Kirsten Kramer talks New Beginnings in Art, Work and Family Life

 Artist Kirsten Kramer moves into GPL’s newest studio space, and lets us in on how she made the jump from the 9-5 to freelancer

Interview with Jenny Morris


JM:What brought you to GPL? How’d you hear about us?

KK: My work here started out a year ago when I decided to quit my job. I was working as a graphic designer in children’s wear for about fifteen years. In my last job, I was working for a retail brand based out of Israel.

JM: I lived there myself for nine months. Where in Israel were you based?

KK: I worked for a company called  Delta Kids, its all over Israel. I was there for about a year and a half. Creatively it was a great experience for me because I was in charge of all the graphics for infants, toddlers, all the way up through teenagers, boy and girl. So I have all of this experience with designing graphics, and on the side I was doing my own artwork and just trying to find a balance there. Unfortunately, it was never happening. I was always too busy with my job. So, I finally decided it was time to make a shift, and focus more on my own work. A lot of friends and coworkers began encouraging me to start putting my own stuff up on Etsy. I decided to quit my job and work on creating an Etsy shop.

JM: How are you enjoying it so far? I can imagine it must be a challenging experience. 

KK: Yeah, but it’s a start! First, I needed to learn to screen print. I found GPL on an internet search, and thought “Oh! This seems like a really cool place”. 

JM: So you decided to drop in for a visit?

KK: Actually, I signed up for the Intro to Screen Printing class.

JM: Oh cool! When did you take it?

KK: Almost a year ago. Remy, who was running the shop here at the time invited me to an art opening that you guys were having, so I stopped by. She showed me around the space and then I did the class. I just really enjoy screen printing. I’ve been designing for fifteen years and I never knew how to actually make these things myself. It felt really fun and natural to make the shift into doing it myself, and over the past year I’ve come in with all sorts of small projects. Another thing was that I’ve always wanted to get back to having my own space, and be able to creatively work on my own projects, so it also felt like a natural transition to get my own space here and work full time.

JM: I have two emerging questions that are more personal. First of all, what gave you the courage to break out of a job you’d been doing for such a long time and do something like this, especially with big responsibilities such as having a family? From what I can imagine that’s probably really stressful and it’s a huge decision.

KK: It was. Having a small child who’s getting older and older who looks up to me and sees this person who is miserable in her job, who never has time to be at home, I just felt like it wasn’t worth the sacrifice anymore. Luckily, I have a partner who supports me financially, emotionally, and professionally who was willing to take that leap and cover the slack for me while I found my way around. It was a lot of work. Like I said, it’s been a year since I first made this decision, and I’ve had to go back to my previous industry and take freelance work. I actually had to take a full time job for three months because most fashion retail companies frown very strongly upon the idea of part time work or freelance work or working from home- they want to own you. That’s what pushed me out of that industry in the first place. They want me full time, fine, I’ll give them full time, for three months. Until I can get things back on track.

JM:  In other words,  you’re never really going full time unless you sign yourself away to them for three years, you’re just testing out the waters and then you can walk away.

KK: So I walked away again, and found some other forms of work, I applied to this restaurant a few blocks away from my house and started it off with that. Just making almost no money at the time, but at least making something. I slowly worked my way up into some good shifts at the restaurant. And suddenly out of nowhere an old boss of mine contacted me who works at an up-and-coming children’s wear company called ‘Lamaze Baby’ and it was like a small miracle. She was like “I actually only need someone…part time…work from home…freelance.”

JM: I just graduated school in May and I’ve been going from job-to-job-to-job. I studied art theory and creative writing. I was ready to freelance. I didn’t want a nine to five at all, but I knew I had to try it, to financially sustain myself, for the feeling of security. It’s a weird feeling.  Some of the happiest people I know are fine artists who work part-time jobs elsewhere. My boyfriend is a dog walker during the day and my friend works in a coffee shop but she’s a professional actor. Another friend studied sculpture who’s freelancing around, barely making ends meet, but still working on his stuff. It’s really inspiring because you try to explain that to somebody who hasn’t gone down that road before. They all have these tough jobs, but they’re all really secure. They have safety, but they’re not necessarily thrilled with their jobs. I guess this works for them, but I think it’s really brave, especially years out of school, to change your trajectory. That’s why I’m really curious about how it affects you, being a woman who has a family, and still feeling like you can do this.

KK: I think a year ago I would have felt like “I don’t know how to do this, but I need to do this because I’m dying inside”. Two years ago I would have never even considered that I would be where I am right now.

JM: So you got to this place of “I can’t do this one more day”, and you were starving for the next thing, even though you didn’t know if it was going to work. It was at that point where the change happened.

KK: Yeah it was. I literally woke up the day after New Years and thought “I have to go back to work tomorrow and I can’t get out of bed right now. I have to go back to this toxic job, and back to this industry and just the general routine of getting on the subway and spending more time in an office with people who don’t appreciate me, who are making millions of dollars off of me, paying me next to nothing and expecting the world of me.” I was slowly dying inside and it sunk in. “My family is witnessing this. No. I’m not going to spend another day doing this to myself.” The next day I emailed my boss – “I’m not coming in today, here is my final notice.”

JM: Wow.

KK: I gave them one month’s notice. I started working with my life coach, Melanie Curtis, for three months to help me guide myself in the right direction with my thinking and my habits. To make a huge change like that it takes more than just courage and support from family. You really have to be prepared to uproot a lot of negative stuff in your life that’s been pushing you in the wrong direction.

JM:  The type of stuff that you don’t really want to dump on your family either.

KK: I had to get rid of friendships, unhealthy habits of my own. There was a lot that came with it,  I like to refer to it as spring cleaning, let’s just put it that way.

JM: I love that, I love that you can do that at…

KK: …at thirty eight years old?

JM: I mean my parents had me at thirty eight, like, people just have totally different tracks and it’s really interesting. I was just listening to a podcast. Norma Kamali is in her seventies, and she was talking about how she thought she couldn’t find a soul mate anymore. She’d been married and divorced once or twice, maybe three times. So she was saying “If I’m sixty years old and I don’t find a soul mate, oh well! I don’t believe in that idea,” and she met someone at sixty five and said “I’ve never felt like this toward anyone before, and I fell in love at sixty five, who knows what could happen!” It was just really cute. It’s that idea, the concept of time melting away. I feel it and I’m twenty four and I just graduated and I already feel like, ‘damn I’m not doing any of the things I thought I would be doing at twenty four’.

KK: The one thing that has kept me from falling into that trap, with my fine arts is…One of my biggest inspirations, artist Louise Bourgeois.

JM: I love her, I love her, she’s one of my favorites too!

KK: I wouldn’t compare my art to hers, except for maybe the underlying feminism in it. I always remind myself, this was a woman who was doing her art her whole life and I believe, didn’t become famous until she was in her seventies or eighties. You can reach your peak at any time, I’d prefer to reach my peak later in life than have it come and go when I’m young and then have nothing else to look forward to.

JM: That’s a cool perspective, especially hearing it as a young person, and hearing about people in the community who’ve started a gallery, possibly with their parents money, when they were like twenty seven and hit thirty five and all of a sudden they’re like “I’ve done everything!” That’s so sad, it’s cool that you’ve gotten so successful at such a young age but it’s a bit tragic to feel that way. It has the potential to build complacency, and I don’t really ever want to feel that way. So that’s really interesting. Your perspective is refreshing!

KK: So that’s my ambition for myself. It’s to peak. I haven’t hit that yet.

JM: And you don’t want to yet, right? 

KK: No I don’t, I feel like I’m getting to the point where I’m ready for it because really when success comes you need to be ready. And I certainly wasn’t ready when I was younger, I thought I was, but I wasn’t.

JM: So this is a great segway into my next question! I want to know a little bit about your work and the way you use your medium. What’s your process like?

KK: It started out with oil paints and as drawings.  When I was in my twenties I never finished art school. I met a friend at my first graphics job. I had just gotten my first studio and she offered to come teach me how to use oil paints.  I’ve always been kind of a self taught artist in a way and it just felt so natural, the way that the paints work with my style of art. So I started to get into painting with oils, and that’s been my medium for probably ten years now. I just go with my natural instincts most of the time.

JM: Who would you say your audience is? Do you have an audience?

KK: I don’t know who my audience is. I feel like I don’t really have much of an audience yet. I think my audience right now is the Dumbo artist community, because that’s where I used to work and I’ve only done shows around that area in connection with the people that I knew in Dumbo. So my art has kind of been hidden, in a way. I haven’t really had the chance to put it out there yet.

JM: Yeah, you want to feel like you have a lot to show. Actually less a lot to show, and more a feeling of pride in what you have to show. Quality over quantity.

KK: Yes! So there’s that, and then now that I’m discovering screen printing it’s a whole new medium and with my graphics background it feels like I can see myself in a year’s time taking the ideas behind my fine art and translating it into graphics and doing a more accessible line of my work with screen printing on totes, or clutches, or other items.

JM: That sounds great.

KK: So that’s one of my goals for being in this space, is using the tools that you guys have here and meeting the wonderful friendly people who will hopefully teach me what the hell to do. So, yeah this is a new medium that I would like to add to my resume.

JM: You will definitely learn a lot! Most definitely ask all the questions you can! I know this is such a cheesy question, but what is some advice you’d give to somebody, regardless of age,  who feels stuck in their career, and doesn’t have the option financially, or the support from family to leave their job. Do you think they should leave anyway? I know this is a tough question…

KK: It depends. You have to have a clear idea of what you want to do next. There can be  a lot of options to work on those others things on the side while you continue to work. Mainly I  think its just being willing to take that leap and doing whatever you need to do to fill in the spaces until your fully ready to go in the direction you want to pursue.

JM: I think that’s great advice.

KK:  I was just going to add also, when we were talking about Louise Bourgeois, I had the chance to meet her in person.

JM: Did you see the documentary on her?

KK: Yeah, a friend invited me to go to one of her salons that she would hold on Sunday in her house in Chelsea. So I lugged one of my big 30×40 paintings to her house in Chelsea, from Dumbo, and sat with a group of other artists and waited my turn.

JM: Did they all bring their work?

KK: She would invite different artists every week to critique to come and meet with her and she would give them critiques on their work.

JM: That’s a great opportunity. 

KK:  She was known for being very outspoken and critical of their work so my experience with showing her my work was being brought to tears in the best way possible. She actually loved my work, and kept interrupting other artists to ask me to bring my painting back out for her to get another look at it.

JM: Wow, so which one did you bring?

KK: It’s one of my older ones. Here I’ll show it to you.

KK: That was the moment where I started to take my work more seriously. I began to think and feel that maybe I have something unique that I’m trying to say, and if an incredible, inspiring artist like Louise Bourgeois sees that in me then there must be something there. So it’s interesting when you said that you could see the fundamental feeling behind my work being similar to what she did with her work.

JM: That is so inspiring! Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me today. 

KK: Thank you.


Check out Kirsten Kramer’s website and Facebook here.

Check out interviewer Jenny Morris’ work here.



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