Stories From The River: Katie Ford

Stories From The River: Katie Ford

By River Wharton

Stories From The River: Katie Ford

They say the only way out is through. For the artist, designer, maker, and creative, the creative process is an examination of this maxim. Zooming out, we see creative work for all its benefits. The day-to-day can look much different. The hard work it takes to balance your passion, career, family, health, and finances becomes a focal point of the process.


Artist Katie Ford approaches these issues with grace and maturity. We discuss the value of setting aside studio time, some tricks she has learned in maximizing that time, and finding clarity in the process.


Can you give us an overview of your art practice? Think of early influences, time in school, and your journey to where you got where you are now.
I’ve always moved between different formats and media, with a throughline of thinking about human spaces and relationships. My degree is in printmaking and drawing, but even though I was studying 2D media, my practice included installation and direct engagement with environments around me. During that time, I was very inspired by artists creating spaces and using everyday materials - Jessica Stockholder, Thomas Hirschorn, Swoon, Sarah Tze. 
Over the years, my work has become more abstract and color-based as I’ve become more interested in the haziness of emotional experiences rather than specific places or urban sites. I still make drawings and prints but most of my larger work is with textiles. I’m interested in how fabric inherently suggests human use, because it’s such a part of our daily life. I first started using textiles as an element of installations, and it’s become an increasingly significant part of my work. 

How has your art evolved over the past few years? Are there ideas that have stuck or ones that have fallen away?
As I’ve focused more on textile work, various techniques and aspects of the medium in particular have fluctuated. A few years ago, I was doing a lot of dying with plant materials, thinking specifically about imbuing the material with colors grounded in a sense of place. Moving towards super saturated colors has meant less natural dyeing, though using found fabrics brings a similar type of material backstory. 
One of the central concepts in my practice is the idea of emotions and interpersonal interactions as landscapes, and I keep feeling into different aspects or corners of that framework. Recently, accumulation and layering have felt like a significant aspect of those landscapes. I’ve been playing with translucency, what is obscured and what is visible.

In what ways has the Hudson Valley made an impact on the art you create? Think of inspirations, connections, etc
I’m not sure that the Hudson Valley has had a huge impact on the work that I make as much as how I think of my creative practice and the potential of that more widely. One of my favorite things about being here is how many people are doing interesting and beautifully strange creative work outside of traditional gallery spaces and that specific art path. 
Coming out of art school, there’s this tension about capital A Art and all the other types of making, whether that’s craft or design, etc. I believe in those divisions less now. I’m happy for functional pieces and organizing zine exchanges to be part of my practice, alongside work that might live in a gallery. 

What does a day in the life of a working artist look like? On days in the studio, walk us through your practice and the materials used to make your art.
For me, being a working artist has always included a regular day job. That’s something that can disappear through the social media lens, so I think it’s important to acknowledge! With my current 9-5, much of my studio time is dispersed in short evening bursts, and I usually leave in-progress projects out and ready to go so I can pick them quickly when I have a moment.
Weekends let me get into the flow more, especially since morning is my best work time. I’ll wake up and have breakfast, then try to start in the studio before 10am. What this looks like varies depending on the type of project. Recently, I’ve been making a lot of fairly quick drawings exploring layering techniques that will hopefully be a jumping off point for new sculptural work. It’s been really nice to spread out all my markers, colored pencils, oil pastels, and spend an hour or two on a drawing, then pin it on the wall and start the next one. The repetition helps me move through more obvious ideas to new approaches. 
I’ve started translating some of the drawing imagery into cut fabric layers. Generally with my work, I tend to develop a piece intuitively rather than planning it out, so I always have a lot of unfinished elements pinned to the walls or sitting on shelves. It helps to see the various colors and lines in relation to each other.
There’s much more process involved when I have a textile piece going, so I try to separate my thinking hat from my execution hat. If I’m going for a certain patchwork technique, I keep my head down with sewing and ironing until I have enough to step back and consider how it’s working. Even sewn pieces get pinned up and may sit for weeks or months before I figure out where they’re going. I typically have a bunch of elements in progress at once so that if I get stuck on a piece, I can let it sit and pick up something different.
If I start early, I’ll usually tap out by 3pm. Studio gives me energy, but I’m also someone who needs three meals a day and probably a conversation with another human. I’ll make myself an afternoon coffee, get outside, and make dinner or see friends.

What has been most difficult/challenging for you? How did you overcome these obstacles?
It has been a pretty significant challenge to feel like I’m maintaining momentum within my art practice while moving forward with a parallel non-art career. By momentum I mean both creatively and in terms of things like gallery shows and residencies. I’m not sure I would say that I’ve overcome this, I think it’s a perennial struggle that gets glossed over when artists “make it.” My approach has always been to emotionally center my art practice and consider how my day job is serving it. I’ve prioritized having a designated studio space. I read a lot of books related to the concepts in my practice, which helps me feel like my thinking around my work is growing even when I’m in a slow studio period. Having shorter bursts in studio has actually helped me be more playful with drawing and collage, which I use to keep my hands busy and process ideas for more involved work. For me, it’s important to keep making artwork even when it’s small or feels meandering. Eventually an idea clicks and I’m able to pick it up.