Wellington-based artist Kate Venables is a formidable talent. Her drive to pursue a life in the arts has seen her transition from the high demands of a successful dance career, to that of a respected costume designer, prop-maker, and visual artist.
A self-confessed tomboy with a love of the outdoors, Kate grew up in the small coastal town of Lucinda, located in North Queensland. With a population boasting no more than a community of around 500 people, it’s remarkable to track Kate’s career considering the relative isolation, but she credits the support of her family for nurturing her creativity. “My father is an incredible carver, builder and engineer with the most adventurous, creative spirit. My mother is a fastidious perfectionist– extremely skilled particularly with fabric and embroidery. So much of the way that I work and my aesthetic, is the direct influence of these incredible people. I’m completely blessed to have a family who encourage me and believe in my vision and drive.”
And it is Kate’s imperturbable spirit and drive that helped her to forge a 7-year career as a dancer with the Royal New Zealand Ballet until injury ensued, whilst at her peak. Though she was happy to say goodbye to the daily aches and pains that come with the rigorous and physical demands of professional dance, hanging up her pointe shoes wasn’t easy. She misses the technical mastery of physical expression for one, but losing her identity as a dancer was even harder to deal with. “My persona as a dancer was so ingrained and encompassed my entire existence. It was a passion, a way of life, my profession and the greatest constant in my life. I struggled to regain my confidence, to redefine my personal, professional and artistic identity. Many dancers encounter this transition and it’s a difficult journey. It’s taken me a long time to re-establish a new career and way to channel my artistry, but many of my strengths and skills that I developed as a dancer have carried me through…”
Notwithstanding, Kate needn’t have worried about leaving dance behind completely, as soon after she was invited by the RNZB to collaborate as a costume designer on three separate productions; expanding her horizons well beyond the discipline of dance and opening doors to other creative opportunities. Her instinctive shift towards art and design, it seems, has clearly worked in her favour– in recent years she has added film credits to her resume: firstly as a motion capture performer, and now, costume technician (Elysium and The Hobbit), working as part of Richard Taylor’s Weta Workshop. Working primarily in costume construction, with various tasks incorporated into the role, Kate has learnt to be adaptable and to think on her feet. “The projects pushed my creative thinking and considerably improved my time management skills, allowing me to diversify my understanding of the properties of many different mediums…I value the creative form of film, but also acknowledge the business of the industry and how to navigate and conduct myself within it.”
Venables has come a long way as a freelance artist in a short space of time and says ‘maintaining a vigilant focus’ has been key, with the only inhibitor– that there is never enough time in the day to explore all of her creative ideas. Having her own projects on the go keeps her schedule full, and requires a degree of discipline, especially when it comes to her hand beaded work. Inspired by beading she saw in Italy, Kate began experimenting with a range of methods. For the most part she is self-taught with her more recent works involving the use of chainmaille, leather work and tambour beading. In her ornamental hand bead work she creates fine headpieces and small fashion jewellery –one of her headpieces (an elabore piece -pictured) took up to 300 hours to complete, and on a current project she has already clocked up 600 hours. She says that her dance background undeniably filters through her work.
“I can find many visual correlations between my current work and that of the dance aesthetic. My understanding of the human body, anatomy, movement, line and form is deeply ingrained in my visual art and costume work. My focused and determined work ethic and structured scheduling is a direct result of years of devotion to dance as a discipline.”
Also an illustrator, Kate draws inspiration from photographic images with her natural inclination veering towards the human form–her strengths– hands and faces. Working predominantly with graphite, for Venables the process is all about the tactile and the tangible, and of late, she has begun exploring the use of colour pencil and paint.
“I just go with the sensation it evokes (and) from that image I try to develop my technical drawing skill throughout the process to create an interesting, and challenging overall composition along with other images that come to me over the course of the work. None of my work is digital and while it is tempting for me to want to learn some of those skills, (as they do enable a broad spectrum of possibilities), I really just like to hold a pencil and I like the risk of a tangible medium.”
Kate’s illustration work has recently been picked up by Wellington store Eyeball Kicks. Check it out here.
Kate Venables: Favourite Facts
Star Sign: Leo
On Reading Her Horoscope: Yes, if I think it might be entertaining for the company I’m with at a cafe.
She Recently Performed As : a Hero Goblin in The Hobbit.
Describes Herself As: I am mostly out to have the most adventurous, honest, passionate experience of life that I can. I aim to practice awareness and empathy, give love and energy, and take only what I need and believe most in. I’m also plagued with the first world problem of being overwhelmed by my scope of interests, and am therefore constantly refining how I manage my time and decision making processes around what I want to pursue. I’m an artist of multiple disciplines and have an irrepressible creative drive, but I also try to ground my feet firmly, and stay present and connected to the realities around me, which profoundly influence my art.
Currently Listening To: When I finished dancing for the Royal New Zealand Ballet I found that I desperately missed having classical music in my daily life, so now I admittedly listen to a lot of contemporary classical composers. I particularly enjoy the filmic style of Ludovico Einaudi, Phillip Glass and Yann Tiersen. I also love Bon Iver, Florence and the Machine, Angus and Julia Stone and Jose Gonzalez. Then occasionally, on a long shift– Eminem and Lady Gaga…..
Little Known Facts: As a kid I had some obscure pets–eagles, snakes, owls, pelicans and possums. My father worked for the Australian National Parks, so we would recuperate injured animals in our district. I remember with such fondness, my father and I once stitching up a carpet pythons broken jaw with dental floss so that it could be successfully released back into the wild weeks later.
5 of Kates Favourite Things
• My crocodile skinned wallet. It was my first foray into leather work when I was 14 and I think the obscurity of it is a true reflection of my spirit in fashion.
• My dads carved, black coral panther head. It is a tiny sculpture made from washed up black coral which is local to our region. You can see the striations in it like wood. It is simple, yet skillfully crafted, and beautifully reflects the way that my family and I humbly respect nature.
• My beaded top from London. I bought it on my first big overseas tour when I was with the Royal New Zealand Ballet. It is made only of beads, has so many great memories attached, and will hopefully be something my Grand kids pull out of the dress up box with great glee one day.
• My peach face bird feather. As a kid I had a pet peachface who we hand reared from birth after she was kicked out of her nest. She was the most animated, friendly and astonishingly tame creature. She lived for twenty years and was an integral part of our family life. I kept one of her feathers after she passed away several years ago.
• My leatherman utility tool. Dad gave it to me when I moved away from my hometown at 15, and it has been the most practical, widely used and valuable tool in my life.
Thanks for visiting Sly on the Wall!
*The Winner of the White Fungus Magazine Giveaway (last week’s story): Connie May
- Byzantine Chainmaille Bracelet (inkedharmonie.wordpress.com)
- Peter Jackson: the maker of Middle Earth (standard.co.uk)
- Warner Bros Slams Weinsteins’ $75M Lawsuit Over ‘Hobbit’ Profits (deadline.com)
- World-Renowned Dancers Attached to Starz Original Ballet Drama Series in Development ‘Flesh and Bone’ (tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com)