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We always look forward to these short interviews with our Featured Artists. We’re delving into the world of plants and how they have inspired Kimberly Paige’s watercolors and more. Come get your very own piece by Kimberly November 7-8 at the Hoover Met Complex.

What captivates you the most about plants? 

They require mindful attention that is outside of myself, which I find relaxing. I don’t mind spending hours wiping down each leaf on a plant to clean off dust and dirt, or a few minutes picking them up, repotting them and checking their roots to make sure they’re healthy. It’s very easy to be in awe of them as they grow larger and more full, and satisfying to know that you’ve figured out exactly what they need in order to do so. 

Each plant has a different personality and it’s not always easy to understand them when you first bring one home. Some grow fast and love to be fed lots of fertilizer. Others are fragile and need to be placed underneath a larger plant so that they get less light and water. It’s a long and slow process of getting to know what each needs, but once you do they’ll reward you with beautiful variegation and flowers. 

I feel calmer and more grounded when I have plants in my eyesight, which is essential for someone like me who is at home ninety percent of the time. They bring a life and energy to an empty space, and create an ambiance of quiet company that I wouldn’t have otherwise. 

How did plants become the subject of your watercolors? 

When I graduated from college I thought it was time for me to find my own style. Without assignments, there were almost too many possibilities for what I could do with a blank sheet of paper. 

I looked at abstract artists’ work a lot and found that they composed their work with a vocabulary of marks which were cultivated over time. I’ve always wanted to play in the place between abstraction and realism, using the natural world as inspiration for my forms. So, I went to google and Pinterest to start my research. 

Flowers were an obvious choice, which was not exciting for me. I thought, “Everyone paints flowers, so how can I stand out in that niche?” Then I thought of palms, and how they each have a natural patterning within the leaf and throughout the whole plant. I could easily take an example from Google, learn the pattern then create and manipulate my own version of the form. Palms lead to Monstera, Bird of Paradise, Banana Trees, and suddenly I found my niche in tropical plants, which is now a broader niche of aroid houseplants.

My boyfriend, now fiancé, and I started collecting plants around this time because we were planning on moving in together and I told him plants were the easiest way to liven up his place. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that I should start drawing them from life. I had been collecting my own vocabulary of forms, so when Google images became uninspiring and feeling increasingly unauthentic I looked up from my computer and found my forever muse. 

We love how you intermingle abstraction and realism in your naturally verdant plant landscapes? How did that pairing come to be?

I’ve always been torn between abstraction and realism. It was easy for me to stretch and compress realistic forms to turn them slightly abstract. Then I would change their color to one that suited my personality which enhanced the fact that I was abstracting the natural world.

Alongside that style I would paint completely abstract as a break from the super detailed works. It allowed me to focus on color and texture rather than form and depth.

I would also make color swatch cards to play with color palettes before I start on a large body of work. This helped me narrow down and focus my palette because I tend to go crazy if I don’t have a compass. 

In these palettes, I define my ratio of warm to cool colors as well as dark to light. It’s also a warm up exercise because I always need to remind myself of what textures and techniques I can use in my paintings. 

With all these styles, I found that my booth at art fairs looked like two different artists were making my paintings. I wanted to create consistency within my portfolio, so I decided to add the abstract marks and swatches to my plant paintings as background texture. This helped with creating depth and a sense of place, which I found some of my plant paintings were lacking.

My first painting that I used this technique on was the Moss Magic poster painting, A New Day. You can see that the background strokes are similar to horizon lines or mountains. The splatters add a sense of whimsy and imperfection that I love to bring to all my paintings.

How do you interface with your subject before painting?  

(Not really sure if I’m reading this question correctly. I’m taking it as, “how do you interact or set up your subject before painting?)

I want my viewer to feel like they are surrounded by life and like nature is embracing their soul. So, I place my plants at eye level and draw as I see them. 

I want the perspective to be true, but I’m also interested in capturing the twists and turns on a leaf to create more depth and interest. You’ll hardly ever see a flat leaf in my paintings, unless it’s used as a pattern in the background.

I start with my focal leaf and then draw more around it, making them overlap and changing their size on the paper as they recede in space to create depth.

Sometimes if the plant is too complicated and will take an absurd amount of time to draw from life, I’ll take a photo of it and project the image onto my studio wall with my digital projector. Then it’s just a matter of tracing the lines, which is still difficult because a projected image is very confusing when it’s five inches away from your nose.

Even though it takes longer, I prefer drawing from life because it’s easier on my eyes and I can choose what to pay close attention to and what doesn’t matter as much. I can also move my head and get a better idea of what’s happening behind the leaf in order to understand the scene and make a better drawing. 

Do you have a favorite plant that you enjoy painting? 

The Monstera Deliciosa is my favorite. I have to consciously not make it the subject of all my paintings, because I don’t want a single plant to define my work. But it’s  holes and the way the leaf falls and turns in space is always beautiful. Plus the larger the leaf, the easier it is to draw and paint. 

Is there a more elusive plant that you wish to paint one day?

There are a lot of rare aroid plants that I’m itching to add to my collection. In particular, the anthurium warocqueanum dark form. I love how narrow it is and the veins really stand out. But it is usually around $350- $400 for a starter, so I’m going to keep dreaming about it for now.

You feature a lot of tropical plants in your watercolors? What draws you to those, in particular?

I think aroids in the family Araceae are the easiest houseplants for me to grow, and that’s why I love them. This family includes pothos, philodendrons, monsteras, alocasia, arrowhead, elephant ears, and many more. They naturally grow in the understory in the wild, so they tolerate my shady home when I have to bring them in for the winter.

I don’t think of these plants as tropical, but they do love the humidity and will grow bigger with more holes and fenestrations when they are in tropical environments. 

With that said, I don’t think there’s anything in particular about a tropical plant that I like more than another other than it being easier to take care of.

I do tend to like the plants that have larger leaves. I also love dark greens, so that’s why I prefer houseplants over plants that you may put in a garden bed. Although, I wouldn’t mind planting some ornamental grasses and using those as inspiration in my future paintings.

For me, it’s not where the plants come from or what they bring to mind when you see them. It’s about their pattern, texture, and shape that attract me. I’m always looking for something that is in contrast to what I already have.

You describe your studio as a “southern jungle”. Do plants dominate that space?  

My studio is technically wherever my plants live since I draw them from life. This past growing season they were in the backyard. My fiancé put together a shadehouse with pvc piping and shade cloth. They grew like mad in there, and by the end of the season there was no room for me to sit. 

At the end of the season I transition them from the backyard to the porch and then into the house. In between all that I’m cleaning them, repotting and managing pests.

When we bring them inside, they take all the light from the windows which is not a lot because we have a covered porch and trees all around the house. But yes, that does mean there are plenty in my indoor studio during the winter months.

Beyond that I like to keep some small ones on my window sill and a hanging basket in my studio window all year. I always need some around me for inspiration and comfort. 

Do you have a green thumb? If so, do you have any advice for first time or struggling gardeners?

I’ve been tending my green thumb this year. In the past my fiancé took on the bulk of the work, but now that he is busy with his job I’ve taken over. 

I was nervous at first, but with them being outside nature did most of the job for me. We just fertilize once a week in the growing season and repot plants that are rootbound. After realizing that they won’t die if I forget about them, I am a lot more confident in my gardening abilities.

There’s still a lot I don’t know like how to manage root rot, and for that I consult YouTube. Summer Rayne is our favorite source for all houseplant information and inspiration.

The best advice I can give for any aspiring houseplant parents would be to only buy pots that have holes in the bottom. The number one cause of death for houseplants is overwatering. They can handle droughts and rebound quickly if you forget to water them (except ferns), but no plant likes to sit in soggy soil.

If you have pots that don’t have holes then leave your plants in their plastic nursery pots and put those directly in your cachpots (decorative planter). This is a great method especially if you don’t take your plants outside to water them. 

Instead of letting water drip through the hole and onto your floor, you can pull out the nursery potted plant and run it under the sink or bathtub then let them drain there for a no-mess situation. Be sure to always do this if your pot has no hole. The key to a happy plant is to soak the soil then let the water drain out.

Moss Rock Festival

November 4-5, 2023