Katherine Dunn – Illustrator Interview

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me copyIt was my friend, Emma Dryden, who first got me interested in Katherine, Apifera and her art when she published The MisfIts of Love in 2013. I have been following The Head Troll, Rosie and Ernest, two pigs, the arrival of one then another Maremma, and many many more animals that Katherine and Martyn adopt and hospice. I love her form of spirituality and philosophy of healing.

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator or?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[KD] I call myself an artist/writer now. I work in so many mediums-paint, books, story, dolls, puppets ad now clay- so it has evolved over the years. When writing stories, I am always seeing visual, and when painting, I am not thinking in words.

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work? 

[KD] I was born in Mpls and grew up there-the midwest shaped me in many ways, as did the work ethic of my family. We were farmers, scientists and artists. My father was an architect and his books had an influence on me at a young age-it is how I started drawing-looking at this books and magazines. I moved to east coast for my twenties, including 5 years in NYC, and a study too in Oslo. But i returned to Mpls, it was grounding for me. And then my wings itched, and I moved to the West coast, Oregon,, where I’ve lived since 2002, moving to our farm in 2004….and now, more wing expansion as we are relocating the farm to Maine.

I think when I moved to the farm/Oregon, it was so different, and you can see my abstract work of that time ‘trying to digest it all, trying to figure out how I got there, etc”. The fog was a huge companion and you can see that in my early work, and still I guess. We will see what maine brings. The landscape can’t help but influence an artist. It’s your skin of this real, after all.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[KD] I was an art major, with clay my passion in college and my early twenties. But I didn’t want to do production. I was a bit ungrounded really, to be honest, and at some point I wanted to live in NYC after a visit there, but needed work. So I researched a profession I could get a job in, and landed, much to everyone’s shock, a job at Ogilvy & Mather ad agency, in the media department. I loved the agency, long hours, small wage, but they treated us really well. It was good for me. But within a few years, I itched. I was an artist at heat, and I knew I’d never settle in NYC, so moved back to Mpls., and floundered a bit, but still created stuff. It was when I was working in a design firm as a marketing person where I realized people actually got paid to be an illustrator. SO, I set out to that, and paint. I have to tell you, one night I was watching Bill Moyer’s interview with Joseph Campbell, the whole “follow your bliss’ thing-and I knew I had to paint, and be full time artist. So I made a portfolio, and was in the right market, at the right time, and within a few months had landed some good work, contacts, and soon after a national rep. I’ve been fully supporting myself ever since then, 1996.

[JM] What is your preferred medium to work in?

[KD] With painting-acrylic, mixed with pastel. I like to paint on pine board, but also work on paper. I’m pretty non picky abut what i paint on though! I also really love conté chalk, and although my painting is known for its color, I love to work in b/w and sepia tones more and more.

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 

[KD] Messy, dusty, dog hair ridden! It is about 500 SF, and looks out towards lower fields/pastures and out towards some of the barns, with the animals. I love it, and it is the best studio I’ve ever had, compete with fireplace and high ceilings. I once worked on my dining table in a 400SF house,and that was fine too.

sutdio1 studio2 studio3

[JM] Can you share an illustration or two with us, maybe of a WIP or a recently published book, and the process of creating them? 

[KD] Well, I have been fluctuating with my next project, especially now with the distractions of the move. So I am juggling ideas. I have a novel in me, but I’m thinking I will be writing  short story that might propel me into the novel idea. I’ve had the idea for a couple of years, but ti keeps evolving in my head…I don’t want to say more than that right now-but it is non fiction but magical…spooky maybe….I like the idea of it having b/w illustrations [sending 2 WIP images]



[JM] Do you have recurring themes in your work?

[KD] Sure. I always say though the symbols that seem to come into a piece often go unidentified or understood for years. I rarely say, “Oh, I want to put a symbol here that means ‘mad’ or ‘sad’…they come from the unconscious really. I do have some things I tend to work into a piece, without really thinking-like fences, that are clearly a boundary symbol, sometimes the gate is open, sometimes it isn’t. The piece might not show that too the viewer, they get their own resonance and interpretation depending on what they are going through at the time. I often put a window-a square of some sort – on edges, a way out, an opening to more-it has may interpretations.

I live on a farm and life and death is pretty much what it is all about-it gets camaflaged in the city-but here Nature is teacher, acrobat and healer…



[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house? 

[KD] Not a lot. I don’t buy art. Some art friends have given me some pieces that I have, and I have a lot of my own stuff. But, since i work as an artist, I actually like pretty simple walls, and they are painted in a light olive green, which to me is like being emerged in Nature year round. In the bedroom I have a big painting my father did for me when i was five, a silly piece of two big birds-he was an excellent draftsman but this was just for me that day when i asked him to paint birds [it was the ’60’s]. I have a piece I bought at a student art show in Mpls, of Lake Harriet in Mpls, where I used to walk when I lived there-there is nothing great about ti really, I just like it.

I have a lot of stuff tacked on the studio. And words, I like writing words and sentences on the wall. I cherish a little dragon a friend’s daughter sent me, as it came right when we decided to move our farm to Maine, a huge move, and i thought a dragon was a good strong role model. And I have the last sketch my father ever did, a crude pencil sketch he did lying in a hospital bed, in his home, trying to explain to my mother where he want the hospital bed to be in the living room in his final days-he went out expressing himself with a drawing, I was so moved by that.

artd art2 art1

[JM] Tell us a little about the artists’ workshops you offer.

[KD] Well, they evolve, and continue to. When I moved to the farm, after my blog became popular, I wanted to share the intimate moments I have with my animals, in quiet, and I first had the ‘Capture the Essence’ drawing day, where we sat with the donkeys and drew them-but we started in silence, and just watched. People always ask me ‘how did you capture such soul in that piece?” or something to that effect-and since my draftsman skills are not anywhere near some artist’s, I say it is because I merge with the create. So the workshop is as much about stopping and taking time to quiet yourself, and just merge with the moment. I’m hoping to do a new one this spring using dolls-or making dolls- geared for the emerging crones-women in their fifties and up, sharing our wisdoms over a day of using our hands. There is something very intimate about working amongst our peers, with our hands-and the internet has taken that out of many people’s lives.

My painting workshop last summer was much like this, we had a small group since it was a heat wave, but it was so powerful for all of us. The class helped all levels of painter, look within and have the subconscious come to the fore front-starting with abstract shapes. I was really proud of what we did that day.

And animals are always art of it-as healers, teachers, intuitive lessons can b learned from them, especially i must say the equines. We learn about herd language, intuition, communicating without words-powerful stuff.

[JM] You and Martyn and Apifera are moving from Oregon to Maine! What are your connections with Maine?

[KD] Our souls seem to be wanting us there! Really, it is a soul move. Yes, we have both been there [long before we knew each other] but the move started as a little seed, that neither of us were ready to address-as the complication of leaving our current farm that we love, and moving animals-seemed scary and unrealistic. But it isn’t, and we realized it is just want we need, want and will do. There are other reasons that coincide with it, planning for the future as we enter our late 50’s, but we just really feel we are meant to move to Maine. Period. Just like when I lived in Mpls, I was drawn West, and I met Martyn, and then ended up on our farm which I had wanted my entire life. Now we are moving as a team, an entity, and it turns out Martyn has always dreamed of moving East. So it has come full circle.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                                 [JM] What’s your favorite park (state/urban..) in the world?

[KD]  Oh boy…has to be Badlands near Rapid City, and Custer State Park. So many though. I loved Gramercy Park in NYC, and Central Park-used to ride horse around it!

[JM] Most ornery critter at Apifera? 

[KD] There is no doubt…Rosie, The World’s Grumpiest-But I Like Myself The Way I Am-Pig



[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[KD] I have ballerina feet

[JM] What word best sums you up?

[KD] Resilient

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices? 

[KD] Black coffee in the morning, water all day, red wine at night, almonds

Katherine Dunn / of Apifera Farm

Thank you so much for sharing this unusual journey with us. And for those interested in helping fund this cross country trip with ALL the critters (except the hens) please consider:

a) Reading more about the trip to Maine:


and a separate post about why they we are going

b) Contributing to the go fund campaign:
https://www.gofundme.com/Misfits_to_Maine or

c) Purchasing on of the many items at Katherine’s easy shop-art, sketches, lavender pillows- 50% will go to my four year old friend Henry’s school fund for field trips and scholarships, and 50% will go to the Misfits to Maine fund to help us get our Misfits from Oregon to Maine when we move the farm. https://www.etsy.com/shop/katherinedunn or

d) Purchasing one of Katherine’s books,


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12 Responses to Katherine Dunn – Illustrator Interview

  1. As someone with a small homestead but who has wanted to have more animals, I am really drawn to Katherine and her art, lifestyle and story. Thank you both for sharing it with us! I hope the move will go very smoothly and that life in the East will be a perfect fit.

  2. Inspiring! And inspired!

  3. A very inspiring and spiritual post. She’s the kind d of person I love to site and chat with about life. I enjoyed Katherine’s comments about how a landscpape can influence an artist. I’m so happy she followed her passion (as demonstrated in her beautiful artwork) and has been supporting herself for quite a while. Excellent interview Joanna.

    • Joanna says:

      Pat, I knew you would connect to Katherine. Maybe when they move to Maine, we will be able to participate in on of their open house events if they have them! I’d love that.

  4. It’s always lovely to get a peek inside the mind of a visually talented artist! There’s always some great insight. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  5. Great interview! Love, love, love the artwork ?

  6. I’m glad I finally read this. Love her work. Huge fan of Custer State Park!

  7. May I just say a humble, thank you-for reading, and I agree you gave a very good interview, Joanna-thank you for thinking to ask me! And yes, so excited to get going in Maine and have workshops there.

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