Hi, I’m (Debra) Kate Powell. I was born in Hollywood, California, but was raised in Laguna Beach, California. Growing up in a sleepy hippy artist’s colony in the 60‘s was a huge influence on me, teaching me freedom to be and a fluid nature.
I almost didn’t get to BE my creative self. Raised by a struggling single mom, my family pushed me away from “starving artist” toward a career that was practical, stable, and lucrative. Architecture was my compromise of the “things-I-wanted-to-be” because I bought the myth that architects make money.
Thankfully, I did, eventually enjoying my own firm in Venice Beach, California, while developing classes at UCLA. However, my heart was not in architecture, a matter of creatively solving three dimensional problems for others. I needed more freedom. But I loved teaching.
A huge influence on my creative process was learning zazen at twenty. A lifetime of meditations and listening to my own creative and editorial “monkey mind” allows me to assist others through the maze of being a creative. Daily meditation has helped me be intuitive, clear and present.
At 27, I asked Billy Al Bengston about leaving my business and turning to paint. He told me to take the money for graduate school and buy canvas, paint and pigments, and start painting. I closed my business and moved to the Oregon forest. I bought supplies, and began my Second Life. I married my first husband, did an occasional design job, and followed Bengston’s advice with a rigorous schedule: writing at the Blue Mountain Cafe for an hour each morning, then painting in my studio in the trees. I was silent for days when painting in retreat, journaling all the while, paying attention to the creative process. I taught creativity in grade and high school. I still loved teaching.
It took me a long time to incorporate my architect-self into my painter, unlearning restrictions. Mountain, no mountain, mountain. My first images were mandalas, very mathematical, juxtapositions of the built environment, wild life, ancient symbols, and family — an expression of the conflict within me as I began to find my way.
I moved out of the trees. No offense to trees, but being grounded on golden grassy ranch land among horses and cattle was better for me, my home away from beach home. I began painting big acrylics, and lost myself in color and textures. Color and texture was a way to let go of line and loosen up. Still is. I worked small sketches almost like doodles. Faster, fresher impulses drive sketches, and I’ve never offered them for sale (left, sketch at 6-inches, versus the canvas at 36-inches, right.)
I apprenticed with Marilyn Wold, master papermaker, resulting in another shift in my work: mixed-media pieces with torn papers and many types of paper, pencil and acrylic.
I sold a few large pieces, but could not get a gallery in Oregon to carry me. (Pre-internet.) Discouraged, I had to find a way to work where my muse took me, instead of trying to make commercial pieces. If I was going to work for money, I might as well go back to my successes in architecture.
I think painting through family issues has been a huge influencer away from finished pieces and into loose emotional content, adding to my journal abilities. I would never sell these sketches, though I’d love to show them.
My first husband died, and Mitchell walked into my life nine months later, literally, to repair my original Eames Lounge Chair. We just knew! Both our lives changed radically. During this time, my Third Life, I took my talents and went into business with my husband, bringing historical finishes to our studio. Mixing traditional shellacs and learning oil paints, I (still) work conserving and restoring historic furniture (that is a piece from the NPS in our finish studio in Portland.)
My painting was often set aside because moving a big easel around with a box of paint tubs and cache of papers was cumbersome. Fact was, studio layouts had to be dictated by the furniture first. Finally, I put the paints away, but it gnawed at me.
I began blogging about buddhism and cooking, and while blogging about cooking I thought to illustrate the recipes, and in a fishing tackle box I found liquid watercolors and old tubes of gouache. That was the beginning of my Fourth Life! Watercolors were the solution to my studio problems! Small in size, a 60-inch table and bookshelves created a permanent studio set up within our business! I could take a break and paint anytime!
It took no time to find excellent watercolorists online. A handful of artists helped connect me up with good materials and groups from which to learn. I tried realism because that is where the good teachers were, but it is not my thang. I like to sketch through ideas from my imagination and bring them to life. I am comfortable with my palettes now. I love Daniel Smith Watercolors best overall; Primateks are some of my favorite colors in that they are surprising and zen-like — you have to play and go with the flow to make them work for you! I also love buying the occasional hand-made watercolor pan from a fellow artist.
I began experimenting with inks in fountain pens and Pentel Aquash waterbrushes a year ago, and since then I’ve been playing with layering inks and watercolors, and mixing inks and water colors and shellac. I have many favorite inks, but top of the list are KWZ Foggy Green, De Atramentis Tobacco, and Super5 Frankfurt. Most of my fugitive (not lightfast) ink studies are in sketchbooks or on Hahnemühle Post Cards which I send to friends.
Good design is hard to resist and I have an addictive habit of cool fountain pens! My go-to’s are Platinum Carbon (a workhorse), Lamy Al-Stars (nib changing and wow those metallic colors) and Metropolitans. Stub nibs in the 1.0-1.5 range are my preference.
I cannot bring myself to buy squirrel or sable brushes (some of my best friends are squirrels), and am quite happy with some of the new synthetics. My favorites are the Da Vinci Cosmotops. If I could only have one brush it would be the Cosmotop oval, which gives me a point and holds a lot of watercolor for a good wash.
I learned good teachers should expose you to techniques and tools, inspire enthusiasm, and assist you to become the best creative being — intrinsically YOU! I am starting to teach again, both locally and online. Besides helping people to relax into drawing skills, especially the ever-daunting world of architectural drawing, I want to share the processes I use that keep me present for my creative work. My experience is you can’t banish the critical voice, but through mindfulness you can learn to use the Editor toward discernment when needed.
I love sketchbooks and journals, starting with the dozens of red-bound books I bought in Chinatown when I was a college student. I think I’ve tried everything sold in the USA and then some. Currently I’ve not found better than the bound Hahnemühle Nostalgie Sketch Book. At 90lbs, I am surprised at the amount of watercolor it can take (I clip corners) and the binding is lovely. I can watercolor on both sides!
I’m taking commissions and illustration work, but only if I resonate with the project. There is a connection and an honoring bond when someone asks you to create an image of their loved one, pet, or cause. I am taken back to the days of sweating a bit until I get into the flow of a project, then relaxing and having fun again. I hate deadlines, but think it is because I’m still juggling two careers. I’m really quite organized!
I love telling stories and painting from my heart. One of the things about a journal is that I can create around a subject — story or trip or event — and the result can be held in the hand and followed as I created them. I’ve had some sad disasters when I worked to create a great journal and had the binding come apart, or started a journal on a trip (where you are sorta stuck with it) only to find the paper pills easily. My favorite watercolor journal is the Hahnemühle Watercolour Book. The 200gsm paper takes all I throw at it (ink and watercolor and shellac and collage), and the bindings are strong. I am working on several book ideas with my husband (hints above), and I like the idea that when I publish an actual edited printed book, the sketches and ideas will be bound in a beautiful grey journal keepsake.
Charlie, thank you for hosting me as writing this made me remember so much!
D. Katie Powell