Kate McLeod has never had a real job.
Well, she’s never had an office job. A 9 to 5 job, where somebody was expecting her to show up at the same time every day. And while many people would consider her work as a gardener and landscaper very much a real job, Kate doesn’t. That job’s not… jobby enough to qualify as a real job. It’s too much fun.
And ultimately, that’s the goal. Have fun. Love life. Make something that brings joy to others. Don’t ever feel like you have a real job.
“I guess you just do what you’re good at, right?” Kate says, pondering aloud about the many wonderfully unique paths her life has taken, never once leading her into the classic daily grind.
What Kate is good at is art. Painting, sculpting, jewelry making, landscaping (something she describes as “a living artform.”) She works full time during the warmer months “transforming disheveled, broken down, unloved areas into beautiful ones” due to her “obsessive gardening problem” turned business. But lately she’s been trying to push back that obsession and focus on what brings her the greatest joy: her birds.
There’s no way to describe the birds that makes them easy to understand. They’re not exactly sculpture. They’re not exactly castings. They’re not exactly paintings. You have to see them to understand — which is perfect, because this is a photo blog.
A bit about the process, though: first, Kate hand molds her designs in clay. Then she casts those little sculptures into a polymer mold (much like Christian Carlson does with fish!) so she can pour hard plaster into it and create multiples. Then she waits days, sometimes weeks, for the plaster to fully dry before she pries the birds out to paint them (her favorite part.) After layering and rubbing off the paint in her distinct style and color palette, she adds bits of wire here and there and spices them up with rhinestones (because “they just needed rhinestones.”)
The birds really don’t fit nicely into any one category of art. That’s because they’re distinctly Kate: they’re a combination of many skills she’s acquired over years as an artist. Straight from her brain to our hands.
“They came from wanting to paint three-dimensionally,” she explains while popping her paintbrush into vibrant oranges and purples, reds and yellows at her home studio in Belfast. Kate has always had the urge to bring her paintings out of their canvases and into people’s hands, and now she does it every day.
Another thing that makes the birds so distinctly Kate are the places she draws her inspiration from. Surrounded by her massive home garden, full of bright flowers and textured plants, she pulls inspiration from Maine every single day. But she also pulls in months — years — spent in Mexico and Guatemala, deriving many of her vibrant color choices from the art of Central America. The “gorgeous” birds and flowers of the countries there speak deeply to her heart and soul and are readily apparent in her birds if you know to look for it.
And even as Central America whispers sweet nothings in Kate’s ear, the birds, in turn, speak to her customers. Sometimes fairly literally, Kate tells me, as dozens of people young and old will tell her when she’s out at shows that her birds have personalities and wit, and when they’re grouped together it’s almost as if they’re having their own little conversations.
She says she loves to see how her work can inspirethat kind of playful vibrancy in the people around her. It’s one of her greatest joys, besides making the birds, that their existence makes so many people happy. She feels that every bird that goes home with someone establishes a personal connection between her and other people.
Kate loves doing that with art — she says the experience is very similar to gardening, where you take a barren landscape and you transform it into something that makes people happy. A place that gives people joy. When someone brings a bird home, sees it on their wall and feels joy, Kate’s work is done.
What better job is there?
Bright Bird Studio
76 Patterson Hill Road, Belfast, ME