Artist Profile: Kathrin Smirke, Owner of Bands of Color - Mendocino Coast, CA
Hey, Kathrin! You’re an inspiration and we absolutely love your work. Observing your stained glass shine light in our studio has become a bit of a morning ritual; A constant symbolic reminder to stay in the light and seek strength from the sun.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Germany and lived there until I was 20 years old. My parents and older brother still live there. Even though I had an amazing childhood and loved growing up in Germany, I’ve always felt like a fish out of water. I knew from an early age that I didn’t want to establish my life there because it didn’t feel authentic with who I am. I told my parents I wanted to move to Los Angeles when I was 10 years old even though I had never been there. I did eventually move there after high school to attend a performing arts school. Sometimes people stay on a path that doesn’t feel right to them because they are uncomfortable of the unknown… it was definitely uncomfortable in the beginning, but I knew in my heart that I made the right decision.
After finishing my art degree, I pursued an acting career for a short period before I decided to study film production. I ended up starting a small production company that I operated for a couple of years. I however realized pretty quickly that the film industry wasn’t for me. So I ended up trying something completely different - an online clothing store and then my own line of clothing that I had made in Los Angeles. I ran that for about 3 years.
Around that same time my husband and I purchased a geodesic dome in the California desert of Joshua Tree. We spent most of our weekends rehabbing the home. My husband was already redeveloping homes in Los Angeles so it wasn’t unusual for us to rehab houses, but this project felt more personal as this was supposed to be our desert getaway from our busy city lives. I think during the rehab of our dome, I realized that I really had fun working with my husband and I wanted to focus on that exclusively. We ended up renting our dome as a vacation rental on days we were in L.A. and it ended up being such a successful rental that we weren’t able to stay there ourselves so we bought two additional properties in Joshua Tree that we rehabbed and rent on Airbnb.
How did you come up with the name Bands of Color?
Stained glass always reminded me of a prism with its bands of color, cast across a surface. Bands of Color seemed like a unique, yet fitting way to describe stained glass art.
How did you get started working with stained glass?
My husband and I own a design/build firm called ‘We Are In Our Element’ where we mainly focus on property design and development. I usually create most of the artwork in our homes and stained glass was always an artistic medium that I loved to incorporate into our interiors. After buying a number of pieces of stained glass from outside artists, I decided to study the craft myself. My original goal was to create pieces that were unique to our design spaces. I guess it started off as a way to create artwork for personal use and evolved into a genuine love and passion for creating stained glass.
What’s your earliest memory of stained glass?
I remember going to an art fair when I was a little girl and they had a little stained glass making station. I spent my whole day there trying to make a stained glass rose…which didn’t turn out very well if I remember correctly.
Tell us about your studio and design process. How do you come up with your designs, spaces and colors?
I am in the process of a home renovation so I am currently working out of a temporary studio which is also my laundry room, pantry, and tool storage room. I’m planning on converting a small shed on my property into a formal glass studio, but this is probably a year away.
My designs usually come to me in dreams, meditation, nature walks, paintings, poetry, photography… I try to seek inspiration everywhere. Most recently, I have been using computer graphic design tools to experiment with new shapes, symmetry, and colors.
Your work is so distinct. What inspires you to combine minimal shapes like circles, triangles and squares? Was it intentional or a happy accident?
From an interior design standpoint, I’m really interested in a neutral color palette. My current stained glass pieces are a reflection of neutral colors and minimalist design. I also love math and geometry so the bridge between geometric shapes and neutral colors was a natural fit.
How has being with a partner who is creative inspired you as an artist and designer? Do you work well together?
My husband is one of the most creative people I know. He is an incredible designer, musician, photographer, builder, writer,… Honestly, I don’t know if there is anything he can’t do. It’s very stimulating working with someone that creative. We often have very different ideas of how something should be executed but we always find a middle ground and that middle ground seems to always be a lot better than our individual vision. We just seem to be able to merge our ideas and create something brand new that seems to be better than what each of us had in mind.
Tell us about your dreamy Airbnb hideaways in Joshua Tree? How do you juggle the airbnb properties and your design work?
We currently have three rentals in JT - Dome in the Desert, Cabin Cabin Cabin, and our most recent project, The Shack Attack. And we are building a single family ground-up project for resale in JT. We also moved out of L.A. to a very rural Northern CA coastal community and we are renovating the house that we are currently living in which is keeping us pretty busy. I do my stained glass work whenever I have free time. I mostly work on my own designs but I’ve also been doing some custom pieces for locals in my community, which is always fun and challenging.
Tell us about the artist community in CA. Do you feel supported and challenged as an artist?
I feel very supported as an artist in California, especially in the small coastal community in which I currently reside. People in my community oftentimes find me through posting my work on my IG account. I’ve worked on a few projects for locals in my neighborhood. The most recent piece, being a custom window someone is going to build into their mud house.
What are your go-to rituals when you need a reset?
Meditation is the single most important part of my day. I try to find the time to meditate for an hour every morning. I also live in a rural area in Northern California, surrounded by redwoods so a reset can simply mean a short stroll through the forest or a secluded walk to the pacific coast. On really cold days, there’s a few local spots with natural hot springs and cedar hot tubs – this is a great way to break from the daily schedule without having to go far from home.
How has the California coastline, landscape and color palette influenced your work?
Both the desert and the coastline inspire me. The desert provides me with the muted, neutral color palette that I love so much. The forest and ocean with its vibrancy have inspired a lot of my more colorful pieces.