Double-shot double take: Cara Harjes paints children's art that parents adore

Julie Harris

You've seen their work lining the walls of your favorite coffee shops. Maybe you've done a double take while sipping your double latte, admiring -- or perhaps despising (sad emoticon) -- a certain piece that you spy from your seat. But what you probably haven't seen are the faces behind all of that art. In the weeks to come, we'll be taking a closer look at some of Denver's artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town. First up: Cara Harjes of Cara Harjes Art.

See also: A look back at the faces of Westword's 100 Colorado Creatives interviews

You're likely to see Cara Harjes patronizing one of the fine establishments on South Pearl Street, where her art is often displayed. The psychologist didn't set out to be an artist, but found her niche when, as a newlywed, she began chronicling her marriage via scrapbook.

"I was never doing scrapping the way the scrapbook industry wants you to do it," explains Harjes, who refused to be constrained by traditional scrapping products and mediums, opting instead for office supplies, personal doodles and watercolors. From the very beginning, her pages "were always purposeful, personal and deep," she says.


The hobby slowly transformed: first into collage, then art journaling. Recalls Harjes: "Four years ago, my husband asked me to make him a painting for Christmas." She was taken aback since she didn't actually paint, but she obliged him, and the original Cara Harjes still hangs in the couples' Platt Park kitchen -- a more primitive version of the whimsical complexity epitomizing the artist's one-of-a-kind style today.

"My work is playful and messy," Harjes says of her acrylic-and-ink renderings, which are also a metaphor for how she views life. "It can be so beautiful, but also really messy," she notes. "With my art, the mistakes often turn into my favorite part."

Julie Harris
When her daughter arrived nearly two years ago, Harjes decided to trade in her psychology day job for a career she desperately wanted to pursue: mother. But she wasn't ready to give up art entirely. "I take my art more seriously now because I do stay home," she says. "I want to have something for my daughter to be proud of me about; I want to give my daughter an example of a woman who isn't afraid to take risks and pursue a dream."

Since having her daughter, Harjes has also embraced her identity as a children's artist. At first, she wasn't sure about the "that's so cute" or "that'll look great in my child's room" feedback that her art was getting. "I thought people weren't taking my work seriously," she admits.

But now, Harjes embraces this interpretation, and is even happy about it. "I never set out to do children's stuff," she explains. "But the colors I'm drawn to and the shapes I like and the content I explore all tend to lend themselves to kids' rooms."

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