Kate Jarvik Birch
Kate Birch is a Utah based artist and fiction writer. I first encountered her on Instagram and was impressed by two words written beneath every post: "Daily Painting." In almost as many posts there is a third word: "SOLD."
Kate produces a painting almost everyday. She has made a business of these paintings and I wanted to learn more.
Andrew: Finding the motivation to produce can be one of the biggest challenges for artists. You produce a painting a day. How did that begin and how do you stay motivated?
Kate: It started New Year’s Eve three or four years ago when I decided to write a poem everyday. I got to July and I wanted to quit with every ounce of my being. But I kept going and finished off the year. I realized there was something to creating constantly and putting it out in the world even if you don’t like it. You’re not going to love everything you produce but every once in while you’ll create something that you’re truly proud of. And I found that other people find beauty and joy in things that I do not necessarily connect with.
Andrew: And how did that transition into a painting a day? Did you develop an interest in painting at that time?
Kate: No I had gone to school and gotten my degree in fine arts in 2005 and began a career as an artist. But then I began to focus on writing and published a number of books. So I waffled between the two. But I had a financial setback the December before last when I separated from my husband, so I needed a source of income that would be more consistent than writing and selling published prints. I had done #Inktober, creating a drawing a day for the entire month of October, and loved it. So I decided I would make a painting a day and offer it to friends on Facebook. This went well. I took a break when I got job ghostwriting a book. When that job was done I began again making a painting a day. It's been a great way to do what I love and connect with people. It's a way for people to buy fairly inexpensive original art and it's a way to support myself.
Andrew: You write on your Instagram posts when the pieces sell. It's impressive to see how many of them do sell. Was that always the case?
Kate: It was when I started on Facebook and they were mostly selling to friends. And I was selling them for much lower prices then. Now on Instagram it's becoming its own little business and it's exciting to see it growing. It's much more exciting when I don’t know the people who buy them and I was surprised at how many people wanted them. And many people who buy one end up buying more, because they really are prettier in person. There is something about the texture of the gouache that you can’t really capture in a photograph. And I like that it's an opportunity for people to buy original art at a low price. There is a special quality to owning an original painting that doesn’t come across in prints, which is how I had sold much of my earlier work, through print publishings sold at places like Pier One and Target.
Andrew: As a consumer it's nice to be able to enjoy landscapes from environments you’re not used to. Are your landscapes done from life or photographs? And are they all from your own area?
Kate: The landscapes are from photographs. And living in Utah I have access to all kinds of scenery, from rock arches to mountains, but I get bored doing scenes from only here, so I use photographs from all over the world.
Andrew: The piece that I bought, of the hand; is that your hand?
Kate: Yes. That was a study that I did the other night in reaction to another artist’s painting which used a similar lighting. It was just a study for myself before I decided to put it online. I was pleased that you liked it because I've been doing landscapes for so long and was beginning to feel bored with it. So I felt like branching out.
Kate: I think what you’re seeing is someone who gets bored very easily. (Laughter.) I'm always looking for something a little bit different to occupy my mind. I just can’t tolerate it. I have to move to different things or it becomes torturous. I have to be learning something new with each project or it becomes monotonous.
Andrew: Can you walk me through a day in the studio?
Kate: I get up, get a cup of coffee, and begin thinking of the day’s composition. If it's a still life I might be searching through my refrigerator for subjects. At this time of year I work in a small studio off of my bedroom. Generally I work from photographs on my computer. I use small Strathmore cold pressed watercolor paper, taped to a board to keep it from buckling. I usually sketch first with a mechanical pencil. My paint is set up on four different palettes with different colors that I re-wet each day to activate the paint.
Andrew: You use gouache?
Kate: Right. The gouache is very forgiving. I can build up the image without worrying too much about mistakes. I first used gouache in college and fell in love with it. You can lay it on thick to create these very velvety tones, or thin it down to this cream like consistency, or even thin it down to a glaze.
Andrew: In looking at your recent painting of dandelions, I have trouble telling what is transparent and what is opaque. Is this ultramarine in the vase?
Kate: Yes, it’s ultramarine. And different paints have different levels of opacity, so the ultramarine, for instance, has a transparency despite how thickly it’s applied.
Andrew: When you work on a still life like this, does it come as a moment’s inspiration or is it planned days in advanced?
Kate: It depends. Sometimes I have material queued up, but I have to find something that's speaking to me that morning. In this case I had seen a painting on Instagram of dandelions and thought it was charming, and happened to have a front lawn overrun with them at the moment, so I went outside and picked some.
Andrew: That’s one of the great values of Instagram, isn’t it? Finding new art to look at daily.
Kate: It is. I’m constantly scrolling through and finding new artists that inspire me. I love Instagram. And it’s great for meeting people all over the world. I’ve sent paintings as far as Australia to connections I made on Instagram.
Andrew: Who are some artists that inspire you?
Kate: I love Richard Diebenkorn, Edward Hopper, Wayne Thiebaud, Gustav Klimt. John Singer Sargent is one my favorite painters.
Andrew: That last name makes the most sense in looking at your work.
Kate: He was the master of brevity. He could use so few strokes to create so much. I don’t think I could ever do that because I’m too meticulous and not loose enough. I admire anyone who can be loose with their brushstrokes, but I’m very tight. You are what you are, I guess.
Andrew: Actually the first thing I noticed about your work is how economical your brushstrokes are. You are very controlled, but there is a flow and sense to the control. It reminds me of Vermeer.
Kate: Thank you. I think the work of an artist is to distill something. When I paint I am constantly trying to distill the subject down to its essence. To find the simplest version that still feels rich.
Andrew: When did you become interested in visual art?
Kate: Very young, before I can remember. I was always drawing or playing with clay. And my dad was an inspiration. He had some training as an architect and designed the house I grew up in. He was quite artistic and we have the same sort of visual mind.
Andrew: Was he encouraging?
Kate: No. He was always in his own world and he left when I was 10. But my mom is quite a good painter, though she doesn’t think of herself that way. She was a journalist and is now a playwright. They were both creative people and my mom never limited me or discouraged me from doing what I wanted.
Andrew: Did you begin college as an art major?
Kate: No, I started in elementary education. I had an art teacher that encouraged me to pursue visual arts. I’m grateful to her for directing me away from education. I later tried teaching art classes in my children’s school and hated it.
Andrew: How did you pursue opportunities after college?
Kate: It's mostly about putting stuff out. When I was first contracted to sell published prints, they found me at a local art show. I used to query galleries that I liked. It's mostly just asking and not being afraid of being rejected. You do get rejected, but occasionally someone says yes. And then things fall into your lap. You have to be ready to engage chance opportunities. Nowadays there are things like Instagram, which are great because you’re not limited to any locality.
Andrew: How do you price your art?
Kate: Oh my gosh, it's so hard! My friends constantly tell me to charge more. I just started selling the little ones at 80. My standard now is the square inches times 2. That might not always be representative of the work that went into it, because some pieces take longer than others. But I don’t like to think about it, so it’s nice to have a set price for a type of painting.
Andrew: You’ve done a lot in your career. Is there a dream project?
Kate: I have so many. I'd like to write a movie, I want to do really large scale portraiture, or a mural.
Andrew: Do you have an ultimate goal as an artist?
Kate: (Pause) I think it’s about my own enjoyment, not necessarily about the production. I do sometimes feel, when I walk through a museum, that feeling of: Maybe someday people will be looking at my work like this. But it's more about my own satisfaction in learning and improving. It gives me purpose in the doing.
Learn more about Kate: https://www.katejarvikbirch.com/about
Follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kebirch/?hl=en
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