Local Artist Shares Passion for Painting

Catherine Tirr’s affinity for art began in her early childhood. 

“I’ve been painting all my life,” says Catherine, a Topanga Canyon resident of 28 years. “My father was a painter. He used to give me scraps from his studio to play with as a child. I’ve always been dabbling in something visual.” 

Despite her father’s warnings about the challenges of pursuing art as a career, Catherine attended art school, eventually going on to attend Chelsea College of Art and Design in London to obtain a master’s degree in printmaking.

“He knew how hard it is, but I couldn’t help myself,” shares Catherine. 

Today, a celebrated painter herself, Catherine passes on her love of art as a teacher at Santa Monica City College and Pierce College, teaching classes in plein air drawing, acrylics, printmaking and studio watercolor. 

“I really enjoy the social aspect of it; a studio practice is quite isolating, so it’s nice balance. What I really enjoy about teaching is the enthusiasm of the students. All the classes I teach are in the adult programs, my students all really want to be there and are eager to learn—it’s not about credits,” says Catherine. “As a teacher, you always benefit from what the students bring. It’s a very happy environment, very conducive to relaxation and enjoyment. The plein air classes I find especially meditative.”

Much of Catherine’s own work as an artist is plein air painting centered around capturing the essence of the Malibu landscape and other picturesque areas across California, from Big Sur to Joshua Tree. 

“I think the seascapes, the landscapes and the desert-scapes are all fascinating,” says Catherine. “I love going to places that are exceptionally beautiful. In my work, I’m not representing, not rendering, but absorbing how I feel about my surroundings; that's why they're somewhat abstract.”

Some of Catherine’s favorite locations to paint in Malibu include Zuma Beach and Point Dume.

“Point Dume is one of my favorites. I must have made at least 25 paintings there,” says Catherine with a laugh. 

In addition to teaching college classes, Catherine also conducts private plein air workshops, bringing students along to paint on location. The most recent trip was to Big Sur and Carmel. 

“The workshops are something I find very fulfilling. We’re fully immersed in the place. I find it very rewarding to teach on location. There is something about this full immersion, that is like jumping into a whole new language,” Catherine says. 

She advises those interested in painting to sharpen their foundational skills, and above all, to be persistent. 

“I would advise taking some drawing classes first. I think it's important to have some drawing experience; it's too daunting otherwise,” Catherine explains. “If there's a will, there's a way. “It's not the skill of the man, it's the will of the man,” or woman. The great thing about the adult programs at Santa Monica College and at Pierce College is that the classes are totally free, so there’s no reason not to pursue that passion.” 

Catherine’s work is currently on view at Coast Gallery Big Sur and at Dacha in Manhattan Beach. 

Learn more about Catherine at or email for more information.

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