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Kathleen Peterson

Travel, Religion and Heritage Shape Artist’s Unique Style

Deanna Devey | Photos by Kamilla Earlywine May 1, 2019

As the saying goes, it’s not what you know, but who you know. Spring City artist Kathleen Peterson says her career is an example of this. Her first big break came thanks to her mom.

“She knew I wanted to be an illustrator, and that I had no idea how to get started,” Peterson says. “It’s really hard to get your foot in the door, but my mom is a dynamo. She said, ‘I’m going to write a book you can illustrate.’”

That’s exactly what Peterson’s mom did. She wrote a book about family traditions called “Roots and Wings,” and Peterson illustrated it.

“She took it to Deseret Book, and they published it,” Peterson says.

Since then, Peterson has illustrated numerous books, including the “Girls Who Choose God” series about women from the Bible and Book of Mormon, and “World of Faith,” reprinted for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics.

Right Place and Time

Peterson’s opportunities came because of people she knew including Pat Bagley, cartoonist with the Salt Lake Tribune, because he was dating a family member. In another instance, she collaborated with a cousin on a project.

“I just happened to be in the right places at the right times,” Peterson says. “I was really lucky.”

Even with her success illustrating books, Peterson sees herself as more of a painter than an illustrator. She focuses on fine art, including oil painting and watercolor. Each piece has her signature style, cultivated over many years and influenced by time living in Hawaii, the Virgin Islands and Malaysia.

“My work is very stylized,” Peterson says. “I would call my art, narrative art. I think that title fits really well because my illustrations and paintings both tell stories.”

Always an Artist

Originally from Provo, Peterson started drawing as a child and giving her sketches to fellow classmates.

“No one ever told me I wasn’t an artist so I began thinking I was an artist,” Peterson says. “It was always what I wanted to do since I was a little girl.”

At BYU, she studied graphic design, which at that time focused on advertising layout. Advertising wasn’t her career goal, so she continued studying different types of art after graduation. She experimented with watercolors, oil paints, pastels, ink and acrylic. She even learned batik, which is painting with wax and dye on fabric.

Since those early days, Peterson has completed thousands of paintings with her distinctive style.

“I think an artist’s hand or mind is kind of like a filter,” Peterson says. “If you paint or draw enough, your style just comes out.”

Peterson recently completed illustrating the third book in the “Girls Who Choose God” series. She is also working on several large format paintings and wants to put together a mural.  

“I’m learning and growing all the time so I hope I have not done my best painting yet,” Peterson says. “I hope it’s still to come.”

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