I'll start with the simple things... Many people write to me and ask me how I paint, which mediums I use, etc. Most of the paintings here are watercolors. I think a lot of the public has the impression that watercolors = pastel landscapes. When I was first getting a handle on watercolor technique, I used to get a little frustrated while rifling through watercolor books and only finding the same washed-out green & brown hills and trees. There was always something inside of me that wanted something shinier, more vivid and of what is not seen rather than what is. Not to knock artists who are into realism. I really admire the technique, patience and tenacity that many of these amazing people have acquired. I approach strict realism as just study, to help me with the art I really love creating. I agree wholeheartedly with Paul Klee (one of my favorite visual artists) when he said, "Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible." I can be proud of the patience and effort I put into something very realistic, but I am usually not enthralled with the results.
Anyway, the watercolors I use are the Cotman line of Winsor & Newton. I only use tubes, never cakes It's impossible to build up a lot of color or vividness using cakes. I wish I loved cakes instead because it would be so much tinier to store & pack - I'm very "into" streamlining my possessions, which is something I will get to. But - sigh - I will have to adjust.
I tried using watercolor bottle paints for awhile too. They give a great color, but unfortunately, the colors don't last forever. Before computers, watercolor bottles were a popular medium for graphic designers and illustrators, because their work was meant to be stored away instead of hung up for view. They are lightfast, which means that light will interfere with their chemicals and watercolor paintings done with bottle pigments will turn various shades of gray in time.
The main reason I don't use brushes that often in my work is because I think they are a hindrance, not an aid. Brushes inhibit me when I do my work. They help create work that is tight and controlled - especially watercolor brushes, which have short handles (but which I prefer because oil/acrylic brushes are too long to take on trips.) My two biggest mentors - my mother and an ex-boyfriend - both do art in a tight and exacting fashion. I think it expresses more of who they are more accurately, but Mark, one of my dearest friends in the world, pointed out that I am not a tight, exacting, or technical kind of Jane. He helped push me to find what feels good to me.
When everything is dry, I use gum arabic and try to bring out the glossiness of the colors - what they looked like while wet.
I do like shinies. Apparently, when I was 2 or so, I ran into the Christmas tree because I was so enthralled and mesmerized by the shiny lights and ornaments. Ah well, I have the genes of the bower bird and the crow!
Here I am, about to hug the Christmas tree for its shiny balls & tinsel!
I know many creative artists who are very secretive of their techniques - they feel that their work might be copied and plagiarized. Unfortunately, I know of a lot of art & writing teachers who feel the same way and I think, who shouldn't be teaching unless they are going to share themselves and all their knowledge with their students, to help bring out their students' potential as much as possible.
I don't buy into this fear. If other artists can gain some insight into their own work from the techniques I mention here, that is great. I have nothing to hide and I only want to give and be part of the endless cycle of the Universe. I think hiding something like technique is silly & petty and will only close off that person from gaining further insight & inspiration from the Universe. Besides, if a person is painting from their soul, the technique they use is theirs, because it is always colored by their unique personality and is driven by their soul. Even those influenced by certain techniques and artists will create works that is uniquely theirs.
I do get visual & auditory inspirations & flashes frequently every day. I think it's just part of being intuitive and receptive. I try to stay connected to it, because I feel it is part of the Source. Of course, it's colored by me, my personality, my ego, my filter of what I have studied & how I've looked at the world. Sometimes it's a pain, though, when I wake up in the middle of the night by a powerful dream or idea or I can't get to sleep because I am hallucinating and all these incredible images & words are going through my head. But I take out my journal & sketchbook, and stay a loyal servant anyway. I have yet to come to terms with the amount of ideas I receive, though, because I am so far behind in manifesting them all. I will never be able to make them all come to life. I often get frustrated at not being able to give them a chance to be real, because I feel these are all precious gifts. I believe that several people are given the same ideas around the same time, fortunately...It is sort of like a farmer sows his seeds in several fields and watches which ones take root & grow. I have oftentimes seen others create & finish very, very similar projects to what I was thinking about or even working on. Perhaps these projects are needed by the world and are stimulated by the collective subconscious.
I think I started painting for a few different reasons. One is colors - they are like a drug to me. When I squeeze them out of the tube & begin using them, it is like my eyes are drinking something they've been thirsty for & I feel more satisfied & alive. I started painting when I was young - I remember one day when I was 5 years old I tranced out completely while painting.... I didn't have the words for that kind of transcendant experience, but I knew what had happened and I knew I wanted to do that, over and over.
I know it sounds hokey, but I do feel like a child of the forest. I always need to live at least near the forests - I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest when I was still a teenager, living in the East Coast (near New York City) - I saw some photos of the Cascade Mountains, the Olympic National Rainforest, the Redwoods, and knew I had to live out here. I moved to Washington state a few years ago, and was very happy there as far as place goes. I had some troubles & bad luck though, and moved down to San Diego for two years. Being away from my Pacific Northwest was a big mistake, as I tried to feel magic in the faded browns & greens of the scrub brush and the endless suburban tracts down south. I moved up to Northern California, in the heart of the Redwoods, just last year. I need to live by the ocean (I prefer rocky shores) & the forest, so this is perfect for me, though basically anywhere along the northwestern coast is. There is a magic in the forests, an energy that is giving, entwined, healing, mystical, spiritual. When I walk through the giants, I am in awe of the towering, natural cathedral. I find my deep, quiet, religious space there, although it is always available to me or anyone, at any time. Place does mean a lot to me. There are some people - like my best friend Mark - who do not have a particular affinity to one place or another, but I find myself drawn to particular places, for reasons unknown to my conscious mind.
I'm acutely aware of what is going on with other people around me - their energy, feelings, frustrations, etc. I am an INFP (in Jungian/Meyer's-Briggs terms) and a highly sensitive person. When I was younger I used to see "fuzzies" around people and would literally feel what they felt. Ensconsed in my mind is one Thanksgiving family get-together, when I was about 8 years old. I walked downstairs from my bedroom and into the dining room, where my parents, 2 brothers, aunt, uncle, grandparents were sitting down waiting to eat. I was hammered with a flood of emotions. I was in tune with myself enough to know that all these emotions did not stem from me. It felt like I was channeled into everybody's emotions, all at once. I remember also being aware of the fuzzies or aura surrounding everybody that day. I thought to myself, I can't handle this. I don't know where I end and where others begin, which are my emotions, and which are theirs. I shut my aura-seeing, directly empathic skill off that day. I knew that I needed to define my own boundaries more, first, before I could handle others. I am ok with being there & am fascinated by human nature & have always striven to further understand people & society. But I get bummed out by what is going on, by the drain of cities, by concrete jungles, by endless billboards, run-down buildings, by grey despair. Part of me wants to transform it & beautify it all, help bring out the magic, part of me just wants to run off into another world & escape it. I think most don't want to transform it - because it is the world they know, it is the world they want to hold on to, even if it is a prison for them. Lately I am beginning to see beauty in all, even in the suffering, the concrete, the strife.
I would give up painting and writing if I could possibly change the suffering in the world. I've tried activism several times. I am most moved by the fate of the planet, animals, women's issues & balancing masculine & feminine values (this does not mean men and women, I know some men who are more feminine in nature than some women, and vice versa). I really devoted myself to animal & environmental activism at one time, but I could never figure out how to get at the root of the problem rather than the symptoms, and I became severely stressed out about all the problems in the world. I sampled various activities, like political lobbying and wildlife rehabilitation, but those activities weren't a good fit for the way I worked and thought naturally. I really don't care for the self-aggrandizement or the glory of being an artist. I do it because I love it and I compulsively need to. I don't feel good if I am not creating something - life feels meaningless & empty. I would really like to earn a living from it full-time at some point, so that I can be freed from doing day jobs that I find meaningless and devote more time to altruistic pursuits. I am currently trying to free up some time so that I can help out at an animal shelter. In the long run, I would like to create a collective, non-profit ad agency that is focused on "advertising the earth" - I even have a name for it: Gaia Media, but again, I am trying to free up some time and secure my "career." I think consciousness-changing is the crux of the solution to our myriad of symptoms of Western society. I believe in such movements as Buy Nothing Day - I have long felt that a powerful economy was not always a good thing, because our human nature tends towards acquisition and greed - even if we surround ourselves with junk. Jay Leno once said, doesn't the person with the most things at the end of their life, win? With other people, and even myself sometimes, I watch how someone will be so happy for maybe a day when they acquire something new...how they will wait with anticipation until their new toys come in the mail...How unhappy they are when something breaks....And how much stuff accumulates....I believe the Buddha was right about our attachment to desire, and how we have to free ourselves from it in order to reach heaven (although I feel we can create a heaven here on earth - I think all the current religions that want us to break away from the Earth to some netherworld is a later, patriarchal force. I think the old Goddess religions were all about honoring & maintaining a heaven on earth.)
I really like living spartanly and I have way too much junk at this point! It was easier not to collect so much when I lived on the road. I would like to live on the road again, at some point, but with a little more room in my living space (uh, a tiny Toyota is a little cramped!) I do love the feeling of being free & untethered to a place. I have often dreamed of feeling a sense of community somewhere. This is kind of happening where I am now, but I have felt disappointment in this so often, that I have pretty much let the dream go. I find that, in the U.S. at least, this is not often a dream that other people cherish, that many want to isolate themselves within their own little insular world - that they are content or stuck just having their romantic relationship, their job, their partying on Saturday nights. I do like feeling a sense of roots in such a beautiful area where I bump into so many interesting people, but I think I need to live on the road at least half of the time, so that I do not become too enmired in a rut. I also dream of one day having a little house next to some wild parkland and having a garden that I can entwine with art. I don't really love the fact that we see land as something to parcel off and privatize, but I have not had the most positive experiences with intentional community living, either. Perhaps my independence & idiosyncratic nature gets in the way of my own dreams. I have an Aquarius moon, and the sign of Aquarius is notoriously independent & unconventional. My moon sign constantly battles it out with my sun influence - Libra - and it's opposite - Leo, which is my rising sign.
I have one foot in the future and one foot in the present. Right now, I am tying up the loose ends of my website, working on an illustrated novel, and working on the finishing touches of a children's book I collaborated on with a friend, so that we can submit it to a publisher. I also practice my yoga, dance, swim, hike & meditate as often as possible. If you've reached this far, thanks for reading! I should have given a warning in the beginning: I like to write! Everything I write often ends up way too long. :-)
- Katharina Woodworth, February 2001