We found Kim Knoll while scrolling through Instagram for inspiration. Her work struck us for being minimalistic and bearing a sense of calmness and stillness. Kim’s style is heavily influenced by her day job as a graphic designer. It’s a common theme in her paintings for everything to be simplified down to its most basic form. A fan of Marie Kondo’s Konmari method, she brings the tidying up method to her paintings subconsciously — there’s only room for the shapes and textures that bring her joy.
Read on about Kim’s creative process, the inspirations behind her work, and her biggest takeaway from studying Fine Arts.
Can you describe your creative process? Where do you start, what do you usually have on or around you, and how do you work?
I sit down in a quiet room and think about places I’ve been to. There’s always one that stands out over the others every time. It might be because of the temperature outside that day or time of year or if something happened recently that jogged my memory. I focus on that one place and recall a distinct memory — always something positive.
I think about what I saw when I was there, how it made me feel and what the memory was about. I take those thoughts and distill them down into shapes, marks, textures, and gestures. I start a painting with an idea of what it’s going to be, but it almost always leads me down a path I don’t see coming. I react to the painting as I go, making the next move based on the composition and colour of the previous layer.
Sometimes I’ll set it aside and think about it for a couple days, wondering what to do next.
Sometimes I’ll take a picture of it with my phone and sketch ideas on top of it to see if something feels right before making it permanent. Other times, I’ll forge ahead and do something that totally ruins the whole painting.
When that happens, I cut it up to use as test sheets for future paintings. I know a painting is done when it just feels right and I wouldn’t add another thing to it.
You’ve got a very distinct style. What inspires your work?
My paintings are an abstract interpretation of memories and moments of my time spent in nature.
I’m a city girl, but I love taking trips to national and state parks to hike, camp and just take in the views. I think about the things I’ve seen or experiences I’ve had on these trips to inspire each painting. Inspired by landscapes and influenced by minimalism, I try to bring the outdoors in, in a way that isn’t literal or too obvious. I want to give people the chance to see what they want to see instead of forcing them to see it only one way.
What do you do to get out of a creative slump?
I go to Pinterest and look at all kinds of things for inspiration — photos of nature, art that others are creating, sunsets, travel destinations, etc. All of it lifts my mood and gets me out of a bad state of mind or creative slump.
I try to avoid Instagram because that just makes me feel worse. I don’t know what it is — maybe it’s all the likes, comments, and captions that come with the photos, but it doesn’t help me. Pinterest is great because it’s purely about visual inspiration and that’s it.
You’re a multidisciplinary artist. What’s your favourite medium, and why?
I use a combination of watercolour paint, India ink, metallic gold, and pencil to create abstract paintings on paper. I’m really into glazing, which just means transparent layers of washes, to create depth and tonal shifts. I chose watercolour as my medium because I like that it’s hard to control and love the soft washes it creates.
With my day job, doing design on a computer forces me to make very intentional decisions and perfect all the details down to the last pixel. Painting with watercolour allows me to let go of needing it to be ‘perfect’ and just follow its lead, which I find to be freeing and therapeutic.
Can you tell us a little bit about your favourite project, and why it’s your fave?
My favourite painting is “No. 32: Crossing Over.” With this painting, I completely let go and I think that’s why I like it so much. I didn’t overthink it or overwork it. I even made a few mistakes with it, like pooling too much water to where it started to drip and dropping the wet roller full of ink in the negative space, leaving those little black marks. But when I stood back and looked at it, I really loved it.
Like Bob Ross says, “There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.”
You earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Northern Illinois University. What was the greatest skill you acquired or developed through your education?
I think my greatest takeaway is to always push past my first idea and see what else I can come up with.
I’m innately the kind of person who does what comes to mind and moves onto the next thing, but I had this one teacher that always pushed me to do more. I’d finish a project before everyone else and turn it in early, and he’d tell me to start over and come up with something else. I would only do it because he made me, but my work always got better as a result. I use that same thinking still to this day with graphic design and painting. It can be time-consuming, but the end result is so worth it.
Tell us about Knoed. How is it working with your husband?
That’s the #1 question I always get! We have good days and bad like anyone else, but for the most part it’s great. We have a very similar design aesthetic and balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Knoed is a graphic design studio we started together 8 years ago. It’s just him and I, and we specialize in branding for startups and small businesses. They’ll come to us with just their company name and it’s up to us to design their visual identity and suite of materials (stationery, packaging, website, etc.). My interest in painting came out of a branding project I was working on where I wanted to create watercolour washes as background textures. I loved watching the paint react to water and the effect it gave once it dried, so I bought a few more supplies and started exploring ideas for myself. I shared those works on Instagram and Pinterest and it sort of took off. Fast forward to today, I sell prints and original paintings on my website and work with a handful of interior designers and art consultants to license my art for hotels, homes, and products.
Describe some of the struggles of starting your own business? What about the positives? What have you learned throughout the way?
Honestly, the biggest struggle we had starting out was coming up with a name and URL that wasn’t taken! It’s tough to do, so that’s why we invented the word “knoed” (pronounced nōde), which is a combination of our last names. Besides that, I think one of the biggest struggles we will always have is not having a mentor or someone to help us through things, the way a boss would. We’re rowing our own boat, figuring everything out as we go. It’s not necessarily a bad or a good thing, it can just be a little hard sometimes. There are so many positives about having your own business that I just love — setting our own hours and time off, choosing what projects we take on, bringing our dog to work, building great relationships with our clients to where they feel like family, feeling a big sense of accomplishment being able to provide for ourselves, and the list goes on. I don’t take a single day at Knoed for granted. Every time I walk through our doors, I’m grateful for what we have and what we’ve built together.
What changes do you foresee in the near future that will affect your work?
I’m starting to get asked to do bigger scale commissioned paintings. I normally work at the size of 18″ x 24” or smaller, but I have to push myself to go bigger and try doing some that are 24″ x 36” or even 36″ x 48”.
I’m excited and nervous about it, but most of all I’m interested to see if going bigger changes anything with my approach and perspective.
What are some of your future goals, personally and professionally?
Personally, I’m trying to work toward minimalism with the things I own and only keep things I use and love. Like everyone else, I’m using the KonMari method of choosing joy and tidying up. I’ve been doing that for a few years, ever since her book came out, and each time I go through my closets and drawers I’m getting closer to my goal, but it’s hard to let go!
Any advice for young designers who are just starting out?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Most people are willing to help, even if they don’t know you. When I first started painting, I had so many questions and did as much research as I could through reading artist’s blogs, searching Google and watching YouTube videos, but sometimes that doesn’t answer a specific question you might have. So what I did was I went to the source — artists. I reached out to a couple artists that I highly respected and asked them a simple question, either through their contact form or a DM through Instagram, and they were happy to respond with the answer. Which sometimes led to more questions and they would answer those too. I had a lot of questions about art licensing and read an article about a guy who did exclusive paintings for Pier I Imports, and I was able to find him on Instagram. I reached out and introduced myself, and was shocked that he was so willing to help that he offered to look over a contract I had gotten.
We all start out somewhere and remember what it was like to not know everything. People are willing to help so just don’t be afraid to ask.
The worst that can happen is they don’t respond, which is OK! They might be too busy, so just ask the next person and don’t take it personally.