Based in Saratoga Springs, New York, Turkish-born artist Hazal Ozturk works as a full-time software developer by day and an artist by night. Her multimedia body of work takes many forms, but whether painting on canvas, or drum cymbals, or working digitally, Hazal's artwork is tied together by key foundational elements - organic, abstract shapes, flat planes of bright color, and very often, the female figure. We took the opportunity to close out this Women's History Month chatting with Hazal about her evolution as an artist, her creative process, and why the female form is so often a source of inspiration in her work (although not the only one by any means). Read on to learn more about Hazal and get a glimpse inside her studio.
Our Interview with Hazal
Where are you from originally and where are you located now?
I’m originally from Turkey and came to the US in 2012 to get my Master’s degree with my husband (boyfriend at the time). We first lived in Lincoln, Nebraska for four years. I was studying Textile Chemistry and working in a research lab. Then we moved to Upstate New York in 2016 and have been living here since.
How would you describe your artwork?
I am an abstract artist. I play with colors, shapes, and sometimes perspectives to reflect my emotions and show how I see the world around me. My color palette is bright, bold and happy, and this is intentional. I see the world like that. I play with different media (markers, digital illustration, etc.), but my main focus is acrylic artwork.
What is your artistic process like? Walk us through how you create a piece or series.
I have two different approaches when I start on a painting. The first (often-used) process starts with some form of inspiration. I love travel photography and I have a huge collection that I’ve been working on for over a decade. So I usually pick a location, look at my photos, think about that time and the emotions that I was having during that vacation. This is when my creative brain cells start dancing in my head! I choose the color palette based on my emotions, and I generally choose canvas as my main material but I also LOVE trying different surfaces (like metal, drum heads, old cymbals, different kinds of paper, and more). After everything is set I just start painting. I have a studio in the garage and an office studio at my home, but there are times when I have to paint somewhere else (like my kitchen or by a lake or on a beach), because neither of my studios provides enough creative thinking.
The second approach is a fairly new one. I recently started experimenting with digital illustration and I work on the iPad Procreate app. Most of my digital artworks are minimalistic female portraits, not abstract. So after creating my ladies digitally, I pick a canvas and create a background for a specific digital lady. I paint the background and I draw my lady on that canvas. I really enjoy the digital-to-canvas process.
What is your favorite part of your creative process?
I enjoy every step when I work on a painting but my favorite part is seeing the final product. I take A LOT of pictures during the process and at the end, I compare the progress photos. It’s alway fascinating to see how a blank canvas turns into the image in my mind.
Is there ever a particularly challenging part of the process? How do you overcome challenges as you create?
Of course, there are always challenges! Sometimes I get inspired more than I should do, my brain can’t stop thinking about new ideas and it can become overwhelming. I have a full-time job that I focus on during the day, so it's frustrating when I cannot find time to work on new ideas - this kills my creativity and I just go blank for a long time. It’s almost like losing your creative perspective. In these kinds of situations, I force myself to at least draw some quick sketches every day, even if it’s for five minutes. Working in Procreate also helps, because I can put some quick drafts on my iPad. Music is another source of inspiration during slow times for me. I mean, listen to some Chick Corea, you will see what I mean.
Where do you find inspiration?
Life itself is an inspiration! When I look around, I see different colors and abstract shapes all over me. When I talk to someone, I picture that person’s abstract silhouette on a canvas. When I go to the grocery store, the fruits and veggies section is a huge inspiration; it’s all shapes and colors. But more specifically, I get inspired by nature and traveling a lot. When I’m in a new city, at a new beach or up in the mountains, I can’t stop thinking about colors on a canvas. A glass of wine with good music is also an irrefutable inspiration for me!
You’re a fine artist and a digital illustrator. Which came first, and how did you make the transition? Do you prefer one over the other?
Fine art is definitely who I am! I can’t picture myself without my brushes and paints anymore. I communicate my emotions through my art so I need to feel the colors on a surface when I make art. However, I really enjoy making digital illustrations and it stimulates my creativity, so I can't say I prefer one over the other anymore. I have always been extremely interested in the digital world. I’ve designed many digital materials for non-profit organizations, companies and individual artists for the last 5-10 years. And now because of my job, I do a lot of digital design work. I think it was when I was introduced to Procreate (by my husband), I decided to combine my digital art journey with my acrylic artworks.
You tend to use a lot of vibrant colors. How do you select your colors?
My color palette is the reflection of my emotional world. Every one of my pieces has a meaning behind them, and I let my emotions decide on the colors. Interestingly, even the times that I feel down, those emotions always choose vibrant colors.
You often depict women in your artwork, particularly in your digital illustrations. What draws you to this subject?
I often ask myself the same question! I think there are two main reasons... Visually, I like the aesthetic image of a female figure on abstract backgrounds. My shapes and colors create an organized chaos and the female figure brings the order and completes the piece, just like in real life. And, I think it helps to transfer the emotions in a stronger way.
Are there any artists who have inspired you or your work?
I admire Picasso, Matisse, Basquiat and Rothko. Also I do follow some amazing living artists on Instagram: Inès Longevial, Lisa Congdon and Ashley Mary.
From your first painting to those you create now, how would you say you’ve grown as an artist?
I believe I’m still in the process of finding my true voice as an artist but I have a cohesive body of work now. And I feel like I present my message more strongly than before.
Has the pandemic affected your creative process at all?
YES! Luckily, in a very good way. Last year was hectic for all of us, and I put all my time and effort into my art (to stay sane). Whenever I felt desperate, scared, or unhappy, I went to my studio and created something. I modified my garage to create a larger studio space during the pandemic, I painted with the garage door open and my neighbors would stop by to say “Hi,” while I worked, so it became my daily socializing activity too.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self as an artist, what would it be?
Make art whenever you can. You’ll regret the times that you didn’t!
What’s next? Where do you see your work going?
I’ll continue making art. I’ve been wanting to produce giant paintings and also to make a mural. That transition already has started - I choose bigger canvases now, and recently I left my comfort zone and painted a mural in a fashion boutique in Turkey. I'm eager to see where this goes.
In 5 words or less, what is your goal as an artist?
Finding inner peace.
Coffee or tea?
Despite the fact that I come from a tea-loving Turkish family, cOFfEeEeeeEE!
Morning person or night person?
Books or movies?
Movies during the week, books during the weekend.
What do you do in your free time (aside from art/photography)?
First, traveling - my husband and I love traveling and we love taking last minute random road trips. Next would be home improvements, because if we aren't traveling I do a lot of improvements and design changes at home. And last, spending time with friends... we love having friends over for brunch or dinner.
In case you missed it, we hosted a live Q&A with Hazal on March 26, where we went even further in depth on many of the topics covered here! You can catch up on the interview below, or shop all of Hazal's artwork on her Artist Page. Love figurative art? Shop Hazal's work and more in our Figurative Collection.