Thanks so much, Katie, for taking the time to speak with us about your sustainable painting journey!
Could you please tell us a little bit about your personal history that led you to painting? How did you first learn to oil paint?
I have been painting since I was a child. In fact, my aunt and uncle still have a painting from when I was eight years old hanging in their house, which warms my heart and fills me with embarrassment simultaneously. For years I painted for pure enjoyment, and then as I became busier with work, it fell by the wayside and I did not paint for about the first four years of my teaching career. Then, about three years ago, I was driving home from a funeral, feeling quite sad, and I saw an art supply shop up ahead. Without even thinking, I turned into the parking lot and walked out with a giant canvas and a handful of high flow acrylic paints. I spent the rest of the night pouring paint onto the canvas, using it as a way to process my emotions and I realized what an immense calming effect it had on me. From that point on I was hooked, and I have not stopped painting since. At first, I did a lot of pour painting and other acrylic pieces, until one day I walked into the space I used for painting and I was struck with the realization of how much waste I was producing. I have been passionate about sustainability for several years now and I realized that this was not in line with my values. I loved painting though, so I was motivated to find a better alternative. Through Instagram and various hashtags, I eventually found another natural earth painter (@art_by_the_king on Instagram), which led to my first purchase from the website.
I had zero experience with oils before starting with Natural Earth Paints, but I watched Leah Fanning’s videos explaining the mixing process for Natural Earth Paint, I borrowed some books on oil painting from the library where I learned important rules like fat over lean and actually, the first oil painting I did with the pigments was from watching a Bob Ross video. You can’t help but be encouraged to do your best and keep trying when you have Bob Ross’ voice helping you work through the concerns that you have no idea what you are doing. I kept with it, trying different techniques and different subjects over the last few years until I found my niche.
As a high school psychology teacher, what has the impact of positive psychology been in your life and creative practice?
In positive psychology, the concepts that always resonated strongly with me are flow and gratitude.
Flow was coined by a Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and if you’ve seen the new Pixar movie Soul, you can liken it to how the film describes being “in the zone’. When a person finds a task that is challenging but they are well-skilled for it, that allows them to enter into a state where time feels suspended, you are completely enveloped by the task at hand, and you feel like your work is simply flowing out of you without any effort needed. Research shows that the more often we can experience flow, the better off our well-being is. That is how I would describe the creative process. Time passes so quickly in the afternoons and weekends I spend working creatively and I know my well-being is increased anytime I can fit painting into my regular schedule. Whether it is art or music, mathematics or architecture, finding flow in either a career or a hobby is extraordinarily fulfilling.
The subjects I focus on, mainly florals and other subjects of the natural world, are based on the immense gratitude I have for nature and the planet. When you engage in a regular gratitude practice, for example, listing three things each day that you are grateful for, it slowly rewires your brain to scan your environment for the good, as opposed to the bad, increasing your positive emotions. This is not to say we should ignore the bad things that happen around us or in the world, such as how the planet is impacted by climate change, but this small gratitude practice can increase your resiliency, allowing you to continue on in the face of challenges and work to find solutions. That gratitude and appreciation for the current moment helps combats burnout and hopelessness. For me, creating these floral works are a practice in gratitude, taking time to appreciate what is beautiful in the world around me, and creating a space in my home that I appreciate and enjoy spending time in each day, not to mention reminding me why we need to do a better job caring for this planet.
Much of your work focuses on floral subjects; what first attracted you to painting these gorgeous flowers?
As I mentioned before, floral art is a practice of gratitude for me. I am also really interested in their symbolism. Of course flowers are in and of itself beautiful, but you can also consider where and when we see flowers and what they also represent. This natural beauty the earth gifts us is often associated with and given to others with the intention of romance or appreciation or gratitude. Flowers represent growth, rebirth, the life and death cycle, and love. When flowers are given, on birthdays, or mother’s day, funerals or graduations they are often given from a place of caring, a place of love. Where there is love, there are often flowers.
What spurred your decision to start working with natural pigments and supplies? Was it related to health concerns, ethical worries, or eco-conscious motivations?
I made the switch to oil painting and Natural Earth Paint primarily for eco-conscious reasons, when I realized just how unsustainable my previous painting practice was, and how it was out of line with my values in other areas of my life. Natural Earth Paint was one of the first companies I came across in my research, and then I read how you don’t use harmful solvents and it is not only eco-conscious but also healthier I was sold. As a chronic migraine sufferer, I am grateful I never even considered or tried solvents such as turpentine, which would not have worked well for me.
How has using Natural Earth Paint supplies changed your practice?
It has transformed my practice in every way. I am now making my own canvases and mixing my own gesso to prep the canvas before painting, and mixing oil and pigment together to create the paint so the whole process has become a much more intentional and mindful experience. So much love and care goes into each and every piece and I know exactly where my materials are coming from and that they are not harmful to myself or my family.
Do you have any tips for artists who want to switch to sustainable oil paints and supplies? What were the challenges you faced when you started, and what made the process easier?
I had no idea what I was doing when I switched to Natural Earth Paints. Having never painted with oils before, I was definitely intimidated. But if there are others out there afraid to make the switch, there are so many free resources available – books from your local library, youtube videos, fellow artists on Instagram who share their practice and experience with working with natural pigments. If you already paint with oils you can start small, purchasing just one or two pigments and start mixing them into your practice, and slowly transition to an eco-friendlier practice. And if you are brand new to oil painting always remember the words of Bob Ross, there are no mistakes, only happy accidents!
Where can our audience see or purchase more of your artwork?
My work is on my Instagram @the_sustainable_painter
And on my website: katieturnbullart.com