Kimberly Klauss Wins Heat 1 of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year

by Cass Art

Brushes at the ready, easels up and canvas primed? Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year is back for 2017. 

Returning to the Wallace Collection, Heat One kicked off the new series with famous faces from the all corners of the acting world. Appearing in blockbuster movies such as Devil Wears Prada and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to the iconic television series Game of Thrones, the selected artists were spoilt for choice as their sitters Freddie Highmore, Stanley Tucci and Indira Varma took their seats.

After an exciting 4 hours of painting, Kimberly Klauss was declared the Heat One winner, much to the delight of her family, who flew all the way over from New York to witness her painting Sky Arts debut.

New York born Kimberly Klauss lived in the U.S., Tokyo and Germany before moving to London. After starting a career in design, Kimberly committed to being a professional artist only 3 years ago. She paints mainly in oil, both from life and photographs and is now a full-time artist based in London.

We caught up with Kimberly to find out more about her experience on the show and her light-weight approach to oil painting…

Hi Kimberly! Congratulations on winning Heat 1 of Sky Arts Portrait of the Year! How has the experience felt so far?

Absolutely amazing, thank you! What a day! I haven’t experienced that much adrenalin in a really long time. It was wonderful, and totally unreal.

Can you tell us a little more about your artistic career?

I studied at TU Dresden in Germany and got a degree in Design Engineering, which is part product design and part mechanical engineering. I was always better at expressing product concepts and was a pretty rotten engineer, so I went on to work in advertising, doing art direction and graphic design after graduation. 

I am a full-time artist now, based in London. I paint mainly, in oil, both from life and photographs. I usually paint with very thinned paint on slippery surfaces like wood or paper, so the paint slides around a lot. I tend to use the light of whatever support I am working with, so instead of layering oil paint as one usually does, I often “erase” the colour, which sometimes gives it the look of a watercolour painting.

What were your first thoughts when your sitter was revealed?

To be honest, I was such a ball of nerves; I didn’t quite recognize Freddie at first!

He was a great and also challenging person to paint. He has a very characteristic face but its distinctions are subtle, almost elusive. That meant that getting a likeness was tricky. He kept appearing and disappearing in my painting. 

You apply your paint with such bold marks and brush strokes, but with a delicate result much like watercolour. Have you always painted this way?

I had always been more of a drawer, and had only integrated paint as an accent to line. I had always been intimidated by oils: slow drying time, all this business about mediums and solvents and rabbit skin glue. Also quite pricey, oil paints! I ended up taking a weekend course, and that changed everything. Suddenly I was able to marry the way I approached drawing with how I wanted to paint.

You appeared to bring your entire studio with you on the day! What materials can you simply not live without?

I was so nervous about forgetting something essential on the day. Can you imagine?! I like a variety of brushes that push the paint around to different effects, so I have some Princeton Catalyst Polytip brushes that are stiffer and kind of cut through the paint, and then some Da Vinci black sable brushes that are softer and are good for applying delicate bits of colour. Something I always have with me that you won’t find in the art store is baby wipes! They are amazing for taking colour off the canvas.

In your professional practice, what are the subjects of your paintings? Do you often paint the figure?

Just about all of my paintings have been figurative. I have some ideas for some still lives, but even those are about people in the end.

I find the body, its postures, and what it communicates endlessly fascinating, in life and in painting. I think living in different places has been integral to my interest in faces and bodies, and how they behave. I want to know what we see when we see each other, and painting is a good place to wrestle with that.

How did it feel painting in front of an audience – and your family – at the Wallace Collection?

I actually loved that part, and didn’t know I would! The thing about painting – or making anything really – is it allows you to focus and completely space out at the same time. So to be honest I was not acutely aware of my surroundings while I was painting, but knowing that I had my family there gave me the ease I needed to do my best. I knew it was going to be a great day no matter what. 

There was such a positive atmosphere from the whole audience and you’re in this beautiful space; I didn’t feel at all observed, I felt supported. It was awesome.

Has your first experience changed how you will approach your sitter in the semi-final?

It has. I’ll need to figure out if I’ll do a tonal painting, like my self-portrait or use more colour as I did painting Freddie. Also I tend to start broad and get more specific as I go, which is risky business when the clock is ticking! 

What advice would you have for any one entering this year’s call for entries?

Practice two-hour paintings! 

Feeling Inspired?

Read our exclusive interviews with Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2017 finalists and from previous years, every week on the Cass Art Blog.

Follow Kimberly's lead and experiment with oil paint and mediums colour with our range online and in-store. Stock up on your own painting supplies and share your own portrait paintings on our social channels. Use the hashtag #POATY2017 and don't forget to tag @CASSART

Catch the next episode of Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2017 on Tuesday 31st January on Sky Arts from 8pm.





As the long awaited return of Portrait Artist of the Year returns to our screens, what better inspiration to prepare you for next year's competition? Find out more about how to enter and our top tips for choosing your submission in our Call for Entries blog.

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