Colorful Threads

From textiles to canvases to silk scarves, Kristin Gibson transforms basic materials into art

A boldly colored swath of cloth hugs the window casing in KRISTEN GIBSON'S Carolina Beach studio.

Sunflowers predominate, but the aura is sunlight and summer blooms. The piece reminds her of her beginnings and of the colors and texture that influence her paintings and the silk scarves for which she has become known.

Gibson moved to the studio space at Artful Living Group a few months ago after painting in a home studio for almost a dozen years. She brought with her a chair and a few odds and ends as well as several large paintings, which hang in her space. Locals and tourists stop in to watch her paint.


“I’m very painterly. I set up everything and paint from life,” she says.

“Something catches my eye. I’m slicing a cantaloupe or see a bloom outside, alla prima. That’s Italian for ‘all at once.’” She says her approach is very direct, intuitive. She sees things in the corners of the room that make it into the painting – her grandmother’s tea pots, local pottery she has collected. She enjoys the wooden floor and the light of the studio space as well as the activity and bustle. All of it, she says, influences her painting.

Another major influence was the late Wayne McDowell from whom she took lessons in the late 1990s. 

“I felt I was back in art school. He was working out of his home and encouraged me to create a space to paint in at home. I painted at my dining room table for eleven years,” she says.

She credits McDowell for helping her to get into Greenville’s City Art Gallery, which has been a successful venture for her.

Originally from New Jersey, Gibson was recruited by East Carolina University.

“At the time, 1990, it was the only accredited art school in the Southeast,” she says. “They have a great program.”

She double majored in surface textile design and painting.

“I did some loom work but had a greater affinity for the surface side,” she says.

That affinity landed her a job right after graduation at a major textile company.

“It was quite an exciting time,” Gibson says about her stint at Culp in High Point. “Like the apparel industry, we were immersed in the trends and color forecasts for the upcoming seasons of the High Point furniture market. The industry was strong in North Carolina at the time, and Culp … had a unique niche in the industry, creating overprinted collections on their line of woven fabrics.”

Her involvement paired her with stylists, designers, and design houses in the U.S. and Europe. Her job entailed hand painting artwork in a repeat such that it flowed seamlessly across a mattress or sofa.

“It was a laborious process I always found fun and challenging,” Gibson says. “I was literally part of the process from start to finish, as our design studio overlooked the plant below. We were working closely with the screen manufacturers who would come and discuss each pattern and hear our thoughts and vision.”

The process gave her a love for color that stays with her to this day, she says.

After moving to Wilmington in 1998, Gibson did outdoor shows and became immersed in the circle of area artists. Today, her paintings are in seven galleries in North and South Carolina, and her scarves are available locally at Spectrum Art & Jewelry in The Forum and ArtShak Studio and Gallery in Southport.

“Each scarf is one of a kind. I sometimes incorporate some block painting and some small printing techniques,” Gibson says. “They’re all basically a lot of brush work like I do on canvas.”

The work is all about color and form, she says.

Sometimes there’s a theme. When her children were little, the evening’s dinner was often the central piece in a still life before being chopped and cooked.

“The textile background gave me a strong sense of composition and the way I move color, the way I mix color,” Gibson says.

She paints the edge of the canvas just as the fabric would continue to flow.

“I don’t use a palette any more. I use big jars of heavy body acrylics, and they’re mixed in the jar, on my brush, and on the canvas itself. They end up having a lot of color in them. I might have many colors on my brush in one stroke,” Gibson says.

“I can’t even tell you how many scarves or canvases I’ve painted to this date, but each one is infused with texture, pattern, movement, and finding new ways to make color sing.

Kristin Gibson’s work can be seen at Eno Gallery in Hillsborough in The Windows View, an invitational group exhibit through October 25; and at Thalian Hall as Forward Motion Dance Company presents a collaborative art event choreographed by Tracey Varga on September 12 and 13.


To view more of photographer Katherine Clark's work, go to