By Gina Malone
A magical childhood, a move to Asheville, motherhood, a penchant for finding art everywhere and a few real-life fairy godmothers led Casi Fordham to where she is today: a watercolor artist who shares her gift with others. She lived in Germany until she was six years old, traveling all over Western Europe. “My mother stayed home and made our world so cozy,” she says, “telling us Brothers Grimm fairy tales and baking. She was pretty creative too. She loved to cross-stitch, making a lot of our Christmas ornaments. Our toys were mostly wooden and handmade locally, and the books she read to us had hand-drawn illustrations.” Fordham attended German pre-school and although she spoke only English was able to communicate with teachers and her fellow students. “I suppose much of communication is non-verbal,” she says. “I think what inspired me in those early years is what still inspires me now. My world has always felt like a storybook. I don’t know how to explain it; it’s just how I think.”
When she moved to Asheville more than 20 years ago, Fordham brought with her the creativity she had always fostered, particularly a love of color and of stories. She worked at Eclipse Salon for more than 14 years, enjoying a workplace that encouraged individuality. “It was a wonderful space for me to grow inside and out while listening and connecting with the beauty and pain of what it means to be human,” she says. “I loved my clients.”
An invitation to an art therapy night class seven years ago from one of those clients opened doors for her in ways she did not expect. “I thought it was just an art class,” Fordham says, “but when I got there I realized it was much deeper. The workshop was designed to inspire us to draw as we journaled, and journal as we drew. It was basically a way to get one’s feelings out.” The watercolor pencils she used introduced her to the watercolor medium. “I honestly felt high at the class,” she says. “It felt like falling in love, like when you have an amazing first date and you don’t question the connection because you feel it so deeply.”
From that moment, she began painting every day, creating hand-painted Christmas cards for friends. By spring, she was selling cards on her own and posting them on Facebook. Rebecca Hecht, who owned Lexington Corner Market at the time asked if she could sell them in her store.
“Sometimes it just takes one person believing in you to make all the difference,” Fordham says.
Encouraged, she kept painting. “Watercolor isn’t the easiest to learn, but I was determined,” she says. “Within a year, I was able to paint bigger and looser.” Her first show was held at Eclipse five years ago when her son Wilder was nine months old. “So much of my first work was inspired by those early days as a mother,” she says. “I was so inspired by this new love. I wanted his whole world to be just as magical as mine.” Painting also helped her to work through postpartum anxiety. “I was thankful then as I am now to have a creative way to get out of my head,” she says.
Realizing how therapeutic art can be and needing a way to connect during the pandemic, she began holding small watercolor classes at home, eventually hosting classes at Catawba Brewing at the suggestion of then-owner Jetta Pyatt.
During the fall of 2022, Kristen Edge reached out and invited her to teach at ArtPlay in the River Arts District. “Watercolor painting can be intimidating, but Casi always puts people at ease, guiding them each step of the way and providing lots of demos throughout,” says Edge. “Her landscape and botanical classes at ArtPlay always sell out and people come back to keep learning with her. It’s always amazing to see the beautiful pieces people end up creating in her classes.” Upcoming ArtPlay classes with Fordham include Blue Ridge Mountains in Watercolor on Sunday, February 25, 3–6 p.m., and Water Botanicals with Fresh Flowers on April 6.
“ArtPlay is a beautiful space fostering art education and creativity,” Fordham says. “I love teaching. I love introducing a new skill to someone, but, even more, I love helping people get out of their heads.”
Inspired by the natural world around her, Fordham chooses subjects seasonally and embraces the storybook essence that has always been with her. “In winter, I want to paint snowscapes, and in summer I want to paint whatever is blooming,” she says. “I love painting birds and woodland creatures. When baby bunnies start to appear every spring, of course, I have to paint them. Little snails I see on a hike. Mushrooms everywhere. I’m obsessed!” And, she adds, having a young son who shares that love of nature and, with her, finds art everywhere only heightens her awareness.
“I’ve always believed watercolor is how we see in our dreams,” Fordham says. “I can spend all day hiking, dream at night, then wake up and paint. So maybe my work could be described as fantastically realistic.”
To learn more about upcoming classes at ArtPlay, visit ArtPlay-Studio.com. Find Casi Fordham’s work at her studio Casi Gail Art (Wedge Studios, 129 Roberts Street, Studio 2B7) and at Woolworth in downtown Asheville. Learn more at CasiGailArt.com, and find her on Facebook (Casi Fordham) and Instagram (casigail_art).