Safe in the Studio: Kate Breakey

Posted on May 14, 2020

While our gallery’s doors are closed temporarily due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, Catherine Couturier Gallery is pleased to announce a blog series entitled Safe in the Studio featuring a new gallery artist each week. Our artists will share behind-the-scenes information about specific pieces and offer insight into their artist practice. With each blog post, three works will be highlighted and discounted 20% for one week following the post’s publishing date. 

Last week, Catherine Couturier Gallery featured gallery artist Mitch Dobrowner. This week, the gallery is pleased to present the following post by gallery artist Kate Breakey:

I have been a working artist for more than 40 years. I studied as a painter and a printmaker before I came to photography. Since the 80’s I have been altering images – I gild them with gold leaf, I use encaustic wax, and I hand-color them using oil paint, pencil and pastels.

I am always looking for ways to express my love and wonder for the natural world, and these processes of embellishing allow me to have an intimacy with the things I see and record. It also makes each image unique and blurs the line between photography and painting. As a transient creature on this fragile little planet, I find comfort in acknowledging the ephemeral, finding beauty in decay, and grasping (with a camera) all that is fleeting. The natural world is an endless source of inspiration.

View from Kate Breakey's Studio 

View from Kate Breakey’s Studio 

I work alone in my studio, so the stay at home order has not affected me very much and fewer interruptions means I get more done. I am very lucky that I live in the desert southwest outside of Tucson, Arizona at the base of a peak. Right now, the desert is blooming and the migratory birds are singing – it’s a beautiful place to have to “isolate”. It is nice to know that nature prevails and even flourishes when we cease disrupting and polluting it. 

I spend much of my time outside at dawn and dusk during the “golden hour”, and I often photograph the moon rising and setting. I have been collecting a lifetime of moon pictures going back decades, to put together a portfolio of them. This time has been good for reflection and sorting.

I try to find comfort in the small pleasures. I have my morning coffee with my two Sonoran Desert tortoises. I go on walks to collect native flowers as food for them and always take my camera, because you never know what you will see–a rattlesnake on the path, birds in a tree, or a shadow on a rock. These chance encounters are what makes life wonderful–they have always sustained me, and especially now in this time of uncertainty and tragedy when this much fear, anxiety and grief can be overwhelming. 

Twenty-two Birds in Bare Tree, New Mexico, Kate Breakey, Modern Day Orotone, Catherine Couturier Gallery 
Twenty-two Birds in Bare Tree, New Mexico    

Lately, I have been working on an exhibition for Catherine Couturier Gallery which is set to open in late June if is safe to do so. The show will feature a series of 42 bird nests: images printed on silk and embroidered with various threads, which make them three-dimensional.

Nest 2, Kate Breakey, Catherine Couturier Gallery 
Nest 5

I have always loved nests. Since childhood I have found nests exciting­. Perhaps it is because they are mysterious, secret spaces that allow you to have a personal connection with a wild bird and I crave that relationship with nature.

To build a nest, birds use what they find around them–twigs, leaves, spider web, caterpillar silk, animal hair, sometimes man-made fiber–and they weave these together to make their homes. It is laborious. It takes hundreds, sometimes thousands, of trips to gather materials for a nest which a bird will use only once.

Each species builds a nest designed specifically to their needs.   Without being taught, birds know how to build their nests thanks to “genetic memory”, abilities and responses incorporated into each species’ genetic code, which is also responsible for their songs, dances, and migratory patterns.

 Nest 9, Kate Breakey, Catherine Couturier Gallery

Nest 9 

The embroidery I have incorporated is just another way to embellish these images. I grew up sewing; I used to make my own cloths, so I find this nest project, the stitching into silk, to be quite meditative. I love the optical illusion it creates since you cannot see the threads until you get up close.


 Detail of Nest 9, Kate Breakey

Detail of Nest 9 

In addition to these, I will show a set of tiny individual life-size quail eggs. I have used pastels to create works similar to miniature paintings. We have quail out here in the desert, and the little speckled eggs are exquisite.   

Kate Breakey, Quail Egg 14, Catherine Couturier Gallery 
Quail Egg 14

There will also be a set of images of dead birds on plain paper inspired by 19th century scientific illustrations. Pre-photography, drawings were the only record we had for the taxonomy of the plant and animal kingdoms. I half-heartedly collect old botanical and zoological prints partly because I love the texture. I have tried to emulate the yellowed, stained paper and the deckled edges and make my photos look like drawings.  

White Crowned Sparrow, Kate Breakey

White Crowned Sparrow 

To learn more about Kate Breakey and see more of her work, please visit her Artist Page.

The following three pieces are available to purchase with a 20% discount in each size for the next week. The discount will no longer be applicable on orders made after Thursday, May 21, 2020 at 11:59PM

 Twenty-two Birds in Bare Tree, New Mexico, Kate Breakey, Modern Day Orotone, Catherine Couturier Gallery

Twenty-two Birds in Bare Tree, New Mexico
Modern Day Orotone with 23.5k gold leaf on museum glass
10 x 15 inches, edition of 20, framed: $1,575 ($1,925)


Kate Breakey, Quail Egg 14, Catherine Couturier Gallery 

Quail Egg 14
Digital archival inkjet print colored with pastels
4 x 4 inches, edition of 5: $400 ($500)


 White Crowned Sparrow, Kate Breakey

White Crowned Sparrow
Digital archival inkjet print colored with pastels
18 x 14 inches, edition of 20: $1,120 ($1,400) 



For purchases or further inquiries, please email us at




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