Friday, 27 March 2009

People of Interest - This week, Barb Kiwak


Today I have managed to corner the mucho talented and lovely artist Barb Kiwak. Luckily for us she had no easy means of escape and so gracefully agreed answer my questions. Thank you, Barb.

Me – Cate Culpepper (bragging as usual) first drew my attention to your work on the cover of Queens of Tristaine. I was very impressed, and wondered as a book illustrator (one of your many artistic manifestations) how does the imagery come to you? Do you read the synopsis and an idea drops into your head or do some authors talk their vision over with you?

Barb – I don’t think I’ve ever worked with an author that wasn’t ultra opinionated about what they wanted to have depicted on their cover. That works for me - when I’m illustrating I want a lot of direction. It’s always helpful if I can read a synopsis or the entire story before composing an image, but in publishing it’s not always possible.

So the author will tell me what they're looking for, which usually includes everything plus the kitchen sink, I’m noting key visual elements and the general mood they’re after. I’ll then compile my reference, this sometimes involves setting up a photo shoot with models, costumes, props etc. Then I start to put my ideas on paper in the form of a sketch. This stage is the most exciting part of the process for me – it’s dramatic because I can see the mood of the piece established very quickly. I love to compose using visual imagery, which is a process unique to illustration. With landscape painting you are essentially recording light and texture but with illustration you are composing, arranging imagery to create the most dramatic scene.

Finally, if the author/publisher likes what they see, I go to finish.

Me – Talking about illustration. What made you move from there into sculpture and larger canvases? You have tremendous variation. Do you like exploring different avenues or is your creativity the type that is always seeking new ways and methods to express itself?

Barb- I love to illustrate. The act of creating art is such a solitary pursuit, but when I work on a project for someone else, suddenly, it’s not so lonely. I feel more a part of something. But, having said that, I have an “artists” heart, which drives me to follow my muse where she leads. For me that’s landscape painting. I can’t get enough of the drama of the changing seasons and the colours the light creates within the landscape.

Illustrating full time was kind of mind numbing and monotonous. I had always wanted to be a fine artist, but was afraid I wouldn’t be able to support myself. A few years back my partner encouraged me to just “take the plunge” and do it. I did and haven’t looked back. Now I only illustrate for a couple of companies.


Me – Looking at your site http://www.kiwak.com/ you work in landscape, portraiture, and sculpture. What is you natural medium? Do you have one? Can you be easily defined?

Barb- My favourite medium is oil paint. There’s nothing like the pure pigments, the blendablity of it. I learned to paint using watercolour, which is the most difficult of all mediums. When I switched to oil I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Can I be easily defined? Wow, what a question. I’m a very shy person, reclusive, really. I tend to approach nerve-racking situations with humour because I’d rather appear silly than scared. I’m extremely emotional. My partner Lynn refers to me as a “high maintenance unit”, it’s true, I am. Other than that, I love my partner, my family and friends madly and forever and I try to remember, every once in a while, to show them just how much I do.


Me – A strong love of nature shines through your work. I’m sure you’ve been told many times that people could get lost in your woods - by that I mean the paintings not your neighbourhood. I often wonder what comes first – a love of nature or a desire to paint anything and everything, including life around you. I was once told that every landscape painter began with still life and just got itchy for bigger and better subject matter?

Barb – That you say my love for nature shines through my work means a lot to me – thank you. Desire comes first. Without desire there’s no love for nature. I think we’re all hardwired inside in a certain way that drives how we respond to the world. Whether that’s writing, performing, care giving, we all have our unique way of expressing our desires. For me it’s painting. It’s weird, the more I paint/sculpt the more I fall in love with the whole process, like I can’t get enough of it.

In college we did a lot of still life studies. In short, they bore the pants off of me so I don’t paint them. Unless of course someone with a really large budget came along and commissioned me, then suddenly I wouldn’t be so bored with the concept.

Me- Describe a normal day in the studio...or out of it, if the sun is shining and you want to work outdoors.

Barb- Most artists I know work all night and sleep all day. This has never been me. My studio is in my home, which works out well because I am a bit of a workaholic. However, I try and stick to a 9 to 5 workday so that I can enjoy a bit of a family life. I usually have about four canvas’s going at once because my painting technique involves glazing which means I can only go so far with a particular painting before it has to be set aside to dry. I walk my dog at noon every day. She’s a rather big girl so to keep up with her gets my blood pumping.

By the time Lynn gets home from work I’m definitely ready to stop working and be with her. I slip on my cocktail dress, pour her a martini and get to work right away making her dinner. Not really, but I do cook the dinners because if I waited for her to do it, I’d starve to death. We then watch TV, usually Cash Cab or Cold Case Files. I can’t watch the news – it gives me indigestion.

And that’s a normal day for BarbJ

Me –If you could dress up as one of Kim and Xenia’s action heroes what work of art would you steal?

Barb – This is a great question. I’ve always wanted to own artwork, sadly I can’t afford it, not even my own. And really, if I have to come back for another lifetime, I am seriously going to try and be an action hero.
It’s hard to pick just one, Gill. I’m totally in love with the California Impressionists, so maybe a William Wendt, “Green Fields”, or “Cup Of Gold”. You know, a large landscape that you can just lose yourself in. On the other hand I’ve always loved John Singer Sargent’s – “Madame X”.

Me – If you could dress up as one of Cates Amazons, what glyph would be your tattoo and where would it be?

Barb –My glyph would picture two women passionately entwined and it would be right over my heart ;)

Me – Ah, that is so sweet - you're such a love heart. Well folks, that’s all we have time for. I think you’ll agree this was a fab interview and if you follow this link - http://www.kiwak.com/ - you’ll be lost for hours in Barbs work. (On canvas that is, only close friends get to see the glyph.). Thank you once again Barb, it was great fun. x

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