An interview with Kathy Gustafson, animal artist

Kathy Gustafson
Kathy is an Alaskan-born artist, with more than 30 years experience in the industry. She works with a variety of media, including acrylics, pastels, watercolors, collage, relief printing, and papercutting. She also creates welded metal sculpture.
Kathy mainly creates paintings of animals. 

Hi Kathy, Thank you for agreeing to answer my questions!

How did you first find out you could paint?

I was encouraged to do art as a child, so I just always drew, colored, and painted for my own enjoyment. Along the way I found that I had a talent for creating art work with animals as the subject — most likely because I loved (and still love) animals.They held my attention and I enjoyed learning everything I could about them.

After my school years, I took some of my drawings to the county fair, and won some ribbons. This encouraged me to enter some art fairs, and begin selling my work. Since I was self-taught, I had a lot to learn about matting and framing, and presenting my work. Fortunately there was an art group in town which I joined, and learned a lot from the members — many of whom became my good friends. When I started out, I only did graphite drawings. This helped me with my understanding of values, and how small details effect the composition. Later, I started using pastels, and spent several years doing pastel paintings. Now, I also do acrylic / mixed media paintings, as I find it challenges me and I learn new things with every painting I do.

 I learn new things with every painting I do.

What is your favourite painting you have ever done?

I can’t say I have a favorite — usually my latest painting that I do from the heart is my favorite for a while, until I do another one, and so it goes. When I say ‘a painting from the heart’ it is one that I have been thinking about for a while, and the concept and subject really capture my attention. When I finally get around to doing those paintings, they always seem to be special.

     “Hidden Treasure” by Kathy Gustafson

What do you find yourself thinking about as you paint? Does it relax you?

I get totally immersed in what I am doing when I paint. I lose track of time and just exist in the moment, thinking about what is happening on the canvas and responding to it with my next stroke. It is relaxing, and yet can be exhausting as well. I can be really tired after a day in the studio!

I lose track of time and just exist in the moment

What is your pet hate about other peoples paintings?

I think I would have to say, it is when the artist has blatantly copied another artists work. I think they should come up with their own compositions and style and not just copy. This does not mean students who are just learning and are heavily influenced by their teacher, but even they should not exhibit and try to sell work that is an exact copy of another artist’s work.

What are the colours you could not do without?

I make use of many natural colors such as the siennas, umbers, and ochres. I also like Payne’s gray alone and in mixes for giving me darker values that still have color in them. Brighter colors such as blues, reds and yellows are nice for contrast with the animals I paint. And, it is always fun to experiment with new colors that I may not have tried before. I don’t have a set palette of colors that I always use like some artists do.

It is always fun to experiment with new colors that I may not have tried before.

What job did you have before you took to painting full time?
How did you make the transition between the two?

I did not work at a “paid” job — my main job for many years was raising my four children, including homeschooling off and on for several years. I was, during that time, also teaching art at a private school in exchange for tuition credit for my kids, and a member of a co-op gallery, where I shared work days and exhibited my art. As they grew up I had more time to spend on my art, and have slowly transitioned to being a full-time artist. I still teach art lessons, both at my studio and in the community. I have done art fairs and juried shows over the years to build my resume and reach different audiences for my work. I also accept commission work (usually pet portraits).

Any tips of the trade to new artists starting out?

First, I would encourage new artists to focus on developing their own style, one that a viewer can pick out in a room full of paintings. Then think about who is your main audience — who wants to buy your work, who really connects with what you are creating? Think of ways to reach those people. For example, I if like to paint dog portraits, I could arrange to have a booth at a dog show, and be there to talk to people who attend, with great examples of my art to show them.

It is also good to look for ways to create multiple income streams if it is your goal to make a living with your art. So you may also teach art classes, make and sell note cards with your art on them, do a booth at an art fair, and look for a gallery to represent your work in your own community or in other cities. The other thing that is helpful is the internet. Once you have a web presence of any kind (website, blog, virtual portfolio etc. ) you can have it on your business cards and give people another way to connect with your art.

How did you get your name heard?

Becoming known for your art is a long-haul job, and you have to keep at it your whole career.

Becoming known for your art is a long-haul job, and you have to keep at it your whole career. The internet has changed things in many ways, but you still need to be active in showing your work, networking with other artists, and being involved in your community. I live in a smaller community myself, so if you are involved in public events, teaching, and exhibiting, people do find our about you and your art. (But I still meet people who never heard of me, or talk to people I have known for years that don’t know I am an artist!)

What is a quirky fact about yourself that not many people know?

I don’t know if it is quirky, but I like to train dogs and do agility with them.
Some people think that is a little weird. 🙂

Thank you! 

Find Kathys blog at: