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: