Windrow reflects on creative career

Art professor Kathy Windrow instructs her class on how to take photos of their art on Oct. 4. Photo by Chantilette Franklin/ The Et Cetera

Art professor Kathy Windrow instructs her class on how to take photos of their art on Oct. 4. Photo by Chantilette Franklin/ The Et Cetera

AIMEE JIMENEZ, Contributor

Kathy Windrow is an Eastfield art instructor and artist who has exhibited her work in a national gallery and in Peru, Hungary and Italy. Windrow recently sat down with Et Cetera contributor Aimee Jimenez to discuss her career and the joy she has found working with Eastfield students.

Q. How long have you been teaching at Eastfield?

A. I’ve been teaching at Eastfield for 35 years, which is a long time.

Q. What kind of skills do you teach your students?

A. The most important skills I teach drawing and painting students are seeing, because seeing carefully is key to all the arts we teach here. One of the basic skills that helps anybody, no matter what they study, is to just stay focused, to develop a longer and longer attention span, because it takes a long time to finish a lot of hard work.

Q. What kind of art do you create personally, and what are your favorite pieces?

A. I create several different kinds of things. I make paintings, and I have a favorite painting of all the paintings I’ve made. It’s a painting of a tropical rainforest place that I visited on the border of Guatemala and Belize. It is about 22 by 30 inches, made with watercolor. I was standing next to this muddy river in this dense forest, which I just thought was one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been. It was mysterious and dark in there, and the forest was thick. And for some reason, with that painting everything just went right. I didn’t have any areas that I thought of as mistakes. I just painted from the start to the finish in several days’ time. So, it’s in our bedroom, and I won’t ever try to sell it.

And I also do installation art using found objects and things that I have made. Those installations are organized depending on the place where I’m putting them.

Q. What is your favorite art style?

A. I have a lot of favorite art styles. I try to use materials in such a way that I’m really responding to them and to their special qualities. An example: If I’m working with wood from the natural world, I might try to look at how it grows, or how it twists and turns naturally, and I respond to that. So I might shake it slightly, or I might make objects that I paint that are related in color and texture.

Q. What artists have influenced you the most?

A. One of my favorite artists is named Romare Bearden, who was an important artist of the 20th century. He worked as a social worker his whole life in New York City. He’s one of the famous artists of the 20th century because he made so much great work on his own time at night.

Q. What does your creative process look like?

A. With painting, I usually start with an idea and then a drawing, and then I develop the painting in layers of color with an installation. I start by collecting materials and transforming them and storing them, thinking about different ways to organize them. I have to do all the preparation before I come to the place to install them. I move them around until I feel they are just in the right relationship to each other. You have to keep an open mind and really be willing to respond to what you see at the moment and not be afraid to take that chance.

Q. What are some of your favorite mediums to work with?

A. I love working with found objects more than anything, and in installation. In terms of paint, I have fallen in love with watercolor. Oh my, I used to love oil paint. I don’t have good ventilation in my studio at home, so I don’t use an oil tank there. I have to deal with turpentine, which is a solvent, and the fumes can make you sick. So watercolor is safer and it’s very easy to clean up.

Q. What art technique have you not touched on?

A. There are many art techniques I haven’t tried. I would love to work on a very large scale in any medium. It could be paint or an installation. But I would just love to work on something large scale. Something 50 feet long instead of 10 feet long, just to see what it’s like to try to unify a design that large and to work long on a piece.

Q. What drew you to this field of study as a student?

A. I don’t remember the decision because I always made things when I was a little kid. My mom and dad always gave art supplies to my sister and me, and we just always made things. I took art classes in grade school and junior high, and then in high school. I was one of the kids that took art every year. And people said I was an artist, so I studied art.

Q. What accomplishments are you particularly proud of?

A. Well, I’m very proud that I’ve been teaching at Eastfield for 35 years because when I was in high school nobody, including myself, would have predicted that I would do anything for 35 years. I’m proud that I found the right place for me to be. I found the right profession. I found just the right community of students for me as a teacher. I’m proud of dedicating that much of my life to this place.

Q. What has been your greatest obstacle and how have you overcome it?

A. I think one of my obstacles has always been fear that I wouldn’t be able to do something well enough. That I just wouldn’t be good enough. The way I’ve overcome it is to just keep doing it. To keep trying, to keep saying yes to everything’s that’s offered to me and give it my best shot.

Q. How do you spend your time away from art and teaching?

A. I don’t have very much time away from art and teaching. But I like bird watching. My husband and I go all over the world to look at birds, which is a great excuse for being outdoors and in beautiful places. Learning about birds is beautiful. I like to garden, except in the summer, and hiking outdoors is a favorite pastime. I also enjoy traveling and reading.

Q. What do you think about the stigma that art is not a lucrative profession?

A. I think there’s some truth to that. It’s tricky to make a good living in the arts. The people that choose this as their profession must be passionate about it. They must really want that to be their life and be willing to be poor sometimes and to have more income other times. But you can’t be sure with any profession. You just do the best you can, you apply for all the jobs in the case of artists, you try to get in shows, and you try to get a gallery to represent you. Or you get more education so you can get a teaching job and work your way up. If you get an undergraduate degree to teach art, then you can teach at a community college like here, or the university. It’s not so easy to get those jobs, but that’s a very steady income.

Q. What are your biggest achievements in terms of art?

A. I have designed, planned and run study abroad programs for SMU in southern Mexico, Italy and Spain. It was a huge amount of work and research to set up, but also a wonderful experience because I still take students to other countries and teach them about those cultures and works of art in the regions on site. I’m proud of that work.

Q. If you weren’t an art professor, what discipline would you have taken?

A. A wildlife biologist. In high school I was interested in wolves or something, but now I can see I would be studying birds. I’m 68. If I were younger, with my current interests, I would study birds or forests. Growing up, my family always went camping. On family vacations we drove all over the United States to national and state parks. My parents were really interested in nature and wilderness. I just grew up respecting nature and wanting to know more.

Q. Is there anything you would like the readers to know about you?

A. Know I’m thankful to be here with the students of Eastfield. I’m very thankful for this community. In my classes I have students from 16 years old to 85 years old, maybe older, with every kind of background and interest. And it’s the perfect place for me to be. I’m thankful for the opportunity to teach here.

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