Mixed-Media Drawing Artist: Beyond Pencil and Paper

9 Nov 2012

A note from Cate: One of the things I love about interviewing artists is the chance to get inside their heads, ask all kinds of questions about how and why they work the way they do, and give them the opportunity to open up and share that information with the world. My fellow online editor Courtney Jordan did just that with a fascinating mixed-media artist, Kiki Smith in the Fall 2012 issue of Drawing magazine. Today, I'm sharing a short excerpt of this profile with you. Enjoy!

kiki smith mixed media art wave
'Wave,' by Kiki Smith.
Kiki Smith is known for many thingsfeminist leanings and preoccupations with the body; intimate, often animistic narratives; an artistic output that cherry-picks across media and methodology. But her drawings? Not so much. In fact, there was a period in the artist's life when she felt quite abashed about her drawing abilities.

"I'm essentially sort of a self-taught drawer," she explains. "I made a lot of drawings when I was younger, but I don't think I ever took a drawing class. Not really. When I was 16 or 17 I asked my father, a sculptor, to teach me how to draw as he had when he studied art." By drawing simple objects and still life setups, Smith taught herself perspective and improved her skills, but she still didn't feel entirely confident. "I stopped when I became embarrassed about my skill," she says.          

It wasn't until 1989, when Smith pursued printmaking at Universal Limited Art Editions, that she settled on firmer ground with her draftsmanship. "It was a very supportive environment," she says. "I became much more confident and started drawing again. For me, it was a way of entrance into making things, and it's a large part of my activities as an artist ... though I still draw the same way I drew when I was 20."

Smith has no interest in letting her drawings grow up any further, content with a style that is purposefully naïve and raw. "There was a time in my life when I was better at rendering in a traditional way, but in the end you use what you are given," she says. "You can't do what others do. You have to find your own pleasure in the pursuit."

kiki smith mixed media art sky
"Sky," by Kiki Smith, as seen in
Drawing magazine.
Smith goes well beyond pencil and paper in her drawings, at times incorporating ink, watercolor, crayon, colored pencil, and collage. She also embellishes surfaces with ornamentations that get downright girly-glitter, mica, silver and gold leaf, rhinestones, and jewelry pieces. In the drawing "Sky," a nude female figure gracefully hovers just above the ground. The sky around her is delicately hued in blue, pink, and yellow. Stars, birds, butterflies, and what look to be stenciled clouds are her airborne companions. Her guiding light, possibly a reference to the North Star, is encrusted with glittery bits. A glitzy dusting swirls around the figure itself, grazing her hip and shimmering around her torso, head, and arms.

Smith believes that sometimes, though, drawing is for the artist's eyes alone. "Most of my ideas I have in notebooks, and they look like the most elementary doodles possible," she says. "I rarely ever make serious drawings for something I do. I don't use drawings like that, but drawing is fundamental to me making things. It just doesn't have to be what you end up sharing with the public. It really can be taken to all different stages and all different meanings.

"We live in a hybrid time, moving in many directions at once," she says. "There's never one version, merely a version."

To read the rest of this interview, plus learn more about drawing techniques, places to study drawing, and see a variety of examples of fine and mixed-media art to inspire you, be sure to get a copy of Drawing Fall 2012. Better yet, subscribe to save money  and get the best drawing advice and inspiration year round.

P.S. What do you think of Kiki Smith's art? Leave a comment below.

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on 9 Nov 2012 4:34 PM

I have found that people who have had little or no formal art training create art more from the soul and are less interested in creating something perfect.  Perhaps the line isn't perfect, but that line is coming from the soul that speaks.  I don't think one can say that one artist is better than another just because one can render or paint photo perfect.  To me what is most important is has the artist expressed their soul.  My favorite museum is the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland.  It is full of art created from the soul!

MauraT wrote
on 10 Nov 2012 6:14 AM

She is an amazing and astounding artist.  Her techniques will take your breath away.  Make a point to see her work when it comes your way.

MauraT wrote
on 10 Nov 2012 6:17 AM

Kiki Smith is an amazing and astounding artist.  Her techniques will take your breath away.  Make a point to see her work if it comes your way.

jwigren wrote
on 10 Nov 2012 9:36 AM

I love her primitive drawings for what she does but knowing how to draw really should be taught, along with reading, science and math. She is a classic example of how much more enriched her work could possibly be if she had those skills. I notice a lot of creative people can't draw at all and if they had some training their work would be more successful. Drawing skills and knowing the basics of good design could enhance everyone's work but only the most fortunate students are now taught these important steps to increasing our creativity. In a perfect world everyone would have a complete art education from preschool onwards.

spirit5 wrote
on 10 Nov 2012 8:37 PM

Does Kiki Smith have a website? I can't find one for her. Love the work shown here and would love to see more. Thanks!