Artspring Gallery are delighted to welcome Katie Whitbread as the newest member of the gallery’s artist collective.
Katie is a painter, and was interviewed during this current lockdown.
How long have you been an artist and how did your artistic career begin?
There has never been a time when art was not very much part of my life. After A Levels I went to Art School in London. I remember discussing with my tutor how I would like to train as an Art Therapist but he advised me to pursue work in the commercial world first. I went on to train/work as a set designer in television for twenty years. In the latter years I trained as a psychodynamic counsellor and then went on to do a PGCE and taught Art for a further fifteen years.
I spent the last part of my teaching career teaching art in a Special School for students with social and communication difficulties and autism. During this time I worked with and explored the therapeutic nature of art. In this I was able to integrate the counselling training that I had undertaken within my teaching practice, focusing on positivity and the ‘doing’ rather than ‘results’.
Why do you make art ?
I make art because I couldn’t not be making art. Creativity underpins everything that I do and feel and always has done……..but of course this can also present a huge challenge at times. During fallow times, it can feel difficult to engage with new work so it feels important to find a way in somehow that will offer an opportunity for a connection.
Simply concentrating on a drawing can bring about a change, leading to engagement and new ideas which then go on to lead to other things………
What themes do you pursue?
Common themes for me are : still life, landscape, my locality and garden, plants, scale etc.
Also colour. I often become quite fascinated by a theme and will spend weeks exploring different aspects of it in a range of media and scales.
Who or what have most inspired you?
There have been so many things that have inspired me over time going right back to Art School and the tutors that taught me. Visiting exhibitions and art galleries is very important to me . Seeing the work of others is a constant source of inspiration and perhaps this is one of the things that I have missed most during 2020.
Over the years I have made regular visits to Cornwall , walking the coastal paths, and enjoying the incredible quality of the light in the west, especially around St Ives. I also enjoy walking on the South Downs.
I admire David Hockney for his sense of colour, openness to change and excitement about new ideas/media etc. Also for the way that he is so able to talk about his work. I went to a talk he gave at the National Theatre in the 80’s which was so engaging.
The Fauvists, who are known for their strong colours and fierce brushstrokes, have been a source of inspiration. Particularly Matisse, and also Winifred Nicholson for her deceptively simple still life paintings.
I have found much to inspire me at Kettle’s Yard, in Cambridge.
Weather, light and colour are all important. When I was a set designer and starting with an ‘empty page’ I often sought initial inspiration from a particular colour combination and I can see that I still often work with a restrained palette in my paintings.
Can you describe your first big break?
Probably my first job at London Weekend Television was my first ‘big break’ in that it went on to shape my career path. It was in the late 1970’s, a time when there was a choice of jobs for Arts graduates…….something that feels unthinkable now!
After graduating I had a choice of career opportunities and chose to take up the job at LWT because it seemed to offer the greatest challenge at the time (though I was secretly terrified).
I loved the variety of the work and learning to work to tight deadlines was a steep learning curve which stood me in good stead over time. However, all of my design work was focused on a ‘brief’ and the constraints were the guiding factors.
Although there was a lot of creativity in the different jobs that I worked on it was hard to see myself as an artist………….. more as a designer fulfilling other peoples’ requirements. Satisfying as it was it felt invigorating to move on into the very different world of teaching; a subject that I am passionate about.
It was not until I retired from teaching that for the first time I had the time and opportunity to explore things for myself and to work towards becoming an artist rather than being the designer that I felt myself to be.
Having a studio built in my garden has been a major step and enabled me work on a larger scale and to move onto using oils.
What brings you joy?
Weather, frosty mornings, scenery, bright days, colour, nature, the intensity of the seasons, scented flowers, good coffee. Friendship, time in my studio and garden.
This year of Covid has somehow acted to amplify feelings of joy that I feel in gaining pleasure from simple things and to reflect on how fortunate I feel.
Are there any achievements of which you feel particularly proud?
I feel content with the path that my training, work, and retirement (from paid work) has taken.
I am fortunate to have spent my entire career working in Art and Design rather than having to subsidise my art by working in other areas.
How do you like to spend your time when you are not being an artist?
I think that most things I enjoy have a strong connection to art and design and I am aware that I make links all of the time, whatever I am doing.
When I am out walking it is impossible not to see the possibilities for how I might take inspiration for a idea for a painting or other form of work.
Most days I draw or paint. I walk in the countryside and on the coast, visit galleries, looking at art and design. Spending time with friends and talking about art is rewarding, and of course I am looking forward to spending more time in being involved with ArtSpring Gallery.
What is the best piece of advice that you have ever been given regarding your art?
Perhaps to be able to walk away. This is something I find incredibly difficult but it is amazing how coming back with ‘fresh eyes’ can make a big difference to how one sees one’s own work, enabling one to move it on.