Kat Turczyn of Kat’s Flat Art
By Frances Figart
Kathleen Turczyn likes to say she used her ‘left brain’ for the first half of her life, and now, she’s using her right. Soon after she retired from a nearly 40-year career as a statistician, she took up painting in pastels, something she had very little experience in, but had always wanted to try.
Born in Chicago, then growing up first in Santa Barbara, CA, then in Denver, CO, her earliest memory of making art was in preschool when a teacher demonstrated how to draw a person. “I remember sitting there on the floor thinking, I can do better than that.”
Her first college art class as a sophomore at Colorado College in Colorado Springs entailed making sketches of the campus and fellow students. “I was proud of what I had produced, but I received a C grade, which confused and crushed me,” she recalls. Steering away from art, she ended up majoring in psychology and sociology, subjects that required a lot of statistics courses, and led to her career.
During her “workaholic” years with the National Center for Health Statistics, the wiry, energetic Turczyn was often asked to design invitations, announcements and wall decorations for office parties. Those around her recognized her color sensibilities and her knack for design.
She laughs when she says, “I married two engineers.” With the first, she had two sons, who still live in the Washington, DC area. She met the second, Mark Turczyn, at a health food store and the two married in 1989. When he retired as senior systems engineer for the Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Project in 2009, the two moved to Yancey County.
“Being a city girl, I have always been thrilled with the colors of the sky and fascinated by cloud formations, but wasn’t attracted to landscapes until moving to the mountains of WNC. I’ve burst into tears more than once at the beauty outside my windshield while driving,” she admits, quickly adding, “In the interests of safe driving, I probably should not have confessed that.”
Not long after moving to Celo, Turczyn—who now goes by the bright, snappy moniker, Kat—joined Sandra Gates’ Wednesday Painters and started working in oils. Although her initial tendencies were to paint portraits of people, she created landscapes and animals with her new friends.
Now confident and experienced in the studio, Turczyn mainly uses pregessoed canvases, canvas boards, and cradled wood boards she gessoes herself. “I mostly use Gamblin oil paints, but also Rembrandt, Lucas, Windsor and Newton, and some Vasari and Richeson,” she says. “My preferred brushes are brights, but I’m venturing into flats and filberts as time goes on. I also have a bevy of palette knives in many sizes. (Out-of-date credit cards are fun to work with, too.)”
Her current works vary in size, style and subject matter. “I wallow in variety, and don’t paint the same subject or use the same technique very many times in a row,” she says. Canvases range from three-by-three inches up to three-by-three feet. Some works take on an Impressionist feel, yet others adopt a more Modernist approach, and still others embrace a stark Realism. From traditional farm scenes and rural fencerows to Warhol-ish flying cats and a detail of a horse’s ass, Turczyn brings wit, candor, wisdom and charm to every piece.
“If my subject is representational, I usually start with a fast sketch with thinned-out paint and move on into a value study (a notan) on a toned board or canvas,” she says. “If it’s an abstract, I usually choose a color scheme first (such as all primaries, analogous or split complimentary) and get paint all over the canvas as soon as possible so I can work things out as I go along.”
Turczyn considers a painting done when she can’t think of anything else to do to make her happier with it. “If a painting hangs around in my studio for very long and I feel the urge to change it in some way, it’s fair game for a modification. I’ve modified some paintings three or four times.”
Since turning her attention to learning to paint, support has come from her younger sister, Candace Schoonover, of Cottonwood, AZ, who is also now finding her way as an artist after retirement. “Following this calling at this time in my life has been easy,” Turczyn says. “If I had to depend on sales of my paintings to eat, I would not be so happy as I am now.”
Turczyn sees the discovery that she could paint—and that other people would respond positively— as one of the greatest blessings of her life. “More than anything else, I would like to encourage anyone who feels a need to make art to jump in right now and do it,” she says. “Please don’t ignore your creative urges! There are unbelievable feelings of happiness, joy and freedom that come from creating your own work.”
She adds that her obsession with painting derives from “the joy I get just holding a brush or a palette knife and facing a canvas of endless possibilities. Because I started oil painting so late in life, I feel like there are so many paintings and so little time!”
Toe River Arts Council Studio Tour
Burnsville and Spruce Pine
Turczyn is a member of TRAC, where she volunteers in the Burnsville gift shop. “We have a huge number of artists and craftspeople working in all mediums in Yancey and Mitchell counties, and we open our studios to visitors who come to check us out and hopefully, to feel moved to buy some of our art.”
August 19–September 23, 2017
Blue Ridge Fine Arts Guild (BRAG) at TRAC
In May of 2010, her self-portrait won first place at the First Annual BRAG Art Show.
September 2–3, 2017
Labor Day Weekend
Arts Resource Center at TRAC in Spruce Pine.
Kat’s Flat Art studio is located at No. 6, 4188 Route 80S, Burnsville, in a U-shaped, one-story brown building called the Shops at Celo. Her work is also available in the TRAC Galleries in Burnsville and Spruce Pine. Learn more at kathleenturczyn.com or follow her on Facebook.