If you ever stopped for lunch in Plaza-Midwood, or gone drinking with friends in NoDa you probably noticed her. A light, petite young woman with peculiar horn-rimmed glasses. Quietly observing her surroundings, she quickly begins scribbling every detail into the small black notebook clutched in her hand.
For over three years, local artist Hannah Barnhardt has consistently sketched Charlotte’s residents and urban life. Working with impressive diligence, she has hand drawn almost every neighborhood and aspect of the diverse city. From everyday events and parties, to pivotal marches and protests. Barnhardt’s report sketches have gained her some local buzz. Over 600 followers of her @friendlymisanthrope Instagram page like her sketches. She recently displayed her drawing; “Reserved Harlot,” at Goodyear Arts’ ‘Apple Pie’ showcase, and spoke at Levine Museum of the New South’s ‘Artivism’ panel.
Originally from Statesville, 36-year-old Barnhardt has lived in Charlotte since 1998. She first came to study anthropology and women’s studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. However; financial reasons forced her to withdraw. Upon returning to school in 2014, she switched majors, and would later earn her Bachelors of Fine Arts in Digital Media in December 2016.
I spoke with her one Saturday at NoDa Company Store, where framed copies of her sketches are available for sale throughout April. As visitors browsed the NoDa Eclectic Arts Market outside, we discussed the future of her career, Charlotte’s art scene and the city itself.
If you want to view Barnhardt’s sketches and other projects, or make a donation, visit; https://www.hannahbarnhardt.com/
Charlotte Stories: How have people have been receptive to your artwork, and sketches and public pieces that’s been released?
The sketching people respond to a lot and that’s the thing I get the most exposure of. People always respond to my work in strong ways, because my other work tends to be very provocative — I do a lot of things that are sexual, or a lot of things that are socially provocative. But yeah, my sketch work, people respond really positively. I like that. It’s something that it’s very tangibly interactive, and it’s something that keeps me very embedded in the city, in the community. People respond to it a lot online which is nice. I definitely get a lot more views. Not that I care about that stuff. You know pure analytically. Like on my Instagram, I get a lot of traffic on my sketch work as opposed to my other work that I do, but then also in the real world people notice what I’m doing. Or people will recognize the work and be like — oh I’ve seen you on Instagram — so that I meet a lot of people through it. So it’s a very social thing and I like that a lot even though I’m very mad at the city.
So your sketching has increased your network and increased your visibility?
Yeah definitely – I’m a very outgoing person, and I don’t find it hard to network at all especially. I’ve said all the time — going back to school as an adult, and trying to do this as a fully seasoned adult who has a lot of work experience behind me, that helped a lot. When I approach a lot of these people they’re my peers. I’m not having to approach them like a twenty two year old college graduate, so that helps a lot. But definitely – the sketching — I did a little class where I taught the reporter sketching — and I had a whole slide on how it was a very powerful tool for self-development. It definitely helped me become more confident in the public space. I say that all the time, especially as a woman, and I was pretty confident moving around by myself anyway, but the past year, the past two years, I go out on Friday, Saturday night by myself – pull out all of my stuff — I look everybody right in the eye, and I have a ton of confidence and I know it’s from this because I have a purpose. I’m like — I don’t care about any of you dweebs I came here to draw! — And you’d be surprised how people pick up on that, and their like oh you must be an artist! So it becomes this thing, and I like that. There are some places, especially in Plaza-Midwood, a lot of the places they recognize me and they know my work, and they always tell me how much they appreciate it, and I’m really, really like, that is great right. And no money at all exchanges hands which is — I mean, I really wish I could be supported in some way, but what I’m saying is, that whole model is my ideal situation. If I was just getting paid a stipend, and I went around and got paid to do that, that would be awesome.
On your sketching, can you tell me how did you developed the idea to start doing sketches? What was your purpose in doing that?
So, the reason it started out was, I’m really, really hyperactive, so before I went back to school it’s like I always had to be doing something. And then I went back to school, I realized Oh, I’m and artist. It was like I always have to be making art. And when I was in school, you take these basic classes that are like the basic things you need to know — 2D design, figure drawing, things like that. And when I was in figure drawing I really liked it. And I had never had art when I was younger. I’d never been encouraged by my parents or anything like that. So I was like, ‘Oh Man! It’s really fun to draw people!’ And a lot of people discover this when they get into figure drawing specifically. There’s something about it — and I can get into what that something is — but I just really enjoyed it. … I spent so much time on school work, and on learning because — first of all it was fun, and I’m going to make up for lost time. And when you spend six hours a day drawing, you improve exponentially. And so I didn’t just want to draw in class, I wanted to draw all the time, so I got these little tiny notebooks I could fit in my purse. That was the thing, whenever I wasn’t in the studio. I was like, I want to be in the fucking studio, I don’t want to be here right now! And usually the only time I was outside of the studio was to go get food, or go to these other art events. And so, I’m there at these other art event, and I don’t want to be there, I’d rather be at the studio, so I was like how can I still be working? Oh I can draw everybody! So really it was like a coping mechanism to keep me in the moment, and keep me from leaving. … And then I realized I’m doing this every day, every other day — this is a form of documenting, and so I thought I should treat it as a serious thing, and start doing it all the time.
Can you tell me a little about the process of sketching? Like, how did you decide to go somewhere? How long have you been doing it?
So, I started in 2014, I’ve been doing it for that long. I would say the past year, year and a half, I’ve increased the frequency and I started treated it like this is a very serious journalistic endeavor. And that is what I kind of started to see it as. The way I describe it is there is a lot of the time I don’t feel good and I don’t necessarily want to go to an event, but I will because I want to record it. My health is really bad, and I just had these different accessibility issues. So that definitely affects where I go. … There’s been a lot of music venues that have been showing interest in my sketches, and I wanted to contact these people to maybe talk to them about working out something so I can actually come to their venues. … These people are always liking my sketches, but I don’t ever come to their venues, because it’s just difficult for me to get there. One thing I did want to say. In the past year I noticed this city has grown so much it is basically impossible, almost impossible, for me to continue doing what I’m doing. I can’t afford to park at all these places, and I’m having to drive all over the place. A lot of places that used to be free for me to park, now it’s like pay parking. A lot of places like this area, it’s almost impossible to find a parking space when it’s busy. So there are a lot of times I don’t sketch in NoDa a lot, it’s because I can’t find a parking space here on a Friday, or Saturday night. … It just infuriates me. Like, I grew up here, coming here in the nineties when I was in high school, and I would still like to be able to like go to these businesses and do this, and so it really sucks. There are places that are very accessible, and I frequent those places over and over. I try not to get stuck in a rut with places, but I can’t help it that there are some places that they’re just so good, and they’re always lots of people there. Amelie’s is one of those places. I try not to go there all the time, but it’s really, really difficult not to end up there almost every night … It’s just a very accessible place, and there’s always a large variety of people there. And they’re all sitting around talking to each other, and it just makes for really good drawing. So there are a lot of places in Plaza-Midwood, because Plaza-Midwood at the moment is still accessible to me … But places like Common Market, places like Petra’s. I go to the Diamond all the time. There’s a lot of businesses in the Plaza-Midwood area. That’s just a walkable area. It’s not that I think that area is more important than any other area in Charlotte, but I have spent a lot of time there. I used to go there when I was in high school, and I would hang out there when I was skipping class — so it does have that little bit of residence I’m not going to lie … But really that area is more accessible to me. …
… So in terms of important things, being able to capture important things for me, what that means is that when I’m out there are a million things happening around me at any time. I can take my little sketch book, and I can draw anybody, and I can leave out anybody, and who I’m focusing on that’s important. I tend to focus on – I think people would probably notice – if I’m drawing people who maybe seem to be of an upper class, there almost always in a leisure activity. They’re usually sitting around, drinking or eating, and their eyes are closed. And it’s like a political statement that people are asleep. But then when I focus on families… Charlotte is a really diverse city, and I like to record the non-white families in Charlotte. Not saying that I don’t ever draw white families, I do draw white families, but I see it as so much of are visual culture has been so white centric. We’ve seen so much of the white family, the white nuclear family, but there’s a lot of other models of families. And I don’t like kids or anything like that, and I don’t prefer drawing kids, but when I see a family – especially if it’s a black family or a brown family – a non-white family, I feel a duty to make a little portrait of them. Most of them never see it, but I really like recording that. This is what families look like in Charlotte.
When you do make sketches, how do you decide how to draw them? What kind of emotions come up when you draw a sketch? What kind of certain things pop up when you decide to sketch somebody?
For the most part, it’s this really delicate thing. It’s pretty obvious there is a lot of things I don’t like about people, but I have deep respect for, or I want to be respectful of people. And I always want people to be uplifted by the work. There’s been very, very, very few times where I’ve drawn something and maybe the way I drew the person wasn’t very flattering and where I wouldn’t worry about that, and those were police officers. That’s the only time I could think of that. So when I draw somebody, I don’t ever want that person to look at it and feel ashamed, or to feel bad about themselves. … It’s always this really delicate thing because my style is really cartoonish, and people don’t always react well to caricature. … Some people don’t even react well to having their image drawn at all, because people are really sensitive about their appearance. I feel I have a pretty good gauge of reading people, and a lot of time I can tell when someone can tell when I’m drawing them, and they don’t want to be drawn. So I’ll move on. I’m not there to make fun of people. I’m there, to like, record the scene.
Do you mind me asking what your plans for your career are, and what are your plans for your future?
Oh my God! Right now I feel really bitter about the whole thing. In all honesty like my main goals right now are; I would like to be able to see a doctor, and I would just like to be able to make art every day. …
…. And so like the problem is we have this tiny house …but I have like maxed it out and basically tuned it into my studio, and that’s been the case for forever since before I went back to school. … There’s literally just artwork and materials for artwork everywhere. In the kitchen for example. The entire dining room table, it’s full of my printmaking and illustrative stuff right now …
…So it’s like, I am super frustrated, because I’m expected as an artist to be able to participate in the art scene, and to do all these shows and stuff, but I have nothing to work with, and where not even addressing the fact that I don’t have the money right, just talking about the fact that I don’t have the space to do this shit, and when I was in school I had a studio. Even having just a little 5ft by 8ft space, it makes a world of difference. … I spent all my time when I was in school in my studio, and I just blew that place up with stuff, and I tried everything and I experimented. So yeah, at this point I would like to just have this space to be able to work every day. And I don’t know, I used to have loftier goals, but at this point that’s all I’m aiming for.
Me personally, I don’t – I’m still participating – I go to a lot of shows and I know a lot of artist and I go see their work, I talk to them about their work. I’m also showing things still at the moment, so I’m still pursuing that, but I’m very quickly losing interest in that part of it … because that part is so political, and it has so little to do with the actual merit of the art — the way I would best describe it to other people trying to get into it is that you really have to make money. You have to have money to participate in that, so if you don’t have money it’s like what are you doing? And I really feel like a lot of us who don’t have money, it’s like that whole thing where you put things on credit so you can keep up with the Jones’ — I can’t afford to do that. And for what? Why? To get in a particular museum? To get in a particular gallery for a month and then what? You didn’t make any money off of it. As far as like the clout it gives to your career, it’s like I really feel that career is not accessible to me because I don’t have money.
In your opinion how has the Charlotte art scene been since you’ve become a professional artist?
I’m not a professional artist!
You’re kind of a professional artist.
In your opinion how have people in Charlotte accepted or have been receptive to the arts scene?
Okay. How do I say this? This will probably be really offensive and people won’t like me anymore. People say that the art scene is growing in Charlotte and, okay, I have to say, there are people, for example there is a theater right over here (points to Neighborhood Theater) that’s been here forever, and it’s a great staple of the community. Like, there is an arts scene that exists and has existed for forever; people in theater, people in visual arts, like a whole community of really spectacular artists and they’ve been doing their thing for forever. And not knocking them – there’s also great artist that move here all the time, from other places. There’s nothing wrong from being from another place and moving here — But it seems like there’s been this surge in the past year or two of art activity, and then people will say Oh it means the arts are coming up. I don’t think it’s that at all. I think that the middle class is gaining again, and people are gaining discretionary funds, and they have more time on their hands and their bored and they need things to do. And I think art is being treated like another commodity. It’s like craft beer —Not knocking craft beer you know! — But the craft beer phenomena, a lot of that is just people need something to do. … But there are people who will get involved with that just because it’s the thing to do and that’s a bubble that will burst. It’s starting to happen in other places. It’s probably going to happen here too. But I feel like all those things; it’s trends, it’s bubbles. Like people who, I hate to say, I always say offensive things like rich people and wealthy people! But I guess people who have discretionary funds, people who have more money, it’s like, oh its thing to do now. … I hope that I’m proven wrong – I hope that I’m not right, but I feel it’s just a trending thing now, it’s just a thing to do.
Another thing, I actually wanted to get into more of your recent work. It seems to be more social activist art work. Can you tell me exactly what influences you to do this kind of artwork?
When I was in school there was always this thing about … You have to find your style, you have to find your style! And I always kind of found that a really pointless thing, because at this point in time – there’s nothing new under the sun. I think it’s very hard to have your own individual style. Everything I’m doing, the way I have my hair, it may seem unique and it’s so not — my grandma did her hair like this in the 30’s, and other people dress like this and whatever. So when people ask me what’s your style, or sometimes people will say with my sketches ‘Oh, I really like your style!’ But like really this is not my style. However; I do have a tone. If you look at my work you can see some common themes, and I hope that people can see for example in my figurative work, it’s pretty obvious I’m a feminist. I’m a body positive feminist — I don’t worship the thin white female figure, I just don’t. So I don’t show it prominently the way a lot of other people do. Just constantly bowed to the hour glass young female figure. And whenever they’re like. ‘Okay. I’m going to do an illustration of a beautiful women.’ Every time it’s a fucking white woman. I don’t do that. … So I think that I’m a really, I used to use the word liberal, but now that’s a bad word, because liberals can be such assholes. And I don’t like using the word radical, because I now know so many truly radical people who are much more radical than me. But definitely my politics are much more towards the radical side, and I am very, very anti-capitalist. And being in a place like Charlotte, which is so commerce driven. That effects how I viewed the world.
With my sketches, I want to be respectful. I want people to be uplifted by how I depicted them. But at the same time, the way I’m arranging these figures – I am making statements about the socio-economic reality, and I’m saying it sucks.
You seem to be in Charlotte for a long period of your life. Can you tell me just from your sketches, and your artwork how has Charlotte changed over the years to how it is now?
Oh man! See this is how I end up pissing people off! And people won’t like me. So I was just talking to a friend of mine about this. Number one there a lot of things, and there are some things that have been positive, so I will say one negative thing. …I would say 20 years ago, in the South Charlotte area, that’s where people who had a lot of money lived right. And the way I thought about it was Man I fucking hated going down there. I hated going to South Park Mall. I felt that those people were richer than me, … It feels like South Park Mall expanded to all over Charlotte – I’m not going to blame it on South Park, but what I’m saying is the demographic has changed, and it’s people who have more money. … There has been all these editorials, think pieces, lots of articles on; the middle class is disappearing, the middle class is disappearing. And I was brought up in a very poor family where we thought of ourselves as middle class, but we were so not middle class, and I think a lot of people were like that. But I have noticed … it seems here in Charlotte the middle class is flourishing. When I go out and draw there are ton of — especially young people — that have plenty of leisure time, and they have plenty of money, because their out brunching and drinking with their friends all the time. … Since I’ve been in Charlotte it’s definitely been a place that there is not many of us who are from here. Like it’s transitory city, and other people move here. But it has grown exponentially in the past year. And I’ve read some stuff about that, but I have also experienced it. … It’s really difficult. And ultimately some of it’s like, is it a problem with the city? Or maybe I don’t belong in a city this size — It’s growing, and it might just be that it’s too big for me, … I think when you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of money, it’s difficult to exist in this city. … And I think that a lot of people who have more, they don’t understand when people like me say that, and they also get mad. It’s like — I’m not saying anything’s wrong with you — I’m saying there’s like a different experience. If you don’t have the house around here in walking distance, if you don’t have the leisure money, and the leisure time to be able to walk around and enjoy this beautiful setting it doesn’t seem so beautiful.
Kind of going off of that, the last couple of years, especially with the environment of the country, Charlotte’s been getting more active. We’ve seen more protest, more marches. In your opinion how has the activist scene been in Charlotte? How have people reacted to being more socially aware?
There’s been a lot of shootings that have happened prior to last September. Even around here. But I think that when Keith Lamont Scott was murdered, that really galvanized a lot of people, and that started everything back in September. I have a lot of friends who are activist and organizers and I try to support them whenever I can. So I was making banners for them back when the protests were happening — But yeah, it’s definitely like people are waking up, but it’s so difficult, because the thing is, the people who most need to organize are the most vulnerable… Most of them are living in poverty. There are people who are organizers who are literally homeless. And people are helping care for them, and trying to help them get on their feet, because these are people who are very vulnerable, and have been marginalized. Some are very young people who were kicked out of their homes by their parents and have no financial satiability. And there’s a lot of queer and Trans people who, they want jobs, they want to work, but their discriminated against and they can’t get work, and they’re super vulnerable. …
… I went to go see a friend of mine the other day, and this is a person who identifies with they, them, they’re, as pronouns. But this is someone who’s an organizer. Really smart, hard working. Super, super smart. Politically savvy person. And they work with several organizations. They did things like organize the protests, and lead some of the marches, did chants with the bullhorn — obviously they clash with the police — And this person is being charged with a felony — inciting a riot. Which carries a prison sentence of a few years, and it’s very serious. And this is a really smart young person who does not deserve to be in prison. … And there are other people who are also being harassed. They are still dealing with charges. Every time they go to court they’re court date keeps getting pushed back. … It’s so sad. And they keep asking, they’re especially asking white people, and the people who have money; could you please help? And over and over it’s just crickets.
How would you like your artwork to be thought of by people in Charlotte, or received?
I know this is like a lofty thing. For one, I fully recognize art is so subjective, and there are millions of billions of people in the world and you can’t please everybody. So no matter what I intend, or how lofty I try to be with my goals, or how clear you try to be with a message. Sometimes it doesn’t always come through. There’s always room for misinterpretation, especially when it comes to art, and sometimes that can be really great. … I’m always all over the place in terms of what I’m trying to say at the moment. It’s always about I have this idea, and I have to get it out — I would say consistently the thing that I like is no matter how much you end up thinking, if you see something that I made and it sparks a thought, it sparks an idea, it made you see something a different way. I know that’s a fucking cliche thing to say. It’s a cliché thing for an artist to say that, I just want to make you think! But really, it doesn’t even have to be that you’re happy about it. I like provoking people — poking people, making people go like Hey! … Even if it made you angry. I like trying the challenge of making things that are going to — especially in a world like this — that’s going to capture people’s attention, and then maybe actually make them think about something a different way, cause that’s really difficult. People have their bubbles, and it’s very difficult to pull them out … Most of the time that’s what I’m trying to do. I don’t know if I’m always successful at it you know.