Painting The Dream
Around the time she turned 30, Heather Brown was beginning to realize something: Of all the various jobs she had worked during her 20s — she’d been a waitress and an emergency room technician — none of them were what she really wanted to be doing. What she really wanted to be doing was art.
“I was just kind of working a lot of jobs that weren’t fulfilling to me,” Brown recalls, “and I thought, ‘I got to do what I love, what I am passionate about. I have got to be fulfilled in my job.'”
So she moved to Hawaii from California to work toward a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at University of Hawaii at Manoa. During that time, Brown also was in the process of discovering another passion — for the ocean. While in school, she worked as a dive master and boat captain, and learned to surf in her free time.
“I was above the water, I was below the water on a daily basis, and just constantly absorbing my surroundings and falling in love with Hawaii and the beauty of it,” Brown says.
The intersection of these activities culminated in her art. She began painting what she saw in the water, and today, she is a globally known surf artist whose paintings are so iconic that they’re immediately recognizable as a Heather Brown. With her global reach, she brings a little bit of the Islands — and, she hopes, a little bit of happiness — worldwide.
“It makes me so extremely happy to make other people happy with my art,” Brown says. “I feel like … I am bringing beauty into their lives, and that is so fulfilling.”
In crafting any piece, Brown says it all comes from her experiences and observations:
“It is basically all what I see around me on a daily basis.”
One constant source of inspiration for Brown is the North Shore, where she lives beach-side with husband Chris Viverito, also an artist. (The two met while surfing in Waikiki, and it was her art that brought them together: He contacted her after he bought a painting of hers years after their initial meeting.)
“I love the palm tree-lined beach, the plumerias, hibiscus and ginger, and how (the water) changes from summertime being still, crystal-clear blue, to winter time with huge waves.”
Her act of composing a painting, though, is perhaps less realistic and more as she’d like the world to be.
“Whenever I paint, I usually don’t go to the place or go by pictures. I imagine in my head everything I have seen and put it together in a perfect scene that you actually want to jump into. Like this for example,” she says, pointing to her iconic Ku‘uipos painting (she’s holding it up in the bottom right photo), “I would love to be her right now, where I have my surfboard and I am with my husband and we’re about to go surf an empty, beautiful wave and there are birds singing around us.”
That sort of reverence for nature also has a place in the business side of her art: She aims to work in an eco-friendly fashion. Her prints and mattes utilize recycled materials. Plus, she often creates pieces or donates portions of proceeds to various nonprofits — many ocean related — including Surfrider Foundation, Kokua Foundation and Waves For Water.
Brown spends her days working alongside Viverito in their studio, a bright, breezy room attached to their home that overlooks the ocean. In addition to his own work, Viverito also helps Brown upkeep the business end of things, and the two often travel together for festivals and shows throughout the world. It might sound like an idyllic existence, but it’s also taken some serious moxie to get there.
Part of what has allowed Brown to distinguish herself as an artist is her business savvy — and, perhaps more so, sheer determination.
She admits that when she first graduated from college, she didn’t have the confidence to pursuit art full-time — in fact, it was only at the encouragement of her boss at the dive shop where she worked that she even initially thought about selling her art. In those early days, Brown would visit stores and galleries with her portfolio in hand to try to gain new clients.
“And luckily for me,” she says, “they were very supportive of my art and it just kept growing ever since.”
Growing, perhaps, is an understatement; Heather Brown’s art has exploded. Her work can be found in shops and galleries throughout the world, and she’s earned numerous accolades, like being dubbed “the Godmother of Modern Surf Art” by the Los Angeles Times. Her work also appears on various products that include T-shirts, coffee tumblers, beach towels, trucker hats, skateboards, snowboards and bikinis. A few years ago, she opened her very own Heather Brown Gallery in Tokyo, and now there also is one in Osaka.
It was the opening of the first gallery, she recalls, when she felt for the first time like she’d “made it.”
“It just was the most surreal, dreamy experience to walk into a store that has my name on it and everything in the gallery is my art,” she says.
Still, these days, even with all of her accomplishments, the sort of hustling attitude that got her here hasn’t subsided.
After beginning each day by walking their three dogs on the beach, Brown and Viverito head to their studio and “work until the sun goes down, basically” she explains.
Brown has even more big things coming up: In mid-January, she and Viverito will be doing a collaborative whale-themed art show. And she’s planning on writing and illustrating a book.
But mostly, she “just wants to continue making people happy with my art,” Brown says with a smile. Smiling is something she does a lot. And, in fact, for Brown, it’s a crucial part of the creative process.
“I feel that I have this happy energy in my work — and when I work, I have to be in that mindset,” she says. “It is kind of mysterious, but I feel that the energy I put into my work, when people look at it, they feel it back somehow.”
For more on Heather Brown, visit heatherbrownart.com. (Orders must be placed by Dec. 10 to ensure delivery in time for Christmas for all domestic orders.)