Interview With Kate Greenbank

christmas cactus
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January 31st, 2018
Kate SummerCate: I am here today with Kate Greenbank. I met Kate on Instagram (@kate.greenbank). I saw one of her posts one day in my feed–a watercolor of a Christmas cactus. It was really good–I love watercolors and Christmas cactuses! So I decided to contact her, and she agreed to this interview.  Here is the bio she provided me for the purpose of introducing her to you, my readers:
I’m a Brit, born in London and still working there, but now living in a village in Hampshire, which is about 50 miles south of London and 25 miles north of the coast.  I would like to live by the sea with an Irish wolfhound, and paint every day, but I probably have to wait a few years for that.   I have 3 children – my daughter is at medical school, and I have two teenage sons who are working their way through all the horrible exams that young people have to get out of the way before they can do what they want with their lives.   I’m a massive introvert, which means that whilst I’m outgoing, sociable, and confident, I absolutely crave time alone to recharge my batteries and happily spend days alone without speaking to anyone.   In fact, if I don’t do this the wheels start falling off – I’m just about to start another weekend with absolutely no plans to see anyone.  Fantastic.   I play the piano and read a lot.  I will probably die alone surrounded by cats.  But in the meantime I do also love festivals and dancing and (small) parties, and want to take time off to do the round the world backpacking trip that I didn’t do in my youth.  I’m about to start some training in  South American shamanism and I’m off to the Amazon rainforest for the second time again in October to learn more about the plant medicines of the rainforest.   I promised I would learn some Spanish for this visit; I had better get started.   I’m perpetually  shocked that I’m not still in my 30s,  but probably everyone feels like that.    I get happier as I get older.  Hopefully wiser too.  I have a lot to be grateful for.

Kate x

Cate: I enjoyed your bio–it was open and honest, and I feel as I have a real sense of the person behind the paintings that I so enjoy! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

So, let’s begin. When did you first realize that you had actual artistic talent?

Kate G: I did an interior design course 15 years ago, when I was doing up an old house, and I was quite good at sketching and rendering, but didn’t do much with it.  Then I got sick 4 years or so ago and had a few months at home and was terribly bored, and had an impulse to pick up a paintbrush and paint a flower from the garden.  My daughter was 16 and doing art at school and her stuff was lying around.  I found that I could just do it – I could just pretty much draw and  paint what was in front of me.  It amazed me really, like it was nothing to do with me; the painting just happened, sort of came out of me.  It’s such a wonderful discovery that I could do this, and gives me so much pleasure.  People have been very encouraging of me which I have appreciated greatly as it has made me realize that this is a talent worth nurturing, and sharing.

Cate:That’s so interesting! I always imagine artists as being artists from a young age. 😛

Kate G: I did a one day tuition course with a very well known botanical artist last year, one of the best in the world, and she took me to one side at the end and said “you are really very talented, keep going”, which was wonderfully generous of her.  It gave me an enormous boost and I decided to set up an instagram account and post my work and try to build a “brand”.  It’s early days really.

Cate: Well, your work caught my eye 🙂 Do you work with other mediums, or solely watercolor?

Kate G: Watercolour, sometimes ink.  I’d like to try other things but I don’t feel I’ve learned everything I want to know about using watercolours yet, so I don’t want to distract myself.  Anyway I love them so much.

Cate:  I love your “nature-themed” paintings–the flowers and butterflies. How do you choose what to paint? I think I saw on IG (@kate.greenbank) that you have themes? For example, in December, I saw a post about winter flowerpots/Day 9-Christmas Cactus.

Cate’s 33-year-old Christmas cactus

Kate G: Honestly I don’t know how I decide.  I have million ideas about what I would like to paint. I think about painting all the time, but what I actually paint is often dictated by how much time I have.  I’m really impatient and like to complete a painting quickly.   I like to do something every day, as a discipline, so it was fun doing a series of mini flowerpots as each one only took me 20 minutes.

Cate: Wow–just 20 minutes? That’s fast!

Kate G: Well they were tiny little paintings!  But most of my work is done in one sitting. I am inspired by images I see in magazines and online, by the colour palettes and moods in photographs. But I want to paint from nature.   I often see plants I want to paint from life, to capture their personality, like you would a human subject. I don’t know why I am so interested in painting plants as honestly I an a terrible gardener and often kill houseplants.  Only succulents and cacti are safe in my house.  The cats only get fed because they remind me, the poor plants can’t do that.

Cate:  Yes, plants are less communicative than cats 😉 Although I did do an interview with a woman that talks with trees!

Kate G:  Plants have a lot to teach us, if we pay attention.  They have their own intelligence; there is an inherent intelligence in nature which we are horribly distracted from in modern life.  That was very apparent when I was in the rainforest in Peru.  I think talking with trees is probably a better use of time than a lot of things we regard as normal!

Cate: You should check out the interview with Jane Warren, alluded to above!

Do you work full-time as an artist? Can my readers buy any of your work online? If so, how?

Kate G: Oh I wish.  No, I am a civil servant in the UK Cabinet Office.  (For non Brits, that’s the department of the Government of the United Kingdom responsible for supporting the Prime Minister and Cabinet of the United Kingdom.)   I would very much like to turn the dial in the other direction and paint more and work less.  I am going to make that my mission over the next 12-24 months.

I don’t sell work online, yet.  I am thinking about how I might make that happen.  I am curating and exhibiting at a weekend event in June – I’m going to put pretty much everything I have painted up for sale one way or the other there, as I’m curious to see what gets most interest.  I’ve taken a few commissions and if your readers would like to message me via my instagram account I’d be pleased to discuss that.

Cate:  There are lots of possibilities to sell online. We can discuss some after we are done here 🙂 I would love to be able to buy some of your pieces!

What are some benefits you feel painting or artistic expression affords you personally?

Kate G:Well, so many I don’t know where to start.  The main one is that it is a meditative relaxation experience for me.  When I do really detailed botanical work I get into “flow state”, where I lose all sense of self and of time passing:  complete absorption in the process.  I can literally look up and 5 hours have passed in complete bliss.    Turns out flow state is the only state, naturally occurring or otherwise, where all 5 of the brain’s reward chemicals are released at once, which is why it is so fantastically fulfilling and partly explains why many creative people find their work so compulsive – it is truly addictive, but in the best way.   More, please.

Cate: That sounds amazing! There is a self-help tool called FlowDreaming. Not sure it’s the same thing, but the “flow state” sounds wonderful 🙂

Kate G: Also, I just love the colours, the pigments, and how they respond to each other, to water, to different papers and brushes.  It really is a kind of alchemy –  watercolour paints have some magical quality of aliveness which is never quite predicable.  You are never really in control, they can surprise you.  I love that.

Cate: I think that love that you have for the process shows in your work 🙂

Kate G: Really, the whole thing is an adventure, a journey into myself and the world.  Since painting more seriously I have become comfortable with calling myself an artist, and I notice that now the majority of the people I spend my free time with are creative people.  I value it so much – people who birth something new into the world.   Creativity is the life force.  The world does not need more managers, financiers and administrators, it needs more poets, dancers, painters, songwriters.  I didn’t used to understand this.  Now I do and my life is immeasurably richer for it.

Cate: I agree. I remember when I was still in nursing, there would be cycles of a nursing shortage, and then a lot of new graduates…then a shortage again. It seems like the world at large is cyclical like that. We need all sorts, but it tends to often be out of balance 🙂

So, do you have a favorite painting or series?

Kate G: Actually not really.  I imagined my house on fire and only being able to save one… maybe this one of gerbera daisies (see below).  I painted it for my mother’s birthday a couple of years ago.  She loves it.

Gerbera Daisies by Kate Greenbank

Cate: I do too!

Kate G: When I look at my paintings I generally think “That was ok for a first attempt but I will do it better next time”.   So I’m never satisfied with any of them and only see the mistakes.  I don’t know any artists who love their own work.   The suffering is real 😉  But I’ve learned to get over myself and that actually other people genuinely do appreciate them.

Cate: Do you have a favorite painter that inspired you?

Kate G: Yes, I was completely obsessed with the pictures in a book of magical fairy tales I had as a young girl.  They were the most beautiful images I had ever seen. I spent 30 years looking for this book and finally tracked it down last year, which was a feat in itself as I didn’t know the name of the book, the author or the publisher! The artist is Severino Baraldi (see below), and I still get a thrill when I look at this book, more than I do any other paintings.

Severino Baraldi painting
Cover Art by Severino Baraldi

Funny isn’t it?

Cate: I’ll bet it’s partly because it’s associated with pleasant childhood memories.  Add to that your developing senses as an artist, and I think it makes good sense! 🙂

Kate G: There is an American botanical artist called Dyana Hesson whose work literally stops me in my tracks.  She has a unique style which is both hyper-real and fantastical; incredibly skillful use of colour and lighting, I am a huge fan.

Radiance: The Paintings of Dyanna Hesson
Radiance: The Paintings of Dyanna Hesson

Cate: I see why she inspires you! Beautiful work.

Well, Kate, it’s been a great pleasure talking to you today! Be sure to remember me when you are rich and famous! 🙂

Kate G:  I certainly will remember you, but we might be waiting a while for the fame and wealth!  Thank you so much for taking an interest in my work, I have really enjoyed this interview.   And keep up the good work with the Good News Cafe; it’s so important to shine a bright light in the world.

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