Interview with Ken Oliver

I can’t tell you how excited I am about this interview! If you’re into the current watercolor trend, then you know who Ken Oliver is. If you don’t know him, you will now. Ken was gracious enough to take time out of his world travels to give us this awesome interview. In July, I actually get to meet Ken in person and take a watercolor class from him. Have no doubt, there will be another post about him after that class! But, until then, enjoy his interview here.

1) For my readers that don’t know your background, please tell us how you got started in the mixed media/arts & crafts industry?
I got my professional start in the craft industry almost by accident.  Although, I’ve always been a maker and an artist, after college, my career was in consumer packaged goods…in sales.  At some point, a few years ago, the company I worked for was launching a few products into the craft industry.  I started attending the trade shows in my sales role…we soon discovered that I could demonstrate the products very well, and because I had a background in art, my role soon developed into product development and education.  

2) Your Color Burst products are all the rage right now. How did the idea for these watercolor powders come about?
Powdered paint pigments are among the oldest mediums used to create art. In fact, prehistoric cave paintings were often created with powdered pigments. So, I really didn’t have the idea, originally.  But, I thought there would be something interesting, fun and creative to offer powdered pigments in a dispensing container that makes them easy to apply. There are many powdered pigments available, like tempera and others, but they come in jars or little pots…and can be very messy when used, especially if you spill some of the pigment.  Color Burst’s unique little bottle, with it’s applicator nozzle makes using powdered pigment paints much easier.   

3) You also have a wide variety of other products, such as double sided papers, stamps and mixed media mats. Do you do all of the designing for these or do you work with a team? Can you give us a peek into your creative process?
The creative process we use to develop product is collaborative. I work with a couple illustrators who help me bring concepts to market.  Some of the art I draw, photograph, or paint myself, other products I collaborate with our illustrators to get exactly the look I want. And, much of our work is research.  Its important to be current on trends with regard to color and style.  We also research “needs” for the crafter…are there ways to improve the crafting experience for the end user?  Out of that type of research, we developed The Best Ever Craft Mat, Stick It, The Tool-It-All, and Roll Away.  
You know, I think my creative process is probably much like everyone else’s…I doodle…I doodle with pencil,pen, crayon, pastels, what every is available and within reach.  I doodle compositions for projects, I doodle packaging ideas…I doodle and draw.  I also like doodling with Color Burst and a wet paint brush…very often, some nice work comes out of my water doodles.   Part of my creative process is observation…I like to look at things for inspiration; it could be flowers along the street where I live, it could be driftwood by the river where I live, or the color of spring leaves.  For me, the skill of observation is a very important part of the creative process.  

4) Being a male artist in a predominantly female arts & crafts industry, what are your biggest challenges, if any? Do you see it as an advantage or disadvantage?
I’ve not really thought about working in the craft industry in terms of gender, because I know that there are lots of men in the craft industry, many working behind the scenes.  In every company where I’ve ever worked, there are plenty of male artists whose contributions are business critical. I believe the craft industry is like any other industry, it’s highly competitive, and if you want to succeed, you have to do the work…regardless of gender.  I do feel like I have a couple advantages…for years, I worked in sales, we continually reviewed market research to understand our consumer, how she thought, and what influenced her buying decisions. For me, that experience is invaluable as we’re developing products.  Also, I worked in corporate training for a few years, and because of that experience, I really love to teach people…I love the teaching process.

5) What artistic accomplishment are you most proud of?
That is an interesting question and my answer is not what you might think. Years ago, when I was a teenager, I entered my art in fine art shows, both local and regional. They were juried shows and I got accepted to fine art shows all the time…it was a big honor.  As a result, I learned that I could sell my art and I loved it. I think I loved the idea that people reacted to my artwork and that they bought it for their own collections.  I actually hope to get back to a point where I can submit a few pieces into fine art shows again.

6) What is a typical day for you? Do you spend time creating in your studio every day?
I really never have a “typical” day…my schedule is always changing especially when I travel, and I travel a lot. It’s early in 2016 and I’ve already been to California, Germany, The UK, Japan, and I’ve made numerous trips to Chicago.  I actually thrive on my unpredictable schedule. When I am at home in Southern Indiana, I like to start my day with a quick walk along the river where I live, it’s just outside my front door. And, typically, the first part of my day is filled with answering consumer questions online, emails, and product development work.  When I am at home, yes, I spend time in my studio every day in some type of creative pursuit. It might only be sketching or trying some watercolor technique…I learn the most by just trying things.  

7) Besides art and mixed media, what other hobbies do you enjoy?
I am a gardener…I love growing things.Usually in the spring and summer I grow, tomatoes, basil, all kinds of herb and a few flowers.  I absolutely love gardening, and to me, that is also a creative endeavor. 

8) What pieces of advice do you have for crafters that want to get into watercolors? 
One of the most important things to learn if you’re planning to use watercolor is color theory. Watercolor is transparent, you can see through it…and it does not layer like other products like opaque acrylic or oil paints. So, understanding that you can see through each layer of color that you paint is key to achieving the best results.  Find a color wheel online, and study it. I’d recomend that beginners start with analogous color schemes. Analogous colors are beside each other on the color wheel and look great together.  It’s very easy to paint with analogous colors and not get “muddy” colors.   

9) What’s next for Ken Oliver Crafts?
I am super excited about our new stamps and dies that will be available in April. It’s the first release of stamps and coordinating dies that I’ve brought to the market and they are very beautiful!  The stamps are mandala images and are especially designed to be colored with Color Burst. They are really unique and I think they will be popular with cardmakers, coloring fanatics and mixed media artists too.  Ask your local retailer as they should be in shops soon.  

10) Which artists have inspired you throughout your career? 
I think this is a really hard question, because as visual artists, we’re inspired by everything we see.  I think the artist whose work I am most drawn to and find the most inspiration in is Henri Matisse…and there are lots of reasons for that answer.  I love the way Matisse worked with color…his color palette is bright and unexpected.  I can remember the first time I saw his painting, Madame Matisse. I just marveled in the striking image, she had a green stripe down the middle of her face and one half of her face was chartreuse, and for me, it was sheer magic.  I also love the work he did with cut paper shapes and pattern and find it inspiring for the work I do now.

Huge thanks to Ken Oliver for taking the time to let us get to know him a little better and enjoy his passion for these beautiful colors. I hope that his work will inspire you to try the wonderful world of watercolors. I can’t wait until I’m able to take his class and see him create amazing works in person.
You can find Ken’s blog, “Ken’s World in Progress” here. His projects are always beautiful!

Please let me know if you enjoyed this interview and if you’re interested in using watercolors in your projects. I’m just getting into them and I love the effects that you can get from them. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for hanging out at California Scrappin’!

2 Replies to “Interview with Ken Oliver”

  1. Thanks so much. So glad that you enjoyed it.
    I'd be interested to see the differences in digital watercolor vs real life creations. Something new to learn about!

  2. What a great interview! It was interesting learning a bit about Ken's process.

    Being a digital artist only, I do dabble with some watercolor styles, brushes, actions, etc. I love watercolor and impressionist art (Matisse, Manet, Monet).

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