A selection of Kat Cearns’s work is on display at Creekmore’s Coffee in Coombs. (Emily Vance photo)

‘Nothing else feeds my soul like that’: Vancouver Island artist

Coombs artist Kat Cearns paints whimsical, colourful ‘animals doing people things’

Walking into Creekmore’s Coffee, the mark of former barista Kat Cearns’s artwork is everywhere.

Several of her distinctive and brightly coloured paintings and numerous prints are on display. Beside the register, two racks of greeting cards entice coffee-goers with their cozy, whimsical feel.

Blenders whir in the shop as locals stop by to speak with the millennial artist who’s spent the better part of a decade living in Coombs, interspersed with stints in Victoria and Vancouver.

One of her works on the wall is an acrylic painting of the cafe, a commission for the shop that she did while she worked there several years ago.

“It’s kind of like a snapshot in time when I worked here, customers turned into animals. Like I know specifically who some of those characters are in the picture. Some of them are people who like, they were babies when they first came in, and now they’re kids, older kids even,” said Cearns.

A rabbit froths milk for a latte while working a cash register with till paper spilling out the top, as piles of wobbly paper cups reach into the sky. Two toucans sit at a nearby table while a badger waits for its order, a squirrel nibbles a cookie, and a monkey overlooks a conversation between two mice, a rabbit and what looks like a small bear.

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Sitting in the heart of the cafe, it’s an accurate representation of the space. It’s changed a bit since then, Cearns says, but the colours and the atmosphere are on point.

Cearns says her time with the supportive team at Creekmore’s was part of the inspiration to getting back into making art in earnest, after letting her practice slip for a time.

For a staff party gift exchange, she brought in a painting she had done herself, but didn’t tell anyone she was the artist. Everyone ended up fighting over it, giving Cearns a bit of a rush and helping to re-invigorate her love for the craft.

“That was a really big boost to me, like ‘oh yeah, people actually like this stuff that I make! From there on, I started doing more paintings, just for myself,” said Cearns.

She recently started working toward a diploma in Fine Arts at North Island College, something she chose to pursue after deciding to dedicate herself to art full-time.

“I’ve got a real interest in being an artist, for the rest of my life. I realized that pretty recently – I would go away from it for a while, and I would really suffer for that. I always have to come back to making art. And nothing else feeds my soul like that,” said Cearns.

Though the decision is never an easy one, she’s pushing past the age-old fear of being a ‘starving artist’ to make it happen.

“It’s hard to put your work out there that you are really proud of, but that other people have every right to not like. … There are going to be critics. And it’s learning to just, I guess, let that roll off you. Or to take that on and be like ‘OK, that’s legitimate. Here’s a way I can fix that.’ Those are both options. But it’s not easy,” said Cearns.

“If you don’t try, it’ll never happen. So you have to at least give it a shot. And I just decided that now is the right time.”

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Her work is distinctive, using a swirl of many colours that she laughingly refers to as “rainbow barf.” Though the moniker is funny, the latter half of the phrase is far from true – her work is captivating and carefully detailed. The brightly coloured depictions of “animals doing people things” leaves viewers with a cozy feeling.

Inspiration strikes Cearns from all kinds of places.

“Sometimes I’ll be listening to a song, and a line will really strike an idea in my head. Some things come from – I really like puns, so a lot of my pictures come from a turn of phrase in my head, and a picture comes from that. … Other times there’s a little story that I come up with in my head, and I want to make a picture that clicks with that story,” said Cearns.

Cearns will be putting together her first-ever solo show at The Old School House in Qualicum Beach in late June.

“It’s kind of in my usual thing – a lot of animals doing people things, but looking at the every day. Little things we all do every day, but just capturing the moment of how it is something to be appreciated, or something that feels really nice,” said Cearns.

She says she’s nervous for her first show, but really excited and says as an emerging artist, she’s very grateful for the opportunity to showcase her work.

As for the future, Cearns has her eye on applying for artist residencies, potentially abroad. She’d also like her work to go towards protecting the animals she so lovingly depicts.

“I do really care about animals, the environment. I would like to be able to use my work in a way to help protect these things. I don’t know if I’m there yet, but that’s important to me,” said Cearns.

Anyone interested in viewing more of Cearns’ work can visit www.katcearns.com or find her on Instagram at @kat_cearns.

emily.vance@pqbnews.com

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