Love, Light and Abundance Through Watercolor: A Talk With Artist Kim Lyon
Kim Lyon is a talented artist, who specializes in vibrant watercolors turned into digital masterpieces. Originally an Indiana native, she now resides in Arizona where she allows the desert and flora around her to inspire and guide her work. She has a deep love of travel and you can see that influence in every one of her pieces. It’s safe to say that after doing a deep dive on her artwork, I was more than excited to get to talk with her. Truly, it was one of my favorite conversations to date. So let me bring you along so you can get to know her a little bit, too.
Talking to Kim is as easy as breathing. She has such a gentle, effortless way about her. From the first greeting, she has such a warmth about her. It is so natural for her to talk about her work, so I begin by asking her to share a little bit about herself, her life and how she got started with this kind of art process.
She tells me that she has been drawing and painting her whole life. She’s always had a unique eye for artistic expression. After showing her mom some impressive drawings at age 5, her mom had her start taking art lessons. She says,
“It was my outlet particularly in junior high and high school and those painting and drawing classes were where I could just step into my own world and let everything else fade away and it was that safe place for me.”
Originally from Indiana, at age 13, she visited Arizona on spring break and absolutely fell in love with the Sonoran Desert. According to Kim, “All of my art after that was desert-related…cacti, desert blooms, all the things.”
She went through a number of career paths and landed on “artist” but didn’t enter an artistic career right away. In college, since she had to choose just one major, she chose German, another passion. She went on to become a German teacher, translator, interpreter and consultant. It wasn’t until almost a decade ago that she returned to her love of art.
“I was out in Arizona and I went to Open Studio at the Scottsdale Artists’ School for the first time and painted a portrait…for the first time since high school, and it just really helped rekindle that love of painting for me.”
It was on that visit that Kim was hooked. She took some workshops out there and also some classes with artist Susan Mauck back in Carmel, Indiana. She laughs as she tells me,
“I just kept dreaming of being an artist, like when do I get to paint things?...I remember telling Susan, ‘I just want to be an artist’”
Before going all in on her art career, she went through a teaching career first, followed by grad school in 2016 for visual communication design. Her focus was actually human centered participatory design research and methodologies. Her thesis was in healthcare. She even designed the health literacy toolkit for the IU School of Medicine Student Outreach Clinic. Though fascinated by it, she says, “it was more about problem finding and solving than it was creating beautiful works of art.” Her heart was in creating art.
Arizona was still calling. Fast forward to a fall break visit to Arizona three years ago. She picked up a watercolor tin on a whim since she didn’t have her art supplies with her. She wanted something portable just in case she visited the botanical gardens and wanted to paint something. She explains it this way:
“I picked up this tin, (and I used to hate watercolors)…it had this water brush pen thingy inside and that kinda changed everything. I just started drawing more than painting with the watercolors and that worked out better for me. And I kinda just started doing very loose designs and paintings with that. I was painting again.”
Then the pandemic happened. Just like all of us, it was a time of change and transition to a new routine for her. She really felt the pull to move to Arizona, the place she had loved for so much of her life. At the time, her girls were grown up - one living in Germany and one a senior at Indiana University. The timing was finally right. So she says,
“If I don’t do it now, I’m not going to”
She decided to pursue a teaching job there, teaching three levels of dual credit graphic design at a high school in Scottsdale. That allowed her to finally move to AZ. Her outlet at that time was painting all the beautiful places she had been. Kim loves to travel, and has seen so many beautiful places.
“I started iterating and prototyping, using that design experience I had learned in grad school to decide how I wanted these designs to live.”
One crucial point to mention. While she was lesson planning one day, she landed on a video tutorial of how to digitize watercolors. That was it. It made everything click and was the catalyst for the method she still uses today. She was working on illustrating another project and tested out the method and tried to recreate the settings and tweak it to the perfect process.
Kim likes to image trace her watercolors. She likes what it does to her art and that she can easily scale it, because it converts the pieces to vector art. So while it takes a digital form, it “still retains that painterly feel,” as she puts it. Drawing on a tablet or using apps like Procreate just isn’t her style. For her, it’s just easier to paint. And it’s apparent that that’s where she finds her home, in painting. It’s always been her tendency to draw by hand. She goes on to say,
“Even when I was in grad school, when it came to creating, I created a lot of maps to communicate data and used a lot of icons…I was hand drawing all my icons and image tracing them…I hadn’t ever image traced a watercolor. That hadn’t crossed my mind.”
So once her art could take on a new life as a digital art piece, the sky was the limit. She began to experiment with different forms and media. She describes it like this:
“I was testing products out that were cool and well received like pillows and tea towels and phone cases but then I remembered my love of travel posters so I decided to move in that direction. So my travel poster designs as fine art?…That’s what I launched in August of 2021. My Kim Lyon design website, featuring my first volume of my global collection prints. And it has kind of evolved from there.”
By this point, I’m completely fascinated and loving her story. Every step of her life and career leading up to this has prepared her for this moment, finally declaring herself as ARTIST. It’s like it’s been there all along, but now nothing stands in her way. It’s so easy for her to talk about her work. You can tell she feels it inside of her and just finds a way to let the art out.
“I enjoy it so much and have so much fun with it. And I’m really excited about how just putting the work out into the world makes opportunities to create and let the work live in other ways.”
Now given the opportunity to design this wallpaper collection, she was able to learn to make repeating patterns and figure out that learning curve. She said it’s a process she’s enjoyed very much. And judging by the final result, I’d say her work shows the fruit of that labor.
Now that I have a good basis for where she has been, creatively, and what her process looks like, my next question for Kim is basically what her day to day routine looks like while she’s in the midst of creating. She smiles and says,
“I just get up and make coffee and start painting. Like I literally just paint in my pajamas. And I’ll call it like, a studio day…just me, coffee, Doordash and paint and I can sit and make things.”
I ask her if she has any certain ambience or music playlist or if she just starts painting. To that, she immediately answers,
“It depends on the day. Sometimes I like silence. Sometimes I do turn music on. It could be classical. It could be German rock. It could be Spanish…I dunno. It kind of depends on the mood of what I’m creating but sometimes I’ll leave the music off so that the mood of what the work wants to be comes out instead of me imposing what I think it needs to be…Sometimes I can’t plan that in advance.”
I love that she just lets her art speak for itself and doesn’t try to confine it or dictate what it needs to be. That is true artistic expression and a difficult place to arrive at. It’s truly the result of hard work, life experience and setting herself free to create what she feels.
Next I ask, for this particular wallpaper collection, does she think in a ‘big picture’ collection kind of way or does she find that she creates individual pieces that naturally go together or speak to each other? Her answer:
“I definitely created this thinking in the big picture and I’m a big picture thinking person. So I really enjoyed that process. I kind of envisioned a whole poem and what kind of story would these prints tell as you walk through a home. You step into an entry, you look in a dining room or a study or a living room or a kitchen or bed and bath. And how could these prints live in these spaces and create a feeling of abundance and beauty and pleasure? I definitely created these to tell a whole picture story.”
Kim is a self-proclaimed maximalist. She loves big, bold, colorful motifs. In a time where neutral, white, minimalist, modern and understated is the safe route in decor and design, her work is such a breath of fresh air and life.
Most of the travel poster series she mentioned are roughly 12x18 size, but she says that she wants her work to “live large” whenever possible. At art festivals, she tries to offer larger scale prints. It’s her favorite way to showcase her art, on a bigger scale.
“Creating something and seeing it live large is a dream come true for me. I enjoy it more than I can describe.”
I think my next two questions will be difficult ones but she answers them with ease. First I ask, because she loves to travel, about her favorite place she has visited.
“I have a tie for my favorite place. The first favorite place that I visited was the Taj Mahal in India. It was a phenomenal experience. We were there at sunrise. We were the first ones there. We were able to get photos in front of it without anyone else in the picture. We got up at 3:00 in the morning for this. And we bought saris the night before that they custom tailor to you. They were delivered the night before.…Roaming the grounds in this beautiful turquoise sari and experiencing a place that was designed in love and it was incomparable. I could feel it. It was stunning. So that was absolutely unforgettable.
My second favorite destination was the Sahara. The Sahara Desert moved me in ways I could not have anticipated. Just being at the edge of it was unfathomably beautiful. So that trip also inspired this collection and these colors. That trip and that experience infused this collection for sure.”
She speaks so lovingly about these places. The desert has always called to her. You can tell these were life changing memories for her. Next I ask where she would like to visit one day.
“I would like to go to South America…Rio De Janeiro in particular…I’d like to get to Buenos Aires and see the La Boca neighborhood because I actually did a travel poster design in grad school inspired by La Boca…and Colombia. I’d like to go to Cartagena.”
For Kim, you can tell her love of travel goes beyond your basic case of wanderlust. She feels deeply connected to the textures, colors, cultures, feelings and plant life in these places. It really pours out of her and is evident in her artwork. The color palette, composition and mood of each piece can’t be explained. It’s just something she feels and expresses.
I ask her to share how she feels about this wallpaper collection in particular and anything she wants to share about it. I love her answer:
“I’m hoping that with this collection people can feel enveloped in abundance and I guess in adventure and fantasy even. When I was choosing a lot of the green colors, that’s what I was feeling…I feel like we all need that right now, given what we’ve all been through in the last few years. There is an abundance of color and love and light in the world. A bit of luxury maybe as well?...When I was traveling in Morocco, so much beauty and luxury and abundance was behind courtyard walls. And you enter a space that is just lush, despite being in the desert. I live in a desert and there is a lot of lush beauty here even though you have to look for it. But it’s there. That’s what I was feeling when I created this.”
I tell how impressed and inspired I am by this collection and how it makes me want to take more chances with color and pattern in my own spaces. I love that in a way, wallpaper allows her art to “live large” like she imagined because it can be repeated and scaled in infinite ways. And each application is unique and customized to the space it resides in.
Finally, I can tell our little talk is coming to an end and so my natural last question is to ask what’s next for her, Kim, as an artist? What is the next iteration of this to get her art in peoples’ hands? She says,
“I’ve been really inspired by Barbara Stauffacher Solomon…She is an American landscape architect…She is known for designing ‘super graphics’ and I’ve been hugely inspired by that. So when I talk about wanting to see my designs live large I am hugely inspired by her and how she created designs as a graphic artist that were implemented to live within architecture and be a part of the walls. So I would love to create some super graphics.”
I hope to see Kim Lyon original super graphics “living large” in big, architectural spaces one day. If I can say one thing about my time with Kim Lyon, it’s that her inspiration, finesse and the ease with which she creates can’t be contained and are infectious in nature. You can feel it when you talk with her and it’s clear when you see her artwork. Love, light and abundance are just a few of the things you feel when you are in her space and experiencing her work. Though I haven’t seen the lush courtyards of Marrakech or the beauty of the Sonoran Desert, I’ve now seen a glimpse through her eyes and for that I’m grateful.
Shop Kim's Oasis Collection Here.