Interview with Acrylic Artist Kathy Bloem Tuttle


Acrylic artist Kathy Bloem Tuttle was always interested in art, but her father advised her to go into a career that would allow her to support herself. She took his advice, and now after retiring at a young age, she has committed herself to pursing art.

You spent 25 years in a left brain career. How did you then first get into painting?
My entire life I have loved to draw and been an avid photographer. I  actually considered going to art school instead of university. My father counseled me to pursue a profession where I could make enough money to easily support myself  and to save my pursuit of art for my retirement. I took his advice and was lucky enough to retire at an early age. My Dad's approach had a major advantage for me.  I can now paint what I choose rather than being ruled by the  dollar.

How did you approach learning to paint? Was it self instructed? How did you use teachers, art videos and books to direct your learning process?
I began by reading every art book I could get my hands on.  A year after retirement my husband and I moved to Florida where I enrolled in a two year art program at a local community college. Almost every activity I engaged in during those early retirement years was for the purpose of increasing my knowledge and expertise in painting. I took many art workshops with well known artists and purchased numerous art videos and dvd's, including a couple of excellent ones from Creative Catalyst.

My initial thrust was watercolor. I tried every technique and joined Florida Water Society and Watercolor Society of Indiana, in both of which I am a signature member. I love to paint both using live models and using my own photographs. Typically I paint two or three hours a day and average another hour or two  sketching or researching work I hope to do.

For the past several years I have studied with an excellent artist, Rose Ann Samuelson, who teaches an ongoing advanced acrylics class at the Daytona Art League every week.

What advice would you give about self teaching to someone who wants to learn to paint?
I believe reading is absolutely critical, but I don't believe it is enough. I recommend taking every opportunity to expose oneself to art and other artists, especially those more advanced than yourself. Try different techniques and subject matter and get critiques wherever you can. Take regular classes and surround yourself with people who love art. Study art history. Paint as much as possible.

How much time do you spend painting now? Do you set a weekly or daily schedule or do you just see where the week takes you?
Specifically painting I average 2-3 hours a day. As I mentioned above, I also spend another couple hours on painting related activities. I find I paint best when I limit my painting time to just a few hours. If I find I am resisting painting, I start something new and put whatever I was working on away for a week or so. Generally I am working on 3 to 5 paintings at a time. I don't usually allow a painting to sit for more than a month without work. Usually I am enthusiastic to get back to a piece and am inspired after allowing it to simmer for awhile.

You switched from watercolor to acrylics? How did that switch happen? What did acrylics say that you felt watercolor couldn't? Did it feel like starting over again?
I changed from Watercolor to Acrylics when I started to study with Rose Ann Samuelson. I wanted to join her class and she advised me to switch to acrylics so that when she made suggestions on how to improve my painting I would be able to incorporate changes. It took very little time for me to get comfortable with acrylics. I think once we establish an approach for developing the content of our paintings, the medium is almost irrelevant.  Watercolor has a luminance that I think cannot be paralleled by any other medium. Acrylics are much more flexible, however, and in a teaching environment certainly allow more creativity.

I love painting in both mediums, but for the time being I am limiting myself to acrylics. I usually paint on deep linen canvas that doesn't require a frame. Canvas adds a wonder textural quality that paper does not offer. With acrylics on canvas I find my drawing is much more gestural. I start with a simple drawing and then block in the details with paint. It is much freer than watercolor for  me and it doesn't require quite as much advanced detail work. That said, however, I almost always make sketches before I start to paint. I like to paint on different sizes of canvas. Preparing the glass and frames for watercolors gets pretty expensive if you vary the sizes of your works.

How did your process change when you moved from watercolor to acrylic?
When I painted in watercolor I planned every detail to a gnat's eyelash before I ever put a pencil to my watercolor paper. I used many different techniques to transfer my finished image to the watercolor paper and I avoided erasures directly on my watercolor paper. In watercolor I used resist techniques, glazing and various methods of creating texture.

In acrylics I am much more focused on design. I tend to like value contrast and use a more limited palette. After I complete one or more sketches I draw directly on the canvas and only use transfer technique when my overall design dictates that I must relocate a figure with which I am totally satisfied. Most of my drawing using acrylics is done with the paint rather than with a pencil or charcoal. I still often use glazing with my acrylics.

Your paintings are a mix of imagery. Do you paint from reference photos? From memory? How do you approach a piece? Do you work through thumbnails before beginning or do you go directly to the page?
Since I love to tell a story with my painting I almost always have more than one image. Over the years I have taken and amassed thousands of photographs of people and animals. Often a specific photo inspires a painting and I look for other photos that might compliment the first shape. Sometimes the chosen images dictate the basic design. Other times I try multiple approaches on paper until I find one I think will be successful. Secondary images are usually added after I have blocked the primary images onto the canvas and am happy with the overall flow. Other times I start a painting from an idea and find images that will convey my idea. My main figures are almost always from my own photos.

I  love to paint live models, although have only done this with watercolor. Such paintings rarely feel finished to me and I almost always expand them into more complex imagery. Only recently have I included any major element in my painting without using reference material. Perhaps that is a direction I will explore.

You work in series.  What advantages are there to an artist to work in series? How does it affect work when you know your subject matter really well? 
Part of growing as an artist, in my view, is learning to comment on similar subjects in a variety of interesting ways. A parallel might be a writer's ability to develop multiple aspects of a character's personality. Series help to develop multi dimensionality. Familiarity increases my ability to understand and to communicate. My favorite models and subjects very frequently relate to my family and life experiences since those are topics where my passion is highest. I can best express interactions that I fully understand.

How would you describe where you are in your art career? Where would you like to head? Or do you feel like you've gotten to where you'd like to be?''
I don't view myself as a person who enjoys constant repetition, even though many would say that I am addicted to sudoku!  At least in my art I am always looking for new ways to express myself. I try to surround myself with talented people from whom I can learn and whose critique I value. After painting on a very regular basis for almost twenty years my style and skills are strongly established but I will always enjoy the thrill of seeing a painting evolve and I love the ability acrylics gives me to make major changes in response to the images I see evolving on my canvass.

As our economy improves I would like to become better recognized and appreciated in the art community. But our world is teaming with exceptional artists and if that does not happen, I will always be thankful for these years of pleasure and friendship that painting has brought to me.

To learn more about artist Kathy Bloem Tuttle and her work, visit her website.

 Originally Posted on: Jun 22, 2012 by: Kelly Powers