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.
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”.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.