Carole Katchen Truly Embodies Painting Pictures of Success

by Grace Anne Brown
photography by Amanda Shelley Ledbetter

 

Since declaring my majors I have become accustomed to hearing laughter when I announce that I’m going to school for English and Art. The usual response is “You know that writers and artists don’t really make that much money, right?” And while it is very difficult to make a living only writing, or making art, I met a woman recently who has been living off of her creativity for the past 50 years. Carole Katchen is an established author and artist fortunate enough to make a living doing exactly what she loves; a model of where I want to be in 50 years for sure. Presently, Katchen is a world-renowned artist with works on display in 15 states and three countries. She’s instructed art classes in Scotland, taken courses in London and traveled abroad following her muse all the way to Arkansas.

Katchen made her first appearance as a professional artist at age 21.  She attended the University of Colorado at Boulder and graduated cum laude with a degree in psychology. “I’ve always loved people, that’s why I chose psychology, but then I decided I wanted to write,” she said. In college, Katchen wrote and illustrated her first children’s book entitled “I was a Lonely Teenager,” and it sold 700 thousand copies. Eventually, the illustrations started to appeal to her more than the actual writing and “the art took over [her] life.”

A motif throughout her work is the simplistic nature of each piece. “The thing that’s ironic is that my finished paintings look very simple, like they were done in five minutes; yet that’s far from true” she said. Each piece is built of layers upon layers of pastels or paints until her vision makes it to the canvas. Her process is very organic; she will often use her fingers, paper towels or other common materials to add texture to the oils. The beauty in her art lies in the simplistic essence of each individual line coming together on a much larger scale.

Over the years she has experimented with several different mediums from sketching to printmaking, and everything in between; but her technique is strongest when working with pastels and oils. Currently, Katchen is focusing on oil paintings and doing commissioned work for clients in Hot Springs. “I can do anything with oils; they’re so forgiving” she said. Art Galleries in Taiwan housed a few pieces from her pastel series multiple times, and prints from her chef series hang in restaurants and kitchens in over 30 countries. Katchen is so immersed in working with oils that she offers a weekly oil painting class in her studio. “My students are serious about their art,” she said, “and that’s how I like it.”

Before moving to Arkansas, Katchen lived in California for nine years doing everything from producing Kids Talk, a local children’s show, to writing articles about the famous Playboy Playmates. “I spent a lot of time going out to bars and clubs while I lived in LA and Denver just drawing people,” she said, sifting through some of her earlier work. “I started out with these very simple line things and gradually got more and more complex,” she said.

She then pulled out a rather large frame from one of the stacks and began to laugh, “I found this guy drinking in the corner at a singles bar and he was all duded up, so I asked if he would come model for me.” He came to her studio in lower downtown Denver, and in the process of changing into the clothes he would be drawn in, he walked out wearing only his jeans and said to Katchen “If you’re interested in art work, I want to show you a piece of real art. He started to unbutton his jeans, and I thought ‘Oh my God!’ But he just turned down the flap of his jeans to show me a tattoo,” she said through laughter.

Each series she produces reflects where she is as an artist. In 1980, she received information from a friend that the people of Nigeria were still wearing traditional African style clothes, and she had to go.  Katchen is no stranger to travel; she and a companion backpacked all across Northern Africa and later from Mexico to Peru.  While in Nigeria, she sketched the people living there and tried to reflect each subject’s individuality.  Katchen tries to capture the essence of each person she paints; “I like to people watch, so I do that for a bit before I begin to sketch.”

Many artists call our Region home, but not all of them can say their art fully supports them; excluding Katchen and a few others. Her art is as well traveled as she is, and her numerous art instruction books are published in two countries.  It’s safe to say that she made her mark on this world.  It’s rare to find someone able to make a living doing what they love, and when that happens, it’s inspiring.  Katchen’s work is on display in downtown Hot Springs at Legacy Fine Art Gallery and at her gallery on West Grand Avenue.  If you are interested in attending one of her classes or commissioning for a painting visit www.carolekatchen.com.