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Much-honored Gasport watercolor artist was up to the challenge

GASPORT – Successful Gasport watercolor artist and instructor Kathleen S. Giles said that when she turned 50, she decided it was time for her next challenge – trying to enter the national arena.

Just three years later, she is on the verge of being featured in two widely acclaimed national art publications and earned a spot in the highly competitive American Watercolor Society Show in New York City in April. She was accepted into the National Watercolor Society Show in San Pedro, Calif., last fall.

Locally, she earned the best-of-show award at the Allentown Art Festival for “Where’s Lily?” in June, then won the top award at the Lewiston Art Festival in August for “Peonies in the Spotlight.”

Giles, considered a self-taught, “romantic realist” specializing in transparent watercolors, draws inspiration from a wide variety of subjects, ranging from her two young grandchildren to the beautiful gardens surrounding her home of 30 years on Hartland Road in Gasport, which also serves as her studio and gallery.

“It doesn’t have to be a certain subject,” she said. “The drama comes from good lighting, where I can paint colorful shadows.”

Giles is usually armed with a camera to take photos she will refer to when she paints. She joked, “I am always on the job.”

How did your career start?

I took a beginner’s watercolor class 23 years ago when my youngest son was 2.

I have drawn and painted since I was a child and went to DeSales High School, where I was in an accelerated program and collegebound in English and math to be a teacher. But in my senior year, I decided to pursue art instead, like I had always really wanted to do. I got into UB as an art major, but I only lasted one year. Everything was so abstract, and I was too young to appreciate what I was going to learn. I was paying for my education and didn’t see the value. So I had different jobs and got married and was a stay-at-home mom for years. We have three sons.

It’s been a long and difficult road for me to become an artist. It’s been a journey to get to the level of confidence and competence I have now.

How did you become an art instructor?

My kids were in school, and I was lonely. I was selling a little bit, but I got into teaching for the social aspects. I’ve been teaching more than 15 years now. I have students who travel from all over for my classes, and I’m very thankful. But I learn so much by teaching. When I try and explain what I’m doing, I see how my students interpret things, and that helps me try new things. My style is always evolving.

For example, I usually work on standard-size paper, and my largest paintings have been 22 by 30 inches. But I met a national watercolor artist a couple of years ago, and she liked my flowers but told me I should think about painting really big. I finally just ordered some 25-by-40-inch paper, and I’m so excited to try it.

How do you choose your subjects?

Some people have seen my flowers and think I only paint flowers. Some people have seen my Lockport scenes, especially in Garlock’s Restaurant, and think I only paint Lockport. It depends on who you ask. But I paint everything. I like to do people and landscapes, but it’s really all about what’s got light on it. It’s something that catches my eye.

I take tons of photos (to paint from). As an artist, I’m always looking. It’s a difficult way to make a living, because everyone’s taste is different. But I think it’s one of the most exciting and rewarding things you can do. Artists are always looking for that next painting, that next subject. My family’s used to it, because I always have a camera with me.

Speaking of family, how do they play into your career?

My husband, Alan, is very supportive – he has to be, because I couldn’t do this without his support. He’s the major breadwinner. Our kids are very supportive and excited for me. We have three sons, and they are all very bright and creative, but none of them are artists. Two are engineers, so I guess they draw in a more mechanical way, and the other is a very good writer and wants to be an English teacher. Our son Matthew has two children, Noah (4) and Lily (2), and I have painted them. They love it when I paint them. They come to my studio and look through my prints, and they always want to paint when they come to Grandma’s.

This has been a very big year for you. Tell us why.

It’s been unbelievable – the awards, the magazines. I’m going to be featured in the American Art Collector magazine in the October issue and in the International Artist magazine in its October/November issue (for earning second place for “Peonies in the Spotlight”). I was in the American Watercolor Society Show in New York City this year, and that’s one of the biggest shows in the country for watercolorists. It was such a personal accomplishment and triumph.

I also had a painting accepted for publication in the “Splash” book series, which will come out next summer.

What’s next?

I paint, frame and do my own reproductions in my home studio. I teach, and I do commissions – this is a full-time job. I teach weekly classes at the Market Street Art Center in Lockport and have two local upcoming workshops. One called “Lily Pads in Dark Water” on Oct. 12 at the Kenan Center, and the other is at the Burchfield Penney on Oct. 26, titled, “Painting Trees With Texture: A Fall Landscape.” I also have my annual open house coming up Nov. 23 and 24 at my home gallery.

Jody Ziehm (fellow Wheatfield watercolorist) and I have our watercolor show, “Watercolors With Jody and Kathy,” that airs year-round on Lockport Cable Television (7 p.m. Mondays), where we paint and talk back and forth about what we’re doing. We show there is no right way to do anything. For example, one week, I may wet my paper first, and she may paint on dry paper, or I might use warm yellows, and she uses cool yellows. We’ve done two seasons, and it’s been very popular with artists and non-artists. We’re going to start selling individual shows and whole seasons on discs.

People think things come easily to me sometimes, but I work very hard. I’m always trying to challenge myself to try something else.


For more information, visit Giles’ website at:

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