Cara Bevan may have been made for the kind of ultra-detailed, nature-based, animal-centric artwork that she creates.
Raised on a farm that doubles as a sanctuary for rescued animals, Bevan comes from a long line of creatives. She hails from a line of builders and tinkerers, people who are connected to the land and to the richness of the natural world. Bevan’s art, with its intricate details of animal life, reflects her intense concentration and patience, as well as the deep bond she feels with birds, insects, reptiles, mammals — and even imaginary creatures.
Over the years, her career as a visual artist has morphed and twisted a little bit, like some of her own creations, shifting her focus from animal paintings to slightly more fanciful sculptures that use gourds as part of their substructure.
When I spoke to her during the extended recommended social-distancing period of the spring, Bevan was at home, working as she normally does, in a kind of solitude, with the company of her pets.
“I was playing with my bird. I have a parrot,” she says. She has a cat, too.
Oh, and there are llamas, deer, chickens, another six or eight cats, emus, a horse, and numerous other creatures.
Separating herself from the rest of the world didn’t present much of a challenge for Bevan.
“I’ve been preparing for this my whole life,” she says. “I’m a hermit.”
Bevan describes herself as having undiagnosed OCD, embracing the ability to remain focused on meticulous details for long stretches. And, after all, nature is nothing if not filled with tiny details: the way the sunlight catches each individual hair on a rabbit’s coat, or the intricate way that the scales of a reptile overlap and fit together; the rippling tracery of a bird’s feathers.
Her first professional works as an artist were the richly colored acrylic animal portraits that she started her career with: paintings of cats, dogs, chickens, turtles, spiders, fish, and other animals. Bevan used an almost photo-realist approach, capturing the expressions of the animals, the intent look in their eyes, the funny expression of a jowly old dog, the keen attention of an animal on the hunt, and the way the light filtered down from above and played on the fish underwater.
The backgrounds swirl with their own patterned intricacies, individually rendered blades of grass, a ripple of clouds, or the menacing churn of ocean water in motion.
In recent years Bevan has shifted her intense focus on the creation of sculptures using a mix of gourds and an epoxy-based sculpting medium that still allows her to render the surfaces of her creations with the exquisite touch of her paint brush.
“My favorite part is the details — the tedious, tedious details,” she says.
Her attention to detail extends beyond the physical finished products, too. When I asked her about how long she might spend on a particular project, she didn’t have a lot of guesswork and speculation to do.
“I have a notebook where I record starting and stopping times when I work,” she says. “At the end, I calculate and say ‘OK, this sculpture took this amount of time.’”
Some smaller pieces might take three or four hours, other larger pieces take 20 to 30 hours, and there are elaborate projects that take 70 hours or more.
Bevan’s journey as an artist was sped along by teachers who nurtured her eccentric approach to cobbling together homemade creations out of foil, paper, and whatever else was on hand.
“I was the kind of kid that glued and taped everything together,” she says. “I was doing strange, inventive things. My middle school art teachers really encouraged that.”
Her grandmother introduced Bevan to the world of gourds with their deep history, having been used as carrying vessels, material for cooking utensils, musical instruments, and ritual objects for millennia by people in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and elsewhere.
Now that gourds have become a central part of her work as a sculptor, Bevan is plugged into a network of gourd enthusiasts, obsessives, hobbyists, craftspeople, farmers, and artisans. They swap information about different gourd varieties and techniques. Bevan has a stash of different dried gourds — what she calls her “gourd hoard.”
One of the virtues of art is that it helps humankind expand our sympathies of other, different people, things, and places. As the creator of art, Bevan says she’s benefited from the almost meditative focus that the work requires of her.
“I still do have that appreciation of animals,” she says. “The art has actually helped me appreciate it more. Being around animals started the fire. But sitting down and focusing, learning how to draw the particular animal, it’s made me even more observant.”
To see more of Cara Bevan’s art, visit carabevan.com.