Monday, February 18, 2013

Artist Interview: Kristen Van Patten

I've had my eye on this artist for quite some time.  I especially like the treatment of the paper and the vintage imagery.  It was so nice to find out more about Kristen Van Patten.

1. Were you always an art kid, or did you stumble upon it later in life?

I always enjoyed drawing as a kid, but most of my time was spent outside until I moved to Washington state when I was 15. Nobody did anything outside there, and it was always so cold and wet that I didn't much want to either. I started drawing a lot the year that I lived there, every day, and it was a lot of fun to see how quickly I improved. I was hooked. I moved down to southern California at 16, and got away from the cold and rain, but drawing remained a daily practice.

"Flying Squirrel."

2. What style of art is your favorite and why?

This is a bit of an odd question. Every artist has their own unique style, and that's what keeps things interesting. As far a what my favorite art movement is, I think an artist needs to have a real understanding and appreciation for the history of art in general in order to be current and know where they fit in. That's kind of avoiding the question, but as long as the work is unique, well crafted, and interesting, I don't care what the style or movement is. I admit I get bored looking at photorealist work and I often find conceptual work to be gimmicky, but again, if it's done well, and for the right reasons, I can appreciate it.

"Helicopter Vietnam Military."

3. What do you use for inspiration, or how do you generate ideas?

After graduate school I had enough ideas to keep me motivated for the rest of my life. That said, I'm always starting new projects and developing new ideas. Most of my inspiration comes from just keeping my eyes open and noticing things I like or might want to incorporate. If looking though my own work, notes, and drawings aren't enough to inspire me, an afternoon in a museum or the art section in the library will usually get me going. I try to exhibit at least enough to give me the pressure of a deadline once in a while. I have four or five bodies of work, and they all have their own set of inspirations, so I've always got something I want to explore.

"Triumph BMW Norton Motorcycle."
4. Walk us through your creative process from idea to finished project.

I begin with a series of sketches or tests, depending on the medium. After I get all the technical and formal aspects resolved, I get to work. I expect the first couple of pieces in a new project to be somewhat unsuccessful, and I don't let myself get discouraged when they are. After I complete a couple of pieces I'll have an idea of what's working and what's not, and that's when a series starts, or a body of work. I will usually make some discoveries I hadn't anticipated, and I always try to incorporate those things. It's those discoveries and the unpredictable, unexpected, uncontrollable elements that really make the process, and the finished product exciting for me. A lot of my process with my stained paper work is about the uncontrollable qualities of the materials. I print and draw on old maps and charts. I then send them through a battery of stains and reactions with coffee, tea, salt, vinegar, copper, rust, just about anything really. While an art conservator might cringe at the things I'm doing to this poor paper, it's what really makes the work exciting for me. I can control it to an extent, maybe choreograph or conduct would be a better term than control, because there's a point where I have to acquiesce a bit and just let the materials do what they're going to do. Sometimes it ruins my drawing and I have to scrap it and start over. Sometimes beautiful things happen that I couldn't do otherwise.  

"Ice Boat Race."
5. What is a typical day in your life?

During the school year, I work 40 hours a week. There's really no "typical day" at work as there's always something different going on. I make time in the evenings and on weekends to work on art and the various responsibilities of life. For two months in the summer, and on the various holiday breaks, I try to spend as much time as possible in the studio and treat it like a full time job. I usually set a few art goals for the summer and use that time to create a new body of work, learn a new skill, develop some new ideas, and do some promotion.

"Harley Davidson Motorcycle."

6. What do you think draws you to other people's work?

I touched on this in the question about the "favorite style of art" question, but honestly, I'm pretty picky about what artists I like. There are so many artists out there, and so many people who call themselves artists that it can be frustrating to go to a gallery or look in an art magazine. I don't want to see the same trends over and over again like rainbow triangles and animals with lazier beam eyes. I don't want to see rehashing of ideas from half a century ago either. I'm drawn to work that shows the creativity, skill level, thought process, passion, and exploration of an artist. I want to be surprised and impressed by an artist because I've never seen anyone do what they're doing, and because I can tell they are working hard explore that thing.

"Bonneville Salt Flats."

7. What are your interests/hobbies?

There are a lot. First off, I love machines. If I wasn't an artist, there's a pretty good chance I would have gone into some sort of mechanical engineering. I have a particular love for old vehicles and airplanes. I like to be able to see the logic behind the design. I've rebuilt classic cars and motorcycles in the days when I had a little more time, and it wasn't just because I wanted to know how, or needed to fix them. I really enjoy taking things apart and discovering the thought processes of the people who designed them.

My girlfriend and I (she's also an amazing artist) enjoy taking our dogs kayaking, or hiking or cycling. I'm also very interested in electronics, and sound. I used to play music a lot, but it hasn't been very high on my priorities for a while. Art basically comes before, and usually instead of any other hobbies or interests.

"Wright Brothers."

8. Is this your full time job, or do you have a job out-of-studio?

I work in the art department at Southwestern University as a Studio Technician, evening lab instructor for drawing, painting, and printmaking, gallery coordinator, and I teach a class called Exhibition Practicum in which we work on the art exhibits in the gallery and in the fine arts building, and we discuss the practices and expectations of galleries, museums, and professional artists. 

Studio Shot.

9. What is your favorite piece you've ever made and why?

That's a hard question to answer. I guess it would be an oil painting I did on wood panel in undergrad. I don't think it was my most impressive work, or my most significant in the context of art today. There was just something about it that really worked. It was an exploration and a fight. There was a very real and long dialogue with it. I wasn't working on anything else like it at the time. I've tried a few times after that painting to create others along the same lines. None have been as satisfying or successful. That was about eight years ago. One of my plans for this next summer is to really explore that piece and reopen that body of work.

Studio Shot.

10. What advice would you give to an artist just starting out in the business world?

Art should be a passion, not a business. The first priority should be to make things you love, and that you feel compelled to make. Pay attention to every detail. A store bought canvas looks amateur next to a hand made one for example. Work should be well crafted in every aspect. The second priority, if you want your work to sell, is to make it something that people can relate to and that they could see in their home or business. You have to know who you want your buyers to be and the context of where you want your work to end up, and make sure that your scale and subject matter fit that context. After you get all of that figured out, plan to spend 30% of your art time on promotion. This is an easy one to neglect.

Studio Shot (I wish mine looked that tidy).

11. Describe your work space.

My girlfriend and I just bought our first house, and for the first time since graduate school, we each have our own studio. Our garage acts as our "messy" studio space and our jewelry making studio. My main studio is set up with a work table, an easel, my books, supplies, and my work. I draw there, then bring the drawings to the garage studio to mess them up. Until we moved here, I worked wherever I could. I'd work in the garage, the couch and coffee table, the counter space next to the kitchen. It was not the most ideal work environment, but one makes due.

Studio Shot.

12. Did you face any setbacks on your path to being an artist?

The biggest setback has been student loans. Art school isn't cheap, and I'll be paying for it for the rest of my life. The first few years after graduate school were a real struggle as we tried to stay in San Francisco, but the cost of living there is so high compared to the lack of availability for decent paying art related jobs that we wound up moving to Austin, Texas. Austin has offered a more reasonable lifestyle for us, and allowed for a lot more studio time, but we had to leave behind a lot.

Studio Shot.

13. What milestones, goals, or achievements are you striving for right now?

My goals have always been to become a full time university instructor, or to survive entirely on my art. If I can make either of those happen in the next five years, I'll be pretty happy. At the moment, I just need to make the most out of my available studio time.

Studio Shot.
I'm so honored that you answered my questions and let us all take a peak at your studio space.  Thank you so very much.

Please also check out his website:  here.
And Facebook Page:  here.


Malena Valcárcel said...

Very interesting and constructive interview. Thanks for sharing.

Madiee Belanger said...

I nominated you for the Leibster award:)

Find it here:)