Alone in her studio, Annette Labedzki engages hundreds of thousands of paint mixing followers as she chops, crushes, swirls, and smooshes moulded shapes of frozen paint before her phone camera. Thanks to Instagram, Annette is able to perform her art before an international audience and demonstrate her love of paint and pure colour. Her mesmerising process has captivated over 888,000 followers online. It is a dream come true for an artist like Annette, who needs to work in solitude but also thrives on the energy and support of her online community. In getting to know the artist behind the videos, we discovered that Annette’s success was neither instant nor a fluke—it has taken 30 years of painting and fighting to stay on the path she crafted for her art. If you haven’t already, watch Annette’s True Calling story and read the rest of our interview with her below.
How did you first get on Instagram?
I started Instagram when it first was launched. I loved it right away. I knew it would be successful, but not a lot happened. I was just posting my paintings, and posting them on Facebook. Then about a year and a half ago, I saw some videos of a little bit of paint mixing, and I thought since I do it anyway every day, I thought I would try it on a video on Instagram. The first one I did it was late at night in my pajamas, and it was really bad lighting. It caused something like 30,000 views, and I just loved the energy and the comments, so I just everyday go from there. I try to learn and change things and always just use my love for colour.
What are you feeling and thinking when you see 30,000 views? What’s going through your mind?
That I don’t understand. I don’t understand why people like the videos so much, because it’s very difficult to be objective. I can’t see what other people are seeing. When I look at my video, I just critique it. Same with my art, I critique it and try to see what I did wrong and try to learn from that.
How would you describe the art that you create today?
Now I feel that I’m more of a performance artist. I really feel like as soon as I turn the camera on and start doing something with the paint, I feel like I’m performing for the viewers and for the camera.
How do you feel about the attention that you receive?
It’s great attention. There are lots of little job offers, and lots of media companies wanting to make little compilations. What I love is just the day-to-day relationships with people. Just the comments and the private messages that it helps with their anxiety, and so I really enjoy that. I really enjoy feeling like I’m part of a community. It feels like a community of people who love colour or something, and that’s a nice, nice feeling. It’s unbelievable, I’m incredibly grateful everyday. I never take it for granted. I try to not let the attention change who I am, or change the integrity of my art. I’m just very grateful because I know the life without the attention, and it’s far more difficult.
Do you feel things have changed for you from what you were doing before to what you’re doing now?
Yeah, before I was painting in solitude, and now I’m performing, or my hand is in front of a camera. So, it’s with a huge audience. It’s quite a change. When you’re painting alone, you don’t have that audience. You have to photograph it. You’ve gotta post it somewhere. It’s not the same as with these videos.
Describe a moment where you said you worked in isolation.
Oh, it was horrible before Internet days. I always worked alone, and I still need that solitude but it was hard, because I never wanted to quit and get a job and have colleagues. So, I’m doing what I love and I stayed on my path, but I’m always alone doing it. So now I’m still on the same path, but I have an audience and there’s an energy that’s just amazing and fantastic.
Where do you get your inspiration from ?
I think it’s a number of things. Just loving where I live—for me, being near the ocean is really important. It gives me a feeling of freedom, and that feeling helps me to be really productive. So that’s a big part, and just magazines and other artists and relationships. Sometimes just a couple on the street can inspire me. Movies, for sure. I have to watch my movies almost every night, and see colours in the movies.
What is your favourite thing that you’ve done?
I love making those Oreo cookies. Some of my favourites are also when I put a few dabs of colour and just use a big spatula. You know, not too much sound. No chopping, just the pure colours. Then, some of the funny ones like when a cookie goes flying, or the camera almost fell. So, things like that I like to just show some reality. The whole thing is my favourite. They’re all my babies.
What’s challenging about it?
That I don’t have anywhere to turn to for advice. I have to figure everything out on my own. Some paint freezes differently than others. Some paint doesn’t freeze at all, it’s just a sticky mess. Some of the cheaper paint, which I think has a lot of water in it, gets very hard and takes forever to defrost. So, lots of challenges like that.
What you do is really youthful. Is that how you see it?
Well, that’s the weird thing, right? Like 30 years of experience crammed into one minute, and I am now touching an audience that’s 18 to 24. It’s like I stayed on my own path for many, many years, very strict and disciplined, and made art that wasn’t mainstream, and now all of a sudden my art is mainstream, but I’m still on my own path. So, it’s very strange for me. The whole thing is mind-boggling, because my art is not really mainstream. They’re bizarre, abstract, with strange characters and everything. So now, I think when I make an Oreo or the mermaid tails, it’s very mainstream. People love those, and I do too.
Talking about feedback, what are some of the comments that people make?
Some of the bad ones, let’s see: What a waste of paint. Why are you wasting paint? What do you do with the paint afterwards? Yeah, wasting paint, and they spell the word waist w-a-i-s-t, so that’s the worst. I get way more positive comments than negative. They’re not really bad, some people don’t really think before they type, and so they’ll write something that doesn’t really make a lot of sense. I mostly just get a lot of wonderful comments and wonderful people.
What type of artwork did you do before?
Before Instagram, I was doing a lot of abstract paintings, but always studying colour, human nature, relationships, incorporating that into my art, and coming up with humourous titles. I think it took me about two years of working through a lot of anxiety to be able to express myself because you make yourself vulnerable when you express things. The titles as another part of the expression was really difficult, but those titles are really an important part of the videos. I think, when I notice some people repost the videos without the title it’s like half the art is missing.
Have you grown a lot personally from when you first started?
I’m still working on it. I feel that all this attention has made me aware of how low my self-esteem is. Then there’s my ego that thinks yup, I deserve it, I’m great … no, maybe not, but you know. There are a number of different things going on in my head. I think it just has something to do with my childhood and not ever really having felt like I was worthy. So, all this attention is really pointing out that feeling of not deserving the attention or not being worthy of the attention. The attention is pointing out that I have some more inner work to do, like we all do.
Was there any particular advice you’ve been given that’s really stuck with you?
One line from this one friend who was like my mentor: stay true to yourself. That helps a lot to just remember that. Be true to yourself. My own advice is to never give up. It’s little bits and pieces, right? Someone can say something that inspires you, but I don’t remember what it might be or who it was. So, it’s an accumulation of different people that you meet who say something that really hits home.
What do you see yourself doing next?
I’ve had so many private messages saying that the videos help people with anxiety and depression. I would love it if my videos were used in some sort of medical facility or institution to help people. Another dream that I would love is to see my videos in a fashion show or something in the background. You know, really blown up huge. That, I think, would be really cool.
What would you say your true calling is?
To paint, and through the painting give people joy and hope, including myself. To be a good mother. It’s not only about art all the time, right? To be a good person, caring, and kind whenever possible.
As told to Amy Huynh. This interview has been condensed and edited.