Beatrice Tolan

By Stella Haffner   |   May 7, 2024
Horsewhip! by Beatrice Tolan

Come one, come all! Beatrice Tolan is getting ready to put on her first art showcase: HORSE$H*T. The exhibition opens May 2nd and continues until July 2nd. Join Beatrice at Elsie’s Tavern to see her new collection and join me below to hear about the creation process!

Q. Thelast time I spoke to you, you were preparing to graduate Northeastern and big things on your resume included doing the VFX work for 2019’s Little Women. What happened next?

A. During the pandemic I was home a lot, realizing that being stuck on the computer doing animation was making me very depressed, and I wasn’t satisfied with anything I was creating. I was working a job with a social media platform, and I felt super unfulfilled to the point where I had to take a year off from work and do some therapy. I felt very lost thinking that what I had spent the last five years doing wouldn’t amount to anything. I had to let go of this idea of doing what I went to school for. But it is really hard to leave a profession that is very artistically focused because your peers will think that you’re abandoning this art that you put your soul into. The stakes felt very high. But I finally decided I needed to lean into something else. So I started volunteering for the Pasadena Humane Society and working at a children’s ceramics studio.

It took a lot of letting go of my ego to apply for a job that had nothing to do with what I went to school for. I think the thing that got me through was reminding myself that I was not the first person to pursue a job that was different from their college degree, and I wasn’t the first person to take a pay cut. Once I started working at the ceramics studio and witnessed other people being creative for fun, that is actually what inspired me to get back into painting.

Your showcase uses horses as a vehicle to express and examine human emotions. Have horses always been a big theme for you or did you start painting them when you decided to put together the HORSE$H*T showcase?

I had painted a lot, previously, during the pandemic. But I always felt as though it was time taken away from animation. As I got back into it, I noticed I was drawing a lot of creatures and I really enjoyed drawing horses because I felt there was so much I could express through this one animal. There is something about horses and zebras and donkeys. They just have very unique shapes to them. I think I was first drawn to the horse because of the shape. I love shapes. I’m kind of obsessed with shapes, and in this case I became obsessed with exploring different ways to render that shape. I think that probably comes from my 3D modeling experience, honestly. From essentially being a 3D animator in college, I’m able to look at something and break it down into its essential shapes. I’m very attracted to things that have these unique shapes. Like mail trucks! There are three paintings of mail trucks in my room; I think they’re the squarest things I’ve ever seen, so like horses, they’re fun to draw and I’m attracted to finding different ways of rendering this, like, iconic shape.

Did you have a lot of experience with horses previously or did this just sort of emerge as you started painting more?

Horses have kind of always been a visual undercurrent for me in that my parents have a lot of paintings of horses in their house. My dad is also into horse racing, so if my dad is around I’m always hearing the sounds of a horse race, the announcer, the horn. They’ve always been kind of trotting around in my brain. 

When I looked at what I had been painting for the last few months, I was looking for a common theme and noticed that this was something I could build on. The showcase isn’t all about the horses, but they are a soft spot for me because there are just so many parts to a horse that are fun to play around and work with. And they’re just humanoid enough that I can put some more emotion into them. I think something I really noticed is that it is easier for people to empathize with animals than it is for us to empathize with humans. In the same way that in a movie, when a dog gets hurt – even if you don’t see it on screen – it always elicits a stronger response than seeing someone die onscreen. Whatever that is, I’m tapping into that.

I think maybe because being a human comes with a lot of judgement for ourselves and others, seeing an animal that is completely different from us but still affectionate and loving… I think you’re able to get different emotions across. 

I think that’s really interesting. Do you find that the way you had learned to examine stories in film and animation has carried over into your work with traditional media?

Absolutely. I showed someone a piece recently and they said: “I can really tell you were an animator because there is a lot of motion.” This came from my experience story boarding, where I would show people a picture and have them understand the story with only the one frame. I think a lot about the 12 principles of animation that are talked about in a lot of animation classes and books. Some of my favorite principles are anticipation and follow-through. Anticipation essentially means looking at an object or something in motion and understanding that it is about to move. For example, if I hold my arm up right here you understand that I’m about to punch. You’re not going to draw a punch halfway through because it’s not as interesting as the anticipation for an action that’s about to happen – capturing essentially the potential energy of a subject. I think what makes my work stand out is the motion I’m able to capture because of my time as an animator.

What do you hope people walk away feeling after seeing your show?

I want people to feel like there is not just one way they should or can express themselves. I think what is most important to me is that it is okay to explore how you express yourself. Never stop exploring mediums. Just because one thing was successful doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it and limit yourself to one thing. I think disappointing people is really fascinating. I have people who enjoy my pastoral art and when I show them something more abstract I’ve done, they have to do a polite, confused smile. So I’ve taught myself not to go into artistic practices with expectations. It’s like going on a hike expecting to find a bird and, if you don’t, claiming the whole hike a failure. With that mindset, you’re bound to miss other discoveries along the way. Expectations lead to disappointment. Exploration above expectation!  


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