Behind the Scenes with Kathy Ferguson

The artist on finding a unique voice & more

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Dec 13, 2019

In our Series Behind the Scenes, artists answer questions about their creative process, philosophy, and more. This installment features Kathy Ferguson, a mixed media artist who specializes in multi-layered collages. You can see our curated collection of her work here.

The artist at her easel

What do you consume to help fuel your work?

Daily life provides me the most inspiration. The leaves on the trees as I walk to my studio. The color scheme I see in a store window. The abstract composition I see when trying to read a magazine without my glasses on. Shapes, colors, lines, and texture are all round me ready to inspire me when I open myself to them.

How do you know when a work is finished?

It’s finished when the dissonance is gone. That is, when all the components work together into a balanced whole. Editing and simplifying a painting are the hardiest things for me. I start each painting with lots of ideas, shapes, and marks, loving all of them. But a good painting needs less not more focal points. So, I cover up, push back, mute down most of these areas until the painting finally feels in harmony as a single idea.

Describe your ideal workspace

I split my time between three art studios (in New York City, Florida, and Colorado.). My New York studio is my ideal workspace with six large windows, lots of wall space to work on big canvases, and organized storage for my large collection of art supplies and finished work. But my other two studios are little more than a single table each. I’ve learned that artwork can be made anywhere if you have the passion and desire to create.

What does your workspace look like?

A new studio

I recently moved my art studio from crapped quarters into a large commercial space with 10 ft. high windows and lots of open wall space. I can now work on many of paintings at once, flitting back and forth between them. If I get stuck on a painting, I just move onto the next one.

What’s an image that represents creative flow?

Falling ApartThis painting just seems to fall into place and was finished within a couple hours. I often take weeks to finish a painting, but this time the creative flow was there.

What’s an image of an artwork of yours that you hated 10 years ago but now love?

An early work

This was my first attempt at abstraction way back in 1996, and I thought the whole idea was just silly. Looking at it today, I like that there is no clear explanation of what the painting is about. It’s a gift to the viewer to let them determine that for themselves.

Is it better for an artist to be an optimist or a pessimist?

Optimist! Being an artist is already hard enough with the criticism of others, the self-doubt of your talent, and the heavy competition within the art world. You must have fortitude and a strong belief in yourself to thrive as an artist.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

When I first started as a professional artist, I worried that if my work wasn’t over-to-top “new and different” that there wouldn’t be place for me in the market. A friend told me to stop worry about finding a “unique” style for my artwork. Instead, to just paint. And paint and paint. She said that my personal style would develop on its own (whether I wanted it to or not) and that was how I would find my unique voice. And she was right!

All art is theft – true or false?

Good art is NOT theft. There is a difference between being inspired my other artist’s work and stealing their work. For me, Richard Prince’s use of Patrick Cariou’s original photographs constitutes theft. Had Prince instead been inspired by Cariou’s work and then taking his own similar photographs to use in his paintings, that would not. It is important that the artist ethically use only the inspiration of other artist’s work and not appropriate portions of it or copy their personal style in their own artwork.

Would you rather have not enough to do with your day or too much?

I would love to not have enough to do with my day. I could fill it with daydreaming, experimenting with new ideas and materials, or reading a book. Otherwise known as “filling the well of creativity”. There never seems to be enough time to just be.

What would you be if you weren’t an artist?

I have BS in civil engineering, an MBA, and an MFA and have worked jobs in all these fields. If I couldn’t be an artist, I would be an artist business coach. I would combine my love of art with my skills in business and marketing.

What is you favorite book of all time?

“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” ― from the movie You’ve Got Mail.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster was that book for me. Though a fantasy adventure novel on its face, the major theme is the need of a love of education. The puns and wordplay exploring the literal meanings of idioms are still my favorite parts of the book.

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Kathy Ferguson: Featured Work

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