Using your surroundings to inspire your sketchbook : Interview with Kristin Myers

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It's a cloudy, rainy day down the shore. I'm driving up the main blvd from Beach Haven to Surf City. This island has always been my favorite place. I grew up going to Long Beach Island, about 25 miles north on Atlantic City. It was where I spent most of my childhood summers. The smells, the sounds -- it's all engrained in me. It's my happy place. The place where I go when I close my eyes. 

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I remember the first time I found one of Kristin Myers' sketchbooks in the collection. To be honest, what I noticed was that she lived in Surf City, NJ before anything else. It made me feel an immediate connection with her. That, and her work represented so much of what I love about the beach. It embodied the textures of what it's like to watch the ocean. 

Upon driving up to her house, just 100 feet from the bay and about two blocks from the beach, I felt a calmness. It's surround by trees, unlike the other houses on the street, and has more of a legacy feel about it. "It's my boyfriend's grandma's house," she tells me. It was passed down to him. As I jump out of the car in the rain, I hear the rumble of dogs barking. To know Kristin, you have to first meet her dogs. Dagmar, a 7 year old Weimeramer, does not leave her side for the entirety of our interview. Though equally afraid and curious of me, we don't get far past a quick pet here and there. 

Her house is that of a beach house dream: airy and open, eclectic and art filled. From wall to wall, you can find her art work, spanning undergrad to graduate to current, maintaining a similar vibe, color scheme and look throughout. Her studio is tucked away in the front corner of the house. It looks out to the street in front. Piles of framed prints line the walls. 

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"I just sold this one," she tells me while pointing to a giant painting of the sea on the floor. It's her signature blue colored waves. The same texture that first excited me about her work. "The manager of a local restaurant called me up and told me to pack it up, he was buying it." 

I can't exactly put my finger on the type of artist Kristin is. She has a distinct style, one that is pattern and texture based but with almost a childlike innocence to it. It's like this just comes out of her. Her love for the ocean simply seeps its way out. She's modest but confident in her work. Something about her paintings attract people. I'm not sure if it's her emotions toward the beach that people can relate to, or the texture, or what. 

Kristin tells me that she took her first steps on the beaches of Long Beach Island. She spent several months a year here while growing up. She knew, that after college, this is where she needed to be. "I literally packed up my car and drove here. I haven't left since." 

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I meet up with Kristin a few days later at a local gallery on the island. A small pop-up shop is set up and Kristin has some work out front on a table. Her car is parked next to the table, and I can see through the window that she has more stacks of art work in frames. She produces quite a lot of work for someone with multiple jobs. She teaches art during the school year at local colleges and works at a restaurant all summer. "Everyone on the island works super hard all summer so we can travel in the winter." Last winter she spent more than 2 weeks in South Africa, learning to draw animals and exploring through local safaris. All this explains her recent submission to the project, which is full of animals from her trip, a surprising departure from her typical work. "I have a love hate relationship with that sketchbook," she tells me. I sort of agree. Her talent is there but unlike her work of the ocean, missing is that extra quality that I can't seem to explain. 

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While we chat at the local art show, we decide to take a quick stroll down to the beach. As we walk onto the sand she reaches down and picks up some garbage someone had left behind. She takes ownership of the beach. Even as someone who has been coming here my whole life, this is her place. This is her ocean. 

Meeting artists from the collection like Kristin is truly inspirational for me. To be in their place, see what they see, feel their inspiration around them -- and meet their dogs, of course -- is an experience I love. Kristin is sort of extra special for me. We share a favorite place. Her inspiration is also inspiration to me. I'm not the only one who feels this way about her work; her print is still our highest selling print that we have. A simple wave formation with a tiny cut-out ship within the waves. I've seen people stop in their tracks to marvel at it. I've seen spouses run to get their significant others to share it with them. What is it about someone's work that allows people to connect with it? It's this feeling about her that I wish I could describe. 

Can you tell us more about yourself?

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I'm a surfer, an artist, a dog-lover and a bunch of other things, but those are the top three that come to mind. The beach has always been my home, and I've been surfing for as long as I can remember. I have always had an intense love affair with the ocean, and it shows in my art. My art has transformed through my life in so many crazy ways from non-objective drip oil paintings in college that represented the liquid spontaneity of the sea to meticulous line drawings and paper cut-outs of the sea's surface and hurricane satellite imagery on vellum in graduate school. Now, I feel like I'm taking bits and pieces from those experiences and molding them into one. Line drawings on vellum of formidable sea creatures cut out and layered over blue toned drip paintings mimicking stormy seas. When I'm not doodling in a sketchbook or surfing, I'm playing with my dogs or cooking. I love to cook, and it's no secret that my whole family thinks I should've gone to culinary school instead of art school, but I know I made the right decision. Besides, chefs have terrible hours! 

What made you do The Sketchbook Project?

In 2012, I was doing a semester abroad at the Burren College of Art in Ireland during the summer. I was having a hard time with the cold, rainy weather, and not being by the beach. I spent most of my time in my studio doodling in my sketchbook. I didn't realize it at the time, but my sketchbook was starting to become its own work of art. When my professor, Martha Gelarden saw it, she told me all about The Sketchbook Project and that I had to do it. I've been participating every year since. Thanks Martha!

Any advice for people considering doing it?

I think the important thing is to figure out your theme and have a plan mapped out for your sketchbook, and then not stick to it! Let your creative side take over and have fun with it. My favorite sketchbooks that I completed for this project were the ones that I didn't take too seriously and let evolve as I worked in them.

How did your sketchbook relate to your other creative projects?

Sketchbook-ing has always been a large part of my creative process. I use my sketchbooks to journal, collage, take notes and of course, doodle. I often get lost in the doodles I create in my everyday sketchbooks, and usually those doodles turn into larger, more complete works of art. I have even shown some of my sketchbooks at gallery shows as a complete piece. The sketchbook I completed for the project two years ago is my favorite. I took the book apart and dyed each individual page different hues of blue and let the dye and paint drip. I allowed the paint to move on its own without trying to control it. Once it dried, I stitched it back together and then took each page as a new painting. Every page already had this theme of being lost at sea, so I just continued that idea with lines and shapes representing waves and formidable seas. I was so excited with how it turned out, that I started using that idea and process with my art and creating larger pieces in the same manner. It creates a great conversation between chaos and control.

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What is your spirit animal?

My dog, Dagmar. Can your own dog be your spirit animal? HA! 

 

Steven Peterman