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Life and Work with Kim Heise

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kim Heise.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Kim. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I was privileged as a child to grow up in a safe environment where I was surrounded by wildlife most of the time and encouraged to pursue my interests in art. I remember looking out the second-floor window of my family’s house in Broward County and seeing four acres of pine trees and saw palmettos! The habitat around my house was my after-school program, the box turtles were the counselors and the curriculum usually involved catching tadpoles and trying to avoid stepping on pine cones. People started to “develop” the habitats around my house little by little until most of it disappeared, turned to houses and lawns, by the time I started my art degree at FAU. I never saw a fox, box turtle or huge polyphemus moth there again! The loss of that habitat always distressed me and made me tune in when I started to hear echoes of that same thing happening in rare, endangered habitats like the pine Rocklands in Miami. I decided to focus my efforts on making these habitats more visible by turning them into representational artwork. My inspirations are the work of John Audubon who influenced the first conservation efforts of the US without even really trying to. It was just the quality of his work and his abounding love for birds that led to the end of the feathered hat fashion and the creation of the first national park, both of which saved the birds in Florida from being wiped out by poachers in the 1880’s! I’m certain that art still has the power to protect habitats, and that’s what drives me to create my watercolors of Florida native plants and animals.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It’s been mostly smooth but there were rough patches. In 2012, I got hung up with a medical problem that affected my arms and it stuck with me for five years. At the time, I was halfway through my degree at FAU and I had to step back, taking only one class per semester and it took a few extra years for me to graduate. I was in a delicate dance between my art and my body, trying to figure out how much painting I could handle and how to complete projects when I could maybe only work for 30 minutes a day. I picked up watercolor during this time because it was easier on my body. I would make small portraits of native birds species that became larger installations I called Family Portraits. Two years ago, I found a treatment for my medical problem that allows me to paint as much as I want, but I sill use watercolor because I’ve grown to love it!

My biggest challenge currently is juggling my schedule so that I have enough time to paint. I’ve realized that I need to feel good mentally in order to make my best work and so I have to factor time in for self-care as well. I’m currently working part-time as an art teacher and STEAM instructor for elementary and afterschool which gives me several hours a day to devote to my art without having to essentially work overtime and on weekends,

My advice is to work on your project every day, even if it is only for a little while. I’m helped by taking professional development classes when I want to learn a new skill, instead of fumbling around trying to learn it by myself. I’ve taken online watercolor workshops from Heidi Willis, Creative Capital workshops on business in art, and recently I took a workshop about how to use Instagram from Jenny K (Living Pattern). I really like the podcast Creative Peptalk too, it’s geared toward artists of any description and the advice he gives is great!

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I make watercolors of Florida native plants and animals in the style of Audubon, and I love to draw attention to endangered species! I’m known in SE Florida as someone who seems like a teenager with a school project but asks oddly specific questions about the obscure moth species you study. I might also be known for tagging along on your state park botany field trip and asking you what your favorite plant is, and why. I’m most proud of creating the for-charity Pine Rockland Zine last year and it raised over $600 for the Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition! I think what sets me apart is my vision to use art as a tool to connect people to nature. I’d like to be known one day for creating excellent artwork about Florida’s native wildlife and endangered species.

Who have you been inspired by?
Mary Jo Aagerstoun is a Ph.D. art historian and a South Florida climate change activist who has been like a mentor to me for years. I was fortunate to be able to work with her at HighWaterLine Delray in 2015, and New American Patriot: Art in The Public Interest in 2016. Climate change is heavy stuff but it makes me feel a little better knowing that there is a South Florida climate activist as dogged as her around! I am thankful for her support over the years, including the creation of the Erased Drawings series and subsequent invite to talk at the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators in Washington DC last year. She has vast climate art knowledge and a wellspring of good ideas for artists who want to dip their toes in activism. She moderates a Facebook group where you can get in touch with her, called Artists for Climate Action.

I also work with groups of women (for the most part) both at the Milagro Center in Delray and with the Viridis Art Collective, and the contact over the years has made my art and career grow by leaps and bounds! Thank you all for your kindness and enthusiasm for your work and mine, you inspire me to create my best work!

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