Unidentified flying objects are personal for Bellingham artist Trish Harding. A Lummi Island native and Bellingham resident, she says she has seen UFOs twice in her lifetime, once on Lummi as a child and also as a young adult off the island. With that partly in mind, she named her downtown workplace Studio UFO.
From that studio last year, she won a region-wide competition to be selected as the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival poster artist. The 35th anniversary of the festival runs throughout April this year and attracts thousands of visitors to the vast tulip fields around Mount Vernon and surrounding towns
The full name of her studio, The Trish Harding School of Art at Studio UFO, is where she teaches and works as a professional artist. Harding said she created that name for two reasons: to express that her studio was a place for learning, and because the term “UFO” is both personal for her and hard to forget for others.
In each sighting, Harding said she experienced awe and incredible sensations of speed. Harding has always been interested in outer space, so her studio name came naturally.
Harding now uses Studio UFO for all artistic endeavors. Though her journey as an artist has encompassed several walks of life—San Francisco Academy of Art University student, commission artist, trade show participant, art teacher—the Tulip Festival poster was an unusual bit for Harding.
Typically, she doesn’t reproduce her work, which is exactly what happens to the official tulip poster. Rather, if she does a painting, she believes that image belongs to that painting. She usually paints in series, as well.
Still, Harding is one to embrace and customize a challenge. She’s extremely goal-oriented. Though the Tulip Festival poster was a different kind of goal, she painted the poster by connecting with the process.
“All of the work in a painting is pretty much done by the time you start painting—at least the way that I work,” Harding said.
Before painting something new, Harding gathers information, looks at images, practices images, paints outside, and often learns how subjects are made and built. By the time she sketches a miniature, black and white version of her idea—a thumbnail—she knows a great deal about what she’s planning to paint. From her self-designed pallet to production, the process is fairly quick.
Though Harding’s artwork is backed by research, she says she usually references a personal significance or experience. With the tulip poster and the classic rows of mesmerizing tulips, Harding also included a full view of Mount Baker (a clear view of the volcano simply “knocks her out”), a bicycle (her go-to form of transportation), and a flying gaggle of snow geese (she says she’s a huge fan). Technically, Baker’s full face can’t be viewed the way it’s portrayed in the poster—Harding said she took a few liberties while painting.
Harding doesn’t usually share the experiences behind her paintings because she prefers the viewer to connect their own. She believes that everyone can identify with a painting if it has both personal and universal qualities.
Additionally, Harding’s art refrains from preconceived ideas. This especially works with colors. For example, one of Harding’s current paintings—an old, abandoned house on Lummi Island she and a gal would break into for sleepover parties—has light pink in the background of trees and purple in the nearby roots of grass. Yes, these are atypical colors to the scene, but they work for the painting because they’re colors a viewer can imagine if in the right light and setting.
“I like to be open to the universe for peak experiences that will take me to the final product. Though a painting will begin like how I imagined it, I’ll come to a fork in the road and take a new path. That allows the colors to change—to harmonize in a different way. To become.”
Harding shares her style and encourages individuality with her students. She says artists of different levels have a lot to learn from each other.
“The whole motivation for teaching is to be around the energy, the creative spark,” Harding said. “You can’t be a painter all by yourself.”
Like the story? Check out our Arts and Culture section for more!
Trish Harding School of Art at Studio UFO
301 W. Holly St. M-4, Bellingham
360.319.6115 | studio-ufo.net