Local artist holds fast to traditional media

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BEACON FALLS — Kiki Michalek likes to work with her hands.

By day, the Naugatuck resident maintains gardens for a landscaper. By night, she is a working painter—but she deals only in traditional canvas and paint.

Despite graphic artists’ increasing tendency to translate at least part of their work to a digital format, Michalek “could never see myself laying out a painting on a computer.” There’s just something about putting a brush to canvas, she said, that’s lost when using a mouse—or a “clicker,” as she calls it.

Kiki Michalek will hold a holiday gift sale this Saturday from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m. at her studio, at the corner of Route 42 and South Main Street in Beacon Falls.
Kiki Michalek will hold a holiday gift sale this Saturday from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m. at her studio, at the corner of Route 42 and South Main Street in Beacon Falls.

Even Michalek’s studio surroundings mirror her somewhat traditional values.

I reached Airborne Studios, her workspace, only after clearing the threshold of a musty, old brick factory in Beacon Falls, snaking through a few hallways past spent lumber and dusty debris piles, and negotiating my way warily toward the only well-lit spot in the place.

“It’s not the Taj Mahal,” Michalek quips, “but it will do.”

The modest room overlooking Main Street is cluttered with an artist’s tools. On the walls hang realistic, acrylic-and-airbrush portraits of dogs, cats, horses, carousels and vintage trucks. A watercolor still-life of a houseplant stands half-finished in a corner; its reference shrub is slowly withering but must take comfort in that fact that its likeness will live on.

Upon entering, I encountered an enormous work in progress, a white carousel horse on a golden pole, its canvas obscuring a good portion of the far wall.

In the waning sun of a cool December evening, Michalek pours coffee into Styrofoam cups and tells me it’s not easy to justify renting a studio while working a full-time day job.

“It’s hard to do both,” she says. “I try to be here three or four days out of the week … I think a lot of times, studios turn into storage space.”

I look around again and wonder whether most folks’ homes would even accommodate this much stuff.

Michalek has worked from this studio on the corner of Route 42 and Main Street for about five years. Before moving to Beacon Falls, she rented studio space in Shelton, worked craft fairs and art shows, and even did airbrush work at a mall kiosk.
“I wouldn’t recommend [mall work] to anyone,” she laughs. “It’s really draining.”

Michalek said she “did alright” as a full-time, freelance artist, “but it’s not an easy business to be in.”

She plans to get back into full-time work as an artist someday, but for now, she said, the security of a constant paycheck from a day job is hard to beat.

Michalek has no formal training in the graphic arts.

“It’s something that’s embedded in you, in me, anyway,” she says. “I picked it up on my own. You learn through trial and error.”

Michalek’s specialty, and the work for which she receives the bulk of her commissions, is pet portraits. She’s also interested in painting vintage trucks and carousels.

“With vintage automobiles, every one is different,” she explains. “You see cars today, and it’s like bubbles driving around … I’m really interested in details, like the automobiles or carousels, when you look at the way they were created.”

She doesn’t expect to stray too far from these subjects in coming years.

“You’re always going to move in different directions,” she says, “but those are my main interests.”

She’s done some landscapes but says she isn’t as interested in them. Michalek would like to one day work on illustrations for children’s books and see her work produced for wider consumption.

“I want to do work that’s accessible to everyone, not just people with big pockets,” she says.

And she means to make her work available to the general public this Saturday from 1-4 p.m. for a Holiday Open Studio and Gift Sale. Available for purchase will be hand-painted ornaments, gift boxes, mailboxes, holiday arrangements, and pet- and automotive-themed art. The studio is located at 141 South Main St. in Beacon Falls. Follow the signs for A1 Self Storage, and Door 20 will be on your right.