Art Q+A: Artist Kim Taggart captures Kansas skies and pastures in black and white

It is not uncommon for people to stop and intently stare at Kim Taggart’s work.

Taggart’s black and white images are inspired by childhood memories of playing on hay bales and harvesting watermelon at her uncle’s farm. The graphic designer and artis translates abstract skies and picturesque pastures onto canvas using a technique she calls “extreme graphite.”

Since relaunching her fine art career in 2017, Taggart joined the Kansas City Artists Coalition and was named a signature member of the American Women Artists. Her work showcasing the Flint Hills and rural Kansas will be on display during a March solo exhibition at the Kansas City Artists Coalition’s Mallin Gallery, 201 Wyandotte St. in the River Market.

Kansas City Spaces: Where do you find your inspiration?

Kim Taggart: Nature. I’m constantly pulling over to the side of the road. Like this morning, I was dropping something off at my parents’ house in the country, and there was the most beautiful fog. Part of the neighbor’s farm was below the fog and part of it was above. We have amazing storms in the Midwest too, so I’m always out there with my camera taking pictures. My kids joke that when we come over a hill, and we start seeing hay bales, or a good sky, ‘Mom’s head is going to be out the window.’

KCS: How do you use a photo to create?

KT: I ‘Frankenstein’ it. I use Photoshop to piece together one image of a sky that I like with another image of a foreground, and then see how it looks. I combine a lot of different photo references until I see the image I want to create.

KCS: Can you explain your extreme graphite process?

KT: My work includes a lot of layers and each piece is done differently. It’s extreme because I don’t just use a pencil, I use powdered graphite and apply it with a makeup brush because it has the perfect soft texture. I roll the brush around in the powder and tap it off just enough to start brushing at a nice 10 to 15 percent gray tone. Then, I go in with my Mars eraser and start pulling out the white. On the hay bale, I actually used tissue paper to make the indentations so that it left a nice white line when I shaded over it. After adding harder pencils, I finish with my secret weapon, and the blackest graphite pencil I know: the 9XXB. Combing these different techniques is what makes my work original.

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KCS: Explain the idea and creation behind your featured piece ‘Alone and Forgotten.’

KT: The hay bales were from a foggy morning in Edgerton, Kansas. During hay bale season, I drive on the country roads really early in the morning to snap a bunch of pictures. As for the sky, I was inspired one night when we were driving into a storm that looked like a gray sheet with a bright sunset behind it. There is a fog rising from the horizon that fades in and out, so I used three techniques to superimpose the fog with the clouds for the background, and the hay bale in the foreground. I always have to be sure my light sources are coming from the same angle. You can also see a path for kids to run out and play on the hay bales, making you question, ‘Is this hay bale really alone and forgotten? Or does it have a little friend that comes from the farmhouse to visit and play?’

KCS: What is your greatest accomplishment?

KT: I was juried into three American Women Artists shows in 14 months, which resulted in being named a signature member. The program includes 25 potential museum shows in 25 years. I was selected out of hundreds of applicants to be one of 35 women in the first show, and then in two other exhibitions soon after. Recently, museums realized they had a low representation of women and that if they were to take down all the male artwork, the walls would be empty. Or, there would be one by Mary Cassatt. Back in the day, being an artist was an unacceptable career for a woman, so they had to pretend to be men in order to get their work out there. So, having this opportunity is a huge accomplishment and benefit because with my medium, it’s much different to stand in front of these big pieces of art rather than see them online.

KCS: Do you have any advice for the next generation of artists?

KT: You can either cater to the masses, doing what’s hot and popular, or do what you’re passionate about. Make it personal and speak from your heart to clearly explain who you are and what you do. Find your unique angle, believe in it and go with it. Start local but enter a lot of shows and remember —you can ship artwork. As much as you may want to stay behind the scenes and just create, you have to mingle and potentially ask your kids how to use Instagram. Everybody has the dream of doing it full time. Some make it; some don’t. An old professor of mine inspires people to become firefighters and nurses in order to have days off for art. That way you have an income while you do what you love.