Introducing Portrait Artist Kim Werfel…
Kim, I am excited to have the opportunity to interview you. Your pastel portraits of both people and pets are extraordinary!
Please introduce yourself and your art a little bit.
My name is Kim Elizabeth Werfel, and I am a portrait artist and art teacher, wife to Eric Werfel and “Mom” to my little bichon frise Summer. After dabbling in lots of mediums, I settled on pastel for most of my work, probably because my first love was drawing and pastel can combine drawing and painting and is so expressive! You can under paint with a pastel painting and use pastel pencils for details.
As for my subject matter, that has evolved also. Loving art for the sheer joy and variety of self- expression, I found nothing gives me greater reward than capturing the spirit of a person or an animal. When they’re looking back at me from the canvas/ paper it gives me the biggest thrill. And when I can preserve the loving memory of a beloved pet or person forever, well that just makes the art so much more important a gift to be able to offer someone.
During a pastel workshop, I created my first pet portrait of my beloved cat “Mowie.” I put my heart and soul into it, knowing that she was 18 years old, very ill and had to be put down soon. After being urged by my teacher and with much shy reluctance I entered the amateur division of the NC State fair in 1999 with “Mowie” and she won first place! I was shocked. My first pastel pet portrait had won an award. The following year I had created a portrait of my niece and another cat portrait. I entered them both in the State Fair show and again won both 1st and 2nd places! That’s when the offers for commissioned portraits of both pets and people began. The next year I entered the professional division, even though I wasn’t in business yet, with my first dog portrait – a commission from a friend and won 2nd place. So I was thrust into being professional a bit before I felt ready. I’ve also dabbled in plein aire oil painting, winning 2nd place at the Local Color Gallery Paint Out in 2006. But I always return to portrait commissions. I enjoy working with people who want an artistic expression of their loved ones.
Through the years my work has been in articles in the Cary News, Apex Herald, 15-501 magazine and AKC Family Dog, Canine Portrait Gallery. My work has been shown in the Fine Art League of Cary Shows, The Pastel Society of NC shows and currently in the Chatham Arts Gallery in Pittsboro. My commissions are held in NY, PA, FL, NV, CA and overseas.
Where can people find you and your work?
People can find me through my website http://www.kimwerfel.com, through Facebook, through the Pastel Society of NC’s website http://pastelsocietyofnc.com, the Fine Art League of Cary’s website http://www.fineartsleagueofcary.org and through the Chatham Arts Gallery website http://www.chathamarts.org/gallery/ under Chatham arts gallery artists.
Speaking of Chatham County, I’ll be in their Studio Tour the first two weekends in December: 4-5 and 11-12. You can find me in my home studio in Fearrington Village during the tour. It’s my first time having my studio open to the public and I’m very excited about it! I’ll also be in the next Pastel Society show at the Halle Center in downtown Apex 8/23 – 9/25. I’ll be giving a talk on Artist Statements at the Halle Center in September too.
For me art is…
For me art is a very personal expression and interpretation of my response to the beauty, soul and nature in living things, be it people, animals or nature itself. I feel art should lift up the spirit, be food for the soul somehow. Art should make you feel good when you look at it. Art is my visual expression of the beauty within and without. I know lots of people depict upsetting scenes and expressing the darker side of life, but for me, art should be uplifting.
When did you first know you were going to be an artist?
I first knew I was going to be an artist when I was about ten years old. I had a calico cat that gave birth to three kittens on my closet floor. I was so awestruck and inspired by the scene that I sketched her with her new family. I later made an etching of this in college. I have it to remind me how I loved animals and drew them from way back.
In grade school I also had a brownie camera and would take photographs of everything. Art was my favorite subject in school. My parents were dead set against it, which upset me, so I tried to be who they wanted me to be. I worked in my father’s industrial dry-cleaning business in Brooklyn, NY. I later worked at Time, People and Sports Illustrated magazines in Manhattan. But I yearned to be an artist and so I put myself through NY Institute of Technology to earn a bachelor of fine arts and later a Masters in Art Education from C.W. Post, L.I.U. I taught children K-8 how to explore their creative side through art classes, thus giving my own inner child permission to do the same. After about 7 years of teaching full time I left to pursue my art career.
What do you enjoy most about your profession?
I enjoy so much about what I do. Every commission is a fresh challenge. I enjoy working with clients and learning what they want me to create for them. I enjoy taking photos and creating compositions. And finally I enjoy figuring it all out on pastel paper or canvas and showing it to the clients. The whole process is challenging and never boring – never quite the same, which keeps me sharp, focused and interested. Each new commission has its unique problems to solve, so I keep learning and growing. Some artists dislike commissions, but I never compromise my art. I enjoy giving people a personal custom piece of art tailor-made for them, but in my style. It’s very rewarding.
How would you describe your creative process?
My creative process is very intuitive. At first you have to learn all the “rules” of the elements and principles of design, of composition and of handling your medium, pastel oils or acrylics. Then I need to work on my feelings about the person or pet – I work much better if I get to meet them in person and get a “feel” for them. I also listen to why they want the portrait, if it’s a surprise gift, the meaning behind it, and especially the love for the person or pet. I try very hard to incorporate the personality into the artwork, not just a likeness. I seem to connect emotionally to the subject, that’s when my best work happens. There is a certain amount of planning out the composition, but there’s also an amount of “flow” where I think the years of painting kick in and you intuitively feel where colors belong and when it’s done.
Can you tell us a story about one of your favorite pieces?
I have so many stories that I started to write them down alongside each sample in my portfolio book!
Hard to pick just one! Some are funny, some sad, all touch me personally in some way. If I have to pick one, it might be DeBakey. DeBakey was a Coon Hound, named after the famous heart surgeon; he was also a rescued laboratory dog. His owner was a veterinarian who had no family, but adored her dog who accompanied her to work every day. DeBakey was getting very old and feeble and the whole veterinary office knew his passing would be devastating to his owner, so they jointly hired me to create a portrait that would honor him, comfort his owner and last long after he was gone.
When I arrived at the vet’s office everyone kept Dr. “A” busy so she wouldn’t suspect a thing. An assistant took DeBakey outside for his photo. As the old dog lifted his head up to curiously watch a visitor, I quickly snapped the perfect photo. DeBakey died a week later. When the portrait was completed, the office presented the pastel portrait to the then grieving owner. This was a very emotional and healing experience all around. Dr. “A” wrote my first testimonial, (unsolicited), and I then knew I was doing more than just painting pretty pictures….I was helping to heal hearts and preserve loving memories with my art. Pretty powerful responsibility, but I love it.
Your ability to capture the essence of your subjects is inspiring! Who has inspired you?
Capturing the essence of my subjects is my aim….and to do it poetically somehow. I’ve studied with different teachers, each giving me a new piece of guidance and inspiration to make me who I am. Barbara Gill was one of my first pastel teachers, who has since gone on to paint mostly in oils. Her style and ease of painting greatly inspired me, as her love of children. She also taught me much about composition, and introduced me to many master painters through books and the Portrait Society of America. Luanna Winner draws beautifully and she taught me to have a careful eye with drawing and measuring – essential to getting a correct likeness. Susan Sarbach opened me up to the world of impressionism through her plein aire color workshops. Doug Dawson showed me the magic of simplifying a composition into big shapes and the drama of rich darks against lights. Harley Brown’s books have influenced me a great deal; I love the way he paints a vivid, expressive portrait. He’s tops. Then of course, there’s Richard Schmidt, Sorolla, I could go on and on. I love the work in International Artist Magazine and have every copy of the Pastel Journal. I never tire of learning or trying to improve my work.
Are there any tips to living a creative life that you’d like to share?
To live your best creative life, you can’t lose your childhood wonder and appreciation for life’s beauty. Try to look with new eyes every day. I’ve also learned I have to take care of myself first. I cannot be creative or enjoy creating if I don’t have enough sleep, am stressed out or have other duties calling out to me. I have to carve out quality time and not answer the phone, lose myself in the process. Before I settle in to paint I light a candle, set my water fountain on, pour a hot cuppa tea, open a window a bit, and put on some inspiring music (new age, harp, flute, guitar, whatever the mood). These include “The Ladder of the Soul” Celtic harp by Paul Baker, “Magical Child” by Michael Jones, and “In the Presence of Angels” by Dik Darnell. Lately my favorite music is Joanie Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, Carrie Newcomer. I have a big collection. But usually I listen to instrumental music. This ritual and a prayer to my spirit guides and I’m gone in the zone. I can actually feel a shift, like a car that’s now in gear. May sound crazy, but it works for me.
Kim, It is evident from your responses that you poured your heart into each and every one. Thank you!
“Inspiring Artists!” will be an ongoing series. It will run as long as there are inspiring artists out there wanting to share their stories. If you are an artist and would like to participate please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!!