RedDot Reader Profile | Kay Stratman

Last Light on the Buffalo Fork watercolor on gold shikishi board 24 x 20 $3400
Last Light on the Buffalo Fork  | watercolor on gold shikishi board 24 x 20 $3400

Painter Kay Stratman is an artist living in Jackson, Wyoming. Kay’s soft and peaceful works are influenced by Asian art and techniques, though she has adapted these techniques to her subjects, which range from mountain landscapes to wild birds and Yellowstone geological features.

I began my interview with Stratman by asking about her background.

Jason: How did you get your start in art?

Kay Stratman: I have always had a strong interest in art ever since I was a child. It was always my favorite class in school and it was natural to follow my mother and older brother in the field.

Kay's first known landscape
Kay’s first known landscape

J: Are there other artists in your family?

KS: Yes, my mother was going to be an art teacher (before she had a family to raise), my older brother and my younger brother are both artists of various kinds, though not all made a living at it. My older brother publishes books on the side and my younger brother is a graphic artist (graphic design) and a writer.

J: Did your family encourage your art?

KS: Yes, absolutely. I have always been grateful that my parents didn’t discourage my pursuit of art in college. However I was a graphic designer, so that seemed more practical.

J: How much art related education do you have?

KS: Graduated college with a BA in Art, concentration in graphic design. About 7 years out of college I began studying with various Asian master painters.

J: What is your medium?

KS: Watercolor on gold or silver metallic and rice paper covered “shikishi boards”.

 Four Peaks watercolor on gold shikishi board 13 x 10 $875

Four Peaks  |  watercolor on gold shikishi board 13 x 10 $875

J: Describe your style and subject matter.

KS: I call my style “contemporary realism”. My predominant subject is landscape with the inclusion of birds and other animals, at times. I use spontaneous, very saturated vibrant puddles of color using a technique that is quite unique and interesting to my audience. (The birds feature a bit more detail than the landscapes.) Though I no longer paint in an Asian style, it does still influence my work somewhat in composition, and the unusual materials I use are appropriated from my past Asian painting.

J: How did you develop your style?

IMG_2138
Winter Moon 24 x 16 | watercolor on silver shikishi board $2750

KS: It has definitely been an evolution. My initial training in graphic design gave me a keen sense of composition, (ie. use of positive and negative space, balance), then my study of Asian brush painting gave me a keen sense of minimizing my subject matter to it’s pure essence, and experimentation with Asian techniques and materials beyond their traditional uses led me to create my own style or “thumbprint”.

J: What drew you to your subject matter?

KS: My husband and I always vacationed in the west, and we moved to Wyoming 9 years ago (from the mid-west and east coast). I felt like I arrived in heaven and began painting every landscape in the west that I visited and observed.

J: What do you feel is unique about your work?

KS:  My technique and materials are not used in the manner that I use them, by anyone else that I have seen. I developed this technique specifically to capture and emphasize the flowing nature of watercolor. For watercolor, the saturation of pigment I use is unexpected. Add to this, my non-traditional approach to composition and I feel I have created something a bit different than the norm.

J: Let’s talk about your art business. When did you sell your first artwork?

KS:  Late 70’s, when I was in my late 20’s.

J: Are you a full-time artist?

KS:  Yes.

 Afternoon Ablaze watercolor and watercolor crystals on gold shikishi board $825

Afternoon Ablaze | watercolor and watercolor crystals on gold shikishi board $825

J: How do you promote and expose your work to potential buyers?

KS: I am currently represented in two galleries, I have a blog, I regularly post on my professional Facebook page, I send a regular newsletter, I teach and exhibit around the country, I enter national competitions (and receive awards which then become “fodder” for blogs and newsletters), I network outside of my comfort zone in order to grow my client mailing list, and I participate in local art events such as museum sponsored paint-outs and chamber of commerce sponsored quick draws.

J: You’re busy! What do you feel has been your greatest challenge in selling your work?

KS:  All of the above. 🙂 My preference is selling through representation in galleries, but honestly, it takes more than that to make it a successful career.

J: What do you feel you’ve been most successful at in your art, and in your art business?

Midsummer Night's Moon 11 x 10 watercolor on gold shiksihi board $825
Midsummer Night’s Moon | 11 x 10 watercolor on gold shiksihi board $825

KS: Creating my own unique brand or style, which I love, has been very satisfying and successful. I did not attempt to capture a niche, it evolved with time and work. Sharing it “live” with the public has proven to be very successful as a sales tool, and I also quite enjoy doing that.

J: What other jobs have you held?

KS: Graphic designer for the first 14 years of my career, then 20 years of self employment (creating hand painted clothing selling to the public and wholesale) in addition to painting and exhibiting, then 8 years of working in a high end contemporary art gallery, becoming the gallery director for 2 years (a great experience to help me navigate in the gallery world as a full time painter), and now back to full time painter for the past 1 ½ years. I discontinued the art clothing business about 5 years ago as it interfered with my painting.

J: How has your experience working in a gallery shaped your approach to your art and your art business?

KS: It was huge. I already was appreciative of what galleries did for me as an artist, but I now completely understand their enormous efforts to sell and promote, from the basics (hang work, talk to potential buyers) to the larger efforts like going to international art shows (for example SOFA at the Navy Pier in Chicago). It is expensive and hard work to sell art and a good gallery is proactive. They definitely earn their commission. (I have been represented by a few galleries that I feel were not particularly proactive, since I have my “inside” experience to compare them with.) Also understanding what is important to create a good artist-gallery relationship is very important. It boils down to Respect, Responsiveness, Professionalism, and in the best scenarios Friendship.

Kay Stratman's Wyoming Studio
Kay Stratman’s Wyoming Studio

J: Tell me about your studio and how you work. How much time do you spend in the studio on an average week?

KS: 30-35 hours. 50% business and 50% painting, give or take.

J: Do you have a daily routine?

KS:  I am trying hard to change my routine. I work loosely between 9 – 5. Currently I do my busy work (bookkeeping, emails, marketing, etc) in the morning and paint in the afternoon. But that allows my busy work to spill over into my painting time. I am going to start (today!) painting first, business second. Twice a week I go to the Rec Center to exercise in the morning, and many afternoons I take a walk or ski with our dogs. I try to do that after 5. As most artists do, I strive to become more efficient and focused and increase my time to paint.

J: How much work do you produce per month on average?

KS: 4 paintings, plus several small studies.

J: Who is your favorite artist from art history (and why), and which of their works is your favorite (and why)?

KS: Van Gogh – more for his approach than a particular painting. He painted beautiful scenes, his brushwork and colors conveyed energy, he eliminated the unnecessary. Perhaps Starry Night, because I love to paint skies, especially dusk and night. Runners up – Monet, for paintings of beauty and nature, AND because he was successful. Hiroshige (Japanese woodblocks) for his elegance and graphic style, and Chang Dai-chien (“arguably China’s greatest modern painter” /Washington Post article) for his unparalleled mastery of brushstrokes, BUT he was an arrogant con man (a very successful master forger of Chinese antiquity paintings) which is less than admirable, though quite intriguing.

J: What are your interests outside of your art?

KS: Hiking, cross country skiing, fostering abandoned dogs, rafting, camping (don’t do that often enough!)

 

J: To view more of Stratman’s work, visit her website at www.kaystratman.com. Thanks Kay!


This is from our Reader Profile series. To learn more about how we select artists for this series, read this.

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33 Comments

    1. First of all, let me thank Jason for the opportunity to share my experience. And yes, the studio does look tidy in that photo. I TRY to keep it that way because chaos actually gets in the way of my productivity. When I start a new painting I clean up from the last endeavor.

  1. It is helpful to hear how an artist manages life, art and promotion. The most important question in the interview to me is “How do you promote and expose your work to potential buyers?” especially how she answered it.

  2. Kay, your artwork is beautiful. I too am a watercolorist. Every now and then I hear a gallery owner complain about the need for glass on watercolor paintings, saying the ‘extra layer’ (as compared with oil or acrylic paintings) and the possible reflections distract the viewer. May I ask if you use glass on your watercolors, and if so, if you go to the extra cost of using museum glass which has no reflection (but also does not have the cloudiness of non-glare glass)? Jason, do you have any objections to glass-covered artwork?

    1. I’d love to hear a response from Kay and/or Jason on this as well. I prefer no glazing over my paintings (I do wax them) but if they are matted then the mat is at risk for damage.

    2. Kay here: If I use glass I use framing quality non-glare acrylic or non-glare museum glass. The acrylic is much easier to ship and really has come a long way from the old fuzzy appearance of non-glare. Museum non-glare glass is excellent and probably the best choice if you are using glazing. But I work on a rigid surface that allows me to spray with archival protective (UV and moisture) spray – Krylon Gallery Series. Then I “float frame”. This switch in framing has “coincided” with a leap in sales.

  3. Beautiful work, Kay! I love the saturated colors you’ve achieved – they really glow! – and the minimalist approach to your compositions. It all makes for a very calming feeling when viewing your pieces.

  4. I will definitely be looking forward to these. It offers me a window into the outside world in learning and sharing with other artists. I live in a rather remote area so this is a fabulous idea!
    Beautiful work Kay and such a great working space

  5. Beautiful work, Kay. I too work in watercolor though my subject matter is different and so also my palette. Impressive to see how much effort you put into reaching your collectors.

  6. Great to hear of her long and educated struggle to become a successful artist. It’s a terrific behind the scenes look at what we art people do! The public thinks painting is just dessert. Well, this interview certainly blows up that theory. I appreciated her honesty and share her focus. I received my BFA from Moore College of Art&Design in Philadelphia at age 51 as an ID major. I was interested how her graphic design influenced her. I started by creating architectural paintings.

    Morphing into being an atmospheric coastal landscape painter, I revisited mentally my own direction of raising the awareness of our Forgotten Coast (my last show) in NJ. This interview was reassuring answering many questions for me, and a valuable supportive lesson given her evolving history as well. Studio work is mostly alone and her words encouraged me to continue and believe in what I am doing on the East Coast so far away. I am reminded how universal the art world really is universal when it comes down to our daily life and efforts as an artist. Not always dessert!

    Thanks for the insightful interview. Katie Cutler

  7. Really appreciate the real life feature. The promotion part of the artist life is definitely the most difficult. We all need sponsors as in the Middle Ages, but I guess you have to be at the top of your game to merit such a thing.

  8. What a lovely opportunity to meet Kay and her stunning work. The materials and techniques she uses are new to me, and very interesting to learn about. Not being a watercolorist I am amazed and in love with the saturation of her colors! This interview feature is brilliant, Jason, and I’m looking forward to more 🙂

  9. Hi – I’m new to the ReddotBlog and I’m finding it SO helpful. Your interview, Jason, with Kay was very informative and the phrase I have taken from it is her remark about Van Gogh, that he “eliminated the unnecessary.” That holds true for so much in the art business – not just the painting!
    I work from our remote home up on the moors in Cornwall, UK and I have been seeking guidance on marketing. So – I’ll keep reading the blog! Thank you.

  10. Really enjoyed this, and the artist-interview concept in general. It will be especially interesting to compare and contrast different artist’s practices over time. Thanks to all! Just one tiny quibble: It actually is possible to make a living as an artist exclusively through gallery representation. It’s not easy, and changes in dealers, markets and styles will be required over an artist’s lifetime, but for those who aim high it’s the preferred business model. Blessings and thanks to all the hard-working art dealers out there!

    1. Kay here again: I know a number of artists who do make a living from gallery representation but even those success stories do lots of marketing on their own. And they are seriously dedicated to their work and time spent on their art and outreach. For me I sell work in many venues, though the majority is through galleries. I’m not saying the income will buy a house in the Hamptons. 😉 And I have a supportive spouse so for us it is teamwork. Of course everyone’s situation is different. No silver bullets.

  11. You are quite an inspiration, Kay. Great art backed up with great marketing, networking and behind the scenes hard work. Not to mention a splendid resume. Graphic arts and Gallery manager too! This blog is set up nicely. The article leads right to the artist’s website. Cheers.

  12. I absolutely love this idea for a blog. And Kay, thank you for being so responsive and real.
    It’s wonderful to get a view of artists that are making an art life happen and a glimpse into how they do it.
    It’s good to hear that yes, it takes s lot of work but it’s not impossible.
    Keep it coming, Jason.
    Linda
    Ps Kay I love your work.

  13. Inspiring, honest and challenging. Tuning in as an artist myself; this interview propels me to do more. I came to AZ 3 yrs ago from NYC where I had some success as an artist selling work mainly to major celebrities, commissions mainly. Not the type of success I would had rather but enough to live in Manhattan comfortable at the time. I came here started a family and quickly found out / It’s not New York/ !!!! I have been feeling lost and empty trying to generate sales here in AZ, trying to write a great resume; trying to get gallery representation, trying to figure out this vast ocean the web!! All that to say this interview encourages me to keep wading through the sometimes rough art endeavors until smooth sailing. An artist comes from the inside, hopes only to make art and live happily ever after; we have to find that happiness. I like the fact that she crosses culture embracing it respectfully making her own experience. Intelligent !!! Continue Artist!!!! When your experience promotes progress in others you have done great !!!! All the best to you in all you do!!!

  14. Your studio is so neat, please tell me it does not always look like that! I work in pastel and am looking forward to trying Krylon spray in the hopes that I can do away with glass! Thanks, continue doing what you love and the money will follow, right?! Susan Rogers

  15. “Winter Moon” is absolutely stunning, both compositionally and color wise. It is amazing how the surfaces that you work on are so complimentary to watercolor. I have often used gold and silver leaf myself, but these boards really give your work an inner light. Love your art!

  16. Thanks for your visit to Germantown and the Art League of which you were an early member. A beautiful and denjoyable evening watching you work and hearing your stories. LOVE your beautiful art!
    Craig

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