Artist Q&A: Karen Light, Visual Arts

Because we work alongside countless incredible teaching and touring artists, and because every one of them has so much to say and share, we’re starting to feature artist Q&As from time to time. Hopefully this offers a good intersection between the thoughtful and the fun – and if you can think of a particular question for the featured artist, by all means, leave a comment!

First up: Visual artist and UG teaching artist Karen Light. So as not to steal the spotlight, let’s get right to it!

1. Do you remember a moment in your childhood when you first felt deeply engaged in or inspired by the arts? What did this mean for you?

When I was a small child, I had a table in my home where there was construction paper, crayons, coloring books, storybooks, etc. and I was always at this table drawing and reading. I have a vivid memory of one project I did early on when I decided to build a sculpture of a playground out of construction paper. I remember sitting there for hours trying to make it all work and thinking about how different it was trying to make it 3D versus just drawing it on a piece of paper… I have always been curious about how to make stuff, how to draw it, how to translate what I see into color and paper and lines and shapes. I loved studying how things look – observing all that I could. I guess nothing much has changed when it comes to that!

2. What do you want readers to know about the work you do in Chicago schools? (Free pass to say anything about your UG residencies!)

This year I have the opportunity to be a part of a unique residency with Urban Gateways in which I am the middle school art teacher at Carter G. Woodson Charter School. I am there 4 days a week and teach art to every student in the school! So far we have been exploring collaborative art, color theory, where we come from, expressing emotion through color, writing poems to integrate into art, self-portrait drawing, and now we are creating anti-violence activist posters with a mixed media approach. I also get to teach an elective art class and we are learning about mandalas and will be creating a mural made up of several mandalas exploring the dreams the students want to achieve, the challenges along the way and the path through and around those challenges. Pictures of all of these projects unfolding can be seen at!

3. When not teaching with UG, what are you up to in way of the Chicago arts scene?

I have been a part of the Oak Park Arts District in various ways for over 5 years now. I currently have space in Kathy Reller Designs to work and show my art during the 3rd Fridays and during the arts festivals. I have been doing body painting out of the studio for private clients and also at some fun events around the city. Recently, I landed a huge kiln for free and I am really excited to start re-exploring and creating new work with clay again!

4. If you received a grant to go anywhere in the world and study the artistic discipline of your choice, where would you go and why?

I have always thought it would be amazing to go away to an artist retreat center for a month or two or for a summer… I’m not sure exactly where that would be, but I want it to be deep in the woods and up in the mountains where I can experience the magic of nature every day and have lots of space to go deep into my inner world and see what creations come out of it.

5. Do you have one New Year’s Resolution you’re willing to share?

I’m not one for coming up with resolutions, but I love to use the Winter Solstice time to create a vision for the year ahead of me. My Teaching Artist’s vision this year is to create a space in my classroom that constantly surprises my students and keeps them on their toes. I want it to be a place where they are exposed to different ideas and ways of thinking and perhaps dream new dreams or bigger dreams for themselves. In that process, I have the vision of really reaching 2-3 students who are looking for a mentor in the arts on a deeper level.