Friday, August 24, 2012

Interview - Kathy Panton

Kathy Panton runs a super successful Etsy shop selling prints of her illustrations. Her style is bold, happy, colourful, feel-good and even a little Eric Carle-esque. What's not to love!? She has also authored, illustrated and self-published a wonderful children's counting picture book. I talked to her to find out more about how she gets to do what she loves every single day. Welcome, Kathy!

Kathy Walker (all photos courtesy of the artist)

Tell us a bit about yourself, your work and achievements

I grew up in the mountains of the Dorrigo Plateau in Northern NSW. I discovered art in about Year 11 when I had a wonderful art teacher who had boundless enthusiasm and encouraged my painting and drawing. My art education was a Bachelor of Visual Arts and some study in children's book illustration here and overseas. I became an special ed art teacher and eventually quit the 9 - 5 to become a full time artist.

I live in Brisbane, Queensland,  and work from my home studio. I like gardening, op shopping, the beach, jazz, art and old things.

My biggest achievement work wise is just the fact that I get to be an artist every day and have given up my normal job. That was my goal for a long time.

I create brightly coloured collages for the nursery and general home or office. I sell them as prints in my Etsy and Madeit shops. I also draw very detailed pencil drawings of peoples faces, and pets. One of the biggest faces I did was 2 metres by 2 metres. I am a big fan of Chuck Close and his work.

by Kathy Panton

What is a typical day for you? How do you balance different tasks (eg. creative work, administration, etc)?

I have recently got into the habit of checking my Etsy shop in the morning from my phone before I am even out of bed. Sometimes if I wake up at 3 am I will check it. I am addicted to Etsy.

After breakfast I get on the PC and start on orders and answer any convo’s or emails.

I like to have orders, administration things, and any trips out to buy supplies done by lunch. I like to have the afternoon free to work on creative things (theoretically). Doesn’t always work out this way, and I tend to jump from thing to thing, and am easily distracted, which is why I try and segment the day.

When I have to do something boring like bookwork I sometimes go to a cafĂ© and do it there so I won’t be distracted. It is good to do some things in a different environment over lunch.

I usually don't turn off my computer until late at night, as its morning time in the USA and it's often when I will get messages or sales. 

Kathy's bookcase in her art room. Her palette and brushes.
How do you go about developing ideas for new work? What or who inspires you?

I paint on large sheets of paper and then use sections of it that I like to create my collages. On a creative level I get inspired by the actual materials I work with and the effects that the colours create on the sheet of paper. I might look at a painted sheet of paper and see a shape in the patterns that sparks an idea. My favourite colour combination at the moment is red and turquoise.

by Kathy Panton

I have lots of different notebooks that I use to write down lists of ideas. I don't really sketch ideas like a lot of artists do, I describe the idea using words.

Sometimes a work is inspired by a piece of writing i find. Like in the print "Things My Mother Taught Me". My mother was a teacher and I used her old lesson plan books for this artwork.  I cut up a page of her handwriting where she writes about things like 'dangers, manners, and safety' to create the clouds.

I am inspired by nature a lot of the time too. A lot of birds come to my yard and that is why there are so many birds in my work.

On a business level I am inspired by what my customers are buying. If I notice a trend in what people are looking at in my shop, or purchasing, I will make more items that are similar, whether it be theme, colours or a certain quote.

Kathy Panton's self-published picture book

Could you tell us a bit about your process of conceiving, creating and publishing your children's book?

I was given the opportunity to have an exhibition of my work in the children’s section of Borders books here in Brisbane. I had about 3 months notice, and it occurred to me that this would be a perfect place and opportunity to launch a picture book.

I had four of the images done already, and then set about writing the text. The text took a while to write as there were only a few words on each page and I needed each word to really work. I also wanted it to be catchy and sound good when read aloud. I read it aloud to other people to test it out until it sounded right.

An image from the dummy book of 'I Hear Two Bird's

After the text was done I created the rest of the images. During this time I was searching all over Brisbane for someone to print it. It was kind of difficult, because a lot of printing places didn’t have the right kind of printing press to create a book. Also I needed to find a place that would reproduce my bright colours so that they were true to the original.

One day I happened to be in a book shop in Carindale and randomly found a picture book printed by Applause Press at Logan.

I went and saw them about my book, and showed them a 5” x 7” dummy version. They did all the typesetting and layout, and wrote the blurb on the back of the book.


I also got a ISBN and a Dewey number by listing the book with the National Library of Australia. It took a couple of weeks to print and then it was on the shelf in Borders. I had 1000 copies printed. They did a wonderful job creating the book and I am so glad I found them.

Then I went around to other book shops in Brisbane and asked them if they would stock it. I would tell them that Borders is stocking it and most times they would say yes. I think if I had gone ahead with the book without Borders I might have had trouble getting it into shops.

What are your favourite tools/materials for creating?

I use gouache and watercolour in a variety of different brands. My other materials are paper, lots of brushes, clear glue, smooth watercolour paper, and lots of vintage ephemera.

I collect all sorts of paper, from my Nanna’s old stamp collection, postcards, old letters, and vintage paper cheques from France. I also collect old maps. I like looking in second hand shops for old atlases and old books that might have interesting images or type.  I keep any kind of paper that I find interesting and store it all in a big drawer.

My first commissioned art job back in 1997 was a collage I did for a women’s magazine, New Woman. I used the wedding magazine my mother had bought before her wedding in 1965. She kept it for 30 years, then I got hold of it and used the retro imagery for the collage. That was what started off my collection of old paper.

I also collect retro fabric which I mostly buy online or at markets.


Thanks for your time, Kathy! It was so wonderful to hear your story. Please visit Kathy's online stores (where her picture book is also available as well as her full range of art prints):