Kim is the artist and founder of VagaBeyond, which is, in her own words:
“a concoction of ART, PHOTOGRAPHY and TRAVEL”
As the ethos behind OiOi Arts is ART, TRAVEL and CULTURE, interviewing Kim who is currently in Mexico, seemed like a match made in heaven!
Photography is at the heart of her work. Capturing the soul of the places she visits is a starting point from which bold strokes of colour are applied, to highlight and draw you into the work. It is a really simplistic yet highly effective way of working, where the images really speak for themselves. The addition of painterly swipes of colour really gives them an added punch!
Mekong Delta Series, courtesy of Kim Youdan
Have you always travelled and created or did you have a eureka! moment where it all fell into place?
Travelling has been part of my life for a long long time, the creative part was added whilst I was doing my photography degree and since then I’ve always travelled with my camera. Photography was definitely my preferred creative outlet before I started doing mixed media.
The thought of going anywhere without my canon is, well, I just don’t want to think about it. For me travel and photography come hand in hand.
I did however have a eureka moment when I first applied paint on my images. This came about 2 years ago. Like many creative discoveries, it happened by accident; I got some travel images printed in black and white by mistake and they sat in a stack for a while before I had an epiphany! I had two crappy paint brushes lying around the house (that’s another story) and the rest is history!
You’ve built up a self titled artist website and have strong identity with VagaBeyond – I love the name! You’re a busy lady! How did it all come about?
Thank you, so glad you like it!
When I started doing the mixed media I was so shy about putting my stuff out there so I didn’t want to use my own name. I used Instagram as the first outlet for my work and I dabbled with a few different names.
My partner Jim and I knew we were setting off to start nomadic living fairly soon and I wanted to create a hub of activity combining art, travel and photography.
After a few weeks of trying to come up with a decent brand name it just came to me, I love how ideas pop up making their way through your subconscious.
Seaside Series, courtesy of Kim Youdan
You travel a LOT! Have you seen a natural evolution in your work that reflects this?
Although the technique I use hasn’t changed much since I started working in this way, my thought process and approach to the work has definitely evolved. The continuous change in environment due to nomadic living provides a constant source of inspiration, I can’t get my ideas down quick enough sometimes.
The more I travel the more relationships are made between the places I’ve visited.
What have been your favourite places to visit and document?
It’s been a while since I’ve been to Africa but it remains a favourite of mine. Africa is a big place I know! I have spent time in east, west and South Africa, I love the people there. The smiles, the love for life and the curiosity Africans have is so refreshing.
The landscapes are also something I remember vividly and I’d love to go back there.
Like I said it’s been a while and I wasn’t doing this kind of mixed media work at the time. I have used some photography from Africa in my artwork, I’d love to go back now with my new approach to creating imagery.
Africa Rain, courtesy of Kim Youdan
How long have you been working in this way: manipulating your photographs?
It’s about two years since I put paint to picture. I’ve been a photographer for about 10 years and because of the variety of images I use in my work I never get bored. I am constantly reviewing older images, sifting through photography from past travel experiences and of course creating new work.
What advice would you give an aspiring artist, looking to travel and create like you do?
Just start! Wherever you go try and be creative, find a way! You don’t have to be gallivanting across the world, go to your next town or city for the day and explore.
If it’s definitely travelling abroad that you are interested in, don’t be fooled by expensive looking Instagram feeds and hearsay, travel can be cheap. Look to work abroad or take some extended leave to try it for a while.
Long term travel and nomadic living definitely isn’t for everyone. My biggest tip would be spend some time thinking about your objectives, what do you want to achieve? What do you want to experience?
Okavagoe series, courtesy of Kim Youdan
Do you find it difficult to balance work and travel or have you got into a good rhythm?!
When I started living nomadically yes it was a challenge. Although I had travelled a lot by then, I hadn’t done anything like this before. The learning curve was BIG! Massive highs but also some frustrating times. I wouldn’t suggest doing what Jim and I did – we jumped in with both feet, left our jobs, started our businesses and began living nomadically all in one go!
When I took my practice full time I thought I had to conform, have a studio and do what other artists do – not the case! I have used my creativity both in my artwork and in my lifestyle.
Meet Kim, the talent behind VagaBeyond! courtesy of Kim Youdan
Can you explain your process of creating?
I’ll certainly try! I think all us artists have challenges with articulating what we do, it’s one of the reasons we create because it’s the most comfortable outlet to communicate. My practice has two parts, photography followed by colour research and application.
Although I use monochrome photography in my artwork I always shoot in colour. I like the process of taking the saturation out and seeing how the image changes. A photograph can look so different. I have been taking pictures for a long time now and this part of composing an image is second nature to me, I still love creating those images and trying new things.
A lot of my time is spent considering colour combinations that I will use for each series of work. I research the history of a country, the culture and the meaning of colour within that culture. I also look at the natural surroundings and what colours are prominent in the natural landscape.
I really like getting a good understanding of the culture and this can be what drives the colour palette. Staying in one place and absorbing the country is a huge inspiration for my work, I find more ideas come to me when I’m immersed.
The way I apply the acrylic inks onto the monochrome photography can be really varied. Sometimes the process is quick and I complete the artwork in one sitting, other times I take a lot longer to construct the composition and apply layers of colour.
Part of the #100daysofpostcardart series, courtesy of Kim Youdan
So, you’re in Mexico at the moment… tell me about this adventure!
Ah yes Mehico! It seems like forever that I’ve wanted to have an extended stay in Latin America. The primary reason for being here is to learn Spanish, I’ve travelled so much and always felt so guilty that I don’t speak another language. Jim and I started learning in January before moving out here in February and we’ve loved the process of going back to school!
Other than learning Spanish the culture has always intrigued me, the colours are so vibrant and the history is just fascinating! Another reason -without being too crude- it’s cheap!
I personally struggled creating whilst travelling, as getting hold of materials and transporting pieces back home was a bit of a faff! How do you work around that?
I know exactly what you mean! I’ve been there and it’s certainly a struggle. Not having a dedicated studio space is also a challenge but I work around this as much as possible by doing what I know best – being creative!
In the past I have rented studio space in Bangkok and my mums dining room table works a treat when I’m in the UK. I don’t need an easel which certainly helps matters when I’m travelling. Currently I’ve been doing a lot of miniatures which are travel friendly and the postcards size is very apt for my travelling lifestyle.
This came from a project I started last year whilst on the road a lot, The 100 Days of Postcard Art.
Part of the #100daysofpostcardart series, courtesy of Kim Youdan
I see you like to use locally made papers… are there other authentic materials that you like using, depending on where you are?
I have worked with Japanese inks which was great but didn’t stock up enough! Like you said, I try and use locally made paper- I just LOVE paper! Japanese hand made washi paper has been a favourite and I have some bamboo and mulberry paper to experiment with too. I can always make room in my luggage for paper.
I do like to seek out what’s available in different countries. My tool kit is fairly small to be honest and I’ve adopted a very minimalist approach in my work and lifestyle. I don’t like waste and I’m always thinking “if I buy this I’m gonna have to use it all now, leave it behind, or pack it and carry it” these questions definitely help me decide what to buy.
Does your time spent away vary or do you stick to certain time restraints? I know if I travel for longer periods I become less proactive and it’s the shorter trips where I really get the most out of it!
I know what you mean and yes in a way shorter trips add to the pressure of making sure I get everything done. Especially from a photography point of view as I need to get some good images before leaving that place. It generally means I have my camera stuck to my hip most of the time.
On the other hand I do like staying for a while in one place, avoiding the “living out of a bag” feeling and absorbing the local culture.
To answer your question yes it has varied a lot. Last year I think we travelled a little too much and visited 10 countries. I’m not complaining, it was awesome and we learned so much about how we want to live.
This year we have slowed the pace and made a conscious effort to stay longer, we are trying a 3 month cycle and it’s been great so far.
Fishing Series, courtesy of Kim Youdan
Do you always have specific colour schemes in mind when you start work on a series or is it something that evolves through an association with different places? Are the colours used as important as the initial image itself?
Great question and it’s very much an individual process for each series of work. I mentioned before that my colour inspiration comes from a variety of sources, immediate environment, cultural significance and history all play apart in my research.
Here in Mexico for example the colours are so bright! Due to its positioning near the equator the saturation is higher and everything is so vivid. The indigenous Maya people of the area used beautifully bright colours in their textiles and their festivities. Modern Mexicans also use an array of colourful patterns in all their celebrations, it seems to be a way of life.
I’m currently working on some small postcard sized images from Montreal with colour inspired by Mexico. This is the first time I’ve used an old image with colour inspiration from a different country, I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next!
What’s in your kit bag?
I definitely keep it travel friendly. A small selection of acrylic inks is essential, a sketchbook, a case of brushes, pens and pencils. Obviously my camera and laptop! I also travel with monochrome prints or source a printer when I’ve got my bearings of a place.
Yellow Peaks Series, courtesy of Kim Youdan
I expect you have a special attachment to all your pieces! Are there any in particular that stand out for you and why?
Yes, absolutely! I also go through phases of what I like and don’t like.
I loved creating and equally still love the Shibuya series I did last year. Based on imagery from Tokyo’s Shibuya district and colour combinations inspired by the traditional kimono colours of February. Japan was just amazing, I know you are going soon and you will absolutely love it!
Another series which is a favourite of mine and more recent is Yellow Peaks. Monochrome snow capped mountains with a block colour palette inspired by natural colours of yellow gorse and glacial blue.
Have you got any future trips lined up yet? What’s next for Kim Youdan and VagaBeyond?
Of course, it’s rare I don’t have something to look forward to.
At the end of April we hop over to Cuba for a couple of weeks before heading back to the UK. I can’t wait to explore Havana and other parts of the island. I’m excited for the culture and hoping the colours are just as inspiring as here in Mexico!
Mekong Delta Series, courtesy of Kim Youdan
Catch up with Kim and the VagaBeyond adventures using the following links: