Kathleen Hope began her art career working in oil and acrylic, but in a quest for achieving a very specific texture she had in mind, she began exploring other mediums. The oil and acrylic weren’t quite cutting it.

One client’s relocation to warmer climes, and an ensuing request for Kathleen to create outdoor art, inspired her to explore concrete as an artistic medium. Once she discovered the versatility and durability of the stone aggregate, she never looked back.

Kathleen now creates pieces large and small in concrete. She’s tested countless techniques and tools, and has unearthed incredible ways to add color and texture to her art. The journey was years in the making, however. In this interview with Kathleen, she recounts what that journey was like, the challenges she had to navigate in working with this unconventional medium, and what she loves most about it.

Why did you choose this medium?
I’ve always been drawn to different mediums. I used to be a color consultant, so I had to know products to advise people on what it would look like in various materials like concrete, wood and plaster. Because of that, I’ve always had a certain comfort level with industrial products.

When I first started out in art, I went the traditional route with oil and acrylic. But I wasn’t getting the type of texture I wanted with my art. I tried plasters, but I still wasn’t getting what I wanted.

Before I moved to Arizona, one of my clients relocated to Rio Verde (in Arizona) from Minneapolis, and they were spending so much time outdoors. They were redoing their outdoor space and asked if I could create a painting for their outdoor space. I knew this would be complicated, and I needed to do some research to see what would hold up to the Arizona heat. What kept coming up was concrete. It holds the color and can hold up to the elements. One of my friends had suggested that I could use make use of Wisconsin Concrete Cutting Services and other similar ones if I had to work on a very large piece that might need the help of an expert to make it into the shape that I’ve in mind. I’m still in the learning process, so let’s see how this goes!

Kathleen at work, playing with colors and techniques on concrete. Photo credit: Timothy Wampler

I found a local concrete store, and I kept asking all these questions about cement. They thought I was crazy because I was asking non-typical questions. I started playing around with cement, and I loved it instantly. I could see so many possibilities. But it took me approximately three years to figure out how to work with it because it’s very sensitive to temperature and dries very fast. It was a big learning curve for me, but I knew it was my thing right away. It fit my vision of my aesthetic.

When I started creating art, there were three things I wanted to stay true to:
1. I want to be unique and original.
2. I want something with texture.
3. I want something that belonged in really high-end, contemporary homes.

Concrete gave me everything I was looking for.

An up-close look at Kathleen’s work reveals the texture and dimension in her pieces.

What challenges you most about this medium?
I always have to work on wood panels, and sometimes it’s really difficult to do large-scale works because the wood panel needs to be able to support it. I also have to have my panels custom made –– built specifically for what I do. I can’t just order them from an art store. They have to be braced really well. I’ve had to find the right maker.

Kathleen’s modular pieces showcase the variety of techniques, shapes and colors at play in her work.

I’ve worked through all the other things that were initially challenging, like the dry times, finding the right sealants, and so on. But it took a lot of testing and learning to use different tools other than brushes, like squeegees, bottles –– a lot of tools from the plaster trade and industrial tools.

What do you love most about this medium?
I love the physicality of it and the texture of it. It’s a very physical medium to work in, and I like that it’s challenging. I tend to pick things in my life that are really challenging and that have growth and possibilities –– and it’s endless with what I do. People always comment with how much they love the uniqueness of it.

(Top) “Whispering” reveals the rich texture that denotes Kathleen’s unique style. (Bottom) Geometric and circle shapes intermingle in “Come Full Circle.”