artist interview: bonnie kaye studio

APPALACHIAN ARTIST CRUSH is a series of interviews with artists from around the East Tennessee region, whose work I admire and who I want to share with the world.

Bonnie is a versatile fine artist who creates beautiful and functional screen-printed goods for the home. You can purchase wrapping paper and lovely linens in her Etsy shop.


Tell us about your creative beginnings. What was your earliest experience of artmaking, and what drew you in? Was creativity encouraged in your early years?

Sidewalk chalk and puff paint.  I always loved working with my hands, and luckily I grew up with parents who let me get my hands into everything.  They toted me to drawing classes all around town, in the suburbs of Atlanta.  It was then that I fell in love with drawing.  I didn’t discover printmaking until college, unfortunately.  I grew up with making being such an natural, integral part of myself, that I never questioned what I would do when I grew up.  And I grew up cooking in the kitchen with my mom so much that I almost went to culinary school.  But she told me that I would always need to make food to eat, so I opted to focus on fine art instead.  Perhaps that’s why I currently make products (linen napkins, runners, tea towels) that center around meals and the table.


Tell us about your creative process--what makes it unique? How do you create your best work? What do you love most about your process?

This is a hard question.  Day-to-day, my “creative” process is consumed with to-do lists, shipping orders, emails, and printing more stock.  It often does not feel creative at all.  But step back, and my creative process is open and flexible.  I look for happy accidents.  I try to be open to new products, working with new materials, and I keep my eyes open to color, patterns, motifs that are all around me.  I turn the repetition in the studio (printing, sewing, cutting) into a zen-like meditation, where I work out ideas in my head.



What has been a habit or focus you've had that's integral to your art practice?

Almost 3 years ago when I launched Bonnie Kaye Studio, I decided to design a give-back model for all purchases from my studio.  When someone places an order from my online shop or buys something from me at a market, I donate 5 meals to Feeding America, a US-based nonprofit that provides food to pantries all over the country.  I believe in good business practices, thoughtful spending, and giving back - and I was determined that my business would encompass all of that.  It gives me a bigger focus in the studio.  


Tell me about a hurdle you've had to overcome in your artmaking or art career.

When you turn your passion into a job, it’s hard to always see and remember the love.  I have to find a balance of really leaning into the creative process, while making sure that it will pay my bills.  It can be a slippery slope sometimes.  It’s a similar issue as making something for yourself without inhibition versus making something for someone else with total awareness.  I try to find a balance.  Nothing goes out the door or on the internet without me being confident to having my name attached to it.  There’s a lot of stuff that I’m sure I could design that would sell better than that I make, but I’m OK with that.



What is your educational background, and how does it influence your creative work, if at all?

I have a BFA from the University of Georgia (‘04, Painting/Drawing + Art Education), and an MFA from Pratt Institute (‘10, Printmaking).  Most of my work in school focused on the beauty of the everyday and the idea of home - and I created mostly fine art prints, with some installations + happenings.  The irony is that now I mainly make functional products that are for the home, and to be used everyday.  In the future, I hope to slip back into fine art, or dance more between the two, but I do love making usable art pieces.


What are you most excited about in your creative landscape in the moment?

I moved to Johnson City this past summer after 12 years in the Northeast (Brooklyn + Philadelphia).  I have more head space, not to mention physical space, to create work than I have ever, really.  And I’m excited to meet, network, and collaborate with a whole new group of creatives.  It’s also a new year, which means a new season to get inspired, get organized, and start anew.  I like that.



Share your favorite local hangout & or another hidden gem.

I spend a lot of time on the Tweetsie Trail.  There’s nothing like a run or walk to clear out the mental cobwebs.  And since my work focuses on nature and botanicals, there is an endless source of inspiration on the trail.  


Where can we find you on the interwebs?

Instagram: @bonniekayestudio

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See all the Appalachian artist interviews here.