Exhibitionists·IN PROCESS

Be mesmerized by this artist's process as she creates portraits that might make your heart ache

Watch Elena Cabitza's time-lapse videos as she creates three delicate little portraits.

Watch Elena Cabitza's time-lapse videos as she creates three delicate little portraits

'Tears of Kwame' by Elena Cabitza (Elena Cabitza)

Whether we're watching the thoughtful placement of layers upon layers of paint, or the careful carving of stone that results in a statue — there is something so satisfying about seeing an artist's work come to life. And there's nothing better than a time-lapse video to let you witness in one minute the magic that takes hours, or even days or months, to happen in real time.

"In Process" is our new CBC Arts series that let's us glimpse an artist's creation of work from start to finish in time-lapse. The first artist to open their studio to us is St. John's-based Elena Cabitza. Her delicate and melancholy portraits of young people are inspired by a mixture of elements from her teenage years (punk rock, fantasy movies, and Tim Burton) as well as the American countryside, folk art and pop culture. In the three below timelapse videos that Cabitza filmed of her process, we get to see her portraits come to life.

But before we get to the videos, we asked Cabitza some questions about her process:

Let's start at the beginning of your process. Where do you get your inspiration for a portrait?

The imagery I work with is a mixture of some of my favourite things from my teenage years: I'm severely influenced by punk rock, fantasy movies, of course Tim Burton, witches and occult practices. However through the years I started to become fascinated by other sceneries and stories, such as the American countryside, delta blues, folk art, but also some elements of pop culture. I try to reiterate my characters to make the world that I love so much everyday more defined: each portrait can start in a different way, it can be a hint from a song, something that comes out doodling, or an image I had in mind for days. Usually every character represents a metaphor for a behaviour or a feeling.

Artist Elena Cabitza (photo by Diego Pani)

How long does it take you to complete a painting, on average?

Since I love to work on very small surfaces (from 3 to 12 inches wide on average) it takes me about 3 hours for the smallest ones, and 5 for the bigger. I try to finish each piece in only one day or two, that's why I don't like doing full oil paintings!

In Process: 'Fortuna' by Elena Cabitza

5 years ago
Duration 0:52
Watch Elena Cabitza bring 'Fortuna' to life

Acrylic, oil, or watercolour - which is your favourite medium and why?

Well, first of all…I like all of them! I'd say that recently I'm finding myself using the same technique more often, which is to make an almost complete painting with acrylics and then the final layer with oils. It saves me a lot of time during the process (I'm very impatient while painting) and I can have that smooth finish that oil paint can give. Sometimes I like to do tiny portraits with watercolours or gouaches, especially when I just want to drop some strokes without having a full image in mind. These mediums are always full of surprises! I used to do a lot of illustrations with ink as well: I love the impact of black and white, and its easy reproducibility can satisfy all my DIY needs.

How much do you plan a portrait before you start painting? 

When I have something in mind I usually draw a quick sketch, and then I start searching for reference photos online: mostly backgrounds and portraits with the light that I'm interested in; after that, I make a quick composite on Photoshop trying to resemble the image that I want to recreate, editing lights and colours until I reach that level of accuracy that I need to start painting. I never spend too much time on the preparation, in fact the reference is almost never the face that I'm going to paint in the end, I just like to have the correct lighting to look at. But many times I don't even do the whole research process, I just go with the flow and paint, and look at some references while I'm in the middle of the portrait. Can't say if it's mostly due to artistic freedom or laziness.

In Process: 'Tears of Kwame' by Elena Cabitza

5 years ago
Duration 1:10
Lose yourself in this time-lapse video of St. John's-based artist Elena Cabitza's painting process

What is your favourite part of your artistic process?

There's a moment when the portrait is starting to look with the correct shape and shadows, pretty much halfway through the whole painting. That's my favorite part, when I'm happy about the work and it makes me want to keep going for hours. Least favourite part: priming. I hate surfaces' preparation, I just want to start painting right away!

How has your process evolved over the years?

It changed first of all within the media: I used to work only with ink, pencil and charcoal, and through the years I slowly started to experiment with painting supplies. The process has become more defined in the preparation, and I learned the importance of reference photos. Also, I'm far from a perfectionist, but a great step for me was understand that a bad-looking painting often needs just more work and not to be thrown away.

Which other artists inspire you?

I have an infinite list, but I'll try to keep it short: Mark Ryden, Dilka Bear, Gary Baseman, Ryan Heshka, Ana Bagayan, Fred Stonehouse. There are also a lot of emerging artists from around the world that I made contact with in this last year, like Anwita Citriya, Lydia Petunia, Natali Haugane (Universi Immaginaria), Sam Crow, and many more, that inspire me to paint and draw everyday.

In Process: 'Little Red' by Elena Cabitza

5 years ago
Duration 1:10
Watch Elena Cabitza create her portrait 'Little Red'

What do you hope people take away from your work?

I hope that they can have a little experience of the world I have in mind, and I wish it can make them curious about the edges between our senses and the unknown.

Check out the final paintings below:

'Little Red' by Elena Cabitza (Elena Cabitza)
Fortuna by Elena Cabitza (Elena Cabitza)
Tears of Kwame by Elena Cabitza (Elena Cabitza)

Watch CBC Arts: Exhibitionists online or on CBC Television. Tune in Friday nights at 11:30pm (12am NT) and Sundays at 3:30pm (4pm NT).


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?