Artist Interview - Kate Jarvik Birch
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Kate Jarvik Birch. I’m a full-time artist, writer, and daydreamer, although I haven’t figured out how to make any money off of the latter. My art has been featured worldwide in stores like Target, Pier One, and World Market, as well as in television series and major motion pictures such as Transparent, Medium, Glee, Twenty-One Jump Street, and Looper. For the past couple of years, I’ve been painting a small painting every day and posting them to Instagram where I’ve been lucky to find an amazing following.
Why do you do what you do?
One of my goals in offering my daily paintings for sale is to make original art accessible to everyone. I think there’s something special about surrounding yourself with handcrafted items and I want as many people to enjoy my art as possible.
You use so many vibrant colors, do you have any that you favor?
I’ve always been a sucker for bright colors. Asking if I have a favorite seems a bit like asking me to choose between my children, but I guess if I look over my own art, I see that a pattern definitely emerges. I love teals and turquoises because they remind me of the sky right after sunset when the horizon turns a lovely golden color and the rest of the sky fades from pale turquoise into a deep teal. And of course, I love cobalt blue. It reminds me of my mother, who always sets the table with cobalt blue dishes because she says food always tastes better when it’s on something beautiful. I don’t think she’s wrong.
What inspires your art?
I’m one of those people who find beauty pretty much everywhere she looks, so it’s kind of a no-brainer that I often find myself painting everyday objects. In my opinion, you don’t have to look far to find art, whether it’s in a shadow cast by a piece of fruit or in the clear cellophane wrapper of a piece of candy. I’m often inspired by the mundane, but I get a lot of joy from transforming it. And I’m always pleased when these ordinary objects really connect with my audience. These are the objects that surround us, and we often don’t realize how much significance they have in our lives. I once painted a can of cranberry sauce and my mom made fun of me for painting something that seemed so trivial, but later that day, I sold it to a woman who’d lost her own mother the year before and had this amazing memory of her serving cranberry sauce. My painting brought her to tears and she ended up buying it as a reminder of her mother.
How and when did you get into art?
I’ve loved art ever since I was a child and used to spend whole days drawing horses and women in long fancy dresses, but I didn’t get really serious about my art until my first year in college when I had a beginning drawing class from a wonderful teacher who encouraged me to change my major from Elementary Education to Painting and Drawing. I’m sure grateful that I took her advice because I loved every minute of my schooling.
How has your practice changed over time?
There have been long stretches of time when I didn’t put in daily work. I raised three children and also have a career in writing. But even though it’s been over 15 years since I graduated from college, I’d say I’ve seen the most growth in my art over the last few years when I’ve truly put in daily practice.
What’s your favorite piece of art that you’ve created? Why?
It’s so hard for me to pick a favorite, but one of the subjects that I love most is my cocktail series. I love painting cut glass because all the facets subtly change the color of the liquid inside it. A new favorite subject of mine has been burnt matches. I love trying to capture the smoke right after the match goes out as it ribbons through the air. It’s really quite captivating.
What’s the best piece of art advice you’ve been given?
I’ll always remember the advice one of my professors gave me my first year in college. She said, “your first 100 paintings are going to be terrible, but keep going”. And even though I think I actually liked some of my first paintings, I really like this advice because you do have to put in the time to truly understand what your strengths are, what you love, and what your particular voice as an artist is.
What’s one art tip/technique you can share with us that you find really helpful?
This tip might apply the most to painting with gouache like I do, but I find a really good pencil and eraser to be invaluable because I always sketch my piece out before I begin painting. I use a very fine-tipped mechanical pencil. The fine tip is important because it doesn’t leave a lot of graphite on the page, which helps avoid discoloring the paint when it’s painted over.
Do you have any secret tips or techniques you use to salvage a piece when you make a mistake?
Because I paint a new piece every day, I just keep painting through mistakes. I’ve found that they’re often not as terrible as you might have originally thought. Plus, one of the great things about gouache is that it’s an opaque watercolor and although it can’t cover everything, it can hide quite a bit once the original layer has dried.
What is your favorite Strathmore paper? Why?
Strathmore 140 lb. cold press watercolor is my absolute favorite. It keeps a really clean edge with my tape and never rips from where I’ve adhered it to my board. Plus, it has the perfect balance of permeability with the paint. I love that Strathmore make their watercolor tiles in 6x6 squares because they’re so convenient. I actually started painting in the 6x6 scale because of Strathmore. It’s just the exact perfect size for a daily painting!
What art materials could you not live without?
Besides my paper and paints, one of the most useful tools that I’ve found actually comes from the hardware store. I like using mdf boards cut down to a size slightly bigger than my paper so that I can tape down to it to prevent my paper from buckling and still move my piece around while I’m painting. It’s so handy.
What types of colors are you drawn to for your art and why?
Like I’ve said before, I’m really drawn to bright, vivid colors. Maybe this is why I end up painting a lot of fruit and candy. But I’m also a huge fan of reflective surfaces.
Who are your biggest influences (or who were when you started doing art)?
I’m still really inspired by the artists that I first fell in love with when I began painting in college: Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud, Frida Kahlo, and Joan Mitchell. It’s kind of all about bold color with them, even if their subjects vary widely. I find myself painting landscape, still life, portraiture, and abstracts, but through it all, I keep that love for intense color.
What’s the most common art-related question you get from your followers?
Besides wondering what kinds of paper and paints I use, my followers often wonder how to become full-time artists. While I don’t know if I have a great answer, here are a few hints that I give them:
1. Paint often and post your work as consistently as possible.
2. Try to find your own unique voice so people recognize your art as yours.
3. Find places to show your art like local galleries, art shows, or farmers' markets.
4. Don’t get discouraged and don’t be afraid to fail. Like my art teacher said, it might take 100 paintings before you make anything good.
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