Meet The Artist: April Stewart Klausner

© April Stewart Klausner

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

I grew up in a beautiful, leafy neighborhood in The Bronx. My parents were both talented artists; my father a graphic designer, my mother a shoe designer and fashion illustrator. Our apartment had an endless amount of art supplies and for me that was heaven. I have wonderful childhood memories of spending the day with my father at his studio in lower Manhattan. I loved being there; drawing pictures while he worked at what seemed at the time a massive drafting table. When I was accepted to the High School of Music & Art, one of New York City’s specialized public high schools, my father gave me that “massive” table and it has followed me everywhere since. It’s in my current studio; just a short walk from that building where I’d accompanied him to work. After high school I attended Parsons School of Design (where coincidentally my parents had met as students) and The New School in Greenwich Village earning a BFA in Illustration. A lifelong New Yorker, I live and work in Manhattan where my husband and I raised our two sons. When not covered in ink, I can usually be found in my kitchen covered in flour or cycling around the city’s beautiful parks and waterfronts.

What inspired you to become an artist?

I can’t remember a time when I was not always drawing. As I’d mentioned, both my parents were artists and it was a creative household. I received a lot of encouragement and practical knowledge, especially from my father since he was still working in the field as I started my art education and career.

What is your specialty?

I suppose I would have to say my specialties are botanical illustration, illustrating ketubot and Jewish themed art. I grew up in a secular Jewish home so it’s kind of interesting my art took a decidedly Jewish direction. My first ketubah was my own which in retrospect may have been a little crazy to take on at the time but I’m glad I did. It hangs in our home so I look at it every day and have created two of the same design for clients who saw it and wanted it as their own. I guess that’s a good sign!

How and where do you work?

I work in my sunny little studio next to Union Square Park. The park, its Farmer’s Market and the endlessly diverse community inspire my work. On the days that the market is there, just walking through and taking in the riotous colors and bustle of people gets my creative juices flowing. Often I take photos and make little watercolors in my sketchbook of the produce. However, I usually don’t get my ideas while sitting at my drawing table. I need to think about the project over time while I’m doing other things like commuting or just getting through my day’s activities. It usually evolves in my head while I’m doing something else then I’ll pause to make a thumbnail or jot down my idea.

What is the most indispensable item in your workshop/?

Haha, does my fridge count? Actually, it’s probably the dyes that I paint with. They are made by Dr. Ph. Martin’s and are intensely saturated clear dyes that I started using back in my school days. We had a set at home; I played around with them and really liked their unique qualities. I’ve been loyal to them ever since. I love the intensity of their colors and the unique way they interact with water.

Where do you take your inspiration? Are you pursuing any themes?

I derive a lot of my inspiration from the natural world, particularly since a lot of my illustrations contain organic subjects. I also try to learn from illustrators and designers I admire, past and present, to expand my style and technique. Though quite different from my illustrations, I love my graphic design work, finding it very gratifying to design persuasive and powerful ways to create branding and use text.

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m just starting a ketubah, the design will be of Japanese cherry blossoms. I’d no idea how many varieties there were and how different they look which is one of the things I love about my work – learning something new while researching a job. On the design front I have a client, a Jewish day school that serves students with language-based learning disabilities, whom I’ve been on board with since the school’s inception. I created their logo, signage, donor wall and all their printed matter. I’m also designing graphics for a line of clothes that will benefit a mental health awareness organization. I love the variety of my projects and the personal satisfaction of working with clients who strive to repair the world, each in their own way.

What are your favourite items in your current collection?

Boy, that’s a tough question. I have an illustration of the Shevat HaMinim (Seven Species) that I still really like even though I did it some years ago. I’ve used images of the Shevat HaMinim in many of my illustrations. Last year, I used those elements in a commissioned project to create a personal Siddur for a family simcha in Israel, including kippot, challah covers and a parochet (Torah ark curtain), it was a great project and I loved how everything came together. I also have a poster comprised of a dozen veggie farm stand signs I illustrated for an organic farm. I have it in my kitchen and it makes me happy. Most recently I painted small watercolors from photos I took in Morocco. Oh those blues!!!

How do you know when a piece is finished?

Usually when I think a piece is finished I step away from it till the next day and look at it with fresh eyes. I have a pretty good instinct at this point and it’s really important not to overdo it. Blank space is important. When I was in art school my dad would say, “Quit noodling!” and I swear I sometimes hear that in my head!

Do you do bespoke work?

I’d say most of my work is bespoke. The ketubot, family trees, and much of the other Judaic illustrations I create are one of a kind pieces commissioned by clients. I’m really fortunate to be given a lot of creative freedom on my projects, along with incorporating my clients’ suggestions or pertinent details.

 What was the first artwork you ever sold?

When I was young I was always creating something, either for gifts or spending money. For example I painted and embroidered on jean jackets, made elaborate cards, painted wall murals. As a college graduate the first piece I sold was an illustration for a book cover for Prentice Hall publishers. The art director was a great mentor to me and I went on to do a lot of work for her. I have that cover, and my first check, framed in my studio.

Which project have you enjoyed working on the most so far?

Oh no, that’s like asking which of your kids you like best!!! Kidding aside, I’m fortunate in that my projects have been engaging and challenging with clients I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with. I draw and paint all day, which I love, and get paid to do so. I mean how great is that? And the fact that my ketubot, family trees and other commissioned Judaica become beloved items in people’s homes is extremely gratifying.

What do you want to achieve with your work and what are your wishes for the future?

I hope to continue creating art commemorating life’s joyous moments, Jewish history and culture, and designing with a Jewish inner voice. Since I became an affiliated Jew in my 20’s my spirituality, practice and knowledge continues to evolve and the opportunity to learn from my projects’ themes is one of the best gifts I take away from my work. Hopefully, I’ll also grow as an artist, be open to new ways of expressing myself, outside of my comfort zone, experimenting with technique. I want my work to give me a sense of fulfillment and to be able to look at a finished piece and feel complete.

Where can we find your work?

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