I recently discovered the amazing work of Kendra Baird Runnels that is on display at the Lark & Key, a local Charlotte Art Gallery. So I’m very excited to share my interview with the artist herself. I find it so inspiring how artists create such amazing works of art out of what begins as a blank canvas. Kendra’s paintings really tell you a story as you stand there gazing at them and I’m so grateful that I had the chance to ask the artist about what inspires and drives her. Enjoy!
When did you first decide you wanted to become an artist? Who has inspired you the most to go after your dreams?
I graduated with a graphic design degree in 2004 at the age of 22 sure that I wanted to be a graphic designer for the rest of my life. Not even two years later I created a series of 3 paintings that I decided I’d try to sell in the Green Rice Gallery. I thought it would be very cool if someone would actually pay money for something I painted. Two out of the three pieces sold and I was hooked. I loved being creative and doing whatever I was inspired to paint. I started painting more and more while continuing to do graphic design. It wasn’t until 2009 when I went on a mission trip called the World Race, where I realized my calling to paint full time. When I was in high school, I had a wonderful art teacher, Debbie Kelly. She always encouraged me and her other students that there were many creative jobs out there and she told me that I was more than talented enough to go to Art School. So I transferred to Savannah College of Art & Design my sophomore year of college to pursue my creative dreams.
Where do you find yourself the most inspired?
I’m most inspired in nature, but since I have a 10-month-old, I don’t get a lot of time to hike or camp. So when I can get a few minutes in the morning or evening to myself just to read the bible, sketch, and reflect on the day, I generally am inspired for new work.
How do you come up with your ideas for your art pieces?
The best inspiration for me comes from when I am praying, reading the Bible, or just simply thinking about what I am going through in my everyday life. If I’m having a hard time or feeling sad, I generally see it as a narrative on the panel. I visually see my emotions, struggles, and stories played out on my painting surface. I’m also inspired by my original training in graphic design and sometimes paint things that make a beautiful design, using nature as inspiration as well. I do many paintings of birds and trees as well.
When I look at your paintings, I see how they seem to tell a story. Are you thinking of a particular dream or moment from your past or present as you paint?
Yes, I do like to tell a story with my paintings. Many times I am thinking of how I am currently feeling, what I’m feeling God is leading me to see, a concept I want to express, and generally I create narrative painting ideas to express that. But I do want each viewer to be able to relate their own stories to my pieces of art – I just want them to see that there was a lot of emotion put into the piece.
I love the textures and layers of your artwork. What interested you most in working with mixed media?
I began working in Acrylics and have never really used oil paints. I learned early that Acrylic paint is very flat, so I started adding a texture layer on my painting panels first to add dimension to the piece before I ever put any paint to the surface. I recently started to collage pages from old books to my panels to add an extra layer of uniqueness and visual texture. Also, I wanted to call attention to some of the words from the pages in each piece that relate to the story I am telling. A picture is worth 1000 words. Using real words in my work helps me tell my story. I also like to actually be able to use some of the Bible verses that are inspiring my narratives in the pieces I create. Nothing is more powerful than the word of God itself.
Also, Mixed Media has always been my favorite kind of artwork. My favorite artists, for the most part, are mixed media artists. I just love how different materials that weren’t originally intended to go together, can come together to make a beautiful piece of art. Plus I like the idea of re-using old materials that will otherwise be thrown away.
When you paint, do you set up a display or just what comes to you?
I first “sketch” and plan my painting before beginning. I plan where I’m going to put certain text in the background of my images and how I’m going to lay the piece out. I ‘design’ the piece first. This is something I’ve always done, probably because of my design background.
Out of all the pieces you’ve created, which piece has meant the most to you?
I almost did not sell the piece “With Open Hands”. The piece had a lot of personal meaning to me plus was a breakthrough in my new style of work. I just loved the way it turned out. I remember years ago I learned that anything we love very much, we need to hold with open hands up to God. Letting God be in control of it and protect it.
If your artwork could be displayed in any gallery or art museum, where would it be?
I honestly don’t have any idea where I’d want my art to be displayed except for in the homes of people who love them. I only show in 1 gallery in the entire country, and that’s right here in Charlotte, NC – Lark and Key Gallery.
Is there a particular artist who inspires you?
Duy Huynh, I love his narratives and the surrealistic way he paints! Also, mixed media artist Dolan Geiman is amazing at what he does. He uses so many crazy materials but makes them look so beautiful.
How long does it typically take to create a new piece?
I’ve been creating a lot slower since having my daughter in May 2015. I can manage to get an average-sized piece done in about a week to 10 days.
Are you currently working on new pieces?
Yes, I have 3 art festivals coming up this spring, so I’m trying to create a lot of new pieces for those shows. I’ll be updating my website soon to display my new work.