We live in a city where an academic background is often times - and unfortunately - seen as the equivalent of creative experience, talent and professionalism. A very structured system defines what makes an “established” artist through age, length of resume and “reliable” references, sometimes forgetting to take passion, dedication and skill into account. In this feature I’m shining the spotlight on Katie Morton, multidisciplinary artist graduating from OCAD University in a month. She may not have a master quite yet, but she’s mastered the art of not taking herself or her work too seriously - and her quirky, refreshing illustrations are the perfect result. I visited her self-coined “messy, second home” of a studio to get the behind-the-scenes of what happens before graduation
What’s your first memory related to art?
My family is very artistic so my parents have always been really supportive. I have this recurring memory - I don’t know how old I must have been, about eight or something - from when my mom had a big craft station set up and I would go and cut and paste things together. I remember making this weird collage where I just wove strips of paper together and colored them with markers and stuff, building up a weird surface. I would be like: “Dad! Look at this thing I just made! It’s a blob of paper, check it out!” I feel like I need to tap more into my abstract art now (laughs).
Your parents are artists?
My dad has his own advertising business that he runs with my mom and he also teaches media art and photography at the high school back home. It’s a crazy household. He actually went to OCAD when it was just OCA (Ontario College of Art). The good ol’ days, when it was just a pass and fail type of thing. Grades were satisfactory or they weren’t… I would actually like that. It’s stressful when you’ve made something that you’re really happy with and the grade just doesn’t reflect it.
How do you feel about the creative process being graded?
I just don’t think it makes sense at all. I know, obviously, that they need to do it and fit this bell curve and other universities would get pissed off if all the results were amazing- but at the same time you just have to ignore marks. Gotta do you (laughs).
How do you find the balance between taking and not taking yourself and your art seriously?
It just kind of just happens. I’m more serious in the sense that I’m fully committed and love art making - I’m not creating a parody or a satire. And then I’m just goofy in general and always want to be honest when I’m creating something. I’m not going to paint a renaissance forest, you know? I yearn to have a connection with my audience, so I try to make my art an interactive and relatable experience.
Your characters are definitely relatable. Do you model them on someone in particular?
A lot of them are me (laughs). But then others are random things other people have said, things I hear. For the most part, they’re all girls and that probably just comes from my own experience of being a female in a female body. Once in a while, I integrate male characters in my illustrations but they’re always figures that I identify as being whatever they want to be.
Do you have any major stylistic influences?
I need to look at more artists, I’m very bad at doing research. I kind of trap myself in my own little world which I’m very okay with. I really like Basquiat a lot - I’m very excited for his show coming up at the AGO. I’ve also been looking at Wayne White and he’s so funny! He also works very quickly and in various mediums which calls to me a lot. I’m always trying to work with new things and moving through different techniques and such. I love markers, for example, but I’m also really drawn to sculpture and am taking a bronze class right now that I’m super into. That’s one thing I’m going to miss when I graduate: it’s going to be tricky to have these types of resources outside of school.
What do you like best about working in sculpture?
I took my first class last year and I’d always been very interested in working with it. I’m kind of obsessed with the idea of bringing my characters to life as much as possible. I struggle with achieving that through paint sometimes so it helps to make my pieces more real, more relatable.
Do you often create preliminary sketches?
I usually just go for it. Working quickly in marker I get nice bleeds and a more intuitive mark-making. One of my teachers made a good point about why I like markers so much: it’s hot, ready, available colour. When you paint you have to apply it, wait for it to dry, wash your brushes...it’s just not fast enough, you know? When I get inspiration I kind of just want to put it out there as quickly as possible. I want instant gratification. And it’s funny because with bronze it’s the complete opposite, having to sit down and spend time with it. I don’t usually work with preliminary sketches, but sometimes I draw something and feel the need to see it on a bigger scale, a bigger canvas.
Do you receive a lot of assumptions when you mention you’re finishing art school?
I guess so. I have a lot of friends that go to other schools and are doing their SATs, nursing, dentistry, business… You have a legit future! You’re going to make money and I’m just here like: “Hi, I’m in drawing and painting.” I couldn’t do anything else though, I would be so miserable.
Do you feel Toronto is a good city for emerging artists?
I need to put myself out there more. From where I’m standing, the art world is so hard sometimes. You need to know people, make connections and the way I’m looking at it is that if I want it bad enough and work hard, it’s going to happen.