NEEDLES — From the beaches of Mexico to the banks of the Colorado River, Bethany Hartwick has found abundant artistic inspiration from her surroundings.
What started as a few little “beachy” paintings just for fun, turned into a form of therapy and career for the self-taught artist.
Hartwick has been a Needles resident since 2014, after marrying her husband who is a longtime local. She decided to become a full-time artist in 2016 and opened a studio in their home, where she creates all of her paintings.
Hartwick had an exciting childhood growing up along the beaches of Mexico, where her parents ran a tourism business. The bright culture and beautiful Mexican landscape piqued her interest from a young age, and she now draws upon the scenery as a subject for her artwork.
“My parents live down in Mexico so we drive there a lot and I’m always taking pictures of the beaches and the desert on the drive down for reference photos,” Hartwick said. “I’m very much inspired by color, so I just love using all of the different desert peaches, greens and sunset colors.”
Some of her most popular paintings are desert landscapes on tea-dyed paper, a special process Hartwick uses for a unique touch.
“I think the first time I tea-dyed paper I was actually a little kid and my brothers and I were trying to make a treasure map look old, so my mom was like, ‘hey, we should dye it in tea and it makes it looked aged.’ For some reason that memory just popped into my mind one day and next thing I knew I was boiling up a big vat of tea and dumping paper into it,” she laughed. “So obviously the process has been refined quite a bit since then but people loved it. It’s kind of the crowd favorite now. I’ve probably sent close to a hundred little tea-dyed deserts all over the world — Australia, Singapore, all over.”
Tea is acidic, and therefore required an extra step in her process to ensure it would not deteriorate over time.
“People have been tea-dyeing paper for ages and I was able to research and figure out a way to add baking soda to the tea after it’s brewed and it actually neutralizes the acidic qualities,” Hartwick explained. “So then you can soak acid-free, 100% cotton paper in it and it will be archival. That was something I was super concerned about when I started doing it, because it was pretty but I wanted it to last.”
Her landscape paintings take some engineering, so she likes to mix it up and create carefree abstract pieces as well.
“When I’m doing the deserts that’s a little more technical because you have to think of perspective so that it looks right, and if I start kind of losing focus on that I can switch over to my abstract work which is always just therapeutic,” she said. “I get a huge benefit out of it because I do have some anxiety issues so painting is something I would do for myself no matter what.
“For my abstracts and floral work I really don’t plan much of anything” she continued. “I just pick a couple of colors that I want to use and turn on some music and just go for it. It’s kind of a flowy, intuitive process.”
How does she decide when a piece is finished?
“That’s probably the toughest part for me,” Hartwick said. “I’m kind of a maximalist. I like to just keep adding, but when it starts to feel like it’s close to being finished I’ll let it sit for a day or two and revisit it with fresh eyes to make sure it doesn’t need anything else.
“So I guess it’s just a feeling that I get.”
Spending so much time and effort on her paintings, it could be difficult to part with the finished products, but Hartwick said she finds it rewarding to share her work with others.
“Part of selling your art is being able to trust yourself and trust the process that you can paint something like that again and you can paint something even better,” she said. “That was something that I had to learn, but it also makes me really happy when people buy my work and they’re so excited to get it and they send me photos saying, ‘Oh I just love how this painting looks in my living room, or office, or wherever.’ It makes people happy so then it’s totally worth it.”
Hartwick sells her artwork exclusively on her website, bethanyhartwick.com. She sells her originals, as well as limited prints of some pieces.
“I did start doing prints last year around the holidays and that’s a whole process that I’m teaching myself, too,” she said. “I have invested in a really good camera and printer and I’m learning how to do the prints in my studio. That’s a little bit slower so I don’t make prints of all of my paintings. Also you can’t really print gold foil, which I use on most of my paintings, so all of my prints are hand-gilded — I add the gold ink to each print by hand. So each one is a little bit unique and I still consider it a piece of original art.”
The latest collection she dropped on her website, called “Ariose,” was a group of her floral abstracts. Hartwick said she will continue painting florals but also has other projects in mind.
“I’m still doing some florals because I’m just having such a fun time with them and people are enjoying seeing the process too, but right now in the studio I have a big pile of paper to tea-dye so I’ll be doing more tea-dyed soon, probably closer to summer,” she said. “And I’m working on some hand-painted earrings which is just kind of a fun side project that I do in the studio.”
She may draw on her local surroundings for upcoming work as well.
“I have one painting of the Needles peaks, which is one of the only originals I’ve kept, but you can find the print on my website,” she said. “So it is definitely on my radar to do a Needles collection, it would probably be river and Mohave Desert-themed.”
Hartwick has found her home, family and career all thrive in this community.
“I’m just really glad that I’m able to be doing what I love and be able to contribute to my family,” she said. “I think Needles is a really cool place that has a lot of potential to be a little art hub. It’s a cool setting, there’s neat buildings and it’s just beautiful.”