A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of meeting Courtney Khail at Alt Summit. Not only is she a total sweetheart, she is also a very talented watercolor artist and stationery designer. I love watercolor art and knew that Courtney would be a great feature on From Rain to Shine. Enjoy!
1. When did you discover your love for water colors?
To be honest, I can’t remember when I didn’t love them. Growing up, if I didn’t have one of those cheap watercolor sets to play with, I’d just smash up these plum colored berries that grew in our backyard and paint with those. So maybe that was the moment? I still remember how beautiful the different shades of indigo were against clean white paper.
Of course, I am also incredibly fortunate to have parents who nurtured my creativity from a very young age. They enrolled me in a fine arts magnet school when I was ten years old (I attended that school until I graduated from high school) and when I was 12, they put me in private watercolor classes after school. I think they could see a passion for art in me that I didn’t realize was unusual or special. I think that’s common with artists though. If you’re an artist, that’s just simply what you are. You don’t choose it, it chooses you. So you never really have a moment per say, it’s more of a journey.
2. How did you turn your hobby into a full business?
Does stubbornness count as an answer? Because that and passion started my business.
In all seriousness, I’m very Type A and as I neared the end of my college career I wasn’t sure what to with my life. I had the belief that success could only happen with a “normal” career path- you know- one with promotions, and raises, and health insurance- but no matter how hard I tried, I just never felt fulfilled in a “normal” job. I always felt as though I was meant to do something else entirely. Around the same time as all of those “what am I doing” questions were plaguing me, my now husband and I were planning our wedding. I couldn’t find anything I liked for our invitations, so he suggested I design them. So I did. And the more I immersed myself in all of it, the happier and more fulfilled I felt. I was drawing and painting again! Making creative decisions! Even when it was incredibly difficult, it was worth it. So with my husband’s constant love and encouragement (which I can’t stress enough just how important that was,) I decided to take the leap into self employment and launch my stationery company. It wasn’t easy, people tried to talk me out of it left and right, but at the end of the day, I loved doing it and I was too stubborn to even entertain the thought that I shouldn’t at least try.
So yea. Stubbornness and passion. (And my incredibly supportive husband.)
3. When you are struggling with a creative block, what do you do?
If the weather is pretty, I get outside. Hiking, tennis, skiing–anything that requires focus and takes my mind off what I’ve been working on.
If it’s not a pretty day though, I bake. Since painting isn’t formulaic (or at least not for me) baking calms my mind by giving it specific instructions to follow. If you follow them, then you’ll normally end up with something pretty spectacular. Even more so when you think about the fact that you pretty much just started with flour, eggs, and milk. That sense of accomplishment is key- especially if I’ve spent most of my morning staring at a piece of paper or a canvas thinking “seriously? Come on now. MAKE SOMETHING.” And worse case scenario? You get to eat cookies (or whatever you baked) which is a win in my book.
4. Any advice for someone looking to have an art based career that you wish you had known when you started?
Do your best to separate yourself from your art. At the same time though, give it all of your soul. Contradictory yes, but you have to find that fine line between throwing everything you have into a piece and being able to step back and realize it might not be something that sells, or even that people like. And when you realize that may be the case, you have to be able to force yourself to disconnect with it and not take that criticism as personal criticism. That’s a really hard lesson as an artist because you are your art and when someone criticizes it or doesn’t like it, it can sometimes feel as though they aren’t saying those things about your art, but instead about you. That only makes you defensive though and defensive artists don’t make good art. Defensive artists make scared art–or even worse, they stop making art all together.
Since my list of current artists changes all the time, I’ll stick to the artists that never change. I love the work of Rothko, Pollack, and Clyfford Still. I also love early 20th century modernist photography. Overall I tend to gravitate towards artists with a colorful, modern aesthetic. Very clean, and un-fussy pieces. The type that pull me in with their false simplicity.
5. Who are some artists or designers that inspire you?
6. Favorite color combination?
Black and white–maybe with touches of light blue or moss green.
[Thank you Courtney! All photos courtesy of Courtney Khail Watercolors]