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‘I just make things’

Kim Turner shares her story as a mixed media artist in Warren County

Art submitted to Times Observer Mnemonic Amalgamation (detail) - Photographs, sculptures, illustrations, found objects and mixed media - Installation held at Grunwald Gallery of Art, 2012.

“To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play.” — Albert Einstein

If you’ve ever considered pursuing a career in one of the creative fields, or perhaps you simply think of yourself a creative person, chances are you spend your days alternating between the inevitable highs and lows of creative inspiration.

On some days, it seems to come out of nowhere, like a gust of wind. Others, it may feel as though your most creative self is in the distant past.

For artists like Kimberly Turner of North Warren, every day is about striking the delicate balance between making art and making a life, right here in Warren County.

Art submitted to Times Observer for publication Forest's Floor (Fisher), 12"x9", water color and ink on fiber paper, 2018. Also from Turner’s ‘Natives’ series.

“There is a drive in a lot of us to create, and when we don’t, life feels lacking,” according to Turner.

Originally from Dunkirk, N.Y., she attended SUNY-Fredonia and got her BFA in Photography and Illustration in 2009. It was there where she met her future husband, Kyle Turner, who is from Warren.

Upon graduating from SUNY, they relocated to the midwest for grad school where Kyle pursued his MFA in printmaking at Northern Illinois University while Kim attended Indiana University Bloomington for her MFA concentration in photography.

“There was just something about photography that I latched onto…” Kimberly Turner said. “I have this fear of forgetting, and photography lends itself perfectly as an aid to memory.”

Turner considers herself extremely sentimental. Citing her grandmother as a “leading force” of a very sentimental family, she believes her upbringing influenced her to carry a disposable camera (before camera phones) with her everywhere she went in an effort to capture those precious fleeting moments between friends and family.

Art submitted to Times Observer Mnemonic Amalgamation (detail) - Photographs, sculptures, illustrations, found objects and mixed media - Installation held at Grunwald Gallery of Art, 2012.

“In high school, I joined photo club and got my first ‘real’ camera,” she said. Which was also when she “experienced that darkroom for the first time.”

Although film cameras still exist, these days most people either don’t have the time or simply don’t need to bother with having the film developed. But Turner tries to make the case to anyone who has never experienced the pleasure of developing their own film are missing out.

“It’s truly magical,” she said. “Photography is the perfect match between science and art that I couldn’t help but continue to fall in love with it.”

As college tends to expose young minds to a wider range of influences, interests evolve. For Turner, she began viewing photography as yet another tool to be used in her art-making process as opposed to a medium in and of itself.

At a young age, she had also developed an attraction to illustration from visits to the Dunkirk Public Library.

Art submitted to Times Observer for publication Knotted Snakes - Archival ink on paper - 23.5" x 18" - 2014.

“My mom would bring us (her three brothers — Brian, Justin, and Stephen Waite) there to pick out movies and books,” she said, “we’d go for events and storytimes, too.”

She described the posters hanging on the walls and the huge illustrations that featured characters from the most popular books.

“I loved seeing these characters off the pages and larger than life,” she said. “I felt like I was in their world.”

As a self-proclaimed romantic, Turner says she is a sucker for a good story. This led to a brief interest in writing but later on, she would discover a preference for telling stories through images.

According to Turner, this was when she began to understand visuals as language. When the words to fully convey her thoughts and express emotions escaped her, she discovered that “imagery tends to fill in those gaps.”

Art submitted to Times Observer for publication Monarch Butterfly, 6"x8", archival ink and watercolor on mixed media paper. 2019 from ‘Natives’.

“Withdrawing and painting, the options are infinite,” she said. “You can create anything… real or not… and you can create stories through those images.”

Kim admittedly struggles with the departmentalization of the Arts; professing that she doesn’t feel as though she can lay claim to any one specific medium. Although her concentration during graduate school was photography, she doesn’t think of herself as a photographer.

“The work that was fueling my brain wasn’t always photo-based,” according to her. “I felt like I was trying to fit my square-pegged self into a round department.”

“And even though I make illustrations, I rarely call myself an ‘illustrator.'” she said. “I just make things. I continue learning how to use different materials and media because I feel limited if I only focus on one mode of creation.”

Turner finds her concepts often require diverse mediums in order to fully express them. Whether by utilizing collage, sculpture, or paint, she has learned to stop worrying about fitting a mold.

Art submitted to Times Observer for publication Lazy River (River Otter), 9"x12", water color and ink on fiber paper, 2018 from Turner’s ‘Natives’ series which spotlights the many species she shares a common history with throughout her life as a Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania native.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers, he explores the unique circumstances that lead to the phenomenal success of musicians, athletes, and computer engineers.

In that book, the author posits that one of the more crucial ingredients of mastering any particular skill requires a minimum of 10,000 hours of intense study and practice.

“As someone who values craftsmanship, sometimes I am not confident in my own work because I haven’t put in the ten thousand hours (according to the rules, if we’re following those) to be skilled at each medium.”

“But I get over it, and just do it because I want to.”

Turner credits her parents, Margaret and Gerald Waite, and the loving atmosphere they nurtured in their home by laying the foundation needed to achieve her educational goals.

“They always supported me and never tried to steer me in any direction,” she said. “They truly wanted me to live my own life, even if that meant making mistakes and learning from them.”

Her father is a musician, and her mom is also creative in many ways, “they supplied me with tools I needed, and the freedom to do with those tools as I wished,” according to Turner.

Upon completion of her graduate work in 2012, she found herself in a period of uncertainty. Her husband Kyle landed a job at the art department at Blair while she sought her own job security.

“I put up with a couple years of what I call ‘the adjunct hustle,'” she said, and eventually “decided it just wasn’t the life I wanted to live. I was tired of living hundreds of miles apart from my husband.”

“In the fall of 2014, I moved to Warren,” Turner said. “Kyle’s job was secure enough to support us both until I could get back on my feet.”

Initially, she took a teaching job at JCC, but that only reinforced her need for time away from an academic setting, she explained.

“All I knew was academia and I wanted to experience other perspectives of the art world,” Turner explained.

While teaching at JCC, she got her foot in the door at the Audubon Community Nature Center. After volunteering for a while, she applied to a few different positions before getting accepted in 2015.

“I am glad I didn’t give up, I was determined to work there,” she said. “It seemed like the best fitting place of work for me in this area. I figured if I didn’t have a job in the art field, I wanted to at least find a job that could inspire and inform my work.”

“Audubon was it,” Turner said. “I learn something new every day at ACNC. I have learned so much about the local ecology, and I fall more and more in love with it. My curiosity has just boomed since I moved here. Not only am I surrounded by beautiful landscapes, I work alongside people that encourage me to look closer, ask questions, dig deeper… that has done great things for my creativity.”

Turner admits to experiencing a period of postgraduate school burn-out. She decided to consciously take some time away from art and sought out new activities to fill her time.

She said she “took up the sport of roller derby in 2015” and was “actually was one of the founding members of the Warrin’ Wrecking Dolls.”

“There’s a song called ‘Roller derby saved my soul’ and frankly, it kind of did,” Turner said. “When I moved to Warren I was unemployed with no friends and at that point kind of felt like an art failure because I didn’t ‘make it big.’ I needed something else to latch on to for the time being.”

“Derby gave me the social structure I needed, and built my confidence in so many ways,” Turner said. “I was surrounded by badass women, all from different cloths, that taught me so much about myself. I had never truly played a sport before in my life, so this experience opened up a whole new door in myself that I didn’t know existed. That’s powerful.”

During the roller derby’s initial meeting of interest, Turner says she met another artist new to the area, Ruby Miller.

“We instantly bonded and now she’s one of my best friends,” Turner said. “Outside of derby, we spent time in each other’s studios, sharing work and art stories.”

After three years of skating, Turner said she started feeling the bite of the creative bug.

“Ideas started to spark,” according to Turner. “When we weren’t talking about derby, we were talking about art, but couldn’t seem to find enough time for it.

It was around this time that she and Ruby both began to devote their newfound energy back into their creative work.

“She’s since moved back to Michigan, but her influence weighs heavily on me in all the best ways,” Turner said.

With her energy for art restored she turned her focus back to her true passion.

“2018 was all about research. I attended local art exhibitions, networked with other artists, attended art fairs, enrolled in local workshops through the Allegheny Arts Council, and tried my best to find my niche in the art scene of the region,” she said. “One of my friends that I had met through skating agreed to a weekly studio night with me.”

This lead to Turner founding the Brown Bag Creative Club, a workshop dedicated to building a community of local artists who inspire each other to continue their work. They have their own Facebook page and they meet the first Thursday of every month.

“Through the environment and relationships I have built here,” Turner feels that she is “getting back in the rhythm of art-making.”

Aside from the period of time where Turner says she didn’t make a serious body of work, that didn’t stop her from trying to motivate herself.

“As an attempt to kick myself in the butt and force some creativity back into myself, I applied for a two-person show for at the College of the Sequoias Art Gallery in Visalia, California,” she said. “I got accepted, so I needed to make a body of work”

She appreciates the motivational fear deadlines can bring.

“Work comes from work.” She said she can’t just “wait around for creativity you just have to do something, eventually, good things will come of it…most of the time.”

More recently, Kim has secured an upcoming exhibit October 5 at Crary. Hers will be the first installation format to show in that space.

“It is such a treasure in this community, and I am honored to show there,” Turner said.

Now that she’s settled in Warren County, Turner is able to value being close to family and the years she spent away from this area gives her the perspective she needs to appreciate what she has.

“I think I would hold a lot of resentment and “what ifs” if I had never left” Dunkirk, according to Turner. “I honestly never thought I would move back to the area, but life is funny. I am happy to be near family again, especially with four little nieces and other family members starting little families. I want them to know me, and I want to know them.”

Art submitted to Times Observer for publication Giant Leopard Moth Caterpillar, 6"x8", archival ink and watercolor on mixed media paper. 2019.

Photo submitted to Times Observer Kim Turner at work in her studio while she works on a piece for her ‘Natives’ series, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly in archival ink and watercolor on mixed media paper.