Student Spotlight: Kristen Canda, Painting, MFA ’21

Photo of Kristen

Kristen Canda grew up in Cleveland Ohio, and received her BFA in 2017 from Ohio Wesleyan University, where she concentrated and drawing, painting, and ceramics. After taking just a year off, she found her calling as an oil painter, bringing attention to everyday domestic objects through vibrant, vivid color. 

Life Lessons from a Box of Crayons and Paint By Number

Kristen’s deep passion for painting stems from a childlike sense of wonder when it comes to color. “My favorite thing in the world is to build color relationships and figure out exactly how much of which color can make one color vibrant and another one subdued. It is really magical to me.” Reflecting on childhood, Kristen says, “The biggest dream that I had as a kid was to create a Crayola color! Crayola colors were everything to me when I was a kid - the crayon box was the most exciting thing in the world. I didn't know how color worked or anything so I used to dream about discovering a new color and thought that one day, I would be digging in my backyard and find something that was a color that nobody's seen before. Now as I develop my artistic practice, I realize the this is what I do every day. I find and build new colors from the spaces I am in.”

While she did not come from a family of artists, Kristen’s childhood was filled with creative activities. “Art was not something that we really did in my family,” she explains. “But I did a lot of arts and crafts with my mom and sister. My grandpa would also do paint-by-numbers which always amazed me. He also used to document everything with his camera, including all of the centerpieces and decorations that we had over the years. That was the level of art that I was seeing and was exposed to and I see that coming through my own work today in the way that I color block within my paintings and in the subject matter that I work with which is mainly domestic objects.”

Oil painting called Dish Washer, Oil on canvas, 30 by 40, 2020
Dish Washer, Oil on canvas, 30" x 40", 2020

Finding the Right Fit

Everyday life is intricately woven into Kristen’s creative process and development as a painter. “As I learn more about myself and why I make art,” she explains. “I realize that it has to do with me reacting to the environment that Im in, reflecting on that, and then producing something from that experience.” Taking a step away between undergrad and graduate school was an important part of that realization. In the process of growing as an artist, she was less driven by technical mastery. This has allowed her to connect more with her intuition as an artist. “As an undergrad I saw painting as more of a technical burden,” she says. “I would get very detailed and hyper realistic. I needed to take a break. I stopped painting for about 6 months. I needed to figure out how I could work more intuitively and more naturally. Then all of a sudden, I had this drive to work in color and shape the things that I was seeing. After that it all started to make sense and painting started to fit with me.”

Oil painting called Strawberry Jam, oil on canvas, 24 x 36, 2020
Strawberry Jam, Oil on canvas, 24" x 36", 2020

Revealing Home

Today, Kristen’s paintings reveal familiar domestic scenes of everyday, utilitarian objects like dishwasher racks, blenders, and mixing bowls. “My paintings are based on my own interior surroundings which reference domesticity and myself within my own domestic space,” she explains. “I have come to see that there are so many beautiful patterns around me, even something simple that I might get from Target can have amazing visual qualities.” In painting highly reflective objects, her presence is literally and figuratively reflected in their surfaces. “The work that I'm doing at the moment is all based on reflections that I see when I am doing domestic tasks that I have learned from the women before me. I include my mixer and stainless steel pots and pans which give me a reflection of myself. In my paintings, I can then define myself within those surroundings and within those moments. Im looking externally to find something internally.”

Kristen has found an audience in residential interior designers in Detroit and individuals looking to decorate their homes with original art. “There is a strong decorative element to my work. The subject matter translates well because in painting my own decorations, it leads to another way of decorating. I am just seeing the things in my life and making work based on that. That resonates with other people and their appreciation for these types of objects. Having my work function in peoples homes is so fulfilling to me as a maker. It is the most incredible and intimate way to experience art and this is what gives art meaning for me.”

Kristen sees that there is a heightened significance of domestic space brought on by COVID, and what our domestic spaces reveal about us. “With the pandemic, I think that people have really started to pay attention to how they publicize their spaces. They are more intentional about what they're showing and why they're showing it. Its like a different way to do a selfie - one that is still very curated, very intentional, and very personal.” 

Oil painting called Daily Patterns, oil on canvas, 48 x 60, 2020
Daily Patterns, oil on canvas, 48" x 60", 202

Working Through Covid

Like many other artists, Kristen misses the sense of community that comes with sharing studio space and being among other MFA candidates. “It is hard to keep a sense of community with other artists and MFA students,” she says, “but knowing that I can just walk over to my home studio and start painting whenever I want is what makes this all manageable.” Like many of us, the lines between work and home are constantly blurred for Kristen, but that blurring has become a source of inspiration. “Before COVID

 I had my workspace, my home space, and my family space. Now everything is all blended together,” she explains. “It can be overwhelming but it's made my work come a lot more naturally. Im cooking dinner one moment and then going back and painting what I was just doing. Painting now feels like an extension of the life that Im already living. I was searching for that thing that I wanted my work to be about and this experience has made that all very clear.”

To see more of Kristen’s work visit: