10 Questions with Karen Barbour

Name: Karen Barbour
Website: karenbarbour.com
Location: Inverness, California
Primary Medium: gouache, ink and pencil




1. Tell us about yourself / Bio?

I got my MFA in film from the San Francisco art Institute and have shown at Jack Hanley and Anthony Meier Fine Arts and at The Shiseido Gallery in Tokyo etc. I’ve done illustrations for The New York Times, Ralph Lauren Polo, Mitsukoshi department stores, etc.


2. How did you get started as an illustrator?

I had a show in San Francisco and an older artist came and told me that I should be an illustrator. He gave me a list of names at magazines in New York and I took my portfolio to every one. It was actually a bunch of slides and not very well organized. New York Magazine gave me a job to illustrate five nightclubs and then I was working a lot after the pictures came out.


3. How did you find your style? Has it changed since you started?

I just stayed in my apartment and didn’t do anything but make these figurative pictures all day every day. I was trying to paint the figure in a graphic way and I outlined the people in pencil and then filled in the space with gouache and ink. I didn’t know what I was doing but somehow they all were similar. After awhile I had a bunch of work that was really consistent and held together — but it happened by chance. When I started to get a lot of work I was constantly rushing and doing every project that came my way and I think the stuff I was doing was not very good and I was always just trying to make money. After several years I started turning down work and then I pretty much stopped altogether. I was just drawing the people around me and stuff that I was thinking about and making paintings of dreams etc. and I didn’t like the old work anymore. So my work now is different.


4. Can you briefly explain your creative process, mediums, etc?

I mostly use gouache and ink and pencil but I also work in oil and acrylic and collage. I do a lot of different paintings at the same time and it’s always sort of evolving and changing. If I’m reading about something or want to remember something or if I get something in my head— I try to put it in my notebooks or sketchbooks—-somewhere so I don’t lose it. I keep trying to figure out where a picture is going and I don’t know how it will turn out. I go over different parts and then sometimes I try something out and it’s almost a surprise.


5. How do you come up with new ideas? Do you have a process?

I have a lot of ideas that I’m working on and many times when I do an illustration I like to work with those same ideas and sometimes it feels like it adds another dimension because of the old layers underneath. When I get a job I like to look through different paintings that I have piled everywhere and I try several different directions and then see what the art director might be interested in.


6. Do you ever have creative slumps? What do you do then?

I just keep drawing and working—–I  mostly feel like it’s all an experiment and it’s not that I feel great about everything I’m doing—I just feel like it’s all a work in progress and unfinished and so I can keep changing and adding and erasing. When I go to my studio I just start looking at stuff or painting on something and then one thing leads to the next.


7. Best / most fun part of your job:

I’m really interested in it.


8. Worst / most difficult part of your job:

It’s difficult sometimes to come up with solutions on tight deadlines. Self promotion is challenging and awkward.


9. Do you have side projects you work on?

I’ve been working on an illustrated YA novel.


10. What’s on your horizon? Any current/future projects and plans/dreams you can share with us?

I recently illustrated a poetry collection for children and I’m working on a picture book for Scholastic. Also doing some paintings for a group show in the fall.


* * * * *

 5 things inspiring you/your work right now:

1. Memories

2. history

3. Old books and magazines

4. My kids

5. Drawing


3 constants in your day:

1. Drawing

2. Reading

3. Music


Your #1 art tip or words of wisdom:

Try not to worry too much.


* * * * *

Thank you, Karen!!

Posted by Thomas James on 08/08/12 under Interviews

  • lois keller

    Thank Karen for the inspiration, and the much need wisdom of not to worry too much. Just paint, or draw or do whatever it is we do.

  • tanja wlmot

    Thanks Karen, and Penelope for compiling the interview. I love how expansive your work, studio and enthusiasm for staying in a process of flux and experimentation seems to be. I love that you just go ahead and keep drawing, no matter what. Very inspiring. But most of all, I have enjoyed looking at your beautiful work, teeming with life and myth and pattern and colour.

  • peggy Knickerbocker

    I love you Karen. I love your work and I love hearing about what’s in your beautiful head>

  • http://www.facebook.com/allynh Allyn Howard

    Fabulous work! I’m particularly drawn to your layers and the way your playful drawings & patterns are integrated with a loose painterly style. You’ve definitely created your own language and a process that combines both dark & light qualities. Great studio space, too. Thanks for the interview & to-the-point words of wisdom :)

  • stephanie morgan rogers

    ive been drawn to your work for some time now, serendipitously. your words and process and esp “self promotion is awkward” resonate deeply with me. Love this interview and quite envious of your glorious studio space!
    true, beautiful, authentic.

  • Barbara

    What is the worth of book “Nancy” with a drawn in illustration and signing by author Karen Barbour

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