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Q & A: ‘For the Beauty of the Earth’ Artist Kathrin Burleson

Kathrin Burleson has collaborated with Forward Movement and voices across the Episcopal Church to create For the Beauty of the Earth: Daily Devotions Exploring Creation. Kathrin has contributed beautiful creation-themed watercolor paintings to accompany 365 days of reflections. She also created Soul’s Journey: An Artist’s Approach to the Stations of the Cross.

Kathrin resides in Trinidad California, and her art has been shown across the US in museums, churches, and galleries. Her artwork can be viewed at kathrinburleson.com or on her Facebook or Instagram pages.

1) What medium did you begin with?

I drew before I painted. Pencil drawing, which I still love. It’s basic to everything I do. Drawing teaches you how to see and develop skills and ideas.

2) When did you start painting?

I started painting as an adult, in my mid-thirties and didn’t draw seriously till I was about thirty. I like to share that with people to encourage them to begin, at any age.

3) Were you creative as a child?

Not especially. I always enjoyed writing and it came easier to me than drawing or painting. An important moment in my childhood was when the principal of my grammar school told my first grade class that writing wasn’t difficult, that it was just like talking. I took that to heart and am forever grateful to that wise man. It’s something I like to pass on to art students—don’t let fear or second-guessing get in the way of what you are trying to say, whether with words or images.

4) What is your favorite thing to paint?

I like to paint animals of all kinds, but also like to develop visual interpretations of abstract concepts. Spending time with scripture trying to figure out how to express something that may be hidden in the literal is probably the most rewarding. It forces me to slow down, really read every word, explore other sources and try to see the different layers of meaning. And drawing people is endlessly satisfying. It all becomes an excuse to immerse myself in something beyond myself. To take the time to understand and to really see.

5) Do you have an absolute favorite painting that you’ve ever done? If so, can you share a photo with us?

This is an oil that was done over 25 years ago, and variations keep presenting themselves in one form or another. It may be my favorite because it expressed a break-through. While not immediately obvious, this relates pretty closely to the Creation Series—it’s all part of a continuum. 

6) How long does a watercolor painting take to do?

A watercolor can take three hours or three weeks, sometimes even longer. It just depends on how it goes. It’s great when everything flows and it seems to paint itself, but that doesn’t happen very often. Sometimes it turns into a wrestling match and the challenge is to not overwork it, or let the struggle become obvious. Other times, a painting develops gently over many days. That’s why I like to have two or three paintings going at any one time. I can move on when I get stuck, keep working, and come back to it with fresh eyes.

7) Can you describe your process?

I generally start out with thumbnail sketches—I draw little rectangles in my sketchbook and try lots of different compositions and concepts. It’s freeing since there isn’t that commitment and you can quickly try lots of ideas. I also use words, descriptives scribbled around the drawings which isn’t very elegant, but it works for me. Then I do a fairly complete drawing on drawing paper, which I then transfer to the watercolor paper. With a series like the Creation Series, the composition is very simple, so placement is critical. This allows me to adjust placement before committing to watercolor paper.  Of course, there are times when I just draw directly onto the paper.

Once I start painting, I do lots of washes and layers of paint, and try to work the entire painting as I move along. With watercolor it’s good to develop values rather slowly since once you’ve established the darks, they are there to stay. That slow process is what I love about watercolor and keeps me from switching to acrylics for this type of work. It has a contemplative quality that is a lot like meditation. You can’t rush it.

8) What inspired you to do a creation series?

The Creation Series embodies everything I love about painting—delving into scripture, working out interpretations, exploring nature, seeking out and expressing the divine touch in all of creation. Since I decided to focus on Creation in my corner of the world, I’ve begun to see the richness all around me that I simply hadn’t paid attention to before. And once you paint something, you see it differently—forever. For example, I’ve learned so much about the birds in my area and I never dreamed I’d paint raccoons (but I still don’t like what they do to my garden). It’s made my environment seem much more alive and I’m excited to keep on exploring what’s out there.

You can order a copy Kathrin Burleson’s For the Beauty of the Earth here.

Video: Stations of the Cross Online Course on ChurchNext

Artist Kathrin Burleson, who created the gorgeous Soul’s Journey: An Artist’s Approach to the Stations of the Cross, is hosting an online course on the Stations for Lent on ChurchNext. Here’s a preview of this great offering:

The course is designed for group study and wonderful for both those new the Stations, and those who have experienced praying this way. We encourage you to sign up on ChurchNext today!

And just a reminder that our new study guide and liturgy for Soul’s Journey are now available for download—free!—on our site.