A blessed feast of St. Francis to you! We’re celebrating with a new book of meditations, For the Beauty of the Earth: Daily Devotions Exploring Creation. It’s newly available today from Forward Movement.
It was an honor to interview the illustrator, an active Episcopalian whose art is her ministry. Kathrin Burleson’s exquisite images inspire throughout the book, accompanying reflections from leaders around the church. – Ed.
When in the day do you tend to paint? Do you have a ritual to be ready before you begin? If so, what is it?
I paint in the morning. My morning ritual is pretty consistent. I get up at 5:45, exercise from 6-6:23 (sounds pretty rigid, but that’s the length of the routine), read Morning Prayer, get dressed and down to my studio.
I find that if I get involved in any other activity before starting to paint, my energy gets siphoned off, so it’s important to get right to it. Someone once told me that whatever they start first thing in the morning sets the mood for the whole day. I find that to be true and that’s why I stick to this schedule.
Years ago I did the Bible Challenge, reading the whole Bible through the course of a year, and it stuck. It just doesn’t feel right not to begin the day with scripture and prayer. I end my devotions with 20 minutes of Centering Prayer.
That sounds like a long ritual, but it covers most of the bases—tending body and soul. The Creation Series mirrors that—exploring the sacred and ephemeral present in the physical reality of nature. In a way, that’s what painting, in general, is to me, whether it’s painting animals, people or anything else in nature—seeking to express something about the essence, the message beyond and inherent in whatever it is I’m painting. But it’s not something you can force. It just takes time to develop, which is why I show up in my studio at a regular time whether I feel like it or not.
How did you begin the process of becoming a fine artist? How did you first begin to offer your work to the church? How was it received?
I love to tell people that I started drawing and painting fairly late in life, although 30 years old doesn’t sound so late in life anymore. I was always drawn to figurative work, initially drawing and painting primarily people. I enrolled in a lot of figure drawing classes and immersed myself in order to hone my skills and spent many hours each week drawing from life. If a drawing of a human being is off it is immediately obvious to someone else, so you need to be accurate. It is also humbling because it is very challenging and mistakes can look pretty grotesque. It keeps me on my toes and is a wonderful discipline. If I lived closer to a studio I’d do more of it.
Painting icons was a natural next step since it combined figurative work, although stylized, and liturgy. I studied iconography at the Iconography Institute at Mt. Angel Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Oregon.
Years ago a benefactor approached me to commission a set of the Stations of the Cross based on the icons he had seen. I found that the iconic approach was too stiff and formulated and wanted to explore a more metaphoric approach which I did with watercolor. Fortunately, the benefactor gave me full rein and let me get into new territory. I worked on that series for a couple of years and had no idea if anyone would respond or not. I just kept painting in faith and was pleasantly surprised (and relieved) to see that people seemed to relate to them.
Interestingly, that sowed the seeds for the metaphoric interpretation of the Stations which Forward Movement later incorporated into The Soul’s Journey, our first book.
Now, I find the most rewarding work I do is to interpret scripture in watercolor. It keeps me grounded in the Word, while providing an opportunity to go with the flow of the paint. It’s like a fluid prayer.
What are one or two of your favorite images from the Creation Daybook? Do they correspond to your favorite pieces of Scripture, or are they different?
I don’t think I could choose a favorite. Some I like because of the subject—for example, the egret. They are such elegant, ethereal creatures.
Others I like because they presented a challenge that I struggled to meet. Wheat falls into that category. Others I like because the painting just seemed to paint itself. Dungeness Crab is an example.
It’s all about the process to me, so I’m not particularly attached to the end result. My relationship or preference has more to do with the actual process of painting than it does with the painting itself.
Now that I think about it, it’s another metaphor for life. So often we think we really want something, or seek to accomplish something, we work very hard to reach the goal. And then when we reach it, we realize that it was the work and the meeting of the challenge that was most worthwhile. It was the journey rather than the end result that mattered.
Where else can people find you online?
People can see more of my work at my website: www.KathrinBurleson.com. And I finally have an active Facebook Page: www.Facebook/KathrinBurleson. It took me a while to embrace that platform, but now really enjoy the online gallery aspect (I post several times each week) and the opportunity to hear from and communicate with visitors. I’m also on Instagram @Kathrin_Burleson.
[Would you like For the Beauty of the Earth? Here’s the link again just in case. – Ed.]
How do you pause each day to honor your place in Creation?