“I like to paint. It’s more of a compulsion actually. Even when I’m sitting in traffic, or watching a movie, I’m mentally painting. It’s pretty much always been that way, so I guess I was born to paint.”
Kim Carlton’s work is currently being featured in a solo exhibition, through 6 January, at the Cloister Gallery in Houston, Texas. Her two-dozen oil paintings depict action and energy within calm and peace, hence the theme, “Power and Peace”.
She is an engaging person, and yet, intensely serious about her work…always learning and growing. Her good friend, award winning artist Denise LaRue Mahlke, describes her as a person with a positive outlook and quick wit. “I love how genuine she is, generous of spirit, kind-hearted, smart, and always learning. She is the ‘real deal’ and I am blessed and happy to know her.”
She’s also a realist. Kim describes painting as hard work…at least to do it well. “Being an artist is unique as a profession these days because we often must teach ourselves drawing, composition, color theory and paint chemistry, all the skills involved in the translation of the three-dimensional world into a new two-dimensional world. It’s a very complicated language to learn, and then we must spend thousands of hours practicing the art and science of painting. There really aren’t too many jobs like this. Singers can sing someone else’s songs, actors can repeat someone else’s lines, but the fine artist isn’t considered an artist unless he is the composer, designer and playwright of his own original work. After all, a counterfeiter of art brings to bear all the same skill and knowledge, but is never to be regarded as an artist, only a copyist.
If an artist decides to make a life of it, then he must also teach himself marketing and bookkeeping, framing, crating and shipping, business administration and website management, plus photography and Photoshop… particularly if he wants to enter art competitions.”
I am pleased to bring you this interview with Kim Carlton, a self-described Christian, wife and mother. As you’ll also discover, she is a wonderful writer…a master of the analogy.
What is your definition of art and your role as an artist? I think true artists have a vision, and art is the substance of that vision. My role as an artist is to communicate that in a beautiful and understandable way.
Do you consider the process of painting more important than the result? No, for me that’s like asking if my heart beat is more important than my breathing. When I first started painting, I was so happy; all I wanted to do was paint. Then I wanted to see if my work was competitive, so I entered some shows. After that, I got pretty side-tracked with the competition, as though painting were some kind of sport. I did the same thing when I was a runner; I ran because I loved it, but when I started racing, I trained on a crazy schedule so I could win races, totally losing track of why I started running in the first place. When I realized that I was starting to lose the joy of the process of painting in favor of a “winning” result, I had to pull back and regroup. I’m a professional painter and my process produces a result. If I focus on the process, I won’t get anything done. If I focus on the result, I compromise my process. If I personally let either one be more important than the other, they both lose their strength.
What colors are most often found on your palette? I have two palettes but I use either one for every subject. In other words, I don’t have a “landscape palette” and a “portrait palette.” I started with the colors that Richard Schmid taught in his book, Alla Prima. Then, when I was making my first plein air trip, I whittled my palette down to four colors and white for ease of packing: transparent oxide brown, ultramarine blue deep, cadmium red, and cadmium yellow pale. I tried before I left to see if I could mix my other colors from these and found that I could come close enough for comfort! When I returned home from that trip, my palette was thus laid out and so I brought it to my figure group to see if it would work there. It did! So for quite awhile, I used just these four colors, even for major portrait commissions. If I had just those four forever after, I would remain quite happy.
In the last couple of years however, I’ve been experimenting with color and writing about my discoveries. I have written quite a bit and am now editing and researching to see if I’m just reinventing the wheel. I’m still using the four-color palette whenever I teach or travel, but in my studio I’m working with a more extensive palette that involves pairing colors. It is intellectually rewarding but not necessary. All an artist really needs are just a few colors. If the palette is limited, harmony is unavoidable.
Are you more concerned with value or color? Value. The human eye has 120 million rods, which interpret value, and only 6 million cones, which interpret color; our eyes are designed to read value. I think it’s critical to be able to express a visual idea with just value so I start my students off with one color (transparent oxide brown) and white. That and a good squint will help you learn the value of value.
Describe your typical block-in technique. I let the situation dictate how I block in and create a painting and I try not to get locked into a formula. I do have a major categorical division in my paintings though. Like a musician has rehearsals, I have “field” work where I practice my “scales” and experiment. But when musicians are recording or performing in a show, that’s another level of work altogether. That’s my “studio” work. I divide my paintings into those categories: “field” and “studio.” I approach them differently and price the work differently also.
Field paintings are practice or fact-finding or exploratory and they are always alla prima, always quickly done. In the landscape, I usually do a couple thumbnails to get a composition. I do my block-in based on the thumbnail, then shadows followed by anything that is fleeting. This is really important for sunrise/sunset work, or when painting boats or urban landscapes, when someone could get in and drive away with your subject! But when a “field” painting is done in a portrait or figure group, I just jump right into the painting, no composing, no thumbnails. I’ll often start with a quick tone covering the canvas, then pull all the light area off with a towel. If I like the design, I’ll normally commit the shadow shapes first, then the light, leaving enough time to make the focal point read well.
Now studio paintings are altogether different. My block-in is not based upon having to get it done quickly. I take my time, planning not only the paintings composition but the layers of paint and the treatment and handling of the layers themselves. My studio work will probably have everything from visible bare canvas to thick impasto paint, with tone and underpainting, scumbling and glazing in between, all strategically done. It’s like the anti-alla-prima approach, but a lot of it is still applied “all at once.”
How would you define “success” as an artist? This is a question that always comes up with painters. I see ambition to “succeed” as a sickness in the arts right now. Well, not just in the arts. Success is being defined for us, as earning money and respect and fame– “winning.” There is a growing segment in our profession that is saying “enough” to that. There are performers in the other arts who are constantly promoting themselves and doing wilder and wilder things to keep the spotlight, and then there are the Anthony Hopkinses who ignore all spotlight-grabbing self-promotion and just do the job really, really well. That is success. I believe that if you are doing the thing you’ve been called to do with all your heart and soul, you will have such a joy and such an excellence, you won’t need applause or ribbons to validate you; you are a success.
As a wife and mother, how did you go about developing your painting career? My original life-plan was simply to be a fine artist. When I found, in the ‘70’s, no teacher or school or career path, I decided to make one up. I chose to be a pilot so I could get paid to travel and have plenty of time to paint. I couldn’t afford lessons so I joined the Navy to let them train me in exchange for a few years of my life. It’s a long story but the short-version is, I accidentally fell in love and gave up my wings for a ring and an altered plan to still be an artist. It gets hilarious when you add the blessing of three sons, but the answer to your question is this: I never gave up and I was always working on it. I drew all the time and I studied. I always did the next thing that I could do. Sometimes I got impatient, but I have a good husband who showed me that while my window of opportunity as an artist would be ever-widening, my window of opportunity to raise these three sons would not, and it would one day be forever closed. So I made being an artist a more “minor” part of my life for awhile, until I could make it a major part. I could have it all, just not all at once. The choices I made put me behind my peers in the art world, but I read a quote early on that impacted me. It said, “In your life, would you rather be something to everyone, or everything to someone?” I cut it out and taped it to the kitchen window so I could read it while washing dishes. Having a career in art was not going to make me an artist. I am an artist. Having a family was never part of my plan in my art career, but the script that God wrote for me was so much better than the one I had outlined for Him.
What do you consider your greatest artistic challenge? Having to do the things that aren’t painting. I am not a framer or a marketer, a salesman or a businessman. I wish that I didn’t have to do all that; it steals time from painting.
What advice would you have for a first-time collector? Buy what you love. You will never regret it.
What advice would you have for a young artist/painter? Train yourself well: study books and DVD’s; get in workshops taught by artists who have something you need to know and who have a similar palette. People who sign up for every workshop that comes around have scrambled thinking; they’re workshop-aholics. I’ve found that a good teacher will give me the one thing I need to work on. I will spend about a year really internalizing that before the next thing presents itself to be learned. But work every day; miles of canvas will separate the good from the bad and the ugly. And never give up.
Thanks for sharing your time and talent with us, Kim. You are much appreciated.
John Pototschnik is an Art Renewal Center Associate Living Master
To view his work and bio, please click HERE