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Profile of an Artist

Kate Hall

The emotional reaction to a work of art is a deeply studied and debated topic. Critics and “influencers” are quick to tell people what they are supposed to feel when viewing an artist’s work. Overlooked, or perhaps assumed, is the emotional connection between an artist and their subject matter.

Some artists are able to remain emotionally detached from their subject, focusing exclusively on the commercial aspects, always with an eye on the bottom line. For other artists, an emotional connection with the subject is critical and something to be nourished: the stronger the connection, the more emotive the finished work.

For Fred — Inspired by her grandfather’s Fox side-by-side, her husband Brandon’s whistle and her own Orvis leather shooting gloves. “A piece of each of us lies alongside the paper shells which embody the nostalgia of an era.” (Photo/Kate Hall)

But if an emotional connection to a subject is all it takes to be a great artist, the world would be full of Van Goghs. Talent — the mastery of one’s chosen medium — is still the foundation of artistic success.

There is, however, a place where talent and emotion intersect: a sparsely populated locale where great artists congregate. It’s here you’ll find artist Kate Hall, effortlessly plucking her passion for the outdoors from thin air with simple strokes of her colored pencils.

Hall maintains her connection to her subjects through proximity — putting herself in direct contact with her subjects as much as possible. This often means travel, lots of travel. With a pencil in her hand and her husband Brandon behind the wheel, Hall has logged 54 trips in the past three years alone, sleeping in a truck camper, immersing herself in the richness of the country’s outdoors. Whether upland hunting, climbing mountains, fly fishing or just observing wildlife, Hall finds herself at home in the outdoors, a world filled with like-minded and fascinating individuals.

Hall has always embraced travel — a passion that can be traced back to her days as a flight attendant where she worked shortly after graduating from college in 2008. Being a flight attendant may seem like a long way from being an artist, but the common thread is a desire to be close to new people, places and experiences, each a potential subject of a future work waiting to be captured for eternity on matboard.

Beckoning Bugle — Hall’s first colored pencil rendering — completed in 2012. (Photo/Kate Hall)

“Traveling has a way of putting its roots in your heart,” says Hall.

The 2020 pandemic, and the subsequent dramatic drop in air travel, grounded Hall’s flight attendant career but opened the door to pursuing a full-time career as an artist — a door that Hall walked through confidently without ever looking back.

Being close — emotionally and geographically — to her subjects enhances the photorealism she infuses into her drawings. But choices she makes during the drawing process — sharper lines to emphasize the subject’s eyes, additional blending to de-emphasize the background — result in renderings that look even more real than photos themselves.

It’s no coincidence that someone whose art is so closely connected to her subject matter would choose a medium that allows her the flexibility to effortlessly move between subject and drawing. Because they require no drying time, providing portability and allowing her to take her work on the road and closer to her subject matter, colored pencils are Hall’s ideal medium, fueling and facilitating her unapologetic pursuit of detail.

Colored pencils have other advantages besides control and portability. They are relatively inexpensive, versatile and feature an extensive palette.

“I aspire to photorealism, yet am personally unable to create fine details with a brush. My confidence is found in sharp colored pencils, which allow me to capture subjects with precision,” says Hall.

The tools Hall uses are high-quality, soft, wax-based pencils which can be blended when the drawing is nearly complete to create a “painterly” effect. They also come in harder versions more akin to charcoal pencils as well as oil-based and watercolor options. She only uses pencils with a high degree of lightfastness, i.e., less likely to fade over time when exposed to sunlight.

The Barnyard — This piece hangs over the fireplace at the home of Hall’s grandmother where the family still gathers regularly for meals. (Photo/Kate Hall)

Colored-pencil artists are relatively few in number, which is another reason Hall prefers the medium. “It’s easier to set yourself apart,” says Hall. Her unique photorealistic spin on the medium further sets her apart, making her work easily recognizable.

Fellow artist Leah Brigham “accurately described my artistic approach as ‘tight handed’. And it is difficult for me to loosen my meticulous style becauseI find detail work rewarding,” says Hall.

Although manufacturers first began producing artist-grade colored pencils over 100 years ago, the art world has only recently begun to regard them as equal to other media. The continued evolution in the development of the pencils themselves — specifically lightfast pencils — has helped tremendously as has the formation of organizations like the Colored Pencil Society of America (CPSA) that are committed to establishing and upholding standards for the medium, as well as providing support for its artists.

Hall may come by her talent naturally, but it has been carefully nurtured since middle school where art teacher Jackie Norman first inspired her to pursue her passion for art. That passion continued through high school where she pursued honors-level art classes and upon completion, received an art scholarship from Carson Newman College in east Tennessee. For practical reasons Hall switched her major and graduated with a marketing degree, while continuing to pursue her passion for art on the side.

Hall met her husband in 2011 while both volunteering at a local fundraiser for the Sportsman and Businessman Charitable Organization they support. At the time she had no idea that the African Safari she bid on would turn into a Tanzanian honeymoon a year later. “I was also unaware that my future mother-in-law was an art teacher and thather lessons in colored pencil would embark me on a career journey which parallels life with her son — full of nature and wildlife,” says Hall.

Despite her extensive travel during her career as a flight attendant, Hall is quick to point out that the best part of every trip was coming home. That connection to home and family is another frequent theme found in Hall’s rederings. Her rendering “The Barnyard” was inspired by the cattle farm where she grew up and then worked on weekends, even while still employed full time as a flight attendant. Theemotional bonds connecting family and place are captured perfectly in the details of the piece which still hangs over the fireplace of her grandmother’s house.

The Release — Hall’s first attempt at depicting water. (Photo/Kate Hall)
Hooked on the Elk River in Tennessee, this brown trout inspired “The Release.” (Photo/Brandon Hall)

“Her home is our family hub. It's the place where we park our dirty trucks, kick off our Muck boots, and gather during the work week for home-cooked meals,” says Hall.

Hall is also an avid upland bird hunter and not surprisingly, many of her works feature upland birds or bird dogs, especially her own English setter Ollie — cover dog for this issue of The Upland Almanac.

“Upland hunting has enriched my life and influences much of my work,” says Hall, adding that “as I reflect on the memories of the past few years, I realize how much Ollie adds to everyday life and to my art.”

Hall’s piece “Ollie in the Osage” is stunning in its detail and ability to simultaneously capture the warmth and intensity in the dog’s eyes. “I always start a portrait with the eyes because they are the gateway to the soul,” she says.

Hobbies, like her love of upland bird hunting, are a big influence on Hall’s art because they reflect her passions. The inspiration for another of her works, “The Release,” comes from another hobby she is passionate about: fly fishing. Hall caught the brown trout featured in the drawing herself while float fishing the Elk River in Tennessee.

The illustration is special to her “because it’s a brown trout I caught on a fly my husband tied,” she says, adding that it was the first time she’d drawn water, “stepping outside of my comfort zone,” which she likes to do. The exquisite detail and contrast between the water and the fish, however, make it seem she is, indeed, quite comfortable and in the zone.

Once Hall committed to a full-time career as an artist, she started accepting commissioned work and selling prints of her originals. One of her first “big breaks” was when the Orvis Shooting Grounds at Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, Alabama, began selling her art in its store. Since then, Hall’s success has continued to attract plenty of attention. She won the 2021 SIM Fly Fishing International Art Competition, was the featured artist in the Ruffed Grouse Society magazine Covers, had her work featured in Pheasants Forever magazines and her rendering “Forever Quail” was named Print of the Year by Quail Forever and is used in their fundraisers. In February 2023, her work caught the attention of the National Bird Dog Museum in Tennessee, where she was named the Featured Artist at their annual fundraiser and induction ceremony. In addition to the honor itself, it provided Hall with numerous networking opportunities which led to even more commissioned work. And in the world of The Upland Almanac, her “Fencepost Quail” appeared on the cover of the Summer 2023 issue. Couple that with Ollie on this cover and you get an artist who has graced the cover twice in three issues, unique in the magazine’s 25-year history.

The Horse — Commissioned by a man who presented it to his bride on their wedding day. (Photo/Kate Hall)

The downside of this success is that she finds herself with less time for drawing based on personal experience.

Though grateful to have a backlog of commissioned work several months long, Hall says if she had the time and freedom, “I’d depict a wood duck or a white-tailed buck or a mountain stream — all of the things that bring me joy."

Commissioned work or not, Hall strives to make that emotional connection to the subject matter.

Vizsla — Bird dogs are frequent subjects of Hall’s illustrations. (Photo/Kate Hall)

“My goal is to create art that will be treasured by those who receive it,” says Hall.

For example, she recently completed a wedding day gift a groom had commissioned for his bride on their wedding day: a drawing of her horse.

“I’m continually touched by the stories behind these custom pieces, and I’m humbled to portray subjects personal to the individuals who trust me with these opportunities,” says Hall.

Hall is especially moved by requests from those who have lost pets. Her bond with her own dog has helped her understand the deep connection people form with their companions. “My heart breaks for those who have experienced the loss of something so precious. Having a dog has taught me what loving one feels like, and now, when I’m hired to memorialize one’s spirit, it’s deeply personal.”

As the accolades continue to accumulate, Hall’s still relatively young career continues to blossom, increasing demand for her work.

To see more online: katehallart.webnode.page.

Jeff Nedwick

About author
Jeff Nedwick regularly contributes to several national and regional outdoor recreation publications. He considers himself fortunate to live in Lapeer, Michigan, where outdoor recreational opportunities abound. Weekends typically find him in the field with his bird dogs, in the woods or on the water.