This interview was conducted and written by Board President, Craig Inzana
Every month here at the Winkler Gallery and Art Education Center, we honor one of our member artists as Artist of the Month. All of our artists produce stunning work of all varieties that pass through a juried selection progress to be displayed at the gallery. The Artist of the Month allows us to zoom in on them one at a time. For July 2017, the honor goes to Kathy Mohney.
This month, I sat down with Kathy during one of her volunteer shifts at the gallery for an interview where we talked about how she grew into art, her love for teaching, and the therapy that art can bring.
CRAIG: What do you think defines you as an artist?
KATHY: I love to do portraits-- animals. When I was first out of school I didn’t think I wanted to teach, but I had a family and needed to go back in the work force. That’s when I got my certification.
I learned that I loved to teach. It was fun. I did a lot of substituting, but I also did private lessons. I used to give summer art lessons, and music lessons. I play the piano and grew up in a very musical family.
I loved books and always wanted to do a children’s book. I had been very sick and decided I was going to do one. Whether it was published or not, who cares. I had a story I was going to do about my son Buck as the basis for the book. I have one about my grandmother too that I’d like to do. It was very satisfying to do that book though. It took me a couple of years but I managed to do it.
CRAIG: What was the process like to do that book?
KATHY: I had a terrible time writing the story. I had various ideas in my head about what I wanted to do as far as illustrations. I wanted this in it, and I wanted that in it, and I pained baby robins, and I gathered pictures.
My sister finally said to me start with the illustrations, and so I did. And then it started to come together. Then I put down the story in pencil, graphite, and some of the pictures I wanted in it, and the story how it flowed.
I worked as an instructor for Elder Hostile. It was a program where, generally retired people, very interesting people, would take a workshop class. They could choose photography, painting, drawing, all these classes. They would come and stay at Cook Forest, or Clarion, and they would have a weak-long class.
There were a couple of English teachers that took a drawing class that I was giving. They read the book, helped edit it, and said “Well now you need a little action here.” So I put a little action into it.
Then I had a friend at Brookville that taught all her life in English and was wonderfully creative. She took a look at it too. So it just kind of evolved. Well, as the story evolved so did the illustrations. I could picture them better and start to organize it. Once it started to get organized it just snowballed; I couldn’t let it alone.
CRAIG: After you put a certain amount of work into it, then you can picture the final project.
KATHY Yes. I did try to get it published— through a publishing house— but that’s nearly impossible. I finally just self-published and had it printed. I had it printed at one of the print shops in Brookville. I’ve done about four runs of it. I was working at the Brookville School, and they were very supportive of it. I read it at an assembly, and it’s in the library in Brookville.
CRAIG: That’s nice! That’s such a cool thing to publish a book. To get it done to a point where people can enjoy it.
KATHY: I was very little. My grandpa said that I brought in drawings and said “How is this papa?” and he would say “Oh that’s beautiful! Keep drawing!” But he didn’t know what they were.
CRAIG: That’s the kind of support a young child needs to continue with it.
KATHY: Yea. Pastels I started in high school. Mom bought me pastels, and I worked in pastels quite a bit. I liked the softness of them, and I was doing a lot of portrait work. She gave me private lessons with one of my professors at school for a birthday present one summer. Yes, a lot of encouragement there.
Perry was giving a class in Brookville and my friend John Thomas took it. He said, “You need to meet Perry Winkler.”
This was when I was in my fifties. John said, “You will enjoy him very much and I think he would be a big help to your art.”
So that’s when I started to be interested in watercolor.
CRAIG: Well there’s no better person to learn watercolors from. Do you still take classes from Perry?
KATHY: Yes. Yes I do.
CRAIG: How did you come about joining the gallery?
KATHY: I was part of the gallery at its inception. I was working, but part time. And then, because of life, I needed to go into the work force full-time. So I was with the gallery at it’s inception for a couple years.
When I took on a full-time job, I didn’t have the time. I didn’t have the time to paint, I didn’t have the time to put into the gallery, so I dropped out.
It hasn’t been a year that I joined again. Perry kept encouraging me to join again. So finally, I said “Ok. Let’s do it again.”
CRAIG: Is it different now than it was before? And how so?
KATHY: Yes, it is very different.. There are a lot more artists, there’s a lot more activity.
CRAIG: What was it like initially, joining when it was just coming together?
KATHY: Dr. Rice encouraged Perry to start the gallery. He kept after him to get it going. It was cleaning up a space, making a space— which Perry primarily did— but we joined in helping to have a space to hang.
It was much less formal. There were half a dozen of us. Mary-Joe and Tony Gomes are still here. They were part of the gallery when it started too. It has grown a lot.
CRAIG: Was there any kind of expectation early on, or was it just a way to hang your art somewhere together and see how it went?
KATHY: I was more interested in being successful with my art— using it as an income. So I was working a little stronger at developing who I was as an artist. So, yes, it became a way of public relations— a way to display. I got a lot of experience at being a “professional artist.” I don’t have that same drive now.
CRAIG: Why is that?
KATHY: Age. Bottom line.
CRAIG: It’s just not interesting to you anymore?
KATHY: Oh my, no. More so. I just do it less as wanting to be– and I don’t mean I don’t want to be successful, I do– I want more to develop my skills as an artist.
CRAIG: You just want to be happy with your own art?
KATHY: Yes, rather than trying to fit into the mold of somebody else, and worry less if someone is going to buy this. I’m in the position that I can do that.
CRAIG: I think sometimes artists make better art when their not pressured to perform.
KATHY: Yea, I don’t have the pressure to perform that I had early on. That’s a good way of putting it.
CRAIG: What is the way that the gallery has grown that you think has been the best for the artists?
KATHY: The name. The recognition in the community and outside of the community. What it offers the community and the exposure it gives to an artist here. It has really blossomed.
CRAIG: What do you think about the Education Center?
KATHY: Coming from a teaching background, I think that’s very exciting. I haven’t gotten terrible involved with it yet. There are plans developing in my head that I would like to do with the kids that are interested in that.
I find it an inspiration to watch them take what you’re trying to teach, and going different directions with it, and all the different personalities, and growing. I find that very motivating. With my private lessons, I haven’t had them for six or so years now. I was involved in other things, that I let the lessons go to the waist side, because I was to busy.
My last group of students I had three or four go into art careers. That was really good.
CRAIG: Oh wow. How early on were you involved with those people?
KATHY: The one girl came with her sister; she was eight years old. I didn’t really want to take her because I thought she was too young to sustain the couple of hours we worked in those summer classes. But they said try it, and if it doesn’t work then we won’t. And she was wonderful! Her sister, Kate, has a Master’s now in an art.
CRAIG: What would you like to see happen with your own work in the future?
KATHY: Just becoming better at what I do so that when I have an idea that I want to put down, I’ll have the skills to be able to do that.
Perfecting my own skill level. Having it become so much second nature that whatever it is that you want to communicate you’ve got it there to do.
I may not ever achieve it in my lifetime, but that’s where I’m going.
CRAIG: How much improvement have you witnessed within yourself?
KATHY: Tremendous. My sister said, even within the last ten years. My mom died, and we cleaned out her house, and we found some old drawings. She was always encouraging me and putting stuff up on the wall and I was always making things for her.
My sister was laughing at some of the drawings. She said, “I can’t believe how much you have improved just in the last few years.”
That’s why I continue to study with Perry. He gets me over those times that I find rough. He gets me to keep going so that I don’t get frustrated and quit. I’ve got a mentor, somebody to go to.
CRAIG: That is one of the most important things when trying to learn anything. Having someone to show you if you just keep working at it, it will continue to get better. That’s good to see an improvement in your own work.
KATHY: Yes. That keeps you encouraged and satisfied with what you’re doing. I love doing it. You have to love the process.
Some of these paintings in here are absolutely beautiful. Would I like to be able to pain like that? Yes, I would, but that’s not me. I have to find that way myself. But I love the process of it, so I keep at it.
CRAIG: There’s a psychology study of flow, where artists can put themselves in a state of flow where you lose your sense of self.
When you become skilled at something, it’s not random, it’s conscise. There’s an amount of happiness to be found in letting go of everything else and just trying to make this painting right, or whatever it might be.
KATHY: It’s intense. It’s also why the arts are so healing.
That’s why I considered going into art therapy. I figured I would never get the bill paid for my masters in art therapy. But one interesting, fascinating, study of healing with the arts. I like that.
I had a good friend who is a psychiatrist. She got me involved in doing some work with her and her patients, so that she could understand a bit.
I know Perry has done a bit of it too with people who have been sick or something.
CRAIG: It really can be healing. I personally can say that art has saved my life on multiple occasions.
I struggled with addiction early on in college. Tt was art that allowed me to have something else to focus on.
I think that’s a problem for a lot of people that struggle with addiction. They may be able to quit the addiction, but then what do you spend all of that energy on then? That’s when I picked painting up for the first time and also playing guitar.
Basically as intensely as I was focused on being sober, I focused on learning. I played my guitar until my fingers bleed. I painted for hours and hours and hours, until I made something that kind of seemed like something that was in my head.
The continuation of that has literally been what has saved my life. And I know many other people where it’s been the same way.
KATHY: Yes. That story has different details, but it’s a common one, if you’re lucky.
CRAIG: I wish there was a more common way to help that be more of the process for people that are struggling with different things. But, you have to want to pick it up. You can’t be forced; you have to be interested in it.
KATHY: And it has to be presented in such a way that you can relate to it, you can see yourself doing it, you can see how this might help you. This is where your teacher becomes so important. You can just paint black all over everything if that’s the way you’re feeling. Just that kind of non-critical feeling.
CRAIG: Maybe that’s why I paint canvases black first, and then I come back to it.
A lot of people will say “I can’t draw” or “I can’t paint.” And I think that’s the job of the teacher to show them that they can.
KATHY: That’s what I’ve always told my students. I said “I can teach you the skills, but I can’t give you the want.”
I can’t draw a straight line either; I need a ruler. But if you are interested, I can teach you the skills.
CRAIG: Yea, I think there is a lot of the behind the scene stuff that artists do to get to the point where they’re creating the thing that they are, that someone starting out doesn’t see that.
They don’t see you using a ruler, or you using a grid, or whatever you use to get to where you’re at.
CRAIG: So looking at your old stuff, and seeing how much you’ve improved, that helps too.
KATHY: Every once and awhile you reach this point-- some call it an epiphany.
It almost paints itself. You know exactly what strokes you need, you know exactly what colors. And when you’re done with it, it’s exactly what you wanted to say.
They don’t come often, but they keep you going ahead.
CRAIG: That’s the high point that you hit and you want to keep challenging yourself.
Kathy' Mohney's work is available for purchase through the Winkler Gallery in DuBois.
Visiting the gallery in DuBois is free. If you get the chance, stop by and see Kathy's beautiful paintings, drawings, and her book in person. If you're lucky, she might even be there!
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