Improvisation Is Chicago Artist Colt Seager’s Primary Tool


Am artist in front of a table and three paintings.

Artist Colt Seager relies on spontaneity when creating his paintings and sculptures.

Painter and sculptor Colt Seager likens his artistic process to jazz music—a medium where spontaneity and instinct reign above all else. “I don’t do much preplanning,” he says of his abstract pieces. “I have a general sense of the direction that I want to go, but it tends to be a pretty fluid process.”

When it comes to his paintings, Seager starts by building his canvases from scratch. After gluing, bracing and stretching, he’ll sometimes stain the surface brown for an earthier undertone and add cotton string to create a collage base. Then the painting begins. “I take colors pretty spontaneously, grabbing tubes of paint, squeezing them in a bowl and loosely mixing them together,” he says. “When I apply the color, I just put it in areas that make sense in the moment and use my intuition to get the right tone, right shade—kind of letting colors blend on the edges.”

Paint mixing bowls on a table.

Seager goes with his gut when he's choosing color for his paintings, mixing together what feels right in the moment.

Seager's paintings have a collage-like feel to them. In his studio hangs (top, left to right) "Blue Garden," "Small Palette #1," "Small Palette #2," "Small Palette #3," "Ten Circles" and (bottom, left to right) "Moongaze," "Torn No. 4, and "Torn Circles (Eight)."

A collection of wood-and-metal sculptures in an artist's studio.

The artist uses found materials, such as salvaged wood and concrete, for his sculptures.

A hanging painting.

"Typically the most central part of my process is kind of giving the painting time to breathe," says Seager.

Often, Seager then scrapes sections out with a palette knife to layer colors or create raw texture. “I think of it like jazz because it’s got moments where I have these little solos where I’m pushing out far to the edge and then I bring it back into the center,” he says. “A lot of it is just listening to the work and letting it lead me.”

This instinctual experimentation also drives Seager’s sculptures, which are crafted from found materials such as salvaged wood beams or pieces of concrete. “I collect stuff that I’m interested in that I think is inherently beautiful,” he says. “I start tinkering in the studio, balancing objects on each other and making sculptures. They’re almost like puzzles. They have that same spirit behind them that my paintings do—they’re very intuitive, but they’re all about texture, balance and materiality.”

Inherent in each of Seager’s works is his spirituality—in particular the Celtic notion of the “thin places” that exist between heaven and earth often found in nature. “Think of a sunset in the mountains or being by a river or on the beach—these really awe-inspiring moments where you get glimpses of the divine,” he explains. “I think of art as that in a lot of ways. It’s a thin place while I’m actually creating and working, but my goal is for other people to feel that thin place, where they are given a moment to pause and ask life the question: ‘Why are we here?’ ”