Every now and again I discover an artist’s work on the Internets, and I’m immediately blown away. My most recent mind explosion happened when I saw the work of Katy Ann Gilmore on Instagram. Like me, Katy Ann has a thing for micron and gel pens, and she uses them in most of her work; but Katy uses them in very different ways than I do. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone use them in the ways she does, even friends who are obsessive pattern drawers. I became so intrigued by her “one-dimensional-drawings-of mountains-that-look-three-dimensional” (or what I’ve come to call them), that I decided I had to know more, so I emailed her to see if I could interview her. Not only are her drawings impeccably rendered and mind-blowingly beautiful, I figured she also had to know a thing or two about how to play with dimension in space, which meant she had to be super smart. I was right.
Thankfully, she accepted my interview request. I present to you Katy Ann, the latest installment in my Interviews with People I Admire Series.
Lisa: Katy, welcome to my blog! Tell us a little bit about you. Where did you grow up, what’s your background and how did you begin your career as an artist?
Katy: I’m originally from the Midwest (Indiana/Illinois) and moved out to LA about four years ago. I’ve always had an internal drive to create, and when I wanted to learn a new skill or technique, I would find someone to teach me or teach myself. Growing up, I learned woodworking from my mom, was always drawing/painting/making sculpture, and picked up sewing, knitting, and other fiber arts. I don’t think there has been a moment in my life where I haven’t been making something.
I was also really interested in mathematics, so that was pushed a bit more strongly as I entered high school as it was deemed more practical. I’m definitely happy to have studied mathematics as well as art, but the distinction between math and art, or metaphorically the practical and impractical, has been something I’ve worked to navigate. I went to a liberal arts undergrad, so that allowed me to study a few different subjects. This was a great decision for me, as opposed to an art specific school as I’ve always felt a bit more of a hybrid. I don’t see the two subjects as disparate and have worked to naturally communicate my love for both in what I make. I think the pieces have been there my entire life, I’ve just been working to put them together.
Essentially, growing up, I knew I wanted to somehow live my life by just making things. I didn’t grow up in an environment where that was realistically encouraged because of that whole “practicality” issue. Moving to Southern California was certainly a key decision in pursuing what I love. I worked as an Admin Assistant and then Finance Coordinator for a few years while working on my MFA.
I finished my MFA last summer and kept working my 9 to 5, because that’s the practical thing to do. I think I was plagued by practicality and was a bit complacent, because working a regular 9 to 5 job is what you’re supposed to do, right?! I was practical and realistic even as a young kind, and if I could talk to little 10 year old Katy today, I’d say, “You’re tenacious. You can make things full-time. It will be hard, but you’ll figure it out.” I eventually quit my 9 to 5 last fall, without really intending to pursue art full-time, but I think my intrinsic desire to do so took over. I eventually let myself believe that it was possible, and I’m so thankful I did.
Lisa: Congratulations! Making the leap to full time art-making is not easy. I’m so excited for you! Okay, so let’s jump straight into the juice here. I am super intrigued by your two-dimensional drawings, mostly because they look three dimensional! How did you begin making this kind of work? What is your process for making it? What is your medium? Pens only or are there other tools involved?
Katy: I started these type of two-dimensional drawings about four years ago. I’ve been drawing my entire life, but these grew out of desire for a change of pace after finishing undergrad. At the end of undergrad, I was painting on unprimed canvas, cutting it up, and sewing it back together, which I see big connections with in my current drawings. I wanted to simplify things a bit, work on technique and detail, and ultimately decided to focus on pen and paper for awhile. Also, drawing is just really convenient….I love the portability of it (at least when working on a smaller scale), and make my “studio space” in a few different locations. The drawings then started to be expressions of 3D work I would ultimately make during my MFA, and eventually become works in and of themselves. And, in the year since finishing my MFA, I’ve mainly focused on drawing.
I typically use Pigma Micron pens (usually size 005 for small drawings, and sizes 01 and 02 for larger ones). I’ve also been using watercolor, gouache (although I typically end up using the gouache in a wash-y way like watercolor), marker, or bottled ink. Depending upon the type of drawing, I may sketch a few things out, but I usually just let the drawing develop as it goes. This has been my method for the more topographical/mountain-y drawings. I love the mix of planned vs. unplanned parts in a piece. For these mountain pieces, if color is involved, I’ll sketch out the general idea in watercolor and lay the grid on top. But I welcome the little surprises that happen when drawing the grid. Parts of the drawing will recede, parts will come forward…so sometimes it becomes a bit of an intuitive and reactive process. That rigid/planned vs. unplanned/intuitive mix serves as a good metaphor for my interest in math and art I think.
Lisa: Inquiring minds want to know: how long does it take you to create one of these drawings? Does your hand hurt after awhile? How do you stay focused?
Katy: Small 5 in. by 7 in. drawings typically take a few hours. For an 11 in. by 14 in. drawing, it can take anywhere from 10-25 hours, and, honestly, I lose track on anything larger than that. I usually try to “clock-in” and “clock-out” when making larger drawings, but I haven’t been too diligent about that (and sometimes I don’t really want to know how long it takes, because it’s long.)
I think I’ve instilled a good amount of diligence in myself and am able to focus for long periods of time. When I was a kid working on a self-imposed art project, I’d be able to focus for hours, so I think that’s only increased with age. Sometimes I do feel stuck or in a rut with one particular drawing, so I’ll move to another. I’m usually working on 6 or 7 drawings at a time (all in different sizes), so that allows me to move to another drawing when I’m feeling frustrated with one. I think this is a good tactic because I don’t stop the flow of work. Instead of ceasing to work when feeling stuck, I move to another drawing and return to the original one later.
My hand does hurt a bit after marathon sessions, but never anything too crazy. I try to rest my eyes/hands/brain every once in awhile by looking away from the drawing, dropping the pen, and taking a breather. I know I hold my pen a bit strangely as I rest it heavily on my ring finger. In kindergarten, I remember teachers trying to correct this, but I think this strange pencil holding probably allows me to draw for longer periods of time. Hahahha. I think that’s the secret.
Lisa: Your Bachelor of Arts is in Art, Mathematics, Spanish. Talk more about the intersection between math and science and your work.
Katy: I think my love for mathematics extends to my general curiosities about the world, and art has been a way to communicate those questions visually. I think a lot about grids and organized representation of spaces, which is certainly inherently mathematical. A few years ago, I was thinking a lot about the negative space around objects and how that constantly fluctuated as physical objects like you or I moved about in space. This resulted in an installation called “The Shape of the Air“.
For my MFA thesis, I was again thinking about objects in space. I was researching phenomenology and experience in environments, and this led to an installation (again, based upon a grid) called “Matter and Void”. I was intrigued by the disconnect between our perception of the world as consisting of solid objects and the reality of the “empty space” (that doesn’t appear empty) in matter. It floored me (and still does) that we don’t see things as they actually are, only in the format permissible by light, which interprets these non-solid objects as solid. I was really intrigued by that concept, so I was thinking a lot about perceiving these tiny little particles interacting. I think that’s a theme in my work, whether 2D or 3D as tons of little parts coming together and repeating.
For my recent drawings, I’ve been thinking a lot about a 2D grids being warped/pulled in 3D space. Connected with that, I think a lot about calculus. A lot of it is just about slicing up 3D objects into an infinite amount of 2D slices, and I’ve been thinking about that with some recent drawings by slicing up topographical drawings to reveal 3D cross-sections.
Lisa: Tell us more about planning versus creating as you go in your drawings.
Katy: I usually have a general idea but let the drawing develop and change as I go. I like that unexpected part of it and responding to the drawing as it develops.
I have made pieces that are a bit more precise and there isn’t as much room for responding to the drawing. I drew a series of Square Shift/Glitch pieces that are generally confined to a square, so they require planning and adherence to a particular format.
Lisa: What is the largest piece you’ve ever drawn? Any ideas to go even larger?
Katy: As far as drawing, the largest I’ve done outside of the formal education scene is 4′ x 5′. Oh, I definitely have plans to go larger!
Lisa: Where can people find you on the internets?
Katy: Here’s a quick list:
Lisa: Thank you, Katy for taking the time to share your process! I have learned so much! Can’t wait to see what you do next.
Have a great Thursday, friends!