Q&A with the Artist: Christa Stephens

Have you ever been so excited about something that you just wanted to shout? 


As a kids’ publishing company dedicated to being as diverse and inclusive as possible, it’s important for us to find ways to represent neurodiverse individuals in Popinjay Press books.

Enter Christa Stephens.

Christa is an abstract painter from New Mexico, whose bright, vibrant, beautiful pieces depict the complex inner world of autism, which she was diagnosed with as an adult. 

When we tentatively approached this fine artist about featuring her work in Time for Sleep Mode, Little Robot, we were expecting a polite refusal, if we heard back from her at all. After all, her work has been exhibited in dozens of museums and galleries around the country, she’s won numerous honors and awards, and she’s been featured in several publications. 

Lucky for us, Christa graciously accepted our request to include an illustration of Beginner’s Mind in Time for Sleep Mode, Little Robot, and has been nothing short of kind, helpful and generous ever since. She even took the time to answer this Q&A, so young readers could get to know her better. We hope you enjoy learning about Christa as much as we’ve enjoyed partnering with her!

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t identify as an artist. Growing up, I was interested in both art and music, but I came from a musical family and was encouraged to pursue singing. I went on to earn a Bachelor of Music degree and worked as a vocalist and music teacher in the years that followed. Those jobs required a lot of socializing, which was challenging for me, so I began to draw and paint my emotions as a way to process the profusion. Art became my sanctuary from the world of societal expectations, then my obsession, and eventually my vocation.

What techniques do you use to create your art?
My brain processes everything visually, but in a metaphorical, abstract way, which lies adjacent to my need for things to be concrete. I extract patterns and spatial relationships from the immaterial realms of thoughts, emotions and ideas, and describe this process by juxtaposing hard-edged opacities with subtle textures, bold patterns and anomalous color stories.

My works on panel begin with an underpainting that consists of multiple applications of acrylic paint, which I sand to reveal an ambiguously abstracted surface. Additional layers of paint are then applied in a structured, formational fashion and often combined with colored pencil, graphite or an occasional collage element. A fact that many people find surprising is that I do not plan or design my paintings in advance. Although steeped in a cohesive method, all of my works are improvised. They develop in response to whatever is happening with me in the moment.

How do you overcome a creative block?
I work on several paintings at a time, and cycle through them to keep the process fresh. If I get stuck on one, I move on to another and come back to it later with a renewed perspective. I’m methodical by nature, which provides a framework for deciding what to do next. I’ve learned that working begets creativity: The more I work, the more creative I feel. So it’s important to keep going, no matter what.

How important are diversity and inclusion to your artwork?
My paintings are conspicuously non-hierarchical. I investigate and idealize the concept of equality through the exclusive use of geometric shapes, which are ubiquitous to everyone everywhere. This can be challenging for some people because our identity-based culture is full of biases and unsubstantiated assumptions about the ways we should relate to each other. 

My work implores the viewer to set aside these kinds of preconceptions and take an objective look at the intermingling of harmony and dissonance (inclusion and diversity), symbolized by atypical adjacencies, complex color theories and polyrhythmic patterns that occur between basic elemental forms. This conceptual approach to relationships is intended to stimulate the way we think about divergent ways of being, and challenge entrenched ideas about the way things are supposed to be.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid, and why?
I loved Winnie the Pooh books, written by A.A. Milne and illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard. I used to pore over the maps of the 100 Acre Wood and loved that Pooh thought of songs as he went along his way. I also resonated with the detailed descriptions of Pooh’s thought processes, which were quite logical. That helped me relate to him and his circle of friends better than other books that primarily described events and behavior.

Anything else you'd like to add?
I just want to say, “Thank you!” I’m so pleased you were inspired by my work and chose to create an illustration based on Beginner’s Mind. I love that Popinjay Press seeks to present diversity and inclusion to young minds and wish you the best in your future endeavors.

You can find more of Christa’s artwork at abstractometry.com