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Meet Illustrator Kate Blairstone!

Category: Plant Ideas & Info, Presenting "The Curious Gardener", Strong Women Building A Gentle World

Kate Blairstone is no shrinking violet. As an illustrator she approaches her subjects with the exuberance of a person who is curious about everything. Before she draws a plant or an animal, she wants to know more about the community they are a part of and the relationships that inform their world.

As a gardener she has a floriferous sense, so everything is densely packed in her Portland, OR garden. She buys plants small but they grow up fast in her climate and she is constantly moving things around to make room. “Lots of plants that don’t work together in other places work together here,” she says. She has anemones living alongside yucca, and arbuta blooming next to roses, for example. 

She came to gardening like most people do, after she got a house of her own. When she and her husband moved into their new home there was nothing more than a weedy lawn and one holly tree that was limbed up and pruned into a tight cone shape. Her artist’s eye told her ‘No’ and she set about learning how to create the garden she wanted.

“My mother was a gardener, but not in the way I’ve become a gardener,” she says, as a way of explaining how she takes no prisoners when she finds a new interest.

Kate Blairstone in her Portland, OR garden wearing her Heirloom Garden gloves

Her outsized curiosity about plants opened doors for her. She was invited to join the board of the Hardy Plant Society based in Portland. She befriended local horticulturists who were giving of their knowledge. She discovered a magical nursery on Sauvie Island in Portland where she and her two and a half year old son are allowed to wander through the greenhouses usually off limits to the public. She likes that the owner’s passion for his plants leads him to know the people who are ‘geeky’ about a certain type of plant.

In college she studied print making and photography and saw herself as a perpetual student because, “I didn’t think I’d find a way to connect all my interests and experiences under one umbrella,” she says. But about 5 years ago she had an epiphany and it turned out that much of her training to date led her to that moment.

What she discovered was that drawing was the thing that excited her, but it wasn’t until she was in her 30’s that she was able to “quiet her mind enough to focus on it,” she says. Her background in photography and printmaking proved invaluable as a means to an end, but not the end itself.

Her unique process includes photographing the objects she wants to include in her finished piece (after the research phase is completed), then drawing them in ink and scanning the drawings into her computer. Once in the computer she can move the individual pieces around to find the most pleasing composition. Her printmaking skills taught her how to create 3-dimensionality with stacks of shapes and colors rather than with shading. Click here to see a video showing Kate’s process.

Her projects range from designing wallpaper for a Portland restaurant and a local hotel, to illustrating a magazine cover, labels for a winery, and garden gloves for Womanswork!

Heirloom Garden Arm Saver gloves and Incomparable Scissors

We were thrilled to find Kate and work with her to customize one of her botanical prints for our gloves. This year we have her “Heirloom Garden” print in our Arm Saver Garden Gloves and a matching Tote Bag. We hope to add more items from this up-and-coming designer in the future!

Photos of Kate were taken in her Portland, OR garden by Qiana Rickabaugh Rich.  Dorian interviewed Kate over the phone for this article.

Resources:

Kate Blairstone: https://www.kateblairstone.com/

Cistus Nursery: http://www.cistus.com/

Hardy Plant Society of Oregon (HPSO): https://www.hardyplantsociety.org/

Cover of Kitchen Table magazine illustrated by Kate Blairstone

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