Carly Swenson / by Altered Esthetics

Carly Swenson is an intuitive painter originally from northern Montana. She spent more than a decade as a mixed media artist before shifting to acrylics. Swenson received her BFA in Visual Art with a Minor in Art History from Bemidji State University (Bemidji, MN). Her exposure to other cultures through traveling and living abroad as well asher love of art history is evident in her early work which plays off themes of feminine ideals, gender roles, and beauty expectations. As she developed an intuitive practice, Swenson’s work gained a new unique presence. Her work results from embracing uncertainty and trusting the intrinsic creative process which gives her art vibrancy and dreamlike qualities.

Swenson’s work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions throughout the US and internationally. Her work is also included in the permanent art collections of the Angra do Heroismo Museum (Terceira, Azores) and Bemidji State University. In addition to her paintings, Swenson’s freelance writing and mixed media journals have been published in nationally distributed art magazines. When she’s not working on her own projects, Swenson facilitates art workshops for various age groups. Currently, she lives in St. Paul, MN with a smart little dog and a weird little cat. They’re nice!

Love her Wild,  36” x 36”, Mixed Media Intuitive Painting, 2018

Love her Wild, 36” x 36”, Mixed Media Intuitive Painting, 2018

Tell me about your work? What are you currently working on?

I’m always working with intuitive painting, it feels the most natural to me. Something about silencing my mind and getting lost in the act of creating has become very cathartic.

I’m also working on another, more unusual body of work, Bloodstream of Consciousness. Our current cultural and political climate has caused a lot of frustration and anger that I needed to channel in a safe, healthy, and more productive way.

These simple works contain a strong, often relatable, feminist narrative based on self-reflection pertaining to my own gender socialization, personal experiences, and our culturally-ingrained misogyny. My goal is at least fifty 12” x 16” hand-lettered statements made with India Ink and menstrual blood on watercolor paper. Currently, I’ve made just over twenty, as well as a couple larger works.

Done Apologizing , 12” x 16”, Menstrual Blood and India Ink, 2018

Done Apologizing, 12” x 16”, Menstrual Blood and India Ink, 2018

How did you decide to become an artist?

I’ve wanted to be an artist as far back as I can remember - except for a brief stint around age 5 when I wanted to be a cheerleader. When I had to pick a major in college, I couldn’t really imagine passionately pursuing a career other than art, so I went for it.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

It wasn’t specifically about art, but some of the most lasting advice I’ve received was: One thing that sets successful people apart, is that they’re willing to put in the time and effort that others aren’t.

That really resonated with me because there’s often this misconception that artists make art - and Ta Da! That’s the thing! Now wait to be discovered and loved forever! But we have so much behind-the-scenes work. It’s less fun, less noticeable, and less rewarding but crucial to pursuing a career in the arts. That advice reminds me that I have to keep putting in the effort.

Is there any medium you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t yet?

I’d love to try encaustic painting. It’s always seemed like such a fascinating process and I love the layered style and texture it creates. I’m planning to take an entry level encaustic painting class sometime this year

Pisces by Birth , 24” x 24”, Acrylic Intuitive Painting, 2018

Pisces by Birth, 24” x 24”, Acrylic Intuitive Painting, 2018


Many artists struggle to find ways to sell their art. How do you sell your work?  How do you market yourself?

I have this struggle too. I really wish I had the answer. Currently, I’m just trying what I can and hoping something works. That is, by no means, a plan I necessarily recommend but I’m still learning the business aspect of being an artist.

I have an online shop hosted by Square. I haven’t sold much from there yet, but it’s only been up for a few months. I sell smaller works in a Facebook group I created in an effort to make original art affordable for all budgets. Available pieces are often priced between $25-$80. Thais strategy has been intermittently successful.

I’ve also reached out to local coffee shops, cafes, etc. and have sold more works there than I expected. This also has the perk of getting the art out instead of just sitting around in your apartment where no one can see it. I’m also planning to take part in more art festivals this year.

Commissioned work, both of intuitive paintings and pet portraits make up about a third of my art-related income. I love animals, and just accidentally stumbled into pet portraiture. Word-of-mouth has been my biggest asset for building clientele.

To market myself, I schedule two weekly blog posts on my website (Mondays & Wednesdays) and maintain a social media presence on Facebook. I’ve also recently reorganized my work into three different Instagram accounts (@nakedcarlyart, @nakedcarlyart_pets, and @mindfully.unapologetic) creating a more cohesive viewer experience for potential audience. I post almost daily on each account.

What Haunts Me , 20” x 20”, Acrylic Intuitive Painting, 2018

What Haunts Me, 20” x 20”, Acrylic Intuitive Painting, 2018

Who are some of the Twin Cities artists you enjoy?

To be honest, I’ve only been in the cities about two and half years. The majority of that time was spent just doing the basic things like finding a safe, affordable place to live and sustainable employment so I wasn’t able to get out to openings and see or meet many Twin Cities artists. I have come across a few interesting artists with my limited exposure, including Amy Ballinger, who does delightfully surreal photography, Nicholas Harper, who creates really interesting and dark portrait paintings, and Sara Syverhus, who creates dreamlike paintings with animals and nature.

If I were to follow you around to see art in the Twin Cities, which places would we go? What would we see?

The Walker Sculpture Garden is maybe cliche, but I like wandering around there when the weather is nice and I can also bring my dog. The open monthly studio evenings at Northrop King Building are always fun because it’s such a wide variety of styles and mediums, so that’s always inspiring. I also just love discovering the murals that are all around the cities.

Image of the artist

Image of the artist

Do you have any exhibits to promote in the near future?

I have a larger work in the SweetArt Salon group exhibition at the Northrop King Building that will be on display until Feb 7.

I also have a couple works that are part of the 2019 LoLa (League of Longfellow artist) Fine Art Exhibition opening on Feb 16, 5 - 7pm, at Squirrel Haus Arts. This exhibition is open the following days: Feb 16, 17, 23, and 24 from Noon - 5pm.

During the month of February, my work will be at both Fireroast Coffee & Wine Bar (3800 37th Ave S) and Urban Forage Winery & Cider House (3016 E Lake St).

For more of Carly’s work, check out

Follow Carly on Facebook at Naked Carly Art and on Instagram at @nakedcarlyart.

All images courtesy of the artist.

Video by Molly Parker Stuart. Interview written by Molly Parker Stuart, edited by Sarah Kass.