Sketchbook Stories :: Katherine Dunn

I’ve been a big fan of Katherine work for quite some time. I asked Katherine if she would share her Sketchbook Story back in October when I first started the series and am so glad that she is now able to share her story with us.

Here is Katherine’s Sketchbook Story ::

KD: I started as an “illustrator” in 1996 in Minneapolis working with clients such as Neiman Marcus, Target, Charles Schwab and Marshal Field’s to name a few. I worked fast and furious and by 2001 when September 11 occurred, the world of illustration shifted greatly. Needing a major change,  I moved to Portland in 2002 and ended up meeting my husband. When we later moved to a farm, the world of Apifera was born. My work has evolved to combine writing and art in a variety of mediums all starring the many muses surrounding me. I still work on select commercial projects and galleries but I also strive to write and illustrate stories via puppet movies and painting. My first book, Creative Illustration Workshop, came out in 2010 and my illustrated memoir is being pitched to publishers.

KD: On what inspires me:: Life. Animals. Emotions. Conflict. Death. Loss. It’s all here on my farm, played out daily by a cast of characters in a continuing story via a painting, a puppet show, a felted creature or photo series. I no longer call myself “illustrator”- it never suited me well, and was too constricting because I like to work in many mediums. All those mediums allow me to share stories and feelings. Each character at Apifera Farm allows me to tap into something deep inside, explore how I feel abut it, and share it.

The farm inspires me too- as a human being nurturing the land. Nature is truly king or queen and holds no grudges against me, but always shows me I am just like a leaf- here one day, gone tomorrow, returned to the earth and cycled in with everything else. In the meantime, I have a lot of work to do, and art and writing and sharing it are part of my gift to this earth.

KD: On my process with commercial clients:: Even when I started in 1996 as an ‘illustrator”, I worked and thought in a very organic way and my sketches were always crude. If I tried to make my sketches too tight they lost energy [in my mind].  The commercial clients that allowed me to explore what I wanted to do, as a flow, and not be constricted to a tight sketch, ended up with very fresh, emotive work. Obviously, not all projects allow such freedom in the commercial art world- when I did a  children’s book for a Korean publisher, each page was sketched, first crudely as in this b/w, and then I would go to color and tweek it as I got feedback.

KD: All my work is still created traditionally, but Photoshop allows me to scan and layer, allowing me to do edits. This is not as easy as it always appears! But years of doing it have allowed me to feel comfortable with it. The sketch is the first layer of a piece about ‘green hair care”. The bottom image shows other traditionally painted layers – grabbed from other paintings- to incorporate onto the finished piece. I did have this ability in my early career.

KD: On my evolving career and process:: My color palette has matured greatly – I am after all 53 now and in a much different place in my life after so many years. When I paint now, it is more for myself or for a book idea or story I am writing. I never work from a sketch. I might have a dummy thumbnail of a book idea, and I scribble words in the spreads, but then go to paint. It evolves depending on what I see emerging from the art. I always say the painting has an inner meaning that the unconscious knows, but it takes time for the conscious mind to catch up. Years later, I can look at a piece and really see what I was trying to be told by my unconscious. To demonstrate this organic flow, the image on the top was the beginning or…something…and it later evolved into the canvas.

KD: I no longer constrict myself to just 2d or paint. I sew and working with felted creatures and hand made sock puppets. All these things are just an extension of telling my stories and exploring feelings ad ideas. Each creature on the farm develops its own voice and allows me to explore something I might have hidden or pushed aside.  I actually miss my puppets when I don’t work with them for awhile.

I too find the tempo of creating has slowed down- or I work shorter hours, but very intensely on a project. i no longer can- or desire- to paint to the wee hours like I did when I started out. I have a farm now and many organic, creative projects with the land here, so it is all part of my creative process and it all feeds off each other.

KD: Creative Illustration Workshop :: Writing is a huge part of my life now and combining that writing with my art is my path. I have an illustrated memoir being pitched [send good energy my way!] and my first book came out in 2010 called Creative Illustration Workshop  by Quarry Books. The book’s goal is to inspire the reader to see their own world as a library of images, textures and stories.

KD: Capturing the Essence:: In my book Creative Illustration Workshop I talk a lot about how to “capture the essence” of a moment, an animal or a feeling so you can translate it later into an illustration or piece of art/story. I think this is a very hard concept to teach and part of it has to start with being present with yourself, and just listening, and observing without the competition of iphones or email rings or Facebook chatter. I work alone, on a farm, and even I have many distractions, so this is not just directed at city dwellers. But spending time alone is crucial, in my mind, to learn how to listen to your inside guides that might allow you to have a more organic flow in your work.

KD: As an example of this thought process, I show this spread from the book. Observing the garden one day, the donkeys were in the distant background, I begin to see their ears as yet another organic shape of the garden . This led to many paintings with a recurring theme of donkey ears as pattern. I will also be having Workshops at the farm in September, 2011 in which we will do just this- capture the essence of time spent with the donkeys.

 KD: Sharing story:: I feel it’s my obligation to share my stories. I can keep many to myself of course, but I have always been inspired by Joseph Campbell who talks about the hunter going into the dark forest, alone, to conquer his fears and go down the winding path that leads him to the hidden jewell. But it’s when he returns to the village with that jewell, and what he does with it, that makes him a hero. Here are some pieces that tell stories from my daily interactions at the farm [these are just four from the 200 images in the Creative Illustration Workshop book].

Here’s where you can find Artist ::





       book:: “Creative Illustration Workshop”


Art Workshops at Apifera Farm 2011::

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