Guided by water and color

Kauai artist Kathy Kovala creates abstract worlds of beauty and insight by, as she describes it, allowing her watercolors to do the painting.

“I love it,” said Kovala, who has been painting since she was a child. “We are not in control — the paint is because it has the ability to form itself and do things that are magical.”

Growing up in Michigan, Kovala’s desire burned brighter when someone offered to buy one of her pieces she painted as a high school student. 

That spark of inspiration went on to fuel her 52-year-career as an artist.

As a watercolor painter, Kovala’s works are both abstract and direct. They allow people to interpret what they wish to see, while creating plenty of settings in the frame. Kovala also creates works in Michigan and Montana as she travels, but she has a deep love for her island home and has created many paintings of The Garden Isle.

“For one thing, when I paint on Kauai, I feel I’m giving a gift,” Kovala said. “I feel like the Hawaiian people respect that I have a gift to give and I give it. I also found that I have a new technique when painting.”

Kovala’s artistic style has often been described as unique due to how she paints with watercolors. As she spreads water across the paper, the artist will dip her brush into the paint and drip the paint onto the paper, thus allowing the color to expand. She will also moves the paper so that the paint will spread across the canvas more. 

“I call it ‘Rock and Roll’,” said Kovala described it. “The colors come out so rich but still so transparent and clean —most people don’t even think they’re water color paintings because of the richness in color.” 

Having taught painting for 30 years, Kovala has trained students to create a Norwegian form of painting known as rosemaling in Wisconsin. Through this style, artists paint flower motifs atop wooden furniture, for which Kovala has won multiple awards, including first place for the Wisconsin State Rosemaling Exhibit from 1984-1986.

The artist also teaches many other techniques, such as throwing paint for landscape painting, abstractions, pen and ink and still life paintings. 

“In order to get something right you need to learn the techniques of water color,” said Kovala. “You use certain techniques for a look. If you want it, you can do it.” 

“Kauai inspires me,” Kovala added. “For some reason, I’m meant to be here. I treasure that the people have found their Shangri-La. I love Kauai. It keeps me coming back.”


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