that echoes photography, as well as the will of another. A remediation of the image into an oil painting to advocate the authority of the art that is created in the street.

I paint the picture – always provided by the person who owns the image – in oil paint, of the graffiti in its natural environment to acknowledge its own history. I like that writers are having their work translated as a beautiful thing, worthy of painting in the traditional sense, as this is how I feel about their work.


Social media and books provided access to my heroes, the legendary graffiti writers from New York. Through painting my hope is to honor the work of the people who carved out the identity of a writer/bomber, or graffiti/street artist.

Sydney graff scene is heavily influenced by the raw gritty look of the New York graffiti, and I like that look! And I paint what I like to look at. Therefore it was awesome to be able to paint EASY of the legendary Joz and Easy, also an honor.


Left to right: Image I received to paint, painting from a color print, third attempt leaving the Easy tag last.


Finished!! I do not sketch up my paintings, I use my drawings to help with my accuracy, I just start to paint from a color print as reference, sometimes with the help of a ruler, to keep the lines straight.


I like to use drawing as a tool to feel out atmosphere and as a way of keeping my mind loose. My quick sketches are my way of forgetting about the detail and all about capturing the energy of a scene. I use these as a way to explore a mood visually, as a way to loosen up in general and as the paintings are essentially copping I use them as an outlet to keep my brushwork fresh, I see them as a very important part of building the painting


Scraps of paint left at the end of the painting day are made into little painting sketches like the drawings with an emphasis on looseness and as a way of practicing my tonal reaches. I use subtle color hinting at the fact that it is not a photographic accurate representation but an interpretation. I see these painting sketches as creative push-ups, not intended to be anything but exercised flexing creative muscles that the major painting will not tolerate, but they have become fun and just as much of an outlet as the drawings.