Conversations with Artist Katharine Claringbould
*All images are curtesy of the Artist, please do not use without permission*
Katharine was born in Australia and immigrated to the USA firstly for college and then permanently a few years later. Her childhood was spent exploring the Australian landscape on driving and camping trips. She often states that her love of color comes from those days in the bush. The vivid reds, vibrant blues and jewel greens noted on those trips are often present in her work creating bright splashes of color.
While in the process of permanently immigrating to the USA, Katharine was introduced to the world of beads by her sister. She spent a decade creating art with peyote stitch bracelets for friends and family as relaxation from her day job as an accountant. This provided excellent training in how to use color and bead finish to achieve the desired effect.
Katharine’s transition from peyote stitch bracelets to bead mosaicist occurred when she decided she wanted to make her own kitchen backsplash. To aid in this endeavor she took a virtual class during the pandemic on tile and glass mosaics. It wasn’t long before Katharine realized that she could also use her bead supply to do the same thing and very quickly she began her new phase in life as a bead mosaicist.
Blue Collard Common Lizard
Who are you, what do you do, why do you do it?
I am an artist. It took me many years to realize this. As a child I would draw every night, after school, and then one day in middle or high school, I became too busy and packed it all away, focusing instead on schooling and getting a “career”. Yet who you are cannot be denied and the artist in me would always creep out.
My sister introduced me to beads and beading when I was fresh out of college and we were all making our own jewelry. I started that way, making necklaces and simple bracelets but before too long I was doing peyote stitch art with Miyuki Delicas, little cats, foxes, elephants etc. on bracelets an inch or so wide. I would spend hours before and after work or during my lunch break working on the peyote stitch surface to create bracelets for family and friends.
I did not realize, however, how deeply my love of art ran until sometime in 2016. Before I left Australia everything was put into storage from my childhood and there it would sit for 10 years or more. I totally forgot what I owned. When all that stuff finally arrived I realized one thing: I was meant to make art. I had kept every artistic implement anyone had ever given me from babyhood onwards. Everything else, except books, had pretty much been disposed of and the booklist had been significantly pruned. From that moment on I realized I was an artist, yet I also realized something else that day. The art that made me happiest was bead art.
Bead art to me is unique. It allows me to add texture, cut and finish to my artwork because those are the elements inherent to beads themselves. It is constantly changing, so it will look different under different lighting conditions or in different rooms of the house. Beads add dimensionality, shine and shimmer to my pieces that I have not been able to achieve in the same manner with other mediums.
Future Butterfly II
What are your current inspirations and influences?
I use beads and the properties inherent to beads to explore color, light and texture. My goal is to create pieces that are both not of this world and yet instantly recognizable. By exaggerating or focusing on the world in this way, I produce pieces that are constantly changing based on the environment in which they are placed, thus opening up a path for us to see life and nature in a new and extraordinary way.
My process of creating art is very simple. Something will inspire me, be it a caterpillar in a photo or the play of light on water. I will take that inspiration to create my own original idea for a piece. I usually draw and/or paint several versions of my piece first, testing out colors, layout, different concepts. Once I like the composition in front of me I commence making my bead mosaics.
I place each bead by hand one-by-one into an adhesive called Apoxie Sculpt. Apoxie Sculpt is a self-hardening modeling clay that sets rock-hard so once a bead is in it is usually there to stay. There are no do-overs with Apoxie Sculpt as there are with other adhesives like glue or wax. Once all beads have been placed and a small layer of sealant applied the piece is complete. It is a slow process, it takes me about one hour to do an inch of artwork and yet I love it. It takes me out of myself and the world around me into a world of my imagination, a world where anything is possible.
As my process is so permanent, I have created an ethos I apply to every piece I do. I give myself permission to experiment and fail. I experiment with different beads, different colors and sometimes a slightly different design. The pieces I love the most are the ones where I give myself permission to explore and try new things.
If you were to pick a beloved piece from your collections and tell its story, what would it say?
My favorite bead mosaics are the ones where I took myself out of my comfort zone. They are the pieces where I explored new ideas, combined different bead types in different ways or added a sculptural dimensionality to my art. In short they are the pieces where I challenged myself and experimented to see what would happen.
My most beloved piece however is a different story as I do not consider it to be my most enterprising piece or my most challenging piece. It is my most beloved piece because it tells a story of me, a story that I did not know was there to be told until this piece was finished.
“Two Worlds Reflected” began as an exploration of reflections - the top was meant to reflect the bottom. A simple piece of a sunrise or sunset reflected in water. Yet as the piece went on it changed directions and became something else. It became a reflection of my journey through life, my childhood in the southern hemisphere and my adulthood in the northern hemisphere all separated by a thin line - a simple plane flight from one place to another.
As a child I would always see the sunset as our house faced West, the light was strong, the horizon endless and the world was huge and myself an insignificant spec. At 18 I boarded a plane (on my own for the first time) and flew half way around the world to a place I did not know, full of people I did not know, knowing that I was a long way from family and friends. In the USA I noticed several things very quickly- I matured fast, reaching adulthood sooner than I otherwise might have. The world felt smaller - the horizon ended with the trees. The light was different, softer, less harsh. The colors were more muted, less strong, and I saw more sunrises than sunsets.
To me, this change was encapsulated in my “Two Worlds Reflected” piece and I find now, while I get to enjoy it, that I have a hard time deciding which way should be up!
Life On The Wing
Do you have any upcoming projects, concepts, and new work we should look out for?
I am currently working on my “Future Butterfly” series. I am in the process of creating the third and final piece. (For some reason I like exploring concepts in threes!). I also have my final lizards piece in progress which I am hoping will be truly special.
I recently catalogued all the ideas and concepts I have in line to turn into bead art and realized that I might be busy for quite a long time. Some of the ideas and pieces I will be exploring are already on my website in the original painted form. I am excited to see how they go as bead mosaics. I am learning that the bead mosaics turn out very differently to the paintings. I like this as it makes the pieces complimentary to each other rather than one being a pale imitation of another. So keep checking my site, over time these will all be introduced along with many others.
- Heather Kahn