Artist AK Westerman introduces us to magical worlds rich with surrealism and abstract design. Sharing her journey with her husband and her one-eyed Labrador Medusa, she opens up about her addiction to science-fiction, her battling weapons of choice, and the black and white series she is working on for a gallery in Louisville, Colorado.
"...one cannot truly appreciate the light without the darkness. Exploring this visually is cathartic for me in my own journey, and hopefully for that of the viewer, as well."
What is your artist name?
AK Westerman. My ‘brand’ is AK Organic Abstracts
Where is home?
Geographically, Edmond, OK. But I am California born and Maryland raised. In my heart, I am still a Coastal girl.
What is your weapon of choice?
Hard to choose… I can mentally picture my Derwent graphic pencils and my detail paint brushes fighting one another for the honor. It would be a battle for the ages if my Wacom pen gets involved.
Please describe your work in 7 words or less
Organic surrealism meets steampunk fantasy
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given as an artist?
On a number of occasions, wise artists more experienced than I have bestowed the same advice in a number of different ways. The gist of it has always been to embrace rejection, it means that you are continuing to try. If you don’t face rejection at least ten times a month, you’re not putting yourself ‘out there’ nearly enough. I have come to see each ‘no’ as an opportunity to grow, and an incentive to try again until I hear ‘yes’. It keeps me motivated to continually improve in my craft.
Please share the story behind your favorite artwork on Redbubble.
I think I would have to say The Forgotten, the first in the Origins and Evolutions series is the most meaningful work to me. I was fortunate enough to drive across country alone, armed with my camera and the intent to stop along the way and photograph as much of the landscape as possible. I think I spent more time parked on the side of the road than I did actually driving on it. But the solitude and raw beauty of the landscape ignited a creative spark and a newfound determination to capture natural beauty in a new and engaging way.
You have a beautiful balance between the cycle of life in your works, incorporating light and darkness wonderfully – would you share with us if these works what special meaning these works may have?
I believe there is a natural balance to everything. We spend our lives trying to find that balance, that sense of peace and harmony, in any way that we can. We expend so much energy trying to harness what Nature already understands. I believe it requires a closer look at the world around us to see how everything has its place and time within the cycle. After all, one cannot truly appreciate the light without the darkness. Exploring this visually is cathartic for me in my own journey, and hopefully for that of the viewer, as well.
I returned with the series nearly completely visualized, just waiting to apply paint to panel. It turned out to be by far the most complex work I had done to date, and helped to define my style and process.
"Whether we are asking for guidance within our own communities or submitting to our ‘dream gallery’ out of state, it takes courage to expose ourselves in that way, and face rejection."
If you weren’t making art, what do you think you would you be doing now?
I am also a graphic designer who worked for a real estate company before leaving to become a full time artist. So most likely, I would be typing “3 Bed, 2 Bath” and trying to Photoshop someone’s front yard green.
What artwork are you excited to work on next?
I am currently working on a small-scale black and white illustration-style series using graphite, charcoal and pen for Dona Laurita Gallery in Louisville, Colorado. As I have been primarily an acrylic painter working on large panels for five years, I am enjoying the change in medium and scale. After that, I am starting work on a new oil series. And I am also in the middle of several Photoshop pieces and have a few hand painted skate decks to finish, also for a gallery in Colorado. Never a dull moment in this artist’s studio.
What is your dream project?
I am honestly not sure! So many great projects have come my way that I couldn’t have even imagined before they landed at my door. Having a ‘dream project’ seems almost like placing a limitation. But I do imagine one day doing a massive 3D wood, clay and glass installation in a large urban space, gallery or otherwise. I love the tactile and epic nature of 3D work, and I have been working with clay sculpture in recent projects. The opportunity to share that type of work on a larger scale is immensely appealing.
I love your Origins & Evolutions works – would you share with us where you find your inspiration?
Like most of my work, the Origins and Evolutions series explores the cycle of life, and the relationship (and often, the battle) between man, nature, and technology. I never grow tired of exploring this subject matter, and finding new and unique ways to visually portray that struggle. I find myself looking to natural settings for inspiration, and I spend a lot of time outdoors, camera in hand. Even the decay of a single leaf is a beautiful display that invites further exploration.
What’s been the hardest lesson you’ve learned while creating a successful illustration career? What advice would you love to have told yourself five or ten years ago?
I am an introvert! I think many artists are… sharing our work with an audience, and reaching out for support and acceptance can be such a daunting task. Whether we are asking for guidance within our own communities or submitting to our ‘dream gallery’ out of state, it takes courage to expose ourselves in that way, and face rejection. Given the chance to go back five years, I would have taken every opportunity to share my work both in my own community and on a national level, even if it meant facing rejection. I have missed opportunities because I was too afraid of the word ‘no’. Experience has taught me that hearing ‘no’ a few times is worth it for the chance to hear ‘yes’. It happens more often than you think.