Interview with Kathleen Kalinowski
PRESERVED! Artist Interview Series
The last of the lupine blooms are sprinkled throughout the meadow, their brilliant lilac colors popping amongst the dull green grass. Kathleen Kalinowski stands with her easel in the shade of young oak tree. She’s at Maas Family Nature Preserve in the late afternoon, and she is wearing a large floppy hat, a bright blue shirt, and a dark apron.
Kathleen wears a sunny smile. This is her second time through the Preserved! program and last time she was even interviewed in a short video that was filmed about the project. This is somewhat ironic considering Kathleen was more of an introvert growing up.
“For me to sit and sketch while everybody else was goofing around was my way of being there but not participating one-hundred percent, you know what I mean?” she says.
Kathleen discovered her penchant for art at a young age. Fourth grade was particularly influential. Her mother, a girl scout leader, invited a neighbor watercolor artist to come demonstrate to the troupe one evening. The experience sparked Kathleen’s interest, and school fueled it.
“My teacher had this chalk artist come in,” Kathleen explains, “and he would do these wonderful drawings on the chalkboard. I was very impressed.”
When Kathleen was given her own pen and ink and watercolor, she discovered a natural ability that would brand her as “an artist” throughout her career. She was further encouraged by her high school art teacher who introduced her to oil paint.
While Kathleen primarily uses oil for plein-air work—it’s easier to haul than an entire case of pastels—she enjoys both mediums in addition to drawing.
“Sometimes I can visualize a painting in pastel, and sometimes I can visualize it in oils,” she says. “With pastel, you have to pick out individual sticks, and you have to have a lot of sticks to really make it work. With oil, I love mixing the colors; I love the whole thought process.”
Kathleen’s inspiration is light and shadow. “Looking out in this field and seeing the light grasses and the wildflowers and the cool shadows and the warm colors gets me excited,” she says, “but there has to be contrast to really grab me.”
She rarely finds herself uninspired, but occasionally artist’s block gets her. When that happens, she finds it helpful to look at plein-air studies.
“I just start something,” she says. “I do a bunch of thumbnail sketches, and I won’t start something until I’m excited. I like to have one or two things on my easels at my studio at all times, but if it’s a really nice day, I’ll say, ‘Forget the studio! I’m going outside to paint!’” She laughs.
Kathleen is also inspired by the work of other artists who feature nature. “My all-time favorite artist is named Clive Aspevig,” she says. “He’s a western artist who lives in Montana. I think if I could be anywhere other than in Michigan painting, it would be in Montana.”
Montana may be famous for its expansive landscapes, but Michigan is home to truly stunning viewscapes as well. To Kathleen, what makes Michigan special is the water and the shoreline. “I love small bodies of water, and I love to paint creeks—especially in the winter. I think for me that’s the most fun.”
Most Michiganders despise driving in winter, but they might still agree with Kathleen about the beauty of the winterscapes that are experienced in Michigan. Artists can remind us of the beauty of our world, which is Kathleen’s hope.
“I hope people feel peace and tranquility when they look at my work,” she says. “I hope they can feel that they can walk right into my paintings, and that they want to be there. There are so many distractions right now. If people are not looking outside, then they’re missing out on so much beauty! That’s a real shame.”
Kathleen believes art can help remind people of how much they already care about the natural world, even if they don’t realize it.
“I think it’s important for the artist to depict nature in a positive way,” she explains. “Art makes people more aware of nature and beauty around them. And I think kids especially need to be aware of nature, I really do, and I think they are—more than adults are.”
For Kathleen, Preserved! is a great opportunity to inspire the community.
“Land Conservancy’s are great, not only for conserving the land, but for bringing awareness to the general public about what’s going on,” she says. “To me, it’s the best thing ever to be out here and go to these different places that I wouldn’t have gone to otherwise. It’s just so interesting, the things that you learn.”
Learn more about the Preserved! program and read other artist interviews here.