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The DART Interview: Gayle Kabaker

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday February 7, 2019

Peggy Roalf: Your art for the 2018 memorial day cover of The New Yorker made me feel like a kid again—and got my holiday off to a great start. What is there about kids playing in water that gets your pen moving?

Gayle Kabaker:
Thank you! It's not really kids in water that inspires me—more just people and water in general ! When it's hot there is no place I'd rather be then by water. 

PR: When and how did you know that you were cut out for a career in art?

GK: I always loved to draw. I had a baby sitter who later became a fashion illustrator, with her drawings in the Washington Post, and she was very inspiring to me. Martha Vaughn. Drawing was just something I was good at and enjoyed, and from a very young age i loved drawing fashion and pretty women. I cannot remember a time where I didn't know i wanted to be a fashion illustrator.   

PR: You cover a lot of ground in your work, from your first love, fashion, to the joys and perils of living with dogs—and quite a few more subjects in between. Do you have any plans for collecting your work into a book?

GK:  I've been writing for over 10 years but felt pretty insecure about it and didn't really show it to anyone. About a year ago I began doing these illustrated stories and then submitting them to some online magazines. I found a wonderful editor at Medium and it was a right time right place kinda thing. She took my “Motherless Mother's Day” story and it ran Mothers Day weekend and many people read it! Then “My Dog Story” ran on Medium. I'd been gathering stories for a book about people finding their rescue dogs, looking specifically for 'miracle' type of stories.  My last agent submitted the idea to a few places and no one was interested. So it takes a back seat when i am busy with assignment work, but I sure want it to happen!

PR: What artists do you look to for inspiration in your own art? 

GK: Right now i am looking at Gauguin! I've been very inspired the past few years by David Hockney. I LOVE Elizabeth Peyton and hope to go to her show at the National Portrait Gallery in London next fall. 

PR: Do you see a lot of museum and gallery shows? 

GK: No—I live in the boonies of Western Massachusetts but when I am in cities I try to go.  

PR: What’s the best takeaway from seeing art shows rather than looking at books and magazines?

GK: I think maybe it's the feeling of being in the room with the art, and being able to see them the size they were created. I saw David Hockney's Portrait show at LACMA last April and was blown away and very inspired by it.

PR: Please describe your process in terms of how much the final artwork resembles the painting or drawing you started out with.

GK: I paint old school with Acryla gouache then scan into Photoshop. I tend to paint small so it will fit on my scanner. My painting table is decent size but i don't have a huge studio with lots of wall space. So my 'tools' have informed my art for a long time. Once in a while i will get lucky and nail a piece just in the painting, but more often i take it into Photoshop and move things around, resize, change colors and who knows what else. I am good at disguising and blending—so hopefully the end result always looks like a painting, as I do not want my work to have a digital feel.

I think there should be no rules about how a piece is created. Whatever works. I am not a purist! I purposely do not have an iPad, as I want to only use a sketchbook when I travel and I do not want more screens in my life. I use my I Mac, my Macbook, (mostly for travel) and my big phone enough! I usually sketch ideas in Photoshop. 

PR: Do you use photographs as reference in your commissioned art? 

GK: Yes, my I phone 8S camera changed my life. Being able to manipulate the high quality photos to paint from has been amazing. I crop and filter and do whatever it takes to make the photo look the way i want it—then I paint from it, looking at it carefully at first then trying to put the photo away and painting it however I want. Then I come back to the photo to see what i might add or change. It's kind of a back and forth process. 

PR: How do you avoid the pitfalls inherent in working from photographs?

GK: I use them as a guide and do not try to copy them, but more to just be inspired by them. 

PR: When I sent the email invite for this interview, I was wondering, “Where will Gayle be now that the subzero winter winds have set in?” Please tell readers a bit about how travel inflects your work and how you arrange trades and other collaborations to cover your costs?

GK: I am in Bali as a write this! My husband who is a photographer (Peter Kitchell)  and i were here four years ago. He likes to travel around and see lots of things - and i like to stay put and get to know one place. I decided to come back alone to Sanur, as we were only here for three days and i knew this would be a great place for me to paint. I'm in an Airbnb family compound, and i have my own little house, but people are nearby and i can join the family for delicious (vegan!) meals if I want. It's very conducive to getting into a real painting zone. For me this happens easiest if i am not trying to do and see TOO much. I go out and gather photos for inspiration then just hunker down and paint on my patio. That is an essential part of the deal when i am figuring out where to go. Gotta be able to paint outdoors! 

I have always been pretty good at 'being creative with the finances' on how to travel. I am lucky enough to often barter with 'patrons' who like my work and want a painting and have places that they can barter with me. I've also had yoga retreats, hotels, and private estates invite me to come and paint my experience for them to use in their marketing. We agree on how many pieces they will get ahead of time and we barter my lodging and hopefully all other expenses for while i am there. I often cover my flight, looking at it as an opportunity to have a painting retreat. I look forward to getting paid AND all expenses covered to go to cool places to paint my experience! Ideally I like to be alone as that is how i get my best work done.

From Gayle’s website:After graduating from the Academy of Art in San Francisco (I taught fashion drawing for 4 years drawing for their online degree program), I began freelancing and have never stopped! I love coming up with solutions to all types of challenges for illustration and design projects. One of my favorite things to do is to collaborate and make connections – get the right talents together and know that it is the perfect team for the project. My work is used in lots of different ways: fashion and general illustration, for marketing collateral, editorial, animation, web design, logo and brand development and more. I am especially excited these days about my illustrated stories. dart-interview

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