Capturing the color and movement of world travel, Austin artist Katie Conley shares her vibrant energy through oil painting and paper collage. Always striking, always evoking a memory, her work expresses her reaction to a moment in time.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I think that I was born an artist. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been drawn to artistic expression. When I was a child I took art classes, built and decorated a dollhouse with my dad, created a cut paper calendar as a gift for my aunt, to name just a few. Art was the only subject that came effortlessly to me.
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Do you have a dedicated space for art? If so, what does it look like?
I’m currently working from a home studio. I really like the flexibility that having my studio at the ready for any spare time I can find to create art. With 3 small children, escaping for hours to a studio somewhere isn’t realistic at this point.
I have my easel for painting set up by the window which provides a lot of natural light. I have my collage station set up on the central table, and I have all of my supplies stored in furniture in the room.
It’s fun for friends and neighbors that come over to see my work progressing which wouldn’t happen as easily if I had a studio outside of my home. I like the fact that my family can see me working and they are always willing to provide a critique of a work in progress.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I am always writing notes and keeping track of new ideas. I think about art a lot when I’m away from my studio – in the car, on hikes or bike rides, even in the shower.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I enjoy listening to podcasts and audiobooks when I’m creating, but sometimes I just like quiet.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
My postage stamp collages are 100% postage stamps! And I try to use stamps that correlate to the subject (water and fish themed stamps for the mermaid, stamps from India for my yoga poses series, musical stamps for the music-related).
How has your work changed over time?
I have always loved cutting and fitting the shapes together. I love cutting paper for collages, fabric for sewing, tile for mosaics and stamps for my postage stamp collages. When I started as a full-time artist, my focus was mainly on oil painting. I still love to paint but find that taking a break and switching to collage or mosaic is helpful.
Do you sell your work? If so, where can people find it?
I have had a solo show in a gallery in downtown Austin. This was such a proud moment for me and the support I received from my friends, family, neighbors and collectors felt very good. I also participated in EAST and WEST and am a member of the Creative Arts Society where I show my work as part of group shows all over town at different venues. I have prints available for sale at the S. 1st Street gallery Art For the People. I also sell from my artist’s website: www.katieconleycreative.com
What is the greatest challenge you have faced as an artist?
It can be very difficult to make time for art-making with three small children. There is just never enough time in the day! But my family is very supportive of my work and encourage me to get into the studio regularly. They understand how important it is to me and are very proud.
I also really dislike the business and computer aspects of being an artist. Taxes, websites, social media, etc are the least enjoyable for me.
Do you focus on one piece exclusively from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time?
I am usually working on several projects at once and jump back and forth between them. This helps to prevent burnout.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I do think some people are just born seeing the world differently (focusing on color or patterns or noticing unique aspects). But many people have to work harder at it and it may not be as enjoyable. I do think it can be learned to some extent but it would still not come as easily to them as it does to others.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
If I’m feeling stuck, I listen to an inspiring podcast, or visit a gallery or museum. Or even just play around with a coloring book or deliberately try to make an “ugly”piece of art – which seems to take the pressure off and loosen me up.
How can people overcome the challenges they feel to their creative ability?
Just try to have fun! Process over product. Why are they feeling drawn to create in the first place? Stress relief is reason enough, so focus on that as the goal. Taking a class that sounds fun would be helpful, too.
My postage stamp collages were inspired by some artwork a neighbor had when I was a child. My mom loved the pieces so my family decided to find out from the neighbor the artist’s contact information so we could purchase a piece for her. Sadly, the woman had been quite old and had already passed away. So I came up with the idea to make one for my mom myself. She loved it! Then I started making her a new piece for each holiday, birthday, Mother’s Day gift. Then other people started noticing them and requesting their own postage stamp collages. I have had several commissioned pieces and find it interesting to see what collectors come up with.
Interview posted May 2020
Browse through more inspiring paper art projects on Create Whimsy.