Makers to Know: Heather Kirtland

You might recognize this week's artist! Heather Kirtland was on the blog a few months ago with Marissa Huber talking about Carve Out Time for Art (it's a fantastic project, read more on that here). But today, the spotlight goes to Heather. She's a former figure painter turned abstract artist with a great outlook on life and all the ways that art can fit into it. 

 Heather Kirtland, hard at work (from I nstagram )

Heather Kirtland, hard at work (from Instagram)

BB: For those of us meeting you for the first time, tell us a bit about your background and how you got started. 

HK: Hi!  I have been creating for as long as I can remember.  Artist was my career of choice in elementary school.  When applying to college I considered fashion design but after visiting schools it didn't seem like the right fit.  I ended up graduating from The Maryland Institute College of Art with my BFA in painting.  I knew that the chances of supporting myself as and artist once I graduated was slim.  Thankfully I had super supportive parents that encouraged a fine arts college experience.  Perhaps naively I figured I could get a "job" doing anything to pay the bills.  But fortunately that's exactly how it worked out.  I have for the most part always continued to create, and used my "day job" to support my passion.   When I could I would apply to gallery shows.  The introduction of social media has really helped me get my work out there.  The fantastic community I've found is so encouraging.  About 14 years ago I stumbled into becoming a hairstylist.  I love the creativity and the people (both my clients and co-workers).  Best of all it allows me a huge level of autonomy to do my studio work.  I am beyond grateful. 

 Echo, 36"x36" acrylic on canvas by Heather Kirtland

Echo, 36"x36" acrylic on canvas by Heather Kirtland

BB: You balance a full time hair dresser gig, motherhood, and your shop. How on earth do you find the time?

HK: Ha! Some weeks are better than others.  I work only part-time at the salon since having my daughter (5) and son (almost 3).  I spend 1 day a week in my actual studio and then fit in all the admin and at home painting in the cracks.  I try to schedule things as much as I can.  This way time with my kids is focused on them, and I know that I have time set aside to create.  I also have to be super flexible and willing to bail if something comes up.  I am super lucky to have a lot of support from my family and they pitch in a lot.  

In all transparency it wasn't always like this.  When I had my daughter I was totally thrown for a loop and felt like I would never create again.  It took some time to figure how to make it a priority and then to my surprise the entire experience of being a mom brought a whole new level to my artistic practice.   I partnered with Marissa Huber on a project called Carve Out Time for Art, that fosters this community of mothers, people that work full time and people that are returning to a creative practice to find time to nurture that part of themselves.  It has been such a joy and I've learned so much.  

I am still learning as I go too.   My shop is the part that usually gets the least attention.  I'm trying to get better at that. 

 Encaustic pigments

Encaustic pigments

BB: What has been the hardest part about getting started in painting? How did you overcome that? 

HK: I worked mostly figuratively in college.  It was technically difficult, but I didn't have to worry about subject matter.  My senior thesis work was when I started to dip my toe into abstraction.  I still used a form within my compositions that I attached a persona to.  (My house forms still represent that in current.)  There have been a lot of dry spells too, where I just didn't know what to paint.  I find that sometimes I have to consider that down time as just as important to creating as actually creating.  It is a place to find space and just be.  It can sometimes make room for what is next.  I know setting down to sketch and be less precious usually sparks ideas.  Also reading can be a catalyst for a painting.  Sometimes I come across a word or phrase and it conjures a composition in my mind.  I used to get so scared that my creative energy was gone forever when the ideas dried up.  Knowing it will come back allows me to have a little more grace with myself.

 Escape, 18"x18" encaustic by Heather Kirtland

Escape, 18"x18" encaustic by Heather Kirtland

BB: The concept of "success" can be paralyzing to any artist, how do you avoid that fear of failure or comparison to other artists? What does success mean to you? 

HK: I think it's changed over time.  When I graduated college all I wanted was to show in galleries.  Once that happened I wanted people to buy my work.  Once that happened I wanted more people to see my work.   I'm not sure if this is a good path or not... 

The comparison game is hard.  I fall victim to it too and sometimes it leads me in a direction that I realize once I'm in it that I don't really want it.  It's not "me". What I have recently realized is to think about how I want it my life to look and to define my success with that. Which could be time for more travel, building a studio on our property, having more family time or building a wider collector base.  This has been much more rewarding.

BB: What are some of your favorite mediums to use? What makes you gravitate toward encaustic or acrylic when you start a painting? 

HKAt the moment my primary mediums are oil, acrylic, and encaustic.  When deciding on which to go with it comes down to the properties of the medium and my time constraints.  I usually work on acrylic at my house in a corner of my den.  I enjoy the immediacy it allows.   I can build layers quickly without the wait that oils require.  My encaustic and oils I work on in my "studio" which is a garage.  I have everything set up and great ventilation. I go to encaustic when I want a tactile quality or a composition that I want to carve out.  Lately I've really been enjoying painting with the blowtorch on them!

Oils are my first love so I return to them because I understand them the best and I like the depth I can create.

BB: Aside from painting, are you working on any side projects?

HK: Most of my extra time goes to Carve Out Time for ArtMarissa and I have so many ideas, and ironically not enough time!

I don't mind because it's so much fun.  I am also hoping to work on curating some shows in the future.

Find more of Heather's work here: 





Makers to Know: Amira Rahim

I've admired Amira's work for a long time because her paintings always evoke such good energy. If you're a fan of bright color and high energy marks, keep reading to learn more about Amira! 

BB: For those of us who are meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get started?

AR: Well, my name's Amira Rahim! I've been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember. Drawing was just something that came second nature to me and I would spend my early years buried in books. I was a huge book worm and not just for the stories. I used to dream of being an illustrator someday. I've been painting professionally now for the past 3 years. The first year was really an uphill battle. I was a new expat in the United Arab Emirates and finally decided that I was going to follow my dream of being a "real" artist. But I didn't have a style yet. So my first year was a lot of failed paintings, lots of tears, but lots of growth too. I'm happy I went through all the miserable paintings because it led me to finding my voice as an artist.

 "Sisterly Love" 

"Sisterly Love" 

BB: Your paintings are bright and full of movement. Where do you draw inspiration from, and how would you describe your artistic perspective?

AR: Much of my work is quite simply about color. Lets just say that living in the Arabian desert will really make you appreciate nature. The lack of color and nature really forced me to look internally for inspiration instead of externally and I'm happy for that. My paintings are energetic by design. I want people to look at my work and feel happy, cheerful, or simply at peace. I love when someone's standing in front of one of my paintings and you can just see them find a piece of themselves in it. I guess you could say my artistic perspective is one of passion, color, and joy.

BB: When you begin a painting, what does your process look like? How long can a painting take to complete, and how do you decide that you're finished?

AR: I like to start with a feeling in mind. Often times I'll approach a blank canvas and thing "I want something feminine," or "I want something crazy and bright". But that's really it. I paint primarily in acrylics these days, and so much of my process lends itself to the materials that I use. I am able to incorporate texture, rich colors, and shapes relatively quickly in my work and that's because of the language I've developed and the relationship I have with all of the paints, inks, and more in my toolbox. I tend to approach a painting like a science experiment. I drop my projections or expectations and just allow it to happen. I'm either going to love it, or I'll set it aside and work on something else. There's very little attachment in the process and that's what allows me to keep painting every day. It's so easy for fear to creep into the creative process but we have so much fear in our daily lives. I don't need fear in my studio.

 "Soft Shock"

"Soft Shock"

BB: What has been a challenge that you’ve faced as you’ve established yourself as an artist, and how have you overcome that? 

AR: Juggling marketing, fulfillment, customer service, photography, all while staying inspired and creative to paint each day. It truly is a balancing act and I think many times people forget it's just you on the other end of the website. That can be hard when you're dealing with different needs and attitudes of people. I try and separate myself from my business these days. In the beginning, I took so much personally and was quite a workaholic because of it. Ok, I'll be honest, I'm still a workaholic, but I give myself permission to detach and take a day off when I need to.



BB: You recently completed 30 paintings in 30 days, which is quite an accomplishment! How was that experience for you? What were some of the challenges you encountered, and what did you get out of this practice?

AR: This year was the 2nd time around for me doing the 30 paintings in 30 days. It is intense, haha. I'll leave it at that. Every year I experience something different. This time, I gave myself permission to do abstracts only and not try and chase some new goal. It went really well. You get a lot out of doing the 30 in 30 challenge. For starters, you get inventory. And if you're struggling to complete work on a regular basis, then doing a challenge like this, even if you only do 15 out of 30 days, that's still 15 more paintings that you wouldn't have made otherwise. It's also a great way to test out new ideas and see how your fan base responds. Sometimes, I'll try out new color schemes or techniques during this time period to test the waters. I'd highly recommend it. Just be prepared not to be good for anything else during the month. No cooking, no housework, just painting. Haha

BB: Lastly, can you name three emerging artists or makers that you would love to see interviewed here? 

AR: A'Driane Nieves, Hafsa Khizer, T. Kimberlyn Art

Find more of Amira's work here: 






    Makers to Know: Jaqueline Diedam

    I first discovered Jackie's illustrations on Instagram last year and instantly fell in love with her delicate style. I'm thrilled to have her on the blog today and learn a bit more about her! 

    BB: For those of us who are meeting you for the first time, can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get started?

    JD:  I'm Jackie, Brazilian born in the city of Curitiba, in the south of Brazil. I grew up there and during my childhood my father, who is a pilot with huge talent for fast sketching and creating comics, was always giving me ways to feed my creative side. My mother on the other hand, is a person who always had a entrepreneurial instinct, she worked with creatives in bridal and haute couture scene, then interior decoration, and even had her own baking business for years. She would always get to a great position but then change her heart and chose a new craft to learn. With so much input from my parents, since very young I was enrolled in art programs, painting courses, and by 9 years of age I was having private lessons of oil painting. I was certain I was going to be a painter when older. But, unfortunately, I developed a strong allergy to oil paints and simply lost the interest and distanced myself for this area for a long time.

    During High School, in the process of trying to find a career, I went abroad for the first time to Spring Hills, near Nashville, TN. While studying there, I was really interested in applying for SCAD, but still had no real focus. When back in Brazil, I chose to study Product Design in the UFPR.  Inside this program I went abroad on a study program for the second time, to KISD in Cologne, Germany. Taking a big risk, I chose to stay and live in Cologne. During the last five years, I've realized that my love for design, was much more intense when I had to visualize anything: processes, products, services. This seemed like a good reason to go back to my starting point, and try to paint again. Watercolor became a great passion for me, and the more I did the more I wanted to do it. 

    BB: Your watercolor paintings are detailed, delicate, and soft. What inspires you to be drawn to fashion and travel illustrations?

    JD:  I am interested in traveling and fashion, probably because of my parents influence. I love to paint places I've been, and where I want to go next. I think I put a lot of detail trying to visualize my own memories and expectations of a certain place. I do love to recreate patterns and textures on paper, and I know it's a cliche but it also works a bit like a 'shop therapy'. If I am drawing something I can't afford on my artist budget, I kinda own the piece then and makes me feel satisfied.

    BB: When you begin a painting, what does your process look like? How long can a painting take to complete, and how do you decide that you're finished?  

    JD: It really depends on my mood. Some are fast, and because I work with watercolor the drying time is also quite fast compared to oil painting. Some still life scenes and floral patterns are painted with quick and loose strokes to created a fun, vibrant and careless finish. When working in landscapes or architecture, I tend to take much longer, because of details and textures. I worked on my "Positano" painting, for around 3 months, every day a small area. I also think when I use gouache, I tend to work slower than with watercolor.

    BB: What has been a challenge that you’ve faced as you’ve established yourself as an artist, and how have you overcome that?

    JD: I think there are 2 main challenges that I've dealt with in daily life as an artist. First, is to be able to find time to do all I want. As I was graduating, writing my final thesis, I had no time to manage a shop. I was doing a lot of commissions on the side, but everyday I received emails asking for quotes, for prints and for editorial jobs, and I even tough I wanted to tackle it all, I simply couldn't manage it all. When I was finished with university, the first goal was to actually make a business plan that would allow me to fulfill my plans. I've now opened my online shop, where I sell prints, and also commissions for portraits, and it was a true battle. Not only to find the right work to sell, but to work with all the bureaucracy, taxes, production and logistics of it. 

    The second challenge is to be paid fairly. Owning a small business and being an artist puts you in a very vulnerable position in many negotiations. I get "exposure" and "opportunity" offers almost daily, and this can be very soul crushing. Now, after a lot of experience ( and frustration) dealing with these offers, I've created a thicker skin and became clear about my rates and my value when negotiating projects.

    BB: Aside from illustration, you're also interested in three-dimensionally crafted paper designs. Can you elaborate a bit on your experience with making paper props?

    JD: I started studying Product Design in Brazil. There was a course in the program, probably the hardest if you ask anyone there, called "3D representation" by a professor that was a perfectionist and extremely focused on details. In the first year, our task was to build 3D models, made of paper. Every week. It was a whole year learning different techniques and I couldn't help but ask " When will I ever use this? Shouldn't we learn softwares and how to create digital models?" . 

    I bit my tongue, after 4 years, when I was already living in Germany, me, my boyfriend and a friend had the idea to create a student guide of our city, all illustrated with paper models. The project was a success, and  we are now about to release the second edition with twice as much content. We created sets of postcards and prints, build an online shop, and even had meetings with the tourist board of Cologne to sell our products on their shop. 

    I really love to work with paper, and even tough it's an area that is getting saturated, I still consider it to be a fresh way to create visuals because of the freedom you have between 2D and 3D scenes. 

    BB: For your thesis, you created a board game about gender and design which sounds absolutely fascinating! Can you tell me more about it?

    JD: My main focus during my design studies in Germany was the topic of Gender and Design. This area is extremely important because objects and visuals have great impact on people. One of the topics I worked on before, was to question the problems we have with the color pink today, how it transitioned from a 'boy' color to a 'girl' color ( a fact that most people dont know about) and what it means to society when designers simply 'make pink stuff' for women. 

    The board game I created is aimed to be used in conferences and project development meetings, to try and help to open a dialogue with people that do not know about the area of Gender and Design. The game shows the participants why this subject should be an important part of the design process. 

    Find more of Jackie's work here:






    How did you find your artistic voice?

    I've gotten several emails asking me how I found my voice as an artist, and I'm always shocked because in many ways I feel like I still haven't. My work right now is fluid and geometric but it wasn't always like this, and I don't expect it to stay like this either. To remove the mystery, and show that I am indeed all over the place, I thought it would be fun to take a deep dive into my portfolio. 

    I've been painting my whole life, but my first experience of putting my art into the public was in high school (way back in 2006). I was in charge of the painting crew for our theatre department, and in addition to painting sets, I painted school-bus-sized marquees announcing the latest plays. I loved lettering, I loved working BIG, and I loved the detail. 

    In college (2009-2013)  as I was finishing my B.S. in chemistry, I took several figure drawing classes. I was so drawn to it because by studying the body, it helped me figure out my own. I was so inspired by Jason Polan, and loved to draw people I encountered every day. I played around with realistic & cartoonish styles, and this helped me to be more aware of patterns, textures, and shapes that I took for granted in my daily life. 

    In grad school (2013 - 2015) as I was finishing my M.S. in environmental science (and experiencing a major existential crisis) I started painting in an abstract style. It was the only way to capture my feelings of utter confusion, and the racing thoughts about what I really wanted to do with my life. As someone who was notoriously quiet and timid, my work was was energetic, bold, and chaotic. I really didn't care if it was pretty, or if anyone on earth would buy it - I did this for me. 

    I started adding intricate patterns as I approached graduation, because the meditative nature of the process was calming my nerves. I was trying to decide if I should take the leap and paint full time, or get a normal, safe job. Everyone around me was getting jobs working in labs, or teaching, or continuing on to get PhD's, and I was restlessly painting in my apartment trying to get my shop off the ground. I felt like the world was rolling their eyes at me, but I was so happy in the process. 

     "Candy" acrylic & ink on paper. Prints available  here .

    "Candy" acrylic & ink on paper. Prints available here.

     "Give me all your love" 12"x18" mixed media. Purchase the original  here  or prints  here . 

    "Give me all your love" 12"x18" mixed media. Purchase the original here or prints here

    My most recent work focuses on free-flowing color with geometric details. At 25, I find that everyone expects me to be an adult, but I don't have enough "experience" to really "do" anything. So, what am I worth? My artwork right now is a reflection of my struggle with that question. The fluid color says yes! I'm free to make my own choices! But don't forget, you're still confined to this geometric cage. 

     "She has a lot to say" - Find prints  here .

    "She has a lot to say" - Find prints here.

    I don't know how long I'll stick with this style, or where I'll take it from here. I hope this post was helpful and at least showed you that no, I didn't hit the ground running. I worked through several styles, but my voice has always been there throughout the process. I use my artwork to understand the world around me, and express myself in a way that words just fail to do.

    I think the key to finding your voice is to stop worrying about what the end result looks like, or if anyone will like it, and focus on why you're doing it in the first place. Once you grab a hold of why, your voice will be loud and clear. 

    I would love to hear your thoughts on this! If you're an artist, how have you found your voice? What styles have you worked in over the years?

    Makers To Know: McKenzie Jones

    McKenzie is an abstract painter (and dancer!) that I met through Instagram a few months back. Her work is just as lively and fun as she is! I'm happy to learn a little bit more about her today.

    mckenzie jones

    BB: For those of us who are meeting you for the first time, how did you get started? 

    MJ: I am a dancer turned artist. Since the age of 3, dance is all I have ever known. As a dancer, I grew up expressing myself through the unspoken language of movement. Crossing over into the language of art has been a continuation of my exploration of expression. I find it so liberating to get out my feelings without having to utter a single word.

    My curiosity about learning more about expression led me to get my Bachelors in Fine Art in painting and drawing at Utah Valley University. That sure sounds nice and fancy… but it was sure a journey to get there! 

    I took a painting class as an elective while I was a dance major… and I was literally the only person in my class that had never painted before. It just sounded fun! But man… it was love at first stroke. It was like the heavens opened and I knew this is what I needed to be doing. And to my surprise I didn’t suck either… like... I was kinda good?? It was a hidden talent I never knew I had! So as scary as it was, I switched my major to art and dove into the world of the unknown. 

    I began my degree as a deer in headlights feeling so lost and thinking that I didn’t belong. What had I gotten myself into?! I was just a dancer girl ya know?? That’s all I’d ever been. So, going out of my box and becoming something else, even though in my heart I knew it was right, was terrifying! But with the guidance of my amazing mentors I was able to find my own artistic language and all those insecurities fell away. By the end, I had found myself and the confidence to say "I am an artist". 

    BB: As you've started to establish yourself in the art world, what has been the biggest challenge that you've faced? How have you worked through it?

    MJ: My biggest challenge has definitely been comparison. I still feel relatively new as an artist, even though I have a degree in it, and I get intimidated! Thinking I’m not good enough. Why am I even doing this? Am I making a difference? Does my work matter? I sometimes find myself deep in another artists feed envying them. Thinking ‘they must be doing something right’ or ‘why can’t I do that’. It is such a double-edged sword. I get so inspired... but then I get hard on myself.

    To work through it I have befriended the artists I admire. I ask questions. I learn from them. I have gained so many amazing relationships over social media with other artists from all around the world! That is how I met this lovely lady of WildHumm, Bianca. I bought her sketchbook last year and got to peak inside her brain… and I found that we have a lot of the same hardships! We all live to create and we all struggle through it sometimes. It’s incredible that we have this tool where we can connect and uplift each other along the way. Heaven knows I need it! 

    BB: Your paintings are abstract, experimental, and have a lot of energy. What are your biggest sources of inspiration? 

    MJ: MOVEMENT. Having such a strong and passionate background in dance definitely shows through in my work. It is in the root of every decision I make when I am creating. 

    My fascination with movement led me to study water for my BFA thesis. In my studies I read the book The Hidden Messages in Water by Masaru Emoto, which I highly recommend. It brought so much understanding to my art and to my world. Plus… I’m secretly a mermaid, so to explore water I felt like I explored my soul! Haha ☺ 

    Ever since then, I focus on the ever-changing qualities of water in my work. It is a part of my process now. I use a lot of water and keep my materials moving and alive. I let them guide me as I guide them through each fluctuating mark.  

    BB: Have you ever felt creatively stuck? How do you work through creative block? 

    MJ: Yes. Of course! With my work being so experimental sometimes I feel like I loose focus easily and just don’t know what to do next. To get back to where the juices are flowing I do a few things:

    • Change the music. Since my heart is so tied to music… every melody affects me in the slightest ways. Sometimes I just gotta pump up the tunes and get my body movin and groovin! 
    • Stop. Walk away, eat some food, bask in the sun with my cat.. hahah ☺ then come back to it.
    • Change material. I’ll grab a tool I rarely use or a color completely opposite of what I want. Sometimes out of the unexpected magic happens.
    • Step on it. Crumple it up. Tear it. Doesn’t do anything for the piece… just makes ya feel better… hahaha. And it makes some sweet stuff for collage work! 

    BB: Aside from painting, are you working on any other projects? 

    MJ: I sure am! I am a dance teacher and choreographer and I absolutely love it. I thrive in the dance studio. I love connecting with other people through movement, energy, and emotion.  Over the last few years where these two art mediums have collided in my life my soul has been so enriched. My paintings feed off my dancing. My movement is inspired by my art. My life is consumed with a constant cycle of creating… its awesome! I also just started a job as a custom framer. It’s been so fun to learn the aesthetics of framing and how I can use it to improve my own work. Plus it’s nice to save some money on framing my stuff! Woot!

    BB: If you could give one piece of advice to emerging artists, what would you say?

    MJ: I would tell them something I always tell my dance students… to find your soul. Use it. It’s yours. Go to that truly human place and become vulnerable. It is so scary yet ever so rewarding. When you come from that place of honesty, only then can you move people with your work. Strive for that. Strive to move souls!And lastly, I’ll share my current artist mantra: 
    Create something bigger than myself. Do greater than myself.

    Keep up with McKenzie here: