Kim Murton – Artist Profile

Kim Murton became a professional ceramic artist after working in New York as an animation artist, and her work reflects her earlier career as well as her history of exploring different artistic media – both physical and digital. Along with her ceramic work, Kim continues to draw, illustrate and produce textile designs. In our interview, Kim told me her artistic inclinations have spanned different media for different reasons, which I found very interesting.

JW: You started doing ceramics, but then moved into different creative fields such as animation, illustration, and textile design. You’ve published a drawing a day since 2009. You’ve settled in on ceramics but you still explore other media. What is driving all this? 

KM: I’ve always been back and forth between mediums and there’s always been a connection. In school I started as a ceramics major. Right down the hall was the animation department. I decided to try a Claymation project. I was lazy and didn’t research it and it was a disaster. There are techniques to do Claymation correctly and I just started putting things together my own way. Under the lights everything melted and turned to goo. It was a mess.

But I’ve always been able to draw, so I started scratching on film – drawing on that medium – and found that I loved it. 

I switched majors and started doing film. I transferred to NYC in the 1980s and after graduation I got a job in animation. I worked for 7 years at what turned out to be an amazing animation studio (Ink Tank Studio), starting as a foot messenger and working my way up to assistant animator. Along the way I did a lot of cel painting (we still used cels at that time). The animated spots were designed by RO Blechman as well as other popular established illustrators. I was too intimidated at the time to try to do illustration, but I always wanted to. 

[See some of Kim’s animation loops here: Breathe and Falling to Pieces.]

Later, I moved to Boulder, Colorado, and worked with a stonemason, doing bricklaying and stonework. I found a local ceramics studio and started teaching ceramics to kids and basically got back into clay again. I was pretty off the grid back then, I would go back and forth between Boulder and New York, picking up some free lance animation work since it’s a pretty tight artistic community. Eventually, I moved to Portland where I briefly worked in animation. I missed clay and discovered the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts, where I found a community and started painting on plates, selling my work in the school gallery and working at the cafe connected with the school.

That was about 25 years ago. I felt at that point my drawings didn’t have enough legitimacy unless they were drawn on a plate and had some utility value. I didn’t have confidence. That ended up being a money-maker. People liked buying them and I started putting work in galleries. Coincidentally, it was the exact same skills as cel painting because underglaze is very similar to cell paint, and the black line inking around colored areas that I do is exactly what you do in cell animation. So that was an easy transition.

Later, when my husband and I had a child, I found that I couldn’t maintain my focus while drawing on ceramics. I’m not even sure why. When you have a baby you’re constantly interrupted, and it turns out that I could make these little clay heads while being interrupted. So that’s a lot of what I do now. 

[Although this Oregon Public Broadcasting video is 10 years old, you may find it interesting to watch Kim create some ceramic pieces and discuss her creative process. The video section on Kim runs between 4:53 and 12:25.]

JW: You still work in other mediums, right? 

KM: Yes. I started doing these clay heads and then the whole computer era kicked in, starting with a site called Flickr, where artists could share their images with each other. I had this little group of friends, mostly in England, and we’d do this 5 minute drawing prompt every day, look at each other’s work, and it became a group that was very supportive. I started drawing more and gaining confidence. Around 2009, everyone was joining Facebook, and I started doing the drawing a day thing. Because I had Facebook friends back in New York, from my animation days, an art director at the New York Times saw my drawings and hired me to do a series of illustrations for editorial pieces.

That’s how I got into doing designs for fabrics. I saw this Spoonful site that prints designs onto fabric and I moved into that, along with my ceramic work.

The illustration thing is what I’d really love to do at this point. When I get an illustration project I drop everything else and focus on that. Because of my animation background I work very fast, which is good for illustration projects.  

JW: So you’ve moved between media over your life. I have to say, your work lends itself to that migration. I can definitely see a consistency in your work, and that “look” seems to lend itself to working in different media like ceramics, animation, illustration and design.  

KM: I know, people say that and it’s so strange. I’ll never stop doing ceramics. I would like to concentrate on making really big pieces. People buy them, but they take longer to sell. I love the rush of illustration, having like 2 days to come up with an idea and then 1 more day to finalize the drawing. And the pay is good.  At this point ceramics is where I’m making most money, and illustration is more of a side thing. I’d like to flop that. I want to continue my ceramics, but do more larger work than production work.

JW: Can you tell me more about your process? 

KM: I typically work about 4-6 hours per day, maybe a bit more when it’s really busy, 6 days a week. I do things in multiples. That probably comes from my animation days. The “figuring it out stage” – like figuring out a new form – is hard for me. But once I do that I’ll repeat and repeat and repeat it until I get bored with it. I like that intermediary point, where I’ve gotten over the technical issues of creating something and I can still be creative with it. Then it gets to a point where it’s no longer that creative, and it’s time to come up with something else.

See more of Kim’s work on her website (which contains links to her ceramics, illustration, drawings and textiles).

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