With laser–sharp focus and a meticulous flick of her wrist, Naomi Rosenblum (W '22) paints each and every whisker on her otter. This furry creature floats nonchalantly in a glistening body of water amid colorful ripples and highlights. Sipping a Mai Tai as if it's second nature, the otter seems to be taking in life's simple pleasures like a pro.
While this whimsical image of an inebriated mammal is sure to put a smile on just about anyone’s face, it holds a deeper meaning for Naomi. She says that almost 20 years ago, "[my father] saw a painting of an otter drinking a Mai Tai in a random gallery, and to this day I swear he’ll still talk about it all the time and how he wishes he had bought it,” she says. Naomi decided to paint him her own version of the significant piece for his birthday and considers the project one of her most memorable works. “I’m so excited to see his reaction. It’s really meaningful, and it's something I never thought I'd be able to do,” she gushes.
Family and art have always gone hand in hand for Naomi. She characterizes her paternal side as artistic, distinctly recalling an early memory of painting in collaboration with her dad. While Naomi only did a few simple strokes here and there, he made her sign the composition of a waterfall—deeming it her very first piece. “I just fell in love with it from that point forward,” she says.
Despite this early love for art, Naomi didn’t take many art classes or do much painting as she grew up—that is, until she traveled to Israel for a gap year. An informal activity she participated in abroad rekindled her passion for art, inspiring her to get back to being creative and to work toward becoming a full–time artist upon graduation.
While she enjoys using many mediums ranging from charcoal to acrylic paint, watercolor is Naomi’s favorite. “I really like the layering aspect which you wouldn’t have with any other medium,” she says. “It’s so much fun, and you can do so many different colorful pieces with it.”
Naomi gets her inspiration from this fascination with color, and also through looking to artists like Casey Baugh and aspects of daily life as mundane as street signs. Animals and people tend to be the subjects of Naomi’s work, which she describes as realistic—primarily because she appreciates when a viewer recognizes exactly who or what she has painted. While she’s still working on refining the broader thematic message her art sends, she hopes current viewers will feel inspired, excited, and happy when they look at her paintings. “I think that one day I’ll make artwork that has a deeper meaning, but for right now, just having people look at it . . . and knowing it has the ability to brighten up someone’s day, I think that that is the biggest gift,” she says.
To make money to support herself, Naomi does commissions primarily through her Instagram account. The rest of her free time goes toward building up her portfolio, meaning she works on independent projects and series that she hopes will gain her a place in a gallery upon graduation. One such example is a vibrantly energetic spray paint and acrylic series of iconic figureheads through the decades. “I’m very excited to continue working on that and see where that takes me,” she says about the project.
As a Wharton student looking to become a full–time artist, Naomi often feels like the lone creative in a sea of future investment bankers. “That has been really difficult to navigate, especially with all of the pressure and everyone interviewing for banks,” she says. “Trying to do my own thing is very terrifying.” Naomi believes her entrepreneurial management concentration will be helpful in terms of learning how to market herself and her work, or if she ever decides to open up a gallery; however, it won’t apply to her career in the same way it does for many of her peers. Turning down a lucrative profession to chase her dreams is risky, but it’s a decision Naomi felt she had to make. She encourages other students in similar positions to follow her lead. “Do what will make you happy, and then everything will fall into place and come with time."