Artist of the Month: Kathy Hirsh

Celadon Gingko (pastel and watercolor, 17×11) by Kathy Hirsh was an Still Life finalist in the 25th Annual Art Competition. Hirsh is our November 2009 Artist of the Month.

Residence: Beijing, China

Website: www.kathyhirsh.com

Start in art: I’ve always been excited by color. I remember seeing a dismantled caterpillar at the age of 7 and thinking, "sea green Crayola." I was already trying to pin down the world around me in terms of the art materials available. I have a bachelor’s degree in painting and biology, and a master’s degree in medical illustration. I worked as a medical illustrator for 25 years, primarily creating images of complicated surgical procedures for textbooks. Working as medical illustrator, I learned to be very disciplined with my art.

In the last five years I’ve taken workshops with many artists whose work I admire: Tony Ryder, Daniel Greene, Albert Handell, Mike Malm and David Schwindt. I now paint full-time and teach drawing and painting part-time. Some days I’m in the studio working with a model or a still life, other days, when weather permits, I’m outside painting en plein air. A recent walk through a Chinese village shows me that I’ve barely touched my local subject matter.

Mediums and genres: I do still life, portraiture and landscape, and I work in pastel and oil. My pastels are either on Wallis paper or my own surface made with gesso and pumice. I love both mediums and find that they feed into each other. I’m very conscious of surface quality, and I’m currently playing with the idea of pentimento, sanding back the surface to reveal the painting below.

Inspiration for this painting: The markets in China are a constant source of wonder—the colors, the shapes, the bustle of activity and the smells. This painting is part of a series of local foods. The gingko grows all around, and I love the shape of the leaf, but I didn’t know that the seed was edible. I went to the market, bought gingko seeds and went into the backyard to get the leaves. The series was orchestrated around celadon—a pale jade green Chinese dishware.

I spent two or three days in the studio on Celadon Gingko. I was working from life and had to work fast before the leaves dried up and changed shape and position. This painting was the fourth is a series, so I had already worked out some of the compositional difficulties before tackling the ginkgos. I particularly enjoyed the twists and turns of the stems.

Why she creates art: I can’t seem to help myself. My mind turns so much of my environment into paintings when I’m walking around. I enjoy all the aspects of being an artist: the planning, the painting, meeting the collectors and passing on what I know to other students. I also love being “in the zone”—I think it’s akin to being in a meditative state. Perhaps it’s endorphins, maybe it’s the right-brain activity, but I like to be there, and I like to teach others how to access it.

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