Kari Gale showcases huge creativity from her Tiny House workspace

Today we’re talking to illustrator and writer Kari Gale, who takes minimalism to the extreme in her Tiny House workspace. In fact, apart from her travel journals, most of her primary watercolor supplies would fit in your pocket!

With just a tiny Altoids tin of watercolor crayons and a waterbrush, Kari paints storied illustrations of her travels around the world. These illustrations are collected into two books, which you can learn more about on her website.

If you want to learn more about her techniques (and nab one of her unique travel sets), sign up for her upcoming Travel Journal Workshop on July 17 here. Also be sure to check out more of her work on her Instagram, and listen to her podcast Pilgrim Lost wherever you get your podcasts.

Now onward to the interview!

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Tell us about yourself. What do you make? What do you consider your best or favorite work?

Kari Gale Greenriver watercolor painting
Photo credit: Kari Gale

I am an illustrator and writer that loves telling stories with pictures and capturing the beauty of ordinary moments in my journal using pen and ink and a teeny tiny watercolour kit.

I specialize in food and travel illustration but draw everything from my favorite boots to the incredible vistas I am blessed to see while hiking in the Pacific Northwest.

I predominantly work in my journal and prefer to draw live if I can although I also do larger commission work as well.

Kari Gale tuskrev moroccan breakfast
Photo credit: Kari Gale

When I first started doing journal work in 2013, it was a complete shift for me as an artist. I liked the concept of capturing what was in front of me — what I was literally seeing and experiencing.

Art became a way to document my life and to be more present rather than trying to create something impressive or profound.

Due to this shift in my thinking, I don’t have a favorite work. I like creating bodies of work over a period of time and have self published two books.

Kari Gale books
Photo credit: Kari Gale

In 2015 I published my first book of drawings called The Art of Walking: An Illustrated Journey on the Camino de Santiago in which I documented each day of my 500 mile journey in Spain resulting in over forty watercolor illustrations.

In September of that same year, I left the corporate world after 10 years to delve into the two things I love the most: drawing and traveling! I spent 15 months living, walking, painting and writing in Portugal, Spain, France, and the UK. In 2016 I exhibited my journal work in Santiago de Compostela and Finisterre in Northwest Spain.

In September of 2017, I published my second book of illustrations and accompanying stories called Portraits of Iona: An Artist’s Perspective in Paint and Prose. This book was birthed from my participation in a two-month art residency on Iona, a tiny island in the Inner Hebrides off the coast of Scotland.

You can find both my books in my online shop here.

In September of 2019, I jumped into a new creative project when I launched a podcast called Pilgrim Lost with my friend and author Tony Kriz.

This is a podcast not specifically about walking the Camino de Santiago, but about the belief that the transformative aspects of pilgrimage can be intertwined within the most normal patterns of daily life. It’s been a wonderful new adventure and we will just be wrapping up season two at the end of July.

Tell us about your workspace

Kari Gale Tiny House outside
Photo credit: Rasa Pescud (Living Big in a Tiny House)

I live in NE Portland in a tiny house that I finished in 2018. This month will be my three year anniversary of moving in!

My father (who was an architect) and I designed it together (him 90% / me 10%), and then I hired a contractor and spent a year building it with him. I started construction of the house in June of 2017 and it took almost exactly one year to complete it.

My completed home was featured in November of 2019 on a YouTube channel called Living Big in a Tiny House and you can check out the video here.

Kari Gale Tiny House creative workshop
Photo credit: Rasa Pescud (Living Big in a Tiny House)

My workspace is a small desk in my tiny house. This is where I do all my art when I am working from home. As I am a journal artist I try to do as much art out in the world and away from my studio when I get the chance.

I actually have to fold the desk up to use my shower (the wardrobe slides out of the shower space when in use and occupies the space in front of the cabinet that houses the desk) so I have to keep things tidy and put everything away after I’m done.

This would probably drive some people crazy but it keeps things clean and I’ve gotten used to it.

Has your art ever felt limited by the lack of space in your Tiny House? What would you change (if anything)?

Kari Gale Tiny House interior
Photo credit: Rasa Pescud (Living Big in a Tiny House)

I really haven’t felt limited and I don’t think I would change anything regarding my art space.

Because I am a minimalist, I like to have everything streamlined. Even when I lived in larger spaces in my 20’s and 30’s, and had my studio space in a separate room in my home, I never really had one of those studios filled with canvases and art supplies.

Keeping things really simple suits me. Except for commissions, most of my art is in my journals so I don’t have to worry about storing a lot of large paintings.

(The only thing I miss in my tiny house is having a tub to soak in. I think this would definitely contribute to me making better art as I would be more relaxed, but having a tub in a Tiny House is pretty impossible, especially since I am 6’3”! )

What is your favorite material or tool to work with?

I use a wonderful artist’s journal made by a company called HandBook Journal Co. They are sold in a variety of sizes and colors and have a fabulous heavy-weight paper that works well with pen and ink and watercolor washes. You can buy them online here. I use the large landscape format for my sketching adventures!

I use a Ultra Round Stic Grip bic ballpoint and a few different Sakura Pigma Micron pens for the ink work in my drawings. These fine tipped pens work great with watercolor and don’t bleed. The kind I like can be found here. I use the 05 and 08 size.

Kari Gale altoids watercolor travel set
Photo credit: Kari Gale

My art kit is handmade and I made my very first one when I was planning to walk the Camino. (My aunt shared this idea which she had heard about in a workshop) Here’s how you can make it:

Buy a handful of your favorite colors of caran-d’ache-neocolor-ii-artists water soluble crayons (find them online here). I like being able to choose my own colors and at specialty art stores you can buy individual colors.

Using a tiny Altoid tin to measure depth, I cut off the flat end of the crayon and place it in the tin on its end making sure the lid will close. (I put a sponge in mine to fill the extra space.) Some of the colors I use more often I put in twice. The lid works great for mixing colors.

For my brush, I use a watercolor brush that stores water in the handle. I prefer the Niji Waterbrush in medium and small sizes. You can find a set of all sizes online here. When you squeeze the water from the brush onto your chosen color, the crayons will function just like watercolour paint. 

I use this kit for everything I paint (except larger commissions) even when I’m not traveling. It also makes clean-up incredibly easy which works well for my folding desk scenario!

Read also: Best watercolor sets: Beginner, professional, and travel sets

How long have you been doing artwork? Who taught you or where did you learn? 

I started drawing when I was very young and have always been painting or drawing sporadically since then, but it wasn’t until I turned 40 and went through a divorce that I decided that I really wanted art to be a priority in my life.

Up until then I was self taught except for one class in high school, and a really cool week long art camp in junior high.

In the fall after my divorce I took an 8 week Continuing Education class at PNCA (Portland Northwest College of Art) and what I learned in this class was the foundation for all the art I do now.

It was a wonderful class on perspective and our teacher, Kurt Holloman, was a huge advocate of journals and bic pens and passed his excitement onto me.

One class can make a huge difference!

Read also: Best watercolor classes online for beginners and up

What is the most challenging aspect of your craft?

Not sinking into the pit of comparing my art to others. Social media can be a wonderful way to share your art but it mostly causes me to doubt my own work so I try to limit my time on it and just focus on doing what I love.

I also think walking the line between trying to make art for yourself and as a career or way to make money is really hard. I make money from my art, but not enough to live on and I’m not sure I’d want to put that kind of pressure on my creativity.

This is something I’ve always struggled with.

Any advice for beginners?

Expounding on the last response — don’t let comparison stop you from creating!

Let your art be an expression for YOU! If other people like it, fantastic, but that should not be the reason you create.

Who/what inspires you? Any shoutouts to fellow makers?

Kari Gale waterfall japanese Hokusai
Journal drawing with Hokusai influence. Photo credit: Kari Gale

I am incredibly inspired by Japanese art and the woodblock prints by Japanese artist Hokusai from the 18th and 19th century. I try to emulate some of his style in my own work.

When I first started journal art, I was very inspired by the work and books by Danny Gregory and I eventually got to meet him and have coffee with him in NYC!

My favorite artist I follow on Instagram right now is Miguel Herranz. I love seeing his incredible pen/ink journal work and how he switches from intricate to loose styles so easily.

Anything else you’d like to share?

I just want to say that you are never too old to return to the passion that you loved as a child.

I feel like my art life really began when I turned 40 and I’m SO glad that I gave my creative life a second chance. I am a much happier person when I exercise my creative muscles. 

I also want to share that I am hosting online Travel Journal workshops called ‘Capturing the Beauty of the Ordinary.’ In these two-hour online workshops, I share the tips and tricks I have gathered traveling the world with my journal, pens, and paint as well provide attendees with my favorite travel art kit.

My next workshop will be July 17th so If you are interested in learning more you can check out the deets here.

Check out more of Kari’s work on her Instagram or website, and learn more about her podcast Pilgrim Lost here.

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