We had the amazing pleasure of working with St. Louis artist Katie Donovan on the development of our toile-inspired traveling moth print fabric. We approached Katie with a pretty open ended idea, and love the character and adventure she came up with!
For this week's blog, we asked her to tell us more about what it is like being an artist, and her journey.
At the bottom of the interview, find out more about our story contest surrounding Katie's moth print!
Name: Katie Donovan
Pronouns: She/Her They/Them
Social Tags: #katiedonovandraws #katiedonovanart
Walk us through your history and how you got to where you are today. What were you like as a kid; did you go to school for art; etc.
I was a strange kid in that I was really extraverted, but very much on my own terms. I really dreaded being called on at school, but I would talk to strangers on the Metro. So I was really shy or really outgoing, depending on the context. I was raised in a highly atypical environment. A close family member turned out to be a con artist and in my late twenties I realized that my fascination with what is real and why we decide to believe certain things comes from a lot of shifting realities in my childhood. This theme began to be the base for most of my artwork.
But there has also been a lot of silliness and dark humor in what I make. In elementary school I got a book from the library called The Pushcart War by Jean Merrill. It is a book for children, but it only features adults. The book is essentially about a fake war in New York City where some serious stuff happens and a lot of really silly stuff happens, but it is written like a documentary. The idea of presenting silliness in a very serious, studious way (and the potential to present seriousness in a silly way) really floored me. It matched up with my investigation of reality.
I was always interested in drawing and coloring and was labeled as the “art kid” pretty early on. I got a Bachelor’s in Art from SLU, then volunteered in Asia for a year, then worked as a staff member for a physical therapy education department, then went for a Master’s in Art. I taught Introductory Drawing at SLU for a little while and now I’m the gift set services manager for Union Studio. I still really like talking to strangers, but now I get to talk to them about over 130 St. Louis artists’ work!
What kind of art did you make as a kid, and how has it developed as you’ve grown?
I really loved the sheets in elementary school with picture boxes and dotted lines for you to write on. I realized much later on that I’ve always been drawn to the story-telling element of art and the relationship between image and text. Something that developed in my late teens/early 20s was a love for sketchbooks and allowing the sketchbook to be a place where I create in a stream of consciousness style - I just make whatever I make. Taking the pressure of meaning off of myself was really helpful in figuring out what I’m drawn to (pun!) and why. In my MFA I really got into research. I love reading and I love learning. So on one hand, I allow my practice to very much come from a subconscious place and on the other hand, I like taking certain topics and researching them like crazy, chewing on them for a couple of months.
How did you get into illustrating and drawing specifically?
As a kid I was always drawing things rather than using coloring sheets. As I got older, I really wanted a practice that was both mobile and low-mess (I want to make work from my lovely velvet green couch!). I had some friends in undergrad that used ink pens on paper and I dove into that head first. I do love color and I mess around with watercolor, gouache, and imitation gold leaf now, but I love the dexterity of line and I think in terms of line when I’m making (whereas a painter would typically think in terms of light and shadow and color).
What’s your favorite part of being an artist?
I feel like being an artist provides a really atypical way of problem-solving, especially in this time period. We are in a weird moment where we’re exposed to so much imagery and so much color. But we’re not really taught to be visual thinkers in school - we’re not taught to communicate through visuals, but we’re bombarded with visuals through advertisements. Sitting down and figuring out how to communicate something visually and why you feel compelled to that thing in the first place is an incredible process.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Reading is a big one for me - especially science fiction. Again, a lot of my work deals with what is real and what isn’t and how we go about deciding what is real. The best science fiction writers are using the present moment to predict what the future is like and they have to be convincing about technology and politics that are entirely made up. And their work is essentially a statement about what is going on now. Jeff VanderMeer is my all time favorite writer because he does all of that in a way that is haunting and occasionally hilarious.
Who has been your strongest supporters, and how did they help you find yourself as an artist?
My husband is my biggest sounding board and being able to chat things out with him is incredible. He is a musician so he has his own creative process and while we create in different ways, having that understanding and close person to process with is essential to me. Being able to start building something in my mind, then walk through it with him is helpful. And we’ve been close since my early twenties, so he knows my work really well. It is also really helpful that we both like to squirrel ourselves away for a couple hours at a time making work :)
I have some art friends that are also good to chat shop with, but are a good source of support for what it is like to be an artist.
What are your future goals and aspirations?
I’d like to make more prints of my work, I’d like to make something that gets into Jeff VanderMeer’s hands, I’d like to have a show out of state in the next year or so (if the global situation allows for it), I’d like to have a show out of the country in the next 4 years, and I’d like to be on the Jealous Curator’s Podcast. That’s the goal list for the next 5 years :)
What advice would you give 9-year-old Katie?
The world is a much bigger place than you can see right now - you’re going to find your people and you’re going to be able to decide what your landscape is. Don’t let anyone limit you or pigeon-hole you. A lot of the fun weird stuff you do is both more fun and more serious than you would expect.
Let’s talk fashion… How would you describe your style?
I’m always torn between a classic, sleek all-black situation and sooooo much color. I wish I could wear cardigans everywhere, all the time. The summer isn’t great for cardigans. I’m always torn between going in a David Rose direction and an Alexis Rose direction.
How does your art influence your style?
Now that you ask, I can see that I am very in love with line (usually black ink) and I also want all the color and imitation gold leaf I can find. So there’s that.
Other favorites… Favorite books?
Area X by Jeff VanderMeer - how many times can I mention him in one write up? It is really intense. I read it once a year. Mexican Gothic was a recent read that is also very spooky, very intense, and very good.
Genuinely love my husband’s music (John Donovan, check him out), the Beastie Boys, Big Thief, Sufjan Stevens, Crosby Stills Nash and Young - it’s a mix.
Favorite social media accounts (Instagram, TikTok, etc.)?
Alright - coming a bit out of left field right now, but @pleasehatethesethings is getting me through right now. @thejealouscurator is awesome, and @spaceprincejulio (a writer for SNL who is to die for).
Lindsey Carr is my recent art crush, I love Zoe Keller, Frank Gonzales, Sigmar Polke, Pat Perry, Jenny Fine, and Teagan White (I don’t understand how Teagan White exists, they’re so amazing!).
Favorite place in St. Louis for inspiration?
Parks are great - Tower Grove Park is the best park in St. Louis in my opinion. I like hanging out in really opulent places that I don’t belong, like the Chase Park Plaza - that kind of feeds that part of me that has begun to dream about gold leaf.
Finally…Anything exciting in the works that you want to tell us about? Anything else you want to share that we didn’t cover?
I’m going to have a show coming up in December! You will be the first to know when the date is on the books!
And now... A Story Contest!
Using the illustrations Katie did for our moth print fabric, write a story about the traveling moth. Where are they starting their journey? Where are they going? Where will the end up? What adventures will happen along the way, and what will they learn?
How to Submit:
File type: Word Doc, Pages, or Google Doc link
Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Include: Author's name, parent's name, contact information including email
Contest rules: open to any young author under the age of 18 residing in the US, UK, or EU. By sending your writing, you agree to it being published in full on Future Dreamers, and excerpts from it publish on social media. You will be given author's credit and tagged when/where necessary. All submissions will receive a special discount code from Vivi Design Studio. Winning submission will receive a piece of their choice from the Vivi AW21 collection. No purchase necessary.