I’m honored to be sharing today the story of award winning artist Kathy Morton Stanion. Kathy has been an artist all her life; specializing in illustration and graphic design, she has held several positions as an art director with a client list including Playboy, Michael Jackson and Islander Sportswear.
Here’s Kathy in her own words..
Can you introduce yourself to our readers? Where are you from, where are you based now? Do you work from home or have a studio?
I am a working artist and designer. I grew up in a very small town outside of Youngstown, Ohio. After graduating from high school,
I attended Youngstown State University but soon became somewhat frustrated. I wanted to study art but felt that I was spending too much of my time on other subjects that had nothing to do with my career goals. I knew that a regular collage was not for me so I moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to attend The Art Institute Of Pittsburgh where every class was solely focused on art. I Loved it there! Being from such a small town, the environment was so exciting to me. Creative, flamboyant and crazy artist types of every kind, and the rhythm of the bustling city, I just loved it. I just soaked up all the different art classes. I must say that I never worked harder in my life while attending that school but it did teach me discipline in the pursuit of my goals
Upon graduating, I moved out west within a week. First to Fort Worth, Texas where I was fortunate enough to secure a great job as an assistant art director. After six months the art director left and I was promoted to that position. I was twenty three years old and an art director for a large stationary company. It was crazy. My duties included graphic design, illustration, overseeing work and photo shoots and paste-up. (This was all before computers being used for designing.) A year later I vacationed in California and that was it. I was moving again.
Being a small town mid-west girl, I was in love with everything about California… palm trees, weather, ocean, art scene, … It was all so exciting. I lived in various beach cities in the Los Angeles area for over 10 years. In that time I held positions as a designer and art director in advertising, graphic design and silk screen. I had the opportunity to learn a whole new range of artistic skills. I also started painting more. I wanted to get back to my first love, watercolor. So I started painting again and eventually entering local and National competitions.
My next move was to Las Vegas, Nevada where I worked for companies as an art director for an advertising agency and the largest souvenir company in Las Vegas. There I designed everything from clothes, fabric, posters, magazine ads to coffee cups.
My last job there was as a designer for YESCO, a very well known sign company in Vegas that was there almost from the beginning of the neon lights of Vegas. Documentaries have been filmed about them. I designed Interior displays and signage mostly for casinos and cruise ships.
In all these positions I was fortunate enough to somehow incorporate my love for painting watercolors and water media art but also pursuing my fine art painting in my “off-time”. I exhibited in local and national shows and events, joined all the local art groups and was even voted in as President of the Nevada Watercolor Society one year.
Recently I relocated back to Ohio after thirty two years where I am putting the finishing touches of my new art studio and working for myself. I absolutely love it. My main focus now is my fine art. Although I still take on graphic design work and other various projects.
Have you always been creative? Are you from a creative family?
My parents have always been creative in that they are “do-it-yourselfers”, sewing gardening, building things, etc. My father built things in carpentry and my mother sews her own curtains so I do believe that the creative gene runs in my family. I have always been creative in some way. As a little girl I use to make all the clothes for my barbies and sew crazy pillows. I always loved drawing and coloring. It’s funny now that one of the projects that I have in the works is an adult coloring book.
When did you first start creating? When did you recognize that you would pursue design?
Honestly I think my path of becoming an artist in some form started when my 9th grade art teacher, Mr. Roby had the class paint a watercolor painting. He liked my painting so much, he entered it in a local competition. It made me think “maybe I am good at this”, so I decided then to really become as good as I can. I started painting every day, trying to improve upon the last. I painted, painted, and painted.
This is why I believe teachers are so important and art in our schools is so important. Never underestimate the power of a teacher.
I decided to pursue design upon graduating from high school. I wanted to become a designer because it seemed to me to be an exciting and lucrative career. I didn’t know anything at all about design or what it involved but decided to become one. Oh the naiveté of a small town girl.
Do you have a formal training or are you self taught?
I do have formal training as mentioned before but I have always continued taking classes and will continue to do so. I have studied at a variety of colleges where I lived and attended workshops from favorite artists. I never stop learning. I believe that is very important.
How and where do you find inspiration for your work? Does inspiration come easily to you? Who inspires you?
I find inspiration everywhere! I realize that this is a common answer but it is true. It could be the lettering or logo design on a wine label in the grocery store or the beautiful contrast of a person wearing a bright yellow rain jacket on a dark blue/gray rainy beach that catches my eye. (All true examples). But what mostly inspires me is other artist’s and designer’s work. (If you take a look at all the boards on my Pinterest page, you will see what I mean). I realized this early on. When I would attend an art exhibit or an art festival, I would be so inspired. I could not wait to get home and create. So one of the things that I started doing long ago is clipping art and design images and gluing them into a book … my inspiration book. I have books for graphic design, art dolls, sewing and fine art. For my fine art inspiration, I will print out art that I love and even some of my own paintings and put them in binders. I now have many binders completely full. So when I walk into my studio with coffee in hand, I just start flipping through the pages and before long the creative juices start flowing and I am painting away.
As far as who inspires me, there are so many people that it would be impossible to mention them all. My interests are so many. It ranges from graphic design, typography & calligraphy, art dolls, assemblage, mixed media, photography, illustration, sculpture as well as painting. So many artists inspire me so for now, right off the top of my head are Katherine Chang Liu, David Cho, Dale Chihuly, Nita Leiland, Maxine Masterfield, Michael deMeng, Mark Rothko and of course Georgia O’Keefe.
Would you say that you’re a disciplined artist? Do you set aside time for creating and time for business for example?
I would say that most of the time I am a disciplined artist which I attribute to my art school training. I have a daily planner that I write every little “to do” no matter how small and I do my best to check them off the list. I handle business, sales, return emails etc. in my office in the morning and then it’s off to the studio.
Do you have a certain style or is it constantly evolving? What medium do you most like to work with, do you work digitally?
I don’t know if I have a style. People say that I do but I have never consciously tried to develop one. In art school they always said that you had to develop one to “be known” but for me, I just have too many interests and want to do everything. In a way that worked for me in my past jobs. Whenever they needed a job done in a certain style, I would be able to emulate it. But now as a fine artist, I just go with the flow. One day I may be in the mood to paint loose vibrant floral watercolors and the next day be inspired to work on a dark highly textured mixed media on canvas piece. I give up on developing “a style”. I just create and what will be, will be.
You license some of your work with DiaNoche Designs, how do you like working for them? Did you approach the company yourself or did they find you?
I love working with DiaNoche Designs. When they approached me to license some of my art, they were the first company that I signed with. I had others approach me but for some reason I had a bad feeling about it and decided to go with my instincts. With DiaNoche Designs, I had a great feeling from the start and so I signed. I have never regretted it. Now I have several other companies that I have licensed my art with for fine art prints but only DiaNoche Designs for home decor.
Do you have a project that you’re particularly proud of?
There are a few but I think that I would rather use this space to mention what that I am proud and honored about is donating my art to various charitable organizations that I believe in, mostly animal welfare charity events, auctions and fundraisers. I feel so blessed to get to do what I love for a living…
Donating what I love is my way of giving back.
I would also like to share a wonderful memory: One year I was fortunate enough to have my design selected to be used on all the shirts, baseball hats, jackets, souvenirs, and program cover for the Playboy Jazz Festival held at the Hollywood Bowl.
Being the artist that designed the art for the festival that year, I got to be in the Celebrity box. After eating lobster and getting a little tipsy on Champagne, I looked up at the audience and as far as I could see, thousands of people were all wearing my design, my art …what came out of me at 3:00 am all alone in my room. It was one of those moments when I felt so happy to have had pursued my dream. It was pure feeling of joy. Then later on I saw 3 different musical artists wearing my design on MTV… A Rap Artist, Skid Row’s guitarist and Kenny G. I believe no matter what, follow your Bliss!
Can you share your workflow with us from your inspiration through to the finished piece? Did you develop any products from this?
Basically my “workflow” is unstructured. I walk into my studio and start working. As I mentioned earlier, I start creating what my mood determines. Sometimes I will start many new pieces in one day and then put them aside, sometimes for years. If I start a piece without any preconceived subject in mind, I may wait until I “see” what it is to become. It just seems to appear one day and I just have to bring it out. Other projects I will sketch out, think it through and have a complete plan for completion.
I consider everything that I create (unless I sell the rights), potential for print or product use. Nothing is sold or leaves my studio without a high resolution file for future use.
How do you sell your work? Do you have a physical store/outlet or sell online? Do you do commissioned work? Do you have an agent or are you considering working with an agent?
Yes, I sell my work anywhere that I can, lol. I sell my work through my website and my Etsy shop online (links at end of post). I also sell through galleries across the country. I use to do the art festival scene and plan to start doing that again by next year. I do commission work as well. I still take on graphic design work as well as fine art commissions.
I am now doing commission work for custom tattoo watercolor designs. I work with the client to create a custom watercolor painting that represents them and has a special meaning. They get to keep the original and all the rights to the art so it is truly a one-of-a-kind tattoo.
As far as an agent, I do not have one at the moment. I would love to get one so that I can focus more on creating art.
What are your plans for the future? Do you have a vision of where you’ll be next year for example?
I have so many plans for the future, I almost become overwhelmed. For this year though, I plan on completing my new studio and find new gallery representation here locally and outside of Ohio. I also want to do a lot more original art specifically for interior designers and architect firms. Recently I was contacted by a major interior design firm to paint a very large (6’ x 10’) original painting that will hang in the reception area of a new fitness facility in New York by a well known global fitness chain. Also, a large architect firm out of New York is refurbishing a hotel in Fort Lauderdale and requested me to paint a piece that will be reproduced 147 times for the guest rooms. I want to a lot more of these kinds of projects.
Where can we find you?
Many thanks to Kathy for sharing her story and beautiful work. If I had to choose one of her works displayed in this post I would go for ‘The Balance Of Passion’ I love the color red! How about you?
That’s all for today, I hope you enjoyed this read as much as I did and if you like you can share your views in the comments below. Don’t forget to check out Kathy’s work, links above.
Join the newsletter (at the end) if you want to keep in touch with what’s going on here on the blog. I still have more interviews coming up including emerging designer, Brenda O’Connor and a special interview in the making with Pattern Observers very own Michelle Fifis and she’s giving away a copy of her new book “Textile Design Techniques for the Fashion Industry”. You do not want to miss that, I’ve had the pleasure of reading a pre-launch copy and it’s pretty darn good!
See you soon..