MINNETONKA — Artist Sonja Hutchinson’s vocations — of the sciences, of business — have happily fed her avocations in the arts throughout her life.
Hutchinson is a watercolor instructor at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts. She grew up in Atwater, where her mother used to say she colored her way through grade school.
She moved to the Twin Cities in 1973 and studied at the University of Minnesota. There, she worked in an interactive computer science lab.
“The Computer Sciences and the Art Department had written some very rudimentary code that would allow students to describe visual subjects using punchcards,” she said. “So I spent hours after work, over lunch working in this fancy lab sponsored by NASA, experimenting with new technology, making art.”
One of her works traveled in a show curated by a Smithsonian Institute employee. Andy Warhol was an invited guest to the show.
She took art classes alongside her studies in the sciences. For Hutchinson, art and science have always been married.
“I was a good student,” she said. “But when I got home every night, every single day, we had that art class … and every single night I would do that homework first and everything else fell to the wayside. So, it’s been a part of my DNA.”
She wasn’t yet in on the watercolor scene. That would come in 2001 when she was invited to a watercolor class at the Linden Hills Community Center.
“I just loved it. It was like: Where have you been? Where have you been?” she said of watercolor.
Work life interfered, but she was hungry to learn more. In a class at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts, a friend introduced her to the Minnesota Watercolor Society. (Hutchinson is now president of the society.)
“My whole world cracked open,” she said. “Because (I realized) there’s a whole community of artists doing this?”
Soon she was back in her student mode: volunteering, squeezing in classes where she could and spending her only vacation time on watercolor.
She now paints in her home studio. If she’s concentrated in a piece and loses track of time, it isn’t odd for her husband to gently remind her in the wee hours to get some rest.
The water moves the paint in a delicate, fluid manner, she said. Because of that, the artist has to be fragile. They have to plan how they’re going to control their painting.
“That’s where the analytical side comes in,” she said. “Being able to plan and to anticipate and visualize before you just throw the paint on paper is important.”
Hutchinson frequently works in the conceptual. Sometimes when she sits down to paint, she clears her mind and creates gestures on the paper until it augments into meaning.
As the 2016 election season ended, she stitched her disappointment into a series. One is called “Tipping Point,” a painting with blues and oranges composing unease among swaths of white. To the mind’s eye, it could appear as waves crashing down, or as a cliff’s edge.
“In my mind, it’s a painting about how much unrest there was,” Hutchinson said, “and how it felt like we as a country, and as a democracy, were going over the edge. We had reached this tipping point.”
Transitioning to teaching was natural after she retired in 2014, she said. She shares her passion for the art with her students. In her classes, she tries to get her students get into the zone of creating.
“It’s not really about me,” she said. “It’s the experience of making it and interpreting the world. It’s not an escape. It’s becoming.”