Sharon Harms

Still holding on, oil on linen

-Sharon, we'd love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today, both personally and as an artist.  

Since early childhood, it was evident that I had artistic abilities but it wasn't until I reached my sixties that I became a practicing artist. Growing up when I did, my family emphasized making a living over artistic expression. Art was not something you went to school for. So, at the age of sixteen, I accepted a full-time apprenticeship in a graphic design studio. I went on to become an award-winning graphic designer and art director in advertising, a career that lasted nearly five decades.

I all but forgot about making art until my mid-40s when I took an introductory college course in painting and discovered I had not lost my natural abilities to draw and paint. Career demands took priority for another 17 years. It wasn't until I finally retired in 2020 that I focused my energy on painting.

I come to my work as an artist heavily influenced by my design career where I honed my skills as a visual communicator and storyteller. The process of painting in a hyper-realistic style is not unlike that of the ad business where every detail of an image is crafted in a highly controlled way. That experience has been invaluable to my process where I use styling and lighting techniques I learned from the hundreds of photo shoots I directed.

The great difference, of course, is that instead of crafting narratives for brands and corporate entities, I now create stories that are both personal and universal.

Sharon Harms

Object, oil on linen

-How do you decide when a composition has successfully captured the narrative you want to express or convey the intended emotion?

I approach my work as intuitively as possible. I start building a still life around a singular object that intrigues me. Sometimes it's a piece that has been sitting around the studio for a while but suddenly moves to the forefront of my mind. The object 'tells me' that it's time to make it the subject of a painting. Not surprisingly, it always has something to do with what's happening in my life at the time.

There is a give and take between visual balance and symbolic content. Through the process of searching, looking, feeling, adding and subtracting, I build my still lifes looking for cohesiveness. I begin to feel that something is unfolding. A story is emerging but I don't always know exactly what it is right away.

I don't like compositions to look forced, so I intentionally come to the process with as few expectations as possible. As I work through it, I look for symbolism that unites the objects in some way. I reach a point when the combination of things triggers a reaction in me. There is a clarifying effect. Something about myself is being revealed.

Sharon Harms

Everyone thought Frank was a company man, oil on linen

-What role does symbolism play in your work, and how do you choose objects that have rich cultural or historical significance?

Some symbolism is collectively understood in our culture. But people also project their personal beliefs and experiences onto things, so symbolism can become quite nuanced. I select objects that have some significance to me first and foremost. I then ask, is there some generally accepted meaning? Is it something people have seen before? How have they interacted with it? Is it ubiquitous? Is it something that might evoke memories–personally or collectively?

If I get it right, the objects should draw the viewer in to investigate the painting more closely. I hope they think about how their personal feelings might fit into a greater consciousness.

Sharon Harms

Escape, oil on linen

-On your website we love that you have a breakdown of the specific objects and treasures that you depict in your paintings. Have you noticed any changes in the narratives of your paintings due to sharing more about the objects and their meanings?

Photographing the individual objects after I've finished a painting helps me further solidify my thoughts about the narrative that has developed. I started including the images of the isolated objects on my website as a way for people to consider what those things might mean to them and to add an element of discovery.

I try to steer the viewer but not tell them what they should think. Everyone's beliefs and life experiences are unique, which influences what they see. I can't avoid my own personal symbolism either. Hearing other peoples' reactions to the individual objects has pushed me to strive for narratives that might relate on a more universal level.

Sharon Harms

Anatomy lesson, oil on linen

-What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?

People can visit my website, to see new work, read my blog and inquire about purchasing a painting. I encourage people to sign up for emails, which I send out a few times a year announcing the latest paintings, exhibitions and news.


I create hyperrealistic paintings of still lifes composed of man-made objects placed together to form a narrative. I approach my work like an explorer looking for meaning in the physical world through the things people interact with. As artifacts of human activity, objects contain symbolism connected to history, culture, beliefs and subjective experience. When placed together, the objects take on new more complex meanings that allow me to examine a wide variety of emotions and ideas.

My artistic process begins with singling out an object I want to work with. One that intrigues me, connects with me or piques my curiosity. With the intention of finding a story, I then place other objects in context with the original object working to find visual balance and meaningful symbolic content. After many combinations and adjustments, I arrive at a composition that deepens, shifts or clarifies my perspective in some way. Finally, I depict the resulting scene with great detail. It is a slow process that allows my thoughts and feelings to surface with minimal outside influence. The stories that emerge are often unexpected even to me.

Ultimately, painting helps me make sense of the world. I hope my work is viewed as an invitation to find personal connections to the narratives and provides a mechanism for reflection.

Sharon Harms

The illusion of shame, oil on linen


Sharon Harms

I give up, oil on linen

Raised in rural western Michigan, Sharon Harms excelled at drawing and painting from an early age. She began working as a graphic designer in 1973 at the age of 16 and went on to have a long career as an award-winning advertising art director. After retiring in 2020, Sharon began pursuing painting full-time. Her work is heavily influenced by her time in the advertising business where she honed her skills as a visual communicator and storyteller. Although she has taken an introductory college painting class, Sharon is otherwise self-taught as an artist. Her paintings have been selected by juries in national and international competitions and exhibitions including the FiKVA Award for Painters in Belgium, Museum of Contemporary Art in Nashville, Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati and American Women's Artist Association. Her work has also been featured in leading art publications including Artist Magazine, Create! and Studio Visit Magazine and is in private collections in several states. Sharon currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee.