Happy Maker Monday!
This week we are featuring Kate Tangney, a letterer and abstract artist! We love how her art expresses the ups and downs of life and how they connect. There’s a lot of heart and meaning behind her pieces and we think that is something that is often overlooked with abstract art. Kate also finds a way to make it happen when it comes to creating. The general responsibilities of life can make little time for many artist’s creative process, but Kate has found a way to work together with her busy schedule to be an even more productive artist. Her creative journey tells a similar story to her paintings as they both reflect creating beauty out of difficulty and finding space for your passion to flourish. Read on to learn more about Kate’s story and work!
: Tell us a few things about yourself!
: Hi there! I’m Kate, and I am an abstract artist and hand letterer, living just south of Boston, MA. I was born and raised in the Boston area, and I have the accent to prove it! I’m married to a wonderful guy and we have two little kids (my daughter is 5 going on 15, and my son is one). I’m also the middle of three sisters, and I live next door to both of them, as well as my mom. So it’s usually very busy around our house! Other than that, I am pretty much a big dork, and love classic rock, watching cheesy action movies with my husband, and buying houseplants that I will never remember to water.
: We absolutely love your hand lettering and abstract art. How would you describe your style and the theme behind all of your artwork?
: Thank you so much! My inspiration generally stems from the idea that life is raw and it’s hard, but there’s also a lot of beauty and resilience there. That juxtaposition tends to be reflected in both the texture and composition of my work. Each piece is a combination of raw, unrefined marks, and some sort of graceful lines – either using detail work or lettering.
: After college, you took a 10 year hiatus from art! What drew you back into creating? And how did it feel when you started making art again?
: Well, I graduated college in 2005, was married in 2006, and I didn’t really know how to be a wife, mother, and artist all at the same time. The prevailing “wisdom” at the time was that being an artist and having a family did not mix. (Luckily, that mindset is going through a major shift right now!) But then in 2015, I was going through a very difficult pregnancy and needed to spend a lot of time just resting. I remember sitting on the couch with my daughter and thinking, “how can I use this time?” So I started to learn hand lettering. My daughter and I would sit and draw together every day, and although it was a tough situation, it was really the push I needed to get back to creating.
: What made you decide to pursue both hand lettering and abstract art? What are your favorite things (and challenges) about each type of art? And how did you learn or hone your craft in both varying styles?
: I started out as a hand letterer, because I have been fascinated by letterforms my whole life. I remember just watching my mother write when I was a little kid. She has gorgeous penmanship, and I would try to emulate that. I also studied graphic design in college, where I learned all about typography and the structure of letters.
Hand lettering combines that beauty and structure into an art form that I just love. So I spent a year trying out different styles and learning the basics. But the further I went into lettering, the more I realized that I had more to say than I could express in words. So I started experimenting with acrylics, and it just felt like a creative blast went off, I was instantly hooked. I’ve found that having both outlets is a great balance for me.
: We love your Color Blast series! Tell us a little about it and why you like creating a group of pieces that all go together and share commonalities!
: For The Color Blasts, I wanted to use color, texture, and composition to explore that juxtaposition of hardship, beauty, and resilience that I mentioned earlier. As Ernest Hemingway said “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.” We all have these experiences that break us down, and I think those are the times that we tend to find strength, and clarity, and start to appreciate the beauty in life a little bit more.
Working in a series has been amazing, because it has really helped me to conquer my fear of a blank canvas – sometimes being faced by endless possibilities can be overwhelming! For this series, I set some limits for myself so that I had a starting point when I sat down to paint. I decided I would only use three colors, plus white, and I would paint on 5” x 7” watercolor paper. That made a huge difference in making this series cohesive, and it definitely helped me find my style.
: You have two kiddos of your own! How do you balance the time between being a parent and running your own creative business?
: It definitely isn’t easy! I use every second of my “free time” to work, which pretty much means naptime and evenings. And sometimes I have my little helpers painting right next to me! But even though it’s a challenge, I’ve found that being a mom has made me a better and more efficient artist. After all, if you only have a 30 minute nap time to paint, you figure out how to get it done! It has pushed me to jump in and not overthink every brushstroke, because I literally don’t have time. I really believe that allowing myself to make art has made me a better mom, too, because I am a much happier person when I’m creating.
: Do you have a favorite ambiance or environment in which to sit down and churn out some amazing work? Or anything you do to get inspiration or a refresh before you head to work?
: I wish I could say I have a beautiful, inspiring studio space, but I don’t! I make all of my art at my kitchen table or on the kitchen floor. It’s a pretty sunny spot though, and it’s in close proximity to my coffee pot, which is key. But honestly, it’s perfect for me right now because I can pop in there quickly if the kids are napping. I do try to take a few minutes to unwind before I start to paint, and that usually means listening to music or podcasts. And I usually look back at sketches or other reference pictures to collect my thoughts before I start.
: We would love to hear about your typical art process. Say you have a blank canvas in front of you – What do you do first?
: If I’m doing abstract work, I start by choosing and mixing colors, and then I lay down a base layer of color on the canvas. I mostly use palette knives, partially because I hate cleaning brushes, but mostly because I love the varied marks you can make with them. I start with dark colors and move to light colors, ending with white. After that, I have to let the painting dry before going back in with a paint pen to add the detail work. That is very time consuming, but also pretty relaxing!
: What are your future plans for Kate Tangney Studio or upcoming projects you’re working on?
: I actually have a few projects I’ll be working on at once. I just started a new series tentatively called “Uprising.” It explores the same idea as the Color Blasts, but in a looser style and larger format, which will be fun! I also recently started a series called the “Confessional Series” which combines acrylic painting and lettering. It’s inspired by all the emotions that we feel but usually don’t talk about. That project is still evolving, but I’m excited to see where it goes!
: Any advice for other artists?
: Just keep doing the work, and be patient with yourself! Especially for artists who are just starting out, remember that everyone has to start somewhere. If you start now, you’ll be amazed by your progress when you look back a year from now. I purposely keep my older work posted on Instagram, (even though most of it makes me cringe now!) so that I can look back and see how far I’ve come. If you need some inspiration to get started now, scroll back in my feed and you’ll see the difference! It might also give you a chuckle 😉
See More from Kate Tangney Studios!