My wife and I occasionally have a good laugh over the phrase, “I am woman”, mainly because women generally have an uncanny ability to multi-task. Now for me, it’s all about focus. I don’t like interruptions or changing of plans in midstream. When I think of Kim Casebeer, I definitely put her in the “I am woman” category.
I first met her a few years ago when she organized a paint out in the Flint Hills of Kansas and she invited me to participate. Having grown up in Kansas and loving the Flint Hills, it was not something I wanted to turn down. It proved to be a great time.
Casebeer has a flourishing art career and I wondered how she does it all while also being a wife and mother. “Painting gets done while my son is in school. I answer phone calls and some emails, but try to keep those at a minimum. I work on my mentoring program all day on Mondays. My son has a lot of after school activities so I usually wait until he’s in bed to work on emails, marketing, etc.”
On top of all that she writes an email newsletter which goes out once a month; she’s written a book, teaches workshops, and now has added an Online Mentoring Program. “I wanted to find a way to work with artists who are serious about improving their craft, but in an ongoing setting unlike a workshop situation. It’s 18 weeks if a student chooses to do the whole thing. I demo each lesson in a video and also send a written description. Lessons are due each week which keeps students painting. I send a critique back for each lesson. We also keep in touch and do group critiques through a private Facebook page, which many in the group really enjoy.”
Although her work is easily identifiable, her tastes in art are diverse. If she could spend the day with any three artists, who would they be: “Isaac Levitan, because he depicted ordinary scenes in a unique way; George Inness, for his dramatic sense of light and color; George Carlson, a contemporary artist, for his masterful paint manipulation and unique compositions.”
It’s a pleasure to bring you this interview with a special artist…Kim Casebeer.
What’s your definition of art? When I think about art, my first thoughts are that it should move people, above all else. So my definition would be: When a chosen medium is used to convey an idea that speaks to someone.
Why are you an artist, and in particular, why do you paint landscapes? I’ve always been artistically inclined, though I didn’t realize I would become a fine artist until after graduating with a graphic design degree. I worked in advertising and design, but after a few years I realized I really hated sitting in front of a computer for 10 hours a day! That’s when I started taking my fine art skills more seriously. I realized becoming a fine artist would allow me to be creative on my terms. I grew up on a farm and was always outside while growing up. Appreciating the landscape comes naturally for me. Once I started painting, I was drawn to the landscape and all it’s challenges.
“Dramatic” is a word that comes to mind when viewing your paintings. How is this drama achieved? I don’t start with lots of contrast and bold color. I prefer to sneak up on it, starting with the darks and mid tones. Once a pleasing composition is achieved, only then do I start putting in highlights and pops of color. I think these are much better in limited amounts to catch the eye. The more I paint, the more I realize that restraint is important.
The Flint Hills of Kansas are the inspiration for many of your paintings. What has painting in this desolate landscape taught you? It’s all about painting space. The openness of the painting is just as important as the part of the painting that has more going on in it. They balance each other. But the open parts still need interesting textures or slight color variations. You can’t have one without the other.
Why do you prefer depicting the vista rather than the up-close-and-personal? I love the challenge of painting great distances and using atmospheric perspective. To me, the great vista is the all-American landscape. It speaks of adventure, promise, the unknown, and opportunity.
Most of your paintings feature dramatic skies, what are some important guidelines you adhere to when painting clouds? We have big, beautiful skies in Kansas and I love the challenge of capturing them. The three most important things to remember when painting clouds are: 1) The whites aren’t really white but variations of very light warms and cools. 2) Don’t use too many highlights. They are more dramatic when reserved 3) Always keep in mind that the clouds should depict movement, and make sure they are moving the same direction.
What colors are typically on your palette? I use Gamblin paint. At the top, left to right: Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Yellow Ochre, Transparent Orange, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Permanent, Burnt Sienna, Asphaltum. On the left side top to bottom: Permanent Green Light, Viridian, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue.
Your paintings have a beautiful color harmony, how is that achieved? I start a painting by mixing some of my key colors before I start. There are some pluses to mixing colors in advance. One of those pluses is you can use the initial colors to mix other colors, and then those colors to mix more colors. Using the same colors over again creates nice color unity. The key is to mix enough paint in the beginning so you’ll be able to use the mixes multiple times.
Have you formulated certain color principles that work for you, and how would you define them? I don’t think I would classify the way I use color as a formula. At least I never think about color in that way. My main objective is to study color when outside, and record colors to the best of my ability. Then use what I learn back in the studio. It has taken years, but I see color more clearly now than when I started painting outside. Students wonder how I see so many colors in a tree trunk – it takes a lot of observing.
When selecting a subject to paint, what are you looking for? I’m looking for that aha moment to inspire me, much like any other artist. For me it usually means an interesting quality of light. I prefer natural subjects. After that, It has little to do with the subject itself, but how the subject is lit.
Are there compositional principles that you consider inflexible? I would say yes, but then there are always ways to break the rules! I adhere pretty strictly to the rule of thirds. One third light, two thirds dark or vice versa. Also dividing the space into grids of 3 high and 3 wide to keep focal points in the most pleasing places.
What do you hope to communicate through your work? My work is emotional to me, and so that is what my hope is for the viewer. I want them to feel something, to connect with the work.
What’s the most difficult part of painting for you? Knowing when to quit! I find the planning stage helps me ramp up the start of the painting, and I can keep momentum until I get close to the finish. I think I’m finished and then put it away for a week or so, only to get it back out and work over it again.
How much of your work is completed en plein air? It’s sporadic. I don’t paint plein air much in winter, just occasionally. And when I’m getting ready for a big show where I’ll need large work, I find it difficult to find the time for plein air. But I paint outdoors a lot in late spring, summer and fall.
What qualifies as a plein air painting? I think of plein air painting as painting from life, just as one paints the figure or a still life from life. You aren’t looking at photo references. So yes, car painting is plein air! I will touch up my plein airs if I’m going to frame them and put them in a show. In the end, the goal is to make a good painting.
When painting en plein air, do you try to capture what you see or do you have other intentions? My goal is to capture the mood and atmosphere of the moment, using accurate values and temperatures. I’m also concerned with making a good design, and that usually means adjusting objects. I’m not concerned with recording things exactly as is.
How much of your studio works are based on field studies? On photography? I use everything – field studies, color studies done in the studio, black and white sketches, photography. Colors are always based on field studies, even if the scene isn’t exactly what I’m painting.
Please explain how you translate small plein air studies into larger studio works. I use values and temperatures from the small plein air studies. I’m also using the study to remind myself of the atmosphere – sun, wind, the weather. I may adjust the composition, and will add additional details. This is where photography is helpful. You can see additional details – how masses are further broken, types of trees and foliage – information needed in a large piece that may not be in the plein air painting.
What advice do you have for those wanting to try plein air painting? Simplify your gear. And then when you think you’ve gotten it down to the essentials, simplify some more! Ideally you want to have everything in one backpack and be able to set up to be ready to paint in a few minutes.
Please describe your painting process. Large studio works always start with black and white sketches, and often a color study or two to help work out ideas. I also use field studies to inform color, value and light; but rarely composition. That’s why studies done in the studio are important to make sure I have a pleasing design. If the studio piece will be large, I may do another larger study first. For example, my first color study may be 6×8, but I might also do a 12×16 before I get to a 24×30 or 30×40.
You have self-published a book, “Ideas for the Landscape Painter”. Please share with us how you did that, what’s involved? I wanted to create a little book filled with information gathered from teaching workshops, blog posts, and advice I’ve gathered over the years. I didn’t want this to be a long process, so I knew I would self publish. I can also choose small quantities – 100 at a time – to print so I don’t have a lot of books in storage. I designed it myself, which wasn’t difficult since I have a graphic design background and the software available. I advertise the book and fulfill orders on my own, but there are options to pay a fee to have the publisher fulfill orders.
Kim, thank you for your professionalism, and for this great interview. It’s been a pleasure working with you.
For more: kimcasebeer.com