Meet Katy Van Awesome

In July 2018, Magazine by Genevieve Joëlle VillamizarLeave a Comment

Mount Sopris And The Galaxy, watercolor. “Mount Sopris is the lovely mountain that sits sentinel over Carbondale, Colorado. Rumored to be the mountain that John Denver wrote Rocky Mountain High about, this massive deserves to be painted over and over again.” –Katy Vanostrand

I burst through the front door, loaded in bluster, propelled by too many To Dos. A ginormous reproduction of Sopris propped in the living room stopped me in my tracks. Mount Sopris does that to most tourists, sure, but I’ve lived here for 13 years– what was it about this particular piece of art that gave me pause?

Rising 6,400 feet in only 2.7 miles, Mount Sopris is a singular Rocky Mountain conformation. With wanton flanks sprawling north and east, her valleys and runnels cascading west, Sopris culminates in the wet cleft of the Crystal River Valley. Billowing folds of spruce, fir and aspen lift their hem to fragrant underskirts of juniper and sage.  At 12,965 feet, her stony breasts reflect moods, weather, sunlight and seasons.  Elk, bear, mountain lion and grouse…she is the epitome of Colorado– a vast wild one. We’ve seen a gazillion iterations in photograph, pastel, water color, oil, ink.

This rendering though, was unlike any other I’d seen.

For starters, she was brown. A brown Sopris?

There was nothing serious or pretentious in this rendering, beyond being a fresh take on the mountain. Its pen, ink and water color, revealed a blind-contour feel of the mountain, connecting me directly to the artist and the visible path of her observations.

And this Sopris? Has the Milky fricken Way.

The artist placed ‘our’ little mountain, not just in the context of the valley, but the Universe. There is something so powerful and enlivening in that, that it ruptures (raptures?!) the confines of our precious Bonedale bubble, connecting the viewer (okay, me) to the Infinite.

I had to meet the artist.

No one else was home. I eyeballed the packing invoice taped to the frame and made my way to Argus Art Studio on “Katy VanAwesome” it said. Hmph, that fit. Her avatar was tiny. I saw a lot of dark brown wavy hair and a brown dog. Brown Girl and I, we messaged back and forth and scheduled a meet and greet. I made up an excuse of signing the print for my housemate, who had purchased the piece on Facebook, of all things.
My jaw dropped and I squealed, walking into Bonfire and discovering our favorite former nurse at Roaring Fork Family Practice–Katy VanNostrand. (Hadn’t she moved to Alaska?! ) I was most amazed to discover that a brain that could retain all that science…that same brain that could work hour after (exhaustive) hour, tending the human body– THIS was the force behind that bad ass water color?!

Photo, Erin Dannaker, Eye Drop Design

Weren’t artists supposed to be tortured, or fringey, somehow?

Nah! Try sunshine, birdsong. Chuckles, giggles, laughter. Pepper that with a million freckles, a la Milky Way, dress it all up in medical scrubs– that is VanNostrand. She is unabashedly cheerful, knows herself well, and seems to get an immense kick out of the
ordinariness of life.
[Warning: there will be many italicized and and emboldened comments in this article. This is a woman of enthusiastic extremes and energetic hyperbole; her observations, admissions and interruptions stumble of one another, vying for the hole shot — Ed.]
KVN: I am a very extroverted introvert, in that I have a very vibrant and rich internal life. I have this external nursing life and then I also have this artist’s life. My parents are artists. I really wanted to get a degree in art when I initially went to college. My parents were like, “No. Get a degree in something else, because you can always be an artist!” So I got my first degree in religious studies, which I loved, so fascinating, but I’ve always really loved art.
So, for me, work is like a ‘service.’ Religious studies– I lived and grew up in a very religious household–I went and studied the whole gamut.
B|AM: What does that look like, a ‘very’ religious household?
KVN: I grew up in Colorado Springs–
B|AM: Ohhhhh! [Enough said!]
KVN: My parents are born-again Christians. Shirley Dobson of Focus On The Family used to come over to the house. So. Very religious household!
I got a degree in religious studies but didn’t focus on Christianity. I wrote my thesis on the Sioux Sun Dance. So I– kind of like the iterations of the wanderings of my career– I worked on a psychiatric unit for a long time, and ironically wrote my thesis on people who hurt themselves for God. Why, or how, do you reach such a state that you feel the need to hurt your body to be closer to God?
B|AM: Holy shit–
KVN: SO fascinating! So interesting! So then after college, I worked on a psych unit for a long time. We moved here and I thought, “What the heck am I gonna do?” There’s no psychiatric unit, let alone anything around here– my joke to John was I was going to work at Radio Shack, which no longer exists! I started working at Mountain Family; ended up at Roaring Fork [where we met, at the receiving end of my infant’s first tear-inducing shots. She was Nurse Katie, the smiling, jubilant cutie pie with that galaxy of freckles].
The service part was at the psych unit, where I felt like I could serve humanity in a population that was an under-served population, that could be hard to serve. It’s a difficult population for some people to be surrounded by, day after day after day.
B|AM: I think that’s hard for most people. My sister is schizophrenic. If I can’t be direct, and be myself, but have to protect her so I don’t trigger her, I have to evacuate–
KVN: Yeah. It’s not a job for most people, but I loved it. I did it for three and half years. I would have stayed, and when I had to leave, I cried, because it was just the best job. I loved it so much. It was one of those things. I really like serving people…on their worst day. I like being able to help and be of service on those days.
I don’t know how that ties into religious studies, because I don’t practice any one tradition. But I do feel like, as being human, and having that need to serve the community, I choose that my service is to be there for people on their worst day.
[She truly does speak in this many italics– Ed.]

On Life Lessons

KVN: Do you know The Sun Magazine? My brother was in The Sun Magazine. He wrote one of the Readers Writes, about “In The Middle Of The Night.”

My dad’s a historic wood refinisher. Growing up, we had to work for him. If you didn’t work for him, that was fine, but you had to find another job. You had to work at some point! This started in like middle school, all through high school/after college. If you were home, you would work. He would pay you, but you had to work for him.

So one summer in high school, my dad was refinishing the Brown Palace, and so we worked all night– every night. It was brother, my dad and me. In the middle of the night, refinishing The Brown Palace. There are all these mahogany panels that were harvested in the 1800s. They can’t, obviously, be harvested anymore. And so my dad’s job was to refinish all  of them. So we’re on scaffolding as surly teenagers in the middle of the night while all of our friends are out, having this wonderful time, and we’re sanding paneling at three o’clock in the morning.

And so may brother had to work for my dad forever. He wrote “In The Middle Of The Night” about my dad, who can no longer lift his arms above his head, to serve us. To build us to become better people–he has toiled in the middle of the night, forever.

So to tie this all together, I feel like nusing, in the middle of the night, is a service. I only do the night shift!

B|AM: Wow! How does that affect your bio-rhythms?

KVN: It’s horrible! [She’s chuckling.] I live in a perpetual state of exhaustion! It’s terrible!

I’m a really good sleeper. So if I have to sleep, I can sleep, and I feel rested. And, my husband is gone [as a mountaineering guide]. It’s not ideal for the long term, but for now, it’s ideal.

On the creative life–

KVN: I’m obsessed with it. When I get off of work, all I wanna do is listen to my book on tape and paint. I feel very lucky that my husband understands obsession. He has his own passion, so he’s always like, “No– this is what you need to do– just do it!” It’s really nice; I’m very grateful for it. I have known him for almost twenty years (he was my boyfriend when I was nineteen!) I know him to the depths, the core of his being and what makes him happy. Why would you ever squelch someone else’s happiness? He has that from me, and he knows to give me that, too. He’s a really nice person.
It’s our ten year wedding anniversary this year, and he is going to be climbing in the Dolomites. And he was like, “You should come to Italy!” And I was like, “No, I think I’m gonna do Mountain Fair!” So I’m literally passing up our ten year anniversary to go to Mountain Fair! That is something that sounds more fun to me! We’re very independent with one another.

Inspiration, Motivation

So…I am a maker.
I like to make things, I like to create things. I like to cook, I like to paint, I like to sew. Anything. I like to weave, I like to knit. I’m a very ‘active with my hands’ kind of person.”
B|AM: I would imagine your home space is pretty personalized.
KVN: Yeah! I’m super particular about what is in the house, but at the same time, incredibly frugal. In fact, 99% of all of our furniture has been found on the street [gleeful chuckle; she’s clearly getting away with something here]. I like interesting things. But my grandparents were that way, my parents were that way. It’s all just an eye for things that are unique and different.
So yeah, I always liked to paint. My husband guides part of the year. So for a long time he would be gone for four or five months at a time. He went to Argentina for three months to guide on Aconcagua two and half years ago. I needed to come up with something–it’s winterrrrr!– to keep my brain occupied. So I started an Etsy shop.
Katy started with lino-cuts, a form of print-making using sheets of linoleum, which she transitioned into lino-cuts with water color, and moved then into straight water colors. She primarily markets cards, which sell very well.
I love it. I work the night shift, so I have four days a week that I am free to paint or read or hike or run or do whatever. And then I have three nights a week that I have to care for patients.
Gardening for me, is my obsession. John laughs. For me, it’s like, the first thing I do when I wake is walk out in my bathrobe in the front yard– I wanna look at the plants: what’s changed. What’s new? I’m obsessed. Totally obsessed.

Mountain Fair

I’ll be in the local’s booth. The thought of having my own booth and having to be ‘on’ for three days? [She moans in hysteria.] I would lose my mind. I wouldn’t be able to do it. It would be too stressful; the introvert in me would shrivel up. I’d have to take a week off from work, honestly! I’d have to recover! [Which is shocking to hear, as VanNostrand is absolutely gregarious, quick, charming and funny with our entire household throughout our interview.]
I’m going to have originals, prints, cards. And then Blowfish Hats! Two of my paintings will be on their hats that they’re going to be selling in their booth, as well. You see Blowfish everywhere– Marble Distillery, Town of Carbondale, the Launchpad. The husband who runs the company grew up in Carbondale but they live in Washington. They feature artists, from all over the country. So I wrote them. I said “Hey, I see that you’re looking for artists. Would you be interested in some of my paintings?” They said “Yeah!”
I’m really into doing big mountain landscapes right now! Yesterday, we totally bushwhacked for six hours up  _______Mountain. There were some cliffs that John wanted to look at, so we wandered for six hours. I was like “Oh my gosh! I could paint this!” And we looked for mushrooms, looked for old mining roads. I like to just be outside and to just– [here shes tumbles, stutters, trying to spit out too many things she loves at once– ] I want to paint the big mountains, I want to paint the local stuff. I’ve done a few things of Indian Creek, I’m obsessed with Indian Creek, I think it’s so cool!
[Mid conversation, Katy growls– ]
Argh! There’s a woman in Denver who takes soil of a place and she turns them into paint and she does paintings with the soil of that place! And she does all these workshops…That’s pretty cool.
B|AM: Speaking of inspiration from the land. You also go way small scale; you have lovely botanical details…

Motivation in doing botanical studies?

KVN: As a kid, I grew up on the prairie. My parents basically just let us roam free as kids. So I listened to books on tape on my walkman, from the library, and walked around on the prairie. I’d collect plants and identify plants. I’m obsessed with Colorado flora. So I’ve been doing paintings of some local flora as I see things blooming, like on Prince Creek, as it’s blooming I’ll do lupine. Or Indian paintbrush.
It was a delicious afternoon, eating salad from the garden, chatting with Katy and reveling in the fortune of living the creative Bonedale life. Be sure to check out Katy’s impressive artwork in the local’s booth at Mountain Fair!
Etsy Link (“Argus Art studio is named after my dog, who is one of the greatest loves of my life (despite being a REALLY bad dog).”)
Instagram: @katyvanawesome
People she is loving on Instagram these days, and whose work she finds inspiring:
@emilieleelee (landscape oils in California)
@heatherday (abstract artist in San Fran)
@apsley_watercolor (photorealistic landscape and botanical watercolors)
@coyotetunder (watercolor maps, flora, fauna, and conservation in California)
@iamkellyjohnson (watercolor artist in Kansas)