Maven to Know: Koda Witsken

The Indy-based artist is brightening up the state one mural at a time.

At 26, Indianapolis-native Koda Witsken moved to Los Angeles to pursue what she believed was her dream job in sales. Instead, she found herself seated at a gray cubicle in a gray room in a gray building for 40 hours a week.

Fast forward to Witsken leaving her 9-5 job after a little more than a year in the City of Angels. As the granddaughter of a cartoonist and the daughter of an art history buff, she has artistic talent pulsing through her veins.

“Art was always a part of my life. I always considered myself an artist,” she says. “I realized that it didn’t just have to be a hobby. If it was the thing I loved most in my life, it could be my life. And then that really changed everything.”

After relocating back to her hometown, Witsken also put down some artistic roots—which today have grown into her own mural company, Hue Murals.

 “I saw a burgeoning art market in Indy that was friendlier to artists kick-starting their careers than the more competitive, regulated LA market,” Witsken says. “I had an arts network to immediately plug into. Indy is a huge reason I have been able to have success as an artist.”

Witsken has been doing murals in Indy professionally for about three years now. In that time, she’s had the opportunity to glide her paintbrush across canvases at The Yard in Fishers, the Zionsville Cultural Board, and various Rise’n Roll locations across Central Indiana, just to name a few. 

We grabbed some time on Witsken’s calendar to discuss the Indy art scene, what role artists play in their communities, and some fun and COVID-19 safe events we should watch out for this year.

Maven superpower: I really enjoy supporting other ladies and telling them how amazing they are and trying to push each other to greater heights.

What do you like most about being an artist?

I love creating, playing with colors, and bringing joy to others. There’s nothing as rewarding as seeing someone look at your work and smile.

How would you describe your artistic style?

My style is pretty unique. I would say it’s somewhere between impressionism and illustration art. There’s a lot of heavy black lines like you’d see in comic books, but I do a lot of loose colors and big swatches of color that aren’t necessarily photorealistic. Though you can still tell what the thing is.

What role do you think artists have in society and the community?

I think art plays an immeasurably important role in the community at large, for a couple of reasons. One, I think it allows us to have non-verbal, safe conversations, both in public and private. So, if an artist paints about a topic that they care about, it’s just a jumping off point for any viewer to start discussing that topic—and I think art makes that first step into that conversation a positive one. I think it’s so important to understand our neighbors and to grow as a community. And it’s also a beautification tool that’s pretty darn amazing.

Why do you specifically like murals, compared to smaller-sized pieces?

I love that so many people get to enjoy murals! Public art can solve problems and change people’s days for the better. It can stitch a community together or redefine it altogether. I love the positive power that murals are imbibed with. My brain also just works better on a large scale. I can truly see the ‘big picture’. But ask me to doodle something on a piece of paper, and I struggle a bit. My brain was wired for public art, I guess!

Do you have any fun projects coming up that we should look out for?

Yes! I am coordinating Indy Arts Fest, sponsored by Indy Auto Man Car Dealership. I will personally paint over 200 feet of murals, and six more muralists will be painting at the festival. There will also be dozens of artisan vendors: food; beer; a body painter; a chalk painter; live music all day; artists graffiti painting cars and car parts; a VIP area; and so much more.

What is your dream project?

I would love to do the Saks installations at Christmas in New York. That’s on my, ‘I’m going to manifest this’ list.

Indy is a huge reason I have been able to have success as an artist.
Where are some places or areas that you think Indy could use some more color or art or where it could be improved?

I think there are places like Anderson, Ind., or Speedway that are huge economic drivers for Indy that are full of not-quite-so-artistically updated buildings or monuments for people to enjoy. So Anderson is working very hard on getting art on their Main Street as of last year, which is great, and I think we should keep helping them. I mean, the highway ran through mainly low-income Black neighborhoods when it was built and split up those people culturally and physically. And I think it makes a lot of sense to reinvest artistically in those areas to give them something back.

 What’s something people might not know about you?

I’m a huge fantasy book nerd. Any time you can give me a magic themed novel, I am absolutely all in. The Wizard’s Ward is my favorite book, definitely a Gryffindor through and through. So, I don’t think most people would expect that to be something I love so much upon meeting me, but it is. And I love tattoos. Almost all the tattoos I have, there’s a dozen or so, are all about my friends and family.

If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?

My go-to answer is that if I could have a dinner party, I’d ask Robin Williams, Frida Kahlo, and Jesus to attend. I’m going to be laughing, crying or inspired no matter what!

What’s the best life advice you’ve ever received?

Besides ‘be kind,’ I’d say it is: There’s someone living your dream right now with half as much talent as you, simply because they started. Start now. Don’t give up. Don’t let them outwork you. Be brave. Learn along the way. And know that it’s okay if your dream changes over time.

Samantha Kupiainen is a regular Indy Maven contributor.

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