Burning Questions: Artist Rita Kirkman on Christopher Walken and more

Welcome to “Burning Questions,” where we interview some of our favorite artists from Pastel Journal with lighthearted questions to make you smile. Today, I’m pleased to share with you some entertaining insights from portrait and figurative pastelist Rita Kirkman.

You can have anyone model for you (living or dead). Whom? Everyone I draw is uniquely interesting, as long as they know how to sit still. But with a few seconds of thought I’d have to say Christopher Walken. He has such a riveting face and hypnotic expression that just seems to gain more visual power as he ages. I can’t wait to see what he looks like at about 85. By then my skills might be up to doing his face justice.

What’s the one thing you can’t live without, and why? Coffee. I don’t know but I’ve come to accept it.

If you won the lottery, how would you blow it? I’d take a workshop with Julian Merrow-Smith, drop all my other projects and spend at least a year painting from nothing but life (No photos!! Scary thought!!), and (maybe) nothing but oil. Then I might buy a whole new wardrobe while touring Europe and Asia.

It’s the end of the world as we know it. What’s the one painting you’ve yet to create? The top prize winner for the Portrait Society of America. But I might be too busy painting other stuff, and that’s okay.

Rita Kirkman 1971

Rita Kirkman, in 1971

What’s your earliest art memory? Painting my house while in Kindergarten, several times I think. It always had two windows and a door (like eyes and a mouth) and trees, sometimes flowers, and a sidewalk that came up from the right side. It looked nothing like my own house.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?
“Work in a series!” Thank you Sara Eyestone!
And “Paint Daily” Thank you Carol Marine!

Give us your bio, in six words. Award-Winning Pastel Portrait Artist Extraordinaire.

What are your plans for the next three months? Paint. Post. Schedule some workshops. Paint. Post. Visit Mom. Paint. Post. Paperwork. Paint…P..

Do you have a ritual that gets you primed for painting, say, listening to obnoxious tween pop? Well, I do really like Maroon 5, and not afraid to admit it!


Antibes Seen from La Salis (1888; oil, 28 7/8 x 36 1/4) Claude Monet

You’re free to steal one artwork from any museum. What would it be? Antibes Seen from La Salis by Claude Monet. This painting was my favorite in the Toledo Museum of Art and one that I would always spend time with at every visit growing up, long before I cared about artists’ names. As a child, this was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. The painting literally sparkled with light. After getting some art history into me, Impressionism became my favorite era and Monet my favorite artist. When visiting the painting again as a teenager, I thought “This looks like a Monet,” so I actually read the plaque. That solidified this painting as my absolute favorite.

Any funny or unusual anecdotes relating to your art in general? While sketching in amusement parks, we used to keep lists of the ‘stupid questions and statements’ received from the guests (great for stress relief!). Here are a handful of the best ones from the Bush Gardens 1991 list of the top 100 (these are verbatim as heard from guests): “Are you a real artist?”
“How much for the self-portraits?”
“Do you do front profiles?”
Artist: “Would you like a portrait?” Guest: “No thanks, I don’t know how to draw.”
“Hello. I’d like to get a sculpture of myself.”
“You mean, you only do SIDE profiles?”
“Can you put the picture in a keychain or something?”
“Do you have to be 18 to get a caricature?”
And my favorite: “Are you gonna’ be an artist someday?”

Name one influential person in your artistic life. Too many to list, but Maggie Price might be near the top.

• Learn more about Rita Kirkman in the October 2013 issue of Pastel Journal (subscribe today so you never miss an issue!).
• Read “How to Paint a Portrait: Expert Pastel Techniques” by Rita Kirkman
• Visit Rita Kirkman‘s website.

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