August 2017

The Art of the Dream: Charlotte Fraser ‘Recalculates’ Career

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

The alarm clock sounds; the dogs are hungry. Charlotte Fraser slips into something “slightly more legitimate than pajamas,” stopping by the kitchen for coffee, before commuting to the sunroom/art studio in her Charleston, South Carolina home. After reviewing her to-do list and prioritizing her day, she turns on the television, a podcast, or an audio book and sets up her art supplies. That’s when the terror strikes!

“I’m scared every day,” she said. “I sit down. I have all my materials and a blank piece of paper and I think, ‘How are you going to do this, Charlotte?’”

Fraser has discovered that a little fear goes a long way on the path towards excellence. Unlike the entertainment running in the background (which distracts one part of her mind so the creative part can flow, she said), the steady drumbeat of self-doubt drives her to chase her dream with eyes wide open, even when it takes her to scary places—like quitting her secure elementary school teaching job to strike out on her own as a full-time, self-employed artist.

Returning to her roots
Born and raised on Hilton Head Island, Fraser (Charlotte Carrol), daughter of Patrick and Mary “Stick” Carrol, attended Hilton Head Island High School before heading to Clemson to study psychology with a minor in art. Upon graduation, she joined Teach for America and, after a rigorous training program, was placed in rural Arkansas as an elementary school art teacher—a position she held for two years before enrolling in grad school at Harvard to study education policy. After earning her master’s degree, she felt called, once again, to the classroom and went on to teach elementary school art in Washington, D.C. for four years, followed by two years teaching K-3 art in Charleston.

Meanwhile, she married her high school sweetheart, Alex Fraser, grandson of the late Joseph B. Fraser Jr. and great nephew of Charles E. Fraser of Hilton Head Island development renown. Setting down roots in Charleston, the couple is happy to be back in the Lowcountry, near friends and family, and in an environment that fosters their mutual desire for community and creative growth.

Part of the decision, Fraser said, was to keep closer company with her mom, who is battling Parkinson’s disease. “She’s best in the morning hours, so she has a puzzle table next to my work table. It’s super cool to get to spend that time with her, and there is a ton of value in being able to hang out with my mom and dad.”

Confident in her skills and grateful to her teachers, Fraser gives a shout-out to two Hilton Head Island mentors: Frederica “Freddie” Carson who stoked the fires of her early talent (Carson first noticed Fraser when the second-grader was doodling on a church bulletin, taking the child as a student free of charge), and “fantastic, amazing” high school art teacher Monique Dobbelaere, who fanned the flames. “I literally think of them every day,” Fraser said. “They’ve taught me a really good technical skill and have influenced the way I’ve taught my students. I love thinking about them as art teachers and trying to be just a little bit like them.”

Getting down to business
Dipping a toe (or two) in the water before taking the full entrepreneurial plunge, Fraser applied for a business license, created a flyer, set up an Instagram account and started knocking on doors. “Just saying you’re an artist is easy to not take seriously,” she said. “For six months, I was working a mandatory nine-hour workday [teaching] and then going home and painting until 1 or 2 a.m. I had to keep producing and have a body of work; I had to be diligent and be good.”

Fraser’s gift is her ability to recreate a photograph in precise detail. Recognizing the need to establish a niche, she started out specializing in pet portraiture, which earned her a steady following. Now that she is devoting full energy to her art, she continues to paint pets and is expanding her repertoire to include child portraits as well as architectural art. Other artists have encouraged her to take all the commissions she can get and pay attention to how she feels. By doing so, she is not only developing her style but also discovering the mediums and techniques most appropriate for each subject. “It’s like trying a bunch of flavors of something and finding the ones you really like,” she said.

For the pet portraits, Fraser paints on a 12X12 birch wood background, which “accidentally sets me apart,” she said. “The flat surface highlights the details, and I just love the way it helps bring out my style.”

For child portraits, she is working with chalk pastels on larger, high-quality paper. “I do a combination in pencil form—kind of like chubby sticks. It’s beautiful and inspiring, and I love having all the colors out,” she said. “I approach the pets with an exact replication. With the kids’ portraits, I think more in terms of implied lines. I feel like I can be a little more creative, choosing colors that aren’t necessarily there—realistic with a tiny twist.”

Whether she’s painting a dog, a child or a church spire, Fraser sets the standard. “I’ve thought a lot about craftsmanship and being excellent. This is me and my name. I’m not comfortable delivering something that is not my best work,” she said. “If I think I can do better by starting again, that’s what I do.”

In fact, Fraser keeps a “failed” dog portrait in her office as an incentive to be choosy about photographs she accepts for duplication. “I put more hours into that one than any other,” she said. She ultimately encouraged the client to select a better photo of her dog and was then able to finish the project to perfection. “I kept that [original] painting as a reminder to start with the end in mind and make sure the quality I want to give is already in the picture.”

It’s the same with her new endeavor. Fraser has a vision of where she wants to go. The picture is clear, and she knows what steps she must take next. “As a teacher who has worked with young kids, adults always say, ‘Follow your dreams.’ But a lot more people will point out the risks to an adult,” she said. “I made the hard decision to leave the classroom and dive into art as a career. It’s super risky, but I’ve weighed those risks. This is me following my dream, and this is the time to do it. I’m going to give it everything and see where it goes.”

To commission a painting or see examples of Charlotte Fraser’s work, visit charlottefraserart.com; Get a sneak peek at her latest works by friending her on Facebook and following along on Instagram.

Paints and Pints: Channeling your Inner Artist
Whether you are budding Picasso or can’t draw a stick figure, Charlotte Fraser can channel your inner artist. In addition to private commissions, she is offering adult painting classes, evenings from 7-9 p.m.—a venture she started in D.C. and has decided to continue in the Lowcountry. Her favorite students are the ones who say they can’t do it, she said. “I like helping people access something they think is so unapproachable.”

Letting go of insecurities and releasing inhibitions begins at select Charleston breweries who have agreed to host Paints and Pints, giving patrons an opportunity to create a masterpiece while enjoying their favorite craft beers. Each $30 class includes two hours of professional step-by-step instruction with Fraser and a half pint beer of your choice. You’ll leave with your own original artwork on canvas.

For a schedule of upcoming events, or to book your class, visit paintsandpintscharleston.com.

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