We had the good fortune of connecting with Karla Ortiz and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Karla, putting aside the decision to work for yourself, what other decisions were critical to your success?
One of the things that has allowed me to succeed in my own artistic career has been to detach myself from the results of my individual paintings. Whether a painting is successful or a failure, it is not a reflection of my value or self worth as a human being.
When I was younger, I took my failures in my work very personally. I would see failure as though I was lacking in intelligence, or in skill, rather than it being an issue of knowledge and practice. This became so debilitating, I actually quit art for a little bit. But later on I realized that failure is an important part of success, and I needed to detach myself from this punishing mentality in order to have a sustainable career. What I didn’t realize was that by detaching myself from the results, I would come to fall further in love with the process. It also put things in perspective, and taught me to approach artistic endeavors as visual puzzles to be solved by either knowledge or practice. It changed my whole perspective and gave me the confidence I needed to learn how to fail, and eventually how to succeed.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I come from the tiny island of Puerto Rico. I was a very quiet and solitary child who found joy in drawing! My mother told me not too long ago that when I was in 3rd grade a teacher was very worried for me because I would go draw under a tree while other kids would be playing. But art was always how I communicated best! So from a very young age, I knew I wanted to be an artist.
Sustaining myself with art was always my guiding goal, and I’ve been blessed to not only be a visible woman in a male dominated space, but a Latina as well. In my years as a professional artist I’ve been able to work on all kinds of projects I could have never imagined; Black Panther, Rogue One, Thor: Ragnarok, and most notably, I fully designed Doctor Strange! I’ve been to movie premieres, worked directly with directors, and my work has influenced some of the most popular media around! And because of the work that I do, I’m able to travel around the world teaching young artists the joy of picture making. I never thought that someone from my little island would be able to do so much, and the fun part is it really feels like it’s just the beginning!
The main thing I’ve learned though, is that it’s important to be resilient and compassionate. Resilient because there will be many obstacles in your path. Compassionate because not just of others but of yourself too. These two things have given me strength and understanding in the most difficult moments.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Oh, GET READY, we’ve got quite a day of walking, eating, and drinking! First, We start out with Embarcadero, grab some empanadas at El Porteño, some Blue Bottle coffee, and enjoy it outside with a lovely view of the bay! Next up, walk down towards Market Street, and hit up The Cavalier, a hidden gem of a restaurant with incredible English breakfast and boozy brunch drinks! Afterwards, we’ll make a stop over at Yerba Buena gardens to enjoy the scenery! Next up, we head up north towards Rye Bar, one of my favorite bars in the city for more day drinking, or we could drop by Dolores park for some sun. Lastly, we’d finish the day with Spanish restaurant Bellota for their incredible paellas, ambiance, and tasty wines! Other notable SF restaurant mentions are Izakaya Kou, Kama Sushi, Nara Sushi, Purple Rice, Daeho, YakiniQ, Big Lantern, Mission Chinese, El Techo, Padrecitos, El Farolito, Nopa, Cockscomb, and Mourad! For drinks I love Bloodhound, House of Shields, Pagan Idol, Molotovs, The View, Smugglers Cove, Li Po Cocktail Lounge, Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, Bourbon and Branch, and Local Edition! San Francisco is a relatively small city, but it is jam packed with amazing food, drinks, and entertainment! It’s why I’m so deeply in love with this little city and couldn’t imagine any other spot to call home!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I meet many students around the world that wish to paint for a living, but their families often don’t understand it, or discourage it. I’ve also seen the power of having someone believe in you, as I myself have offered support to students and have seen them thrive. All because they had someone in their corner to lift their spirits when they needed it the most. When I think about the people in my own life who believed in me the most, I am so thankful for the support of three people; my father, my mother, and my mentor. My father, Waldo, is a musician who deeply understands the ups and downs of life, and who told me when I had given up on art, “You’re not an artist unless you give up, at least once!” My mother, Grisel, who gave me my work ethic and always pushed for strength in her “¡Pa’ las que sea!” attitude (she uses this slang as “through thick and thin”). And my mentor, Iain McCaig, who became a shining beacon of what a joyful and empathetic professional could look like in this industry, and helped me become the professional I am today. Without any one of these three humans, I am unsure I’d be where I am today. I am forever lucky to have them all in my life.