Caroline Self doesn’t seem like an artist who is inspired by the rawness and passion of graffiti or who addresses the grittiness and negativity of life head-on.

That’s because you have to look below the surface; you have to dig for it. Then you will find it, a feeling of grittiness inside abstract and expressionistic artwork, wrung through the lens of positivity. Or, as Self tells me, "Life is sometimes a hard journey and we need a little help now and then.”

Well, that’s definitely one way to put it.

Self is the type of artist with a deep thought process, a vivid artistic vision and color palette, and passion that exudes off the edges of the canvas. Even though she has been painting for much of her life, she didn’t commit to it as a career until she was older.

“I didn’t start taking art classes until I was 26,” she says. “I’ve always painted — furniture, murals — but I didn’t think of (art) as a career option because it wasn’t really promoted that way. I finally allowed myself to believe that I could do it, but my first major in college was political science,” she says with a laugh.

Self knew she wanted to keep up her art education, so she took art classes in every state where she's lived, including classes at Charleston’s own Gibbes Museum. Ultimately, an opportunity in Athens, Georgia, where Self earned the job as art education program specialist at The Lyndon House Arts Center, boosted her career and Self was able to create art and teach children. Teaching children inspired and affected her in ways that still resonate. From the "spontaneity and freedom” that children exude to the messiness that comes as part of the creative process, Self enjoys it all.

“Children are completely free,” she says. “I’m always more inspired by them than they know. And art gives kids an outlet these days that is very important. And I believe it makes for a happier, healthier community when art becomes a primary focus.”

Which made Self a near-perfect fit to be North Charleston’s artist-in-residence, a position that allows her to visit schools and work with children in North Charleston, among other activities.

“North Charleston is so lucky to have the cultural arts program as well as all of the different programs they have for children,” Self says. “And I’m lucky to be a part of it all.”

But with all the positivity that Self gives off, you might miss some of the grittiness that lies beneath the surface in her paintings. But that’s how Self intends it to be: hidden positive messages that you can see only if you start to strip away the negative noise.

“(My paintings) usually have hidden meanings inside them,” Self says. "I usually write positive quotes or words or poems that are initially part of the painting. Sometimes you will see them, sometimes you won’t. But it’s my little way of sending out a positive message to the world."

And those messages are catching on.

Reach Scott Elingburg at

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