Katherine Carleton considers herself lucky. When she was growing up in Shelburne, her parents encouraged her interest in art but didn’t pressure her.
“A lot of artists say they didn’t feel supported growing up,” she said, “but I didn’t have that.” At age 12, Carleton began taking classes in figure and still-life drawing. She studied with Stan Marc Wright, who had an art school in Stowe; after high school, she went to the New England School of Art and Design.
After college, Carleton moved back to Vermont but hoped to relocate to an art colony in Santa Fe. Life intervened when she met the man who would become her husband, so she put art to the side for a 21-year career as a literary interventionist at Charlotte Central School. She did some freelance writing and illustrating for a school in Middlebury and used her drawings as part of her work as an educator.
Five years ago, another artist suggested that Carleton read Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” “I followed that book and it freed me,” she said. “I picked up my paintbrush and I haven’t put it down since.
“I woke up one day and realized that this was my dream. I had put it aside to make a living, but I realized it was now or never.”
Last year, Carleton, 48, retired from Charlotte Central School and picked up her paints in earnest. Carleton works in a variety of media, styles and subject matter. Her acrylic work is realistic while her oil paintings are done in a more Impressionist style. When she draws, she likes to use charcoal and does work that is inspired by Dr. Seuss and puppeteer Jim Henson.
This spring, Carleton participated in Open Studio Weekend for the second time. “It should have been scary,” she said, “but it felt really good. I enjoy talking to people about art and my process.” In contrast, Carleton finds that craft shows make her nervous. She paints switch-plate covers and barrettes and is considering summoning her courage to sell them at shows.
Carleton also enjoys working in clay and once sold a series that she describes as “chubby, naked women doing yoga.” She also creates whimsical mobiles with nursery rhyme themes, inspired by 1930s Walt Disney cartoons.
Carleton’s paintings have been shown at Cathedral Gallery and the Rick Levinson Gallery in Burlington and the Village Wine and Coffee Shop in Shelburne. “It’s very exciting and keeping me busy,” she said, noting that she also does commissioned work. She spends part of every day in the studio, doing her best work in the morning.
For the past 26 years, Carleton has called Charlotte home. When she was in art school, she dreamed of having a horse, dog, cat and rabbit. The family dog recently passed away, but Carleton shares her studio with three cats and a rabbit and gets to admire her horse from the studio window.
One cat has a habit of walking on her palette, so there are colored pawprints on her studio floor. When she’s not painting, Carleton is working on a book about growing up in Vermont. “It sounds funny,” she said, “but I’m not worried about running out of inspiration. It’s inevitable that an artist’s block can happen, but I’m more worried about not having enough time for my work.”