'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Questions people asked me a long time ago.

I hardly want to admit how long ago it was that I invited bloggers to pose me questions about my art and artist life. I stumbled on them a few weeks ago ... 

Recently I have gone through a 'I'm not a real artist' thing (quite common, I'll get over it) and at the moment call myself an illustrator. However, I might graduate onto 'Painter' and live there for a while. Art is such a weird stuff. Even artists can't agree what it is. But the questions of how I travel on this road were interesting to me to answer, so I thought maybe they would be to you too.

So without further ado, here are the questions, with my replies.

Yorkshire Pudding: Some artists are partly motivated by the notion that by leaving something of worth behind they will achieve a measure of immortality. To what extent do you fall into this category?

Kate: My motivations (to make art) are thus: 5% gaining immortality through leaving something worthwhile behind. 15% the desire for fame and fortune in my own lifetime. 30% to help the natural (not man-made) part of the Earth by helping people explore what there is to treasure and care for. 30% to give myself pleasure by the learning and capturing process of subjects I am fascinated by, and 20% to give other people pleasure.

Yorkshire Pudding: Your art often seems driven by a passion for the natural world. What unvisited aspects of the natural world would you most like to capture?

Kate: All of them. Plus I would like to present the visited/ familiar aspects in an unfamiliar way, to counter any weariness or contempt that that familiarity my have caused. (Yes, to do all this I need a few more life-times!)

Yorkshire Pudding: Your portfolio appears people-less when some other artists might specialise in human faces and the human form. Why are there no people in your work?

Kate: Although much of my early work had few people (with the notable exception of my ‘Saemangeum’ triptych), it was mostly that my focus was and is on an Earth that is in danger of being irreparably damaged by people. To that end I felt that by eliminating people from my work, I was symbolically eliminating their affect on the natural world. Of course, humans were implied in the works, very strongly.  They just didn't appear as images. I especially refer to the Godwit Series.

However more recently with my International Bee Appreciation Society series, I have intentionally installed people as the focal point, with the hope that viewers will associate themselves with the people in the paintings, and in this way, align themselves with the affection that the portraitees clearly have for the bees that are with them. (PS I have another International Bee Appreciation Society Meeting (show) planned, and am looking for people who would like to take part. Taking part means answering some questions about your interest in bees and having your portrait painted (from a photograph) and shown in the gallery. Taking part also means you automatically become a member of the IBAS (International Bee Appreciation Society), and purchase of your portrait qualifies you for a beautiful illustrated Membership Certificate.)

Karl Von Frisch (below)  is long gone, so couldn't get his certificate, sadly.

Karl Von Frisch - the 'Father' of the bees. 
He discovered the 'waggle dance'
communication of bees. 

Helsie: When did you start to paint?

Kate: Too early to recall Helsie. The first time I remember I was especially proud of something I painted was when I was about 11. I had been given a dip-pen that, for some strange reason I chose to use upside down, as it then gave the most marvellous spidery, even line. I remember deciding to draw something very tiny. I found a narcissus flower, a cherry blossom, and a broccoli gone to seed. I drew them very small on the front of three envelopes and then coloured them. I liked them so much I never sent the envelopes with letters. In fact I still have the drawings. They are about 2 - 3 cm tall each.

Helsie: What training have you received ?

Kate: When my children were small I did three years of weekly watercolour classes. Then a few years later when they were at high school, I went back to high school myself and really loved a (‘17-year-old’) year of painting and art history classes. I surprised myself and came top of my class. Then the next two years I went to the local polytechnic and studied full-time. I came top of the class both those years too.
The next year I was encouraged to enrol in the university as a Post-grad student (- a massive jump, even though I had a Bachelors degree in science from years before) and I gained my PG Dip at the end of the year - the hardest year of my life.

Helsie: What made you take up this ( the painting of fish , birds etc ) type of work?

Kate: I was raised in a small house with a large garden, a horse paddock opposite, and a river behind, and always loved either being outdoors or drawing indoors. I spent a lot of time watching creatures or pulling plants to bits.  I suppose I still find living things the most fascinating.  Someone seeing me may have thought I was a lonely child but I was so happy and completely absorbed in my own world of ants or moths or grasses or stones.

Helsie: Is it the fine detail that captures your interest most?

Kate: I love working small. I like little creatures. I feel like it was a world that others hadn't noticed or weren’t interested in, so I could ‘own’ it and discover it for myself. I am a patient illustrator so enjoy making the small, precise marks of small subjects. If I was to paint a landscape my default setting would be to paint every blade of grass on every hill.

Yorkshire Pudding: I have thought of another intellectual question:-
What’s your favourite colour?
Kate: Green. Of course.

Rhymes With Plague: Who is (are) your favorite artist(s) and why?

Kate: I love and relate strongly to the approach of Leonardo da Vinci. I think I am an artistic scientist, rather than a scientific artist. For the same reason I really admire Dürer’s work. I dream of being able to capture a bird’s plumage the way he does in his painting of a blue roller wing. But I admire many, many artists, too many to list, many that create work much more loose and free than mine, and on almost every subject, especially if there is an element of dry humour, of irony, in the work.

Rhymes With Plague: Do you prefer working indoors or outdoors? Why?
Kate: Indoors because my paints (watercolours, usually) dry up too much outside and my paper flaps in the wind. I love my studio.  It's a 10 sq metre lined 'shed' in my back garden, in amongst the trees.  I love it out there as I can work undisturbed, which is very important to me. Time just flies out there.

Rhymes With Plague: Do you prefer morning or afternoon light? Why?

Kate: To work in, I prefer neither.  For preference a south (non sunlit) set of windows for an even, unchanging light all day. This of course would be north-facing windows if I lived in the other part of the world. I designed my studio with all windows except one, facing south.  The doors open to the sunshine, but I cover them when I am working. But to take photos I absolutely love the 'golden' hours just after dawn and just before dusk. The light then is wonderful and the shadows throw things into relief.

Rhymes With Plague: How early did you know you wanted to be a professional artist?

Kate: I actually wanted to be a scientist or a geographer. But I only wanted to do the drawings (plants, dissections, graphs, geometry, maps, diagrams, plants, fish, microscope views etc etc.) in each of these subjects! I was about 30 when I found I had to start expressing myself more freely in a visual way or part of me was going to die, and I really felt I wanted to make my living this way about three years ago when I signed up with Pikitia Postcards and now have four of my NZ birds available in Pikitia Postcard stands all over New Zealand.  What a thrill.

RWP: Which medium is your favorite to work in? Why?

Kate: Watercolour and coloured pencils. I like the control they give me if I need it. Next favourite is oils because that media is so permanent and versatile.

Kiokio NZ Fern.  Work in progress. 

RWP: Which medium is your least favorite to work in? Why?

Kate: Pastels. Because it is so hard (and therefore expensive) to frame up a pastel work. Part of the creative me is very pragmatic you see!

GB: Do you concentrate solely on the type of art in your last exhibition?
I say this because I know - and love - some of your other works (particularly 'that' landscape) as well as the more detailed work on the Godwits etc.
GB: I try to focus GB, but fail. There are so many things I want to paint.

Jenny Woolf: I would like to know what the first thing is that you can remember drawing and being pleased with.

Kate: My parents tell me the first recognisable drawing I did was not the usual face with dots for eyes and a line for a mouth, but a circle with six ‘arms’. When asked about it I said it was our village (Havelock North) roundabout, and named each of the roads.  I do remember making a lot of maps when I was young.  I loved how I could 'travel' in my mind along the roads, and I think they were the first drawings I made that had meaning for me.  They opened up my mind to a world of creative possibilities.

Thank you to the most excellent questioners above! If you want to visit them, click on their names on their first question.
If any readers to this blog have any more questions you'd like to ask me, please write them in the comments below and I'll do another post.


Shameless plug:  My website is in the process of being updated with prices for my original works.  And archival quality prints of many of the works you can see there will soon be available through my online shop.  Enquiries and commissions always welcome to art@katherinesteeds.com

Plastic fire-bellied Toad.  2013. Acrylic on stretched canvas. NZ$2,700 + P&P
A3 print on cotton rag museum quality natural paper: NZ$270 + P&P


  1. A most excellent post! +1000! It's the sort of post that illustrates (pun intended) why we missed you for the last year in Blogland!

    (I learned from Jeopardy (a game show on television) the other day that the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald said that putting exclamation points at the end of something you write is like laughing at your own jokes. I am trying to stop but it is difficult. I also want to cut down on parentheses. I have a long way to go.)

    1. Thanks so much Bob. I an glad you enjoyed it! (I love brackets!)

  2. I think you should take whatever path your muse urges. Express yourself in the manner you feel at the moment.

    1. That's a great way to approach art as a pasttime Emma. And certainly has its place at times, for example when I am in the beginning stage of brain-storming a new series. However I need to focus more on the business side too, in order to keep afloat. More than half the time I am working on how to let people see what I do, or keeping track of materials and expenses and incomings etc. Just like a 'real' job.

  3. Sooo much water has passed under so many bridges since you invited those questions. I have absolutely no idea what I would ask now.

    1. Perhaps because now Geeb you know what an incredibly complex and fascinating creature I am?

    2. I could not have expressed it better myself. Kate.


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