Artist Kim Knoll | Image via
When I lived in downtown Los Angeles years ago, the Arts District was where many of the local artists in the area lived and congregated. So when I decided to do a series of artist interviews for this blog, Arts District seemed like the perfect name. I’ve met so many talented artists through the design community on Instagram and I wanted a way to showcase some of these incredibly talented people. I’m lucky to have crossed paths with Kim Knoll, a Chicago-based artist who creates nature-inspired abstract art using a combination of watercolor paint, India ink, gold, and graphite. I’m a huge fan of Kim’s work, so I was totally thrilled when she agreed to be the first of (hopefully) many interviews to come. So without further ado, let’s jump right in!
If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Independent Observant Adventurous
Where did you grow up and where are you now?
I was born and raised in Elk Grove, a suburb of Chicago. When I was 26, I moved to the city and bought a condo with Kyle (my husband) after we had been dating for only 6 months. 12 years later, we’re still in the same condo! It’s in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood of Chicago, just a few miles from Wrigley Field.
How long have you been painting and what drew you to it?
I picked up a paintbrush for the first time 2 years ago. I’m actually a full-time graphic designer and I was working on a new branding project for an apothecary. I wanted to use watercolor washes as a background texture in their visual identity, so I bought the supplies and dove in. I loved watching the paint react to water and the effect it gave once it dried. I liked that it has a mind of its own and is hard to control. With my day job, doing design on a computer forces me to make very intentional decisions and perfect all the details down to the last pixel. Painting with watercolor allows me to let go of needing it to be ‘perfect’ and just follow its lead, which I found to be freeing and therapeutic. So I bought more supplies and kept exploring until I discovered techniques and looks that I liked which is how I eventually developed my style.
How would you describe your art?
My paintings are an abstract interpretation of memories and moments of my time spent in nature. I’m a city girl, but I feel the most at peace and myself when I’m in nature. I try to bring the outdoors in, in a way that isn’t literal or too obvious. I want to give people the chance to see what they want to see instead of forcing them to see it only one way. I try to simplify an idea by stripping it down to basic shapes and forms that tell a story or comprise a landscape. I use a combination of watercolor paint, india ink, metallic gold and pencil. I’m really into glazing, which just means transparent layers of washes, to create depth and tonal shifts.
When I shared my first painting on Instagram, I titled it No. 1. Since then, I’ve numbered each painting because I think it’s an interesting little detail that can live with each one. It shows the order in which they were created and also represents the number of paintings I completed in my life at that time.
Can you describe your artistic process?
I sit down in a quiet room and think about places I’ve been to. There’s always one that stands out over the others every time. It might be because of the temperature outside that day or time of year or if something happened recently that jogged my memory of it. I focus on that one place and recall a distinct memory—always something positive. I think about what I saw when I was there, how it made me feel and what the memory was about. Then I blast some music and I’m ready to paint! I take those thoughts and distill them down into shapes, marks, textures and gestures. I start a painting with an idea of what it’s going to be, but it almost always leads me down a path I don’t see coming. I react to the painting as I go, making the next move based on composition and color of the previous layer. Sometimes I’ll set it aside and think about it for a couple days, wondering what to do next. Sometimes I’ll take a picture of it with my phone, open it in the Let’sDraw app and sketch ideas on top of it to see if something feels right before making it permanent. Other times I’ll forge ahead and do something that totally ruins the whole painting. When that happens I cut it up to use as test sheets for future paintings. I know a painting is done when it just feels right and I wouldn’t add another thing to it.
What did you want to do when you were little?
As early as I can remember, the only thing I wanted to be was an artist. It’s like I always have a need to create and I crave it. Here’s a good example of the type of kid I was…I remember being 7 or 8 years old and recording episodes of the Looney Tunes on VHS tapes so I could pause scenes to draw them on paper. I’d take all the drawings and staple them together down the left side to make a coloring book out of them. I had plenty of coloring books laying around that I could have used, but I wanted to make my own. Making art has just always been a part of me that I can’t seem to turn off.
Tell me more about your day job.
I went to school for graphic design and have been doing that full time since graduation, 15 years ago. For the last 7 years, I’ve been working with my husband Kyle at our design studio, Knoed, in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Chicago. Knoed (pronounced nōde) is a combination of our last names Knoll and Eertmoed. Since I’m full time at Knoed, I paint at night and on weekends but it’s slowly starting to creep into my daytime work schedule — a great thing!
You have an incredible studio. How long have you been there and did you design it yourselves?
We’ve been in our studio space for six years and we designed the interior. Almost everything in there we made ourselves. We made the wood and pipe shelving unit and work table using wood from Home Depot and pipes from a plumbing company. We made the desks using table tops from IKEA and custom hairpin legs from someone on Etsy. And the little coffee table was made using an old type tray we found at a flea market and ordered custom hairpin legs for it from the same person on Etsy. The globe pendant lights are my favorite thing in there and were a little bit of a splurge.
What is your go-to for inspiration?
I like looking at art on Instagram and Pinterest and I save things that jog a memory or inspire me to a Pinterest board, but I almost always forget to look at it. I get so lost in my own thoughts when I sit down to paint that I don’t like to look at anything visual. There might be some influences in my subconscious when I’m painting, but if there are, I’m unaware of them.
Which of your paintings do you love the most? Explain why it’s of such importance to you.
For some reason I’m really drawn to “No. 32: Crossing Over.” With this painting, I completely let go, and I think that’s why I like it so much. I didn’t overthink it or overwork it. I even made a few mistakes with it, like pooling too much water to where it started to drip and dropping the wet roller full of ink in the negative space, leaving those little black marks. But when I stood back and looked at it, I really loved it. Like Bob Ross says, “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.”
No. 32 Crossing Over | Images via
Name an artist, past or present who really inspires you. Why?
The artists I admire and feel most inspired by are Michael McGuire, Heather Day, Joaquim Chancho, Clyfford Still, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Motherwell and Henri Matisse. There are two artists from that bunch that inspire me the most and they are:
Michael McGuire — a local artist in Chicago who creates abstract paintings with India ink. I love the simplicity, minimalism and structure in his work. He’s the only artist I’ve bought an original work of art from and it’s my favorite thing in our home. He’s not on social media and doesn’t really have a website so to see his work, search the hashtag #michaelmcguire.
Heather Day — an artist based in San Francisco who creates abstract paintings with acrylic, spray paint, pencil and pastels. I admire her use of color and the energy she brings to every painting. Each one gives off an uplifting feeling for me, and I could stare at one of her paintings for hours. To check out her work, go to heatherday.com. Fun fact: I met her in person one time and learned that her grandparents live 10 houses down from me.
What’s your favorite work of art by another artist?
I don’t have one! I love too many works of art to ever pick just one.
If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?
I would live on a lake near mountains in a year-round warmish climate so I could stand up paddleboard every day after work and go hiking on the weekends. Does this exist somewhere? Someone please say yes.
What are you most grateful for?
My husband. That might sound cheesy but it’s the truth. I don’t think I’d be where I am or the person I am today without his love and support. He’s just so good for my soul! I am so incredibly grateful to have him as my partner in life and work.
Kim with her ten-year-old rat terrier mix, June | Image via
What is the best advice you could give a novice artist?
From one novice to another, it’s ok to not know everything you ‘should know’. I struggled with that in the beginning, so maybe someone else is too. Recently I read the quote “Every expert was once a beginner” and it really struck a chord with me. If you stop and think about it, we all start out somewhere. The beginning is all about guessing, making mistakes and failing. It’s what you have to do in order to learn! I learned what I know the hard way because I didn’t take a single class on painting in art school and I don’t have anyone to really guide me through it. So I learned what I know about painting through trial and error, Google searches and YouTube videos, and I’m still learning every day. I don’t think you need formal training or a degree to pursue art. As long as you have the drive, creativity, and place value on what you do, you’re golden.