An Interview with Kath Unsworth

Pen and ink on paper. Maluridae is the first of our Local Artist Project initiative which supports our very own talented artists here in Australia. We commissioned an artwork from Kath Unsworth who recently lost her house, artworks and all of her belongings in the devastating bush fires in 2020. This design is printed on a recycled nylon fabrication and is part of our new sustainable range. 

Kath Unsworth is an artist living on the beautiful sapphire coast in NSW, Australia. This artwork was inspired by the amazing bird life on the South Coast. Kath enjoys working in pen and ink to create detailed works, with every line she hopes to capture the joy that birds bring when they visit us. 

After the bushfires in 2020 the devastation and loss of wildlife deeply affected herself and her family along with the loss of their belongings and her artworks. Kath felt a great loss looking up into the burnt mountains all around. She admits sketching the birds helps her to heal and to remember not to take our wildlife for granted. 

An interview with the artist, Kath Unsworth was kind enough to sit down with us and answer some questions for our Curvy Girls to get to know her.    

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How long have you been an artist?  

"I have always enjoyed being creative as a child with younger siblings I would hold art classes for my younger sisters even when I did not really have any skills. But my passion for sketching the birds came to life about twelve years ago when I noticed the birds in my own back yard. I started sketching magpies and people resonated with them. I think its when you start to sell art."

What does being an artist mean to you?  

"I feel it is that connection with my creative side that can get me through the toughest times. We are all going through tough times and so my art has become my therapy. It allows me time out to forget about the real world and immerse myself in nature and try and create some beautiful moments."

What does your artwork mean to you? 

"I have always had the hope that people will enjoy what I create, to resonate with those moments in our own back yard to be able to make someone smile or connect with my art is very precious."

What mediums do you work in mostly?  

"I have a passion for pen and ink where I can play with shadow and light its a challenging medium if you don’t get the tones right. I also have been teaching myself to use pencils, where I can play with bright colours that I like to push through to make something beautiful."

Why do you make this type of art?  

"I can’t not, I look at birds in my garden and at beautiful images of other peoples photography and I am inspired to bring something forward that small moment in time, that birds allow us to just breathe and be where we are."

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What do you aim to say through your artwork?  

"Its pretty simple enjoy the minuscule moments, slow down and really see the beauty in your own back yard." 

What inspires you?  

"Birds of course or images of birds and connecting with other artists, we inspire each other."

When did you first know when you were going to be an artist?  

"I think the thing here is we artists go on a journey of self discovery and learn along the way. But I can now confidently say I’m an artist because I work so hard with what I create and my work sells, and so I now call myself an artist and have no doubts. But it has taken years of experimenting on how we connect with our tribe of people, where our work sells best and connecting with people who love my work."

Have your inspirations changed since being an artist?  

"I started out painting cows on a dairy farm, I love cows, but once I put my work in a store I noticed the bird art sold better. Once I started on birds I have not been able to stop."

What is the most valuable piece of art to you?  

"I’m happy when my art finds a good home, the most valuable piece is not my own art but pieces I had of original works of other artists. Pieces that resonated with me that’s what is valuable if you find that art that you connect with. I lost them all, including my own works in the fires of 2020. But felt more loss of the pieces that weren’t mine. I can do my work and have started redoing my pieces. So I would have to say other artist work more valuable to me."

Do you ever work with other artists?  

"I have worked on projects with other artists its amazing and teaches you to let go. Those artist are still some of my closest friends and I value the memories of what we created together."

What does your artwork represent?  

"Simple a treasured moment in time. We all need to appreciate nature more, I hope my work helps people to open their eyes more and to look around in their own world and truly see how stunning it can be."

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How have you developed this career?  

"It is a work in progress, each opportunity you get whether it be an exhibition or work sold in a gallery or selling via markets, each time you do something new you learn and grow. I try and teach myself new techniques and expand my skills its endless. My dream is to one day go the full monty and be a full time artist. But it’s a challenging balance to pay the bills and so I create in my spare time, every art you do leads you closer to some new opportunities."

How do you seek out shows and opportunities?  

"I follow the many galleries online, I keep my eyes and ears open to any opportunities to get exposure. Just like this swim wear collection, I felt so humbled to be a part of something so positive and beautiful. It's saying yes to the things that scare you or challenge you. Each event puts layers on your skillset and a connection to different people. I try to have at least one exhibition a year and have been lucky enough to be invited back to the same gallery I exhibited in a few years back. It’s those connections to people in the industry that opportunities arise. I have a long way to go. I'm hoping to do more competitions. I also love joining other artists in group exhibitions, less stress more fun."

What is your background?  

"I’m one of nine, I grew up outside of the town of Wagga. Most of my young years I worked as a visual merchandiser, creating posters etc. to display in windows. My real art journey was a late start as I studied Graphic Design in my early thirties. It opened a window to my creativity and I realised what I enjoyed most was art and creating art. As a stay at home mum with a young son who needed extra support I found I had free time to create. My family is very creative and we inspire each other. I set about teaching myself skills by doing, and let me tell you those early birds sketches were pretty average. Its all about doing the more you create each day the better your skills. No big university degrees for me just a passion to try."

 What is the best thing about being an artist?  

"I cannot imagine a life without art. Since the fires and then covid I can see my art sustains me it creates a happiness, a place to go to and just be in the moment. I wish everyone could experience that moment."

What was your strongest influence when growing up?  

"The fact I was in a large, mad family of fellow creatives who bounced off each other. Still to this day we are our own cheer squad when someone needs positive feed back. My folks were very good at allowing us to be who we wanted to be and so we all felt inspired if one of us created something amazing. A built in fan club is all you need. I think as an artist you can’t not create its something inside you that pushes that creativity forward and onto the canvas."

Is there an artwork you are most proud of?  

"My next exhibition Bird Song is something I'm really proud of, its a bit of therapy creating some pen works that I lost in the fires and a new bright and bold coloured works on black paper."

Do you have any other hobbies besides drawing?  

"I have too many, they distract me. I have piles of children’s manuscripts that I would one day like to illustrate. But time is never on my side. When people say they have nothing to do I can never say that. I have so many things on the go I’m never bored."

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What is the craziest idea for your dream work?  

"I want to maybe do some imaginative sketches of our threatened wildlife. I imagine if I can start illustrating some of my stories for kids, to help them see what we are losing in our own back yards. its a pipe dream but one that stays with me since the fires and the loss of wildlife."

What is your advice for beginner artists?  

"Create, create, and create some more then play and have fun with the process. Then when you feel confident start finding your tribe and share your art, feedback is wonderful as long as you only take out of it the constructive tips. Surround yourself with other creatives that are at all different levels of skill and learn from the masters."

Who is your favourite artist? 

"Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch. I connected with The Scream that agonised face in the painting it’s such an iconic image. The human condition is fragile and I was able to see this piece when I lived in London and it blew me away. Knowing that we all go through stuff and we must create what is inside us. His work is amazing."

How were you effected by the bushfires? 

"We had to evacuate our rental home and I will never forget the sound of the fire as it headed towards our place. We were lucky to get out and had so many people support us after we lost our belongings."

Where were you when you found out about fires?  

"The night I woke in our home with a phone call from a friend just as the ping came in to tell us it was too late to leave. For some reason we did not get the earlier ping to tell us to leave. So with confirmation that the road was clear from our friend we headed to Bermagui and spent what felt like a week but was only a night and day out on the fields by the sea with so many other people."

Could you pack up your house and valuables?  

"We only packed the basics thinking we were to evacuate the next day. But the fire was nothing like a normal fire, it was a monstrosity. No one could predict what happened. We had the dogs and cats locked up ready so that we could catch them in the morning to leave. We had the documents a couple of days clothing and sleeping bags and a bag with kids laptops etc. Thinking we would return in a couple of days."

Were you with your family on that night?  

"We were altogether we took two cars, I even had my artwork ready to take because some of it had taken me a year to create. But my husband took one car with three dogs and I took my car with two teens and four cats. What I did not realise was after putting cat cages in car there was no room for artwork and at that point our pets were really the most important things to the kids. How long were you evacuated for A period of 4 to 5 months because we had nothing to go back to our rental was flattened and everything was gone. We stayed at a friends house in Bermagui for one night first night was out in the carpark with thousands of people and their stressed pets. We then went to my mothers but the fires were coming there so we went to my husbands work in Bega where they allowed us to live in the office. It was a farming business so dwellings were pretty rough, although we were just happy to have our pets with us at this point. Lucky for us our own house which was in the process of being built was saved by the firefighters so we had hope. Our builder allowed us to then live in his rental at Eden with all our animals we were so lucky to have a roof over our head. After a few months in Eden we moved into our new home in Quaama. Everyday still, I think about that time where we had no where to go and could not go home after the evacuations. I give gratitude still about a hot shower, some food on the table and a roof over our heads. I never want to forget all those who helped us in some amazing ways. I keep the list of people so if ever they are in need I hope to help them too. I also give thanks for my little studio in our new house its small but all I need. For quite some time I could not do art. I was so effected by the loss of wild life. Looking up into the trees even now I still feel a loss and feel better now that we are seeing the birds coming back. My studio overlooks the garden, my husband has done an amazing job planting a butterfly and bird friendly garden. My magpies have built a nest in the tree outside my window. It gives me hope new life and new inspiration."

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What is your favourite swimsuit to wear?  

I would have to say anything in black, always drawn to black clothing. I'm a board shorts kind of girl. I look forward to seeing my art on the swimsuits, its something so different for me. 

What season is your favourite?  

I do love autumn, I love sitting on the deck and soaking in the autumn rays, not so hot. But Spring with all those bird babies how could I not love that. Spring is the best, a new fresh start and always has me feeling hopeful.  

What is your favourite colour?  

I don’t have a favourite colour I just love working with all colours and seeing what compliments each colour when I do my birds.  

What is your favourite animal?  

Birds of course and little wrens are right at the top of my list as they always bring joy when you see one in the garden.  

What can you not live without?  

I would have to say people, as after the fires I did not realise how many friends I have made along this journey. People came out of the past that I had not spoken to in years. Connection to people, family and friends can get you though the toughest of times.  

Would you be a gatherer or a hunter?  

I'm a gatherer I collect things usually things in nature. Rocks, seashells, banksia pods you name it. I also love to gather all my family and friends close.  

What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer?  

Hopefully alive? I would take him back to his home. Then I would write a picture book about him.  

Can you describe the colour red to someone who is blind?  

I would say red is like an energetic dog, in your face and frantically trying to get your attention.  

How many windows do you think are in New York?  

Well I have been there and it has a pulse of its very own. As soon as I got off the plane I could feel this vibe, its an amazing city with too many windows to see through and I hope I get there again one day to see through those New York windows again.  

If you were a tree what tree would you be?  

Hopefully one that brought shade in the summer and housed birds in the winter, a big old knotted gum tree.  

If you were a fruit what would you be and why?  

Well, probably something in the tropics, where its warm, say a mango, I love mangoes.

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February 24, 2022 —