- You have a Ph.D. in molecular biology. How did you make the transition to being a sculptor? What was the turning point from one career to the other?
I had wanted to be both a scientist and an artist since I was a little kid, and found it very frustrating that I had to make a choice between the two when I went to college. I eventually chose to study science, but always did something creative on the side to help keep me sane. Drawing, painting, knitting, woodworking, sewing: anything to keep my hands busy and my artist brain happy. I studied or worked as a scientist for nearly 20 years, mostly studying plants and bacteria, and it was a very good career for me. But when I was 37 my family moved across the country for my husband’s job, and it felt like the right time to make a transition to start working toward becoming a professional artist. I’ve been working in the studio for about 12 years now, and it truly feels like this is what I was meant to do with my life.
2. How has your knowledge about molecular biology influenced your sculptures? Do you use the same principles and precision in making your sculptures?
Most of the sculptural shapes I make are pretty intuitive and feel almost like 3-D impressionist sketches of nature, but they are heavily inspired by my background as a scientist. I find so much inspiration in a simple leaf or the motion of a bacterium as it moves through a drop of water.
The way I work in my studio is similar in many ways to how I used to work in the lab. I test many different initial ideas through sketching, modeling, texturing and painting before I begin a sculpture in earnest, and I document and save everything for future work. I also write detailed protocols for how I make each sculpture so I can go back and repeat or refine a process as I experiment within a series of work. By the time I’m finished with the first version of a piece, my initial protocol is always heavily edited as I figured out what did and didn’t work and found alternate ways to do things. It took trial and error in my art-making to get to this process that works for me, and it feels like I circled back to thinking and working like a scientist without realizing I was doing it.
3. What message do you want to send to your audience through your art?
I want to convey my conviction that there is infinite beauty and wonder in the world. The complexity of nature is astounding, from the vastness of the cosmos to microscopic subcellular structures that are invisible to the human eye.
4. When I look through your portfolio, I see that you really like to make your sculptures in wood. Have you thought of using other mediums?I love wood, particularly pieces with long, straight grain lines, because it has a beautiful minimalism and organic warmth that I want my sculpture to embody. Kristin LeVier - interview for Execute Magazine Click To Tweet
I love wood, particularly pieces with long, straight grain lines, because it has a beautiful minimalism and organic warmth that I want my sculpture to embody. I got my start with wood making furniture and doing finish carpentry on construction sites, and wood has felt safe to me because I have a lot of experience with it. I think I’m becoming more courageous lately, and I’ve been playing a bit with new materials that help me to communicate my ideas. If I had more time, I’d happily experiment with more materials, and I plan to do more of that in the future. I’m a big fan of concrete, matte glass and metal, in particular.
5. You lived in California and now you live and work in Idaho. How did you choose this place and how does the location influence you as an artist?
I’ve also lived in rural Vermont, Boston, Canberra (Australia),
Michigan and Madrid, and am happy in both rural and urban environments. My family initially moved to Idaho for a job, and it feels like home now. The western U.S. feels vast and free to me, and I’m constantly amazed by how beautiful it is in this part of the world. Moscow is in the middle of an area of lush rolling hills, and the curves of the land definitely inform my work. I collect or photograph seeds, leaves, sticks, ice – there’s inspiration for my work everywhere out here.
Living in Idaho also influences the logistics of my work. It’s affordable to live here and day-to-day life is mostly uncomplicated. My studio is a 2 minute drive from my daughter’s school, I can bring my dogs to work with me, and I don’t have to waste much time in traffic or waiting in lines. I feel very grateful for how easy it is to live where I am, and this, and the low cost of living, has really allowed and enabled me to work as an artist. I have artist friends here, and also keep in touch with artist friends across the country pretty regularly, so I don’t feel isolated in my work. But with that said, I have to spend a lot of money shipping sculptures away to be exhibited and I’m not able to go to most of the shows my work is a part of. And I go a little crazy if can’t get to a city and go to museums and galleries at least a few times a year. I’m lucky to be able to travel to exhibit work and teach workshops, and this helps keep me connected to the larger art world.
6. How difficult is it to work as an artist and raise a family? Could you share with us your experience?
It was pretty hard until my kids were in school. It can be very difficult to prioritize making time for the studio when there are so many other things that need to get done. And also I didn’t really want to be away from my kids when they were babies. But once both of them were in school full time, I began to learn how to work efficiently during the hours school was in session. I treat those hours as sacred. School hours are my studio time unless I’m under a big deadline, and then I’ll come back to the studio after dinner or when the kids are in bed. I do art business work (ordering, writing, bookkeeping, etc.) at home at night and on weekends. Being busy leaves me with virtually no time for procrastination, which is a real help in getting things done. Right now I’m booked for exhibits and teaching pretty solidly for the next 10 months, so I need to work efficiently every day.
Other parts of being an artist/parent are great. I’ve been bringing my kids to gallery openings and museums since before they could walk and they really engage with art. They love to make things in my studio and aren’t afraid of tools. My daughter has helped name a few of my sculptures. I think I’m a better parent to them because I’m living authentically by doing work that I love.
7. What was your biggest struggle and biggest success as an artist? What would be your advice to young artists?
Figuring out the business side of being an artist is a huge challenge. All artists would love it if everything they made magically sold immediately for a price that gives them a living wage, but the reality is that you have to get your work out into the world in order for that to happen. And that means applying to shows, marketing your work, finding galleries to represent you, and actually making sales. It’s a real challenge to be your own boss. You need to be focused and organized and keep your commitments. There’s a steep learning curve and I still have a ways to go.
I think my biggest success so far is that I’ve been able to exhibit my work widely while living in a small rural town in Idaho. I think my biggest success so far is that I’ve been able to exhibit my work widely while living in a small rural town in Idaho. Kristin LeVier - interview for Execute Magazine Click To Tweet In 2017 I exhibited work in Chicago, Miami, New York, and the greater Boston area, among other places, and I’ll be showing work in L.A. in January. Five years ago I would never have believed that possible. It’s very, very exciting.
My best advice is to find your individual artistic voice and don’t worry about what people think. If you work hard at work that’s important to you and don’t give up, you’ll eventually find your audience.
8. If you could choose at this point in your career where to live and work as an artist, where would that be and why?
I’d like to stay where I am at least as long as my kids live at home, because I don’t have the stress and distractions that come with city life to suck away my studio time. But, in a dream world, I’d also have a studio and apartment in a vibrant city with a strong contemporary art scene where I’d live for maybe 3 months each year. It would be great to have stronger face-to-face connections with other artists and people at galleries and museums that the city could provide. And then I’d go home to Idaho and make a lot of work in peace for the rest of the year.
9. In your opinion, do you think that there will be more artists like Damien Hirst who will build their careers based on branding and self-promotion? How important is it to be discovered by a gallery, rather than to establish yourself as a brand before you reach out to galleries?
In today’s climate I suspect that only the tiniest number of the very best students at the top art schools could hope to be discovered by a gallery without having done any self-promotion. The majority of artists today are putting their work out into the world on social media and websites, and a talented artist with a solid following (= self-selected potential collectors) would be a much stronger bet for a gallery than an artist with similar talent and no following.