“I was so tall and skinny that my mom and I made all my clothes until I got to college,” reveals Kathryn Abernathy. “I loved selecting the fabrics and putting together new and different ideas.” She says had she received any encouragement, she probably would have gone to a fashion-design school.
Instead, she attended the University of Tennessee at Martin, where she graduated in 1979 with a degree in mathematics and a minor in computer science. After graduation, she worked as a programmer analyst for several banks and corporations, including Equifax and FedEx. She says her only creative outlets during this time were French heirloom sewing, smocking, weaving, cooking, and gardening.
In the late 1990s, Abernathy began suffering from debilitating migraine headaches. Despite all attempted treatments, they continued without relief until 2003, when she happened to attend an auction where she won a class in watercolors.
While painting, she says, her head stopped hurting for the first time in years. “That little class led me to discover that painting was good for me. Painting became part of my ‘intensive self-care protocol’ that still helps me get through the hard stuff.”
She quickly became a full-time artist (“it was the only way I knew to end the headaches”), and, two days after launching her website, sold three paintings to someone in Seattle. “I truly couldn’t believe it,” she says. “But I liked it a lot — and still do. I’m always amazed and grateful when people connect with my art.”
Abernathy’s first paintings were done with acrylics, but she now alternates between acrylics and oil with cold wax. “I love to use acrylic paint for its versatility and quick-drying properties. [But] the oil and cold wax is also very versatile, and has such wonderful textures that I can’t keep people from touching them.”
Abernathy enjoys the bond of making commissioned pieces — working for people with whom her work has already resonated. “When I’m painting for myself, however, I mostly get out of the way, quit thinking, and just follow my intuition,” she notes. “I’m always trying to reflect what somewhere or something feels like instead of what it looks like. My philosophy is to remove the stress that overthinking brings to art. I’ll turn a painting to the wall for a long ‘time out’ if it gives me trouble.”
She’s currently working on more ways to share her story of healing. “I think it’s really important for everyone to find some creative process that will help them remember who they really are. I’d like to lead others to art as a way to help the burned-out among us.”
Kathryn Abernathy Art, 372 Depot St. in the River Arts District. She holds open studio hours 11am-5pm Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. To celebrate her birthday month, Kathryn will hold a sale throughout April. For more information, call 828-989-5146 or visit kathrynabernathyart.com.