Elizabeth Kinahan Paintings: “A Way We Can Share an Experience”

After a stranger noticed her first cattle painting through her apartment window and bought it immediately, Elizabeth Kinahan, a representational oil painter, has built a livelihood around painting livestock.

Originally from Westfield in north central Jersey, Kinahan’s love of art began when she was five years old. “I’ve been interested in painting and drawing since I was very young,” Kinahan said. “My earliest memory is my grandmother giving me an Alice in Wonderland coloring book. Instead of coloring in the book, I had a blank piece of paper, and I was trying to copy the picture. I did this drawing of the Cheshire Cat maybe 10 times before I came up with one I was so happy with. I think I was five. I still have this thing and I think it says 1986 on it. That’s the earliest memory I have of being interested in drawing. That just never stopped. I always knew art could be the class I could take if I wanted to do something relaxing I knew I could be good at and it wouldn’t be stressful for me. I was a straight C student in gym but art I was good at.”

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As a teenager, Kinahan completed portrait commissions. “They were trying to help me and give me a little money and improve my skills,” Kinahan explained of those who asked her to create. “They were all people who believed in me and wanted to help me out. It made all the difference that there were people who believed I could be an artist and I had a skill that was worth exploring and pursuing. I never really started as much as I just kept going with it. I’ve always loved it. It’s been a source of relaxation and joy and peace and pleasure. It’s an outlet. We all need some sort of outlet and if it’s creative, great. I never thought I could be an artist for a living. I didn’t think it was possible when I was young. As I moved along this path, I realized it’s not only possible but necessary. Historically and culturally, art is important, and if that’s what I get to contribute to this world, I’m good with that. I’m happy with that.”

Even with early talent, interest and encouragement, it took Kinahan a little while to find her path. She completed two years of college as a nutrition major, but couldn’t connect to the college or her choice of study. Kinahan left school for a few years and moved back to New Jersey, where she started working for an airline. “My father said, ‘You just need to get a degree in something. I don’t care. What do you think you can get a degree in?’”

Kinahan chose art, and found a small, all-girls Catholic school, the College of Saint Elizabeth. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Art degree in 2004. “It was one of the best things that ever happened to me, getting into that school,” Kinahan shared. “There were seven art majors in my class. It was a very small group. Almost all the classes were taught by Sister Anne. She would teach us how to paint flowers and the chapel. There was not a whole lot of variety. She did teach screen and block printing and ceramics. She was an amazing woman and I learned a lot of techniques from her. When I graduated, I kept going.”

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Kinahan decided to move west after witnessing the destruction caused by 9/11. She had her sights on Arizona, but her boyfriend at the time suggested Durango, Colo. “The whole drive out across the country, we were friendly bickering about where we were going to move,” Kinahan said.

They decided to pass through Colorado on their way to Arizona 13 years ago, arriving in Durango the day of the Main Avenue Art Festival, a yearly tradition in the small town. “I get teary thinking about this,” Kinahan shared. “It was magical. It was perfect. It was a beautiful day and the sky was bluer than I’ve ever seen. We parked on Third Avenue and walked down. I remember sitting on the curb and I had a beer in one hand and a tamale in the other hand, and a stranger was sitting next to me. They said some generic kind comment. And I immediately knew I was home. I don’t ever want to leave this place. I have felt that way about Durango ever since. … I love it. I have found such kindness and support and wonderful like-minded people. That’s how I ended up here and I’ve never really looked back.”

The relationship didn’t last, but Kinahan has continued to thrive in Durango. She switched to oil painting from acrylic after realizing her acrylics were drying too quickly in the dry climate. She met a successful photographer when she started working for the Art House downtown, who taught her the value of visual art and how to approach other people about that value. “My responsibility as an artist is to think as creatively and outside the box as possible,” she shared. “That skill of visual art is valuable to other people. That is where I struggled the longest–in seeing there is value in painting pictures. He was powerful in teaching me a lot about that. He would say, ‘Let’s walk around town and go into the shops and see what art they have up. If they don’t have art up, we can say, wouldn’t it be nice if you had art on your walls? We’re artists. We can put some art up. And if it sells, we can give you 10-15% of that piece.’ I said, ‘That’s crazy. We can’t do it.’ He said, ‘Nope, let’s go.’ We got our art up all over the place. I ended up falling in love with him and living with him for six years. He opened my eyes to the vast possibilities of life and I’m very grateful to him for that. If you have a dream or vision or goal, you have to just ask for it. Ask people for help, and for their time and their ideas. And people actually want to help other people.”

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Kinahan began to understand the value behind her art and how it connected people. “I view artists as documenters of the current climate,” Kinahan explained. “Wherever they are, throughout time and geography, they are documenting the way it is there–animals, what people wore, documentation of a culture, people and a time that I don’t know if you’ll get from writing. Writing can be fudged later on down the line. Historians can change facts. But no one can take a painting from the 16th century and change the garments that were depicted and tell us, ‘No, they didn’t wear collars like that. This is what they wore.’ It’s a different way of charting the time. We as humans, part of defines us and separates us from the other living creatures on this planet, is art making. I think that’s pretty neat. I don’t know why we’re drawn to do it, but some of us, or most of us, are artists. That doesn’t mean we paint pictures or sculpt marble. But we make meals and want to arrange it beautifully on a plate. Or buy pretty pillows. It’s all art. It’s aesthetics and beauty and we want to add joy to a world that would be mundane and boring without it. Many more of us are artists than people want to admit. Almost all of us are doing something creative like that in our lives. That’s important just to acknowledge.”

She added, “It must be important because we’ve never stopped doing it. We’ve always done it. It’s like joining around the table with people you like for a shared meal. It’s important. Why? I’m not sure I can state all the reasons why. It connects people. It’s a way we can share an experience. With an image, you can share an experience with someone you’ve never met. That’s powerful. And exciting to think about. Art is a language of emotion. A visual way to depict feeling through imagery. That all creates this shared bond when you have an impact on someone through an image you’ve created, there’s a connection that has been made. I think this whole human experience is about making connections with other living things. If art helps us do that with other people, there’s got to be healing in that. We’ve always needed that and we will always need that.”

After switching her medium and realizing the value of her art, Kinahan started painting livestock. She had appreciated animals for as long as she could remember, and she loved being able to see cattle and sheep in pastures and get close enough to take pictures. She was living on Main Street above a coffee shop when she decided to paint three cows. “The painting could be seen from across the street,” shared Kinahan. “There was someone in the restaurant looking at me working on the painting. She actually came up the stairs and knocked on my door, and said, ‘This is really weird, but I can see you’re painting cows.’”

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The woman, visiting from Grand Junction, bought the painting. “I really enjoyed the process of painting those three cows,” Kinahan confessed. “As soon as that sold, I decided to do another one. That one sold and it made me realize there might be a market for this. That wasn’t why I started doing this, but it was really encouraging.”

She found more and more people connecting emotionally with her work. “That’s something I’m finding incredibly fulfilling and exciting,” she shared. “I don’t think I’ve ever painted anything that was so personal and something that my entire heart is truly in, and to find another person who shares that passion and that connection is kind of a benefit of the creative process that I never expected. I’m so touched – it just gives me chills every time a person looks at a painting and looks into the great, big eyes of a dairy cow with these big lashes and I’ve seen people truly moved. It’s so interesting to me and I love it. I just feel like this is an area that I have to pursue. I still paint other things. I love to paint. This is definitely where I’m going and what I’m going to be pursuing.”

As her paintings garnered more attention, she started getting invitations to visit herds or to meet an individual animal. When she first started looking for subjects, Kinahan had to learn how to adjust how she encountered the animals. “It was an interesting change in how I learned to actually physically approach an animal in a pasture so they wouldn’t run away,” she shared. “Sometimes they do, but I’m getting better at it. It was this process I didn’t expect, but as I started painting them more and more and displaying them in places, people would seek me out and say, ‘Oh you’re the one who paints the cows. The cattle lady. My neighbor has this exotic breed of cattle and maybe you want to come out and I’m sure she’d be happy to have you.’ I was super excited about those types of opportunities as they came up, and I would travel anywhere to talk to the person who owns the animals and hear the stories and learn what it’s like to raise cattle, how to approach them.”

Kinahan enjoyed hearing the personal stories shared as well. “I’m always surprised but grateful that the owners–the farmers and ranchers–have an understanding of their individual animals,” Kinahan said. “They’re aware of the different types of personalities that each animal possesses, and they’re just as excited to share that as I am to learn about it.”

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One of her most memorable visits was being introduced to a herd of ancient white park cattle, which was a surprise. She had scoped out the ranch for years, driving by and seeing the various animals that lived on the property. She drove by once a week, hoping the animals were close enough to the road for her to snap some photos. Then she started wondering if the owners noticed her visits. She sent them a letter, with a picture of a painting of one of their animals, explaining what she was doing. “Sometimes to a fault, I’m trying to be polite to other people,” Kinahan shared. “I included at the end, if this feels like an infringement, no worries, that’s just me and I’m not harming anyone and I’m just taking photos and that’s it.”

She got a call from the owner of the ranch immediately. “She said she’d love for me to come out,” Kinahan said. “She told me about the different sheep she has – this flock for wool, this for meat, and this is how the mommas behave.”

Then Kinahan got to meet the cattle. “I didn’t even know that was coming,” she said. “I thought it was just sheep there. She told me so much about the breed, and how it’s an English breed and how it came to America and was lost for decades. It was so interesting.”

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These days, Kinahan continues to paint, chase down animals, go on tours of ranches and farms, and donate to rescue organizations. She is also the co-owner of Studio & on Main Street in Durango, which is coming up on its seventh anniversary. Her partner at the time was a founding member, and she couldn’t fathom living and working together. “I tried to stay out of it for as long as possible, and then I finally realized it would be a really good idea for me to join with this team of artists who were doing progressive things in town and filling a void of some type,” admitted Kinahan. “With the outlandish practices we get to procure on Main Street and the uncensored art we can show. It isn’t anything lewd or terrible. I’ve had difficulty showing a nude painting or anything close to be a nude painting in Durango and I was happy to be a part of a place that would welcome that and not shy away from showing something noncommercial or out of the ordinary. There were a number of reasons I was excited to join the studio. It was an opportunity to show my art on Main Street without having to give 50% of my sales to someone who wasn’t working at all for me. To take home 100% or close to 100% of my sales was amazing and was what enabled to keep me being an artist.”

The studio does take 35% of commission currently, which is the bare minimum Studio & can take and still pay bills. “We really want to give artists as much as possible,” explained Kinahan. “For the first two years, we didn’t take any commission. Then we realized we were spiraling downward financially. We were forking out all the money for the rent, and drinks and food and shows and advertising. We had to start thinking about it. We settled on 35% and it’s been a good balance.”

Kinahan also encourages artists to utilize the internet, which makes it possible to connect directly to clients and collectors. “Most of it is free,” she said. “The most powerful tool an artist has is their email list. We can shoot around the side of galleries now. I’m not trying to talk down galleries. They have their place. Artists don’t always want to deal with self promotion. But if you want to keep more of your revenue, then you have the power to do that now. In the ‘80s, it was really difficult to do that. Now, we can do it. It’s a powerful piece for people to wrap their heads around and when they do, it makes things a lot easier.”

Elizabeth posts her work on Facebook and Instagram. Learn more about her by visiting her website. You can see her work at Studio &  in Durango, CO or at Gallery Flux in Ashland, VA.

This is the fifth in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people who make money creating. Contact me to share your story.

Kelly Miranda Photography: “There’s Enough Room for Everybody”

A forgotten camera from a high school photography class set Kelly MacNiven on the path to owning her own business, Kelly Miranda Photography. Her husband, Casey, had enjoyed the class he’d taken years before and he’d kept the camera. It stayed underneath the bed collecting dust until MacNiven found it before they left on their honeymoon to Mexico. “We brought the camera with us,” said MacNiven. “I was documenting my husband and the landscape and anything I could see. I enjoyed it and had a knack for it.”

Born and raised in Durango, Colo., MacNiven met Casey at Fort Lewis College, where she was studying biology. They formed a band while in college, with Casey on guitar, and MacNiven singing and playing piano and guitar. When their drummer graduated and moved to Denver, Casey and MacNiven were ready for a change. After checking out Denver, they heard about Austin. “We wanted to get out of the snow,” explained MacNiven, who moved to Texas with Casey in 2008. “We ended up loving the place. It was a really cool city and a fun place to be in your early twenties. It provided the change we were looking for.”

With the move, MacNiven, while waiting tables, decided to invest in a camera at the local Best Buy. She paid it off within a year and decided to go back to school for photography. She found a program in Austin. “I was more of fine arts photographer when I started, doing obsrtact images,” shared MacNiven. “If I wanted to make money, I would have to do portraits and weddings, which was fine, because I enjoyed that, too. It was an interesting journey. I didn’t know I was going to make a business out of it until I started going to school and realized I didn’t want to wait tables anymore.”

The program focused on the technical aspects of photography, with a strong business aspect. MacNiven took classes on accounting and photography studio management, which included units about getting insurance, creating a business plan, and how to set prices. “I felt like I was pretty prepared by the time I graduated to not only be a photographer, but what my prices were,” shared MacNiven. “I still made my mistakes. I at least had that knowledge beforehand and knew, going into it, that there were going to be certain obstacles.”

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She learned the practical aspects of doing business, including how to weigh costs against profit and how to plan accordingly. She explained that many people think that if the business makes $100,000, then the photographer makes $100,000, which isn’t how business works. Costs have to be included to the intended salary, and the salary has to be set. “If I want to make $40,000, then that’s $40,000 on top of what my expenses are,” explained MacNiven. “It was nice that my teachers taught me to value what I’m worth and to value my art. In the end, you’re spending all this time to make this art for people and you need to know what your time is worth.”

MacNiven encourages anyone trying to start a business to do the research and know the numbers necessary to cover necessary costs and earn a decent salary. There are calculators online that help determine costs and the equivalent income needed. “Know how much you want to make and charge that from the beginning,” MacNiven suggested. “I didn’t really plan for how much time each thing was going to take me and how much it was going to cost me to run my business. That’s my biggest piece of advice – nailing your numbers.”

After graduation, MacNiven and Casey had their son, Carter, and decided to move back to Durango in 2013 to be closer to her family. She had already started her photography business in Austin, and the move meant that she had to start over. “And I started over again and again,” added MacNiven. “I feel like I’ve started over so many times. It’s constantly in a state of growth for me.”

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MacNiven had chosen an ideal client base with related branding, but tax season brought a rude awakening. “I realized I’d made maybe 10 dollars an hour doing what I’ve done,” said MacNiven. “I’d worked so hard. I realized I just couldn’t do it for that wage anymore. I wasn’t going to able to support my family on that. I had to rebrand myself and work with a whole different type of client.”

She realized she wanted to add prints, and then she decided to add a studio space. “It is an important part of my artistic process to see the photos all the way to the finished print product,” explained MacNiven. “I wanted a more hands-on approach to the customer experience.”

Three years later, MacNiven is seeing the results of her work as she focuses on family portraits and wedding sessions, with additional projects such as headshots and buildings. “It’s been great, and every year I’m growing a little bit more,” she said. “I’m seeing my numbers double and it’s promising that I’m actually able to make a living this way and be able to support my family. I think I’ve settled on how I’m going to do things. I don’t think I’m going to have to rebrand or start over anymore because it seems to be doing really well.”

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She’s also found support in the small business community in Durango. She attends the local Chamber events for networking opportunities, and has developed a good rapport with other local photographers. “We can all help each other out and there’s enough room for everybody,” said MacNiven. “There’s enough business to go around. We don’t need to be competitive. It works and we all help each other out and it’s a great community of artists and business owners making sure there’s enough room for all of us, doing what we love to do.”

As her business continues to grow, she’s also found ways to give back and support her community. She recently concluded a fundraising drive for Project Merry Christmas. For a session fee of $175, which included Christmas cards and an ornament, MacNiven offered portraits. She raised $1,000, which will help two to three families with food, clothing and presents for the holiday season. “I try to do something every year to support a local family,” she said. “I think it’s really important we all try to give back. I’ve been in the position where I’ve needed help with health insurance. There are lot of people out there struggling to make it. It’s important to help each other and build each other up. For people who can’t get their basic needs met, it’s huge we help out with that, so if I can, I’m going to do it. I like that I can use my art and photography talent to give back in some way. For me to be able to use that in a way that helps people is really important. I feel like we should all be doing that in some way or another as small business owners.”

MacNiven has found, despite the challenges and struggles she’s had, that it’s worth it owning her business and pursuing her craft. “One of the biggest things that holds people back from making a living at their art is that fear factor,” admitted MacNiven. “It’s scary. It’s pretty huge. For me, the risk is not going to outweigh the benefit. It’s so incredible when you get that feeling that you’re finally there and you’re finally supporting yourself from your art. You don’t need that other job. It’s such a good feeling. I can buy groceries and pay rent. When I was in school, photographers came in and talked to classes. They really inspired me, hearing their stories. They can do it, and if they can do it, so can I.”

See more photos on Kelly’s website, follow her on Facebook, find some inspiration from her pins on Pinterest, and catch her on Instagram as @kellymirandaphotography or Twitter as @kellymphotos.

This is the second in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people of craft and passion. Contact me if you think you have a good story or know someone with a good story.

The Inkling Girl: “I Paint What I Think is Pretty”

A sibling rivalry with one of her brothers turned Morgan Allain’s childhood love of drawing into a more serious pastime. “I wanted to be better than him,” said Allain, who now sells prints and wearable art as “The Inkling Girl”. “Then he got into sports and stopped doing it, and I kept drawing.”

At age 14, she snagged her first paid commission from the mother of a child she babysat. “I can’t remember how much she paid me,” she shared, “but I was pretty excited about it all.”

Three years later, while working as a nanny, the parents asked Allain to paint a mural in the girl’s playhouse. “It was super cute – flowers and fairies and bugs,” explained Allain, who spent two years with the family. “They hired me to do other art-related jobs over the course of the time I worked for them.”

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Even with a lack of an arts program at the high school she attended, Allain maintained her interest in art and continued to draw and take art classes now and then until she attended McNeese State University. She majored in Art with a concentration in printmaking, which she enjoyed. “I never took any painting classes in college because I was a snob about it,” she shared.

While in college, she dabbled in drawing, book making, printing and other art odds and ends, until she earned her degree and promptly stopped printing, finding it much too expensive. “I picked up a watercolor set a year after I graduated, and that’s what I’ve done since,” Allain said. “I had to learn it all myself the hard way.”

Now, living in DeQuincy, La., Allain teaches a few private classes, but her projects are the majority of her work. “I love faces,” said Allain. “I always have. I’ve always doodled faces more than anything else, especially eyes and lips. Honestly, it’s my comfort zone. It’s comfortable drawing and what I feel most natural doing.”

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Skull Candy Rex

Following her theme of beauty, Allain worked on her “Muse” series for two years, painting 48 faces she found alluring. She also paints animal skulls in a series called “Skull Candy”, and previously worked on a series of birds that featured her usual style of bright colors and paint splatters.

Her current project is a portrait series, called “Sugar Pop”. Each piece has a name that reflects the colors she selects. She started the series this year and has eleven paintings so far. “I just want to do as many super bright colors as I can smash in there with negative space for the background,” she shared. “A lot of artists have meaning in their stuff, or pretend they have a lot of meaning in their stuff, but I have no meaning. I paint what I think is pretty. That’s it.”

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Allain paints beautiful things, but she also has a practical reason for why she creates. “For me, personally, art is important because I tend towards anxiety,” Allain shared. “When I’m creating, I’m a healthier person in general and happier. For my husband, he just loves to create and tell stories. I don’t tell any stories. I don’t care about that. I like putting the pictures I see in my head on paper.”

Her husband of eight years, Danny, is also an artist, with a degree in drawing and teaching. They attended the same college, and while the couple never had classes together, Allain often ran into him and would occasionally flirt with him in between classes. After her boyfriend broke up with her, Allain and Danny started spending more time together. They connected instantly. Allain thought he was cute, but also found him nice, talented, genuine and straightforward. “Within two weeks, I knew I’d marry him,” Allain shared. “He later told me he knew within the first month, and even told his mom he wanted to marry me. We just have so much in common; we really enjoy each other’s company.”

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Goblin King in Blue

These days, Danny is working on a series called “Bones”, which Allain sells through her Etsy as “X-Ray Watercolor”. He has also written and drawn several comics, including a zombie western called “Dead Reckoning”, “The JoyKill Club”, and his most recent project for their daughter, “The King’s Lost Ruby”. “Danny wanted a comic book that our daughter could enjoy, filled with adventure, so he decided to create one himself,” Allain explained. “It’s wonderful! Funny, cute, and beautifully drawn. The protagonist, a little girl called ‘Frog’, is very much inspired by our daughter, Ruby.”

Ruby, now four, was just a baby when Allain first started her business, “The Inkling Girl” in 2012. Allain had worked at Starbucks for six years while doing commissions and keeping paintings and cards in the display case at work. When she decided to stay home to take care of Ruby, she started painting again and then making prints of her work at the local Kinkos. She moved onto having a booth at the local farmer’s market, but noticed that people weren’t very interested in buying a piece of paper. Allain realized she wanted to make wearable art, but wasn’t sure how to take the step from prints to jewelry. At the time, Danny was participating in comic cons with his comic books, and Allain joined him. At a con, she met Jessica von Braun, a fellow artist selling pendants featuring her artwork. “That’s what I wanted to do,” Allain said. “I picked her brain and she generously told me how she did them and where to get the stuff. Eventually I figured out to make them and put my art in them. It took me awhile. Then I went crazy and made earrings and rings and magnets.”

She’s been creating jewelry ever since as she continues to paint, making necklaces, earrings, magnets, key chains and more that she sells online and at craft fairs. She advises other artists to look for successful crafters and contact them. “Reach out to as many as you can,” Allain encouraged. “Some might be so busy or so overwhelmed and they can’t help you, but some like Jessica von Braun can help you. I think I figured it out a lot faster because she was so helpful. I make an effort to be the same to other people. I don’t keep secrets on how I make stuff because I didn’t come up with it myself. There’s no reason not to share.”

Follow Morgan on Facebook, snag a piece of art from Etsy or Society6, see some fun stuff on Tumblr, and catch her on Instagram or Twitter as @theinklinggirl.

This is the first in a series of articles I’m writing, called “Sustaining Craft”, which focuses on people of craft and passion. Contact me if you think you have a good story or know someone with a good story.