Personal Story

Feature Issue on Careers in The Arts for People with Intellectual, Developmental, and Other Disabilities

On Beauty and Lizards: My Life as an Artist


Katharine Fitzgerald is an artist who lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her work has been featured by Art for All since 2017.

A white woman with gray hair and tortoise-shell glasses stands, laughing and clapping her hands. Next to her, a younger woman with short, dark hair and wire-rimming glasses wearing headphones and a black graphic t-shirt, smiles.

Sheryl Evelo, left, shares a light moment with artist Katharine Fitzgerald.

Being in these art shows has given me confidence to talk about my work because I’m not naturally extroverted. I have a lot of trouble talking to people and I don’t make small talk. I can’t start a conversation, so to have people come up and ask about my work at these events has been so helpful and I’ve enjoyed these shows immensely.

Normally, I’m very critical of myself. Just like an author who picks up her own book and immediately finds a typo, when I look at my work, I see all the mistakes. These shows have pushed me to do better because I don’t want to put sub-par things in a gallery. But they have also helped me understand that there is a point where you have to say, “It’s good enough.” It’s never going to be as good as it is in my head, but it’s good enough for me to walk away.

In high school, I started doodling in class because I couldn’t pay attention due to my autism and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. After high school at Minnesota Life College, I started taking art classes. I had a teacher who looked at my stuff and told me I had a lot of potential, I just needed to put in more effort. She told me art is 10 percent talent and 90 percent hard work, and that stuck with me. I started drawing for 30 minutes a day until I got to the point where I could concentrate on it for three to four hours a day.

Since becoming involved with Art for All, I’ve been involved with several shows. One of my first commissions was a charcoal drawing of a lizard looking at an orb. It was kind of a weird drawing, but it turned out nicely.

I tend to do art that tells a story, with different characters or fantasy creatures. I get fixated on things and can’t focus on anything else because I want to bring it to life. I don’t want to read about it, I want to see it, so I create it. I was really into the early cretaceous period when triceratops were appearing and getting bigger and weirder looking. It was a fascinating time in history.

And then there was a time when I got interested in the history of beer and how it’s made. That led to drawing a detective and a bartender from the prohibition era.

My biggest barrier is still focus. There are days I just can’t focus on anything. That, and the soft social skills that you need for self-promotion. I’ve never understood the social rules and I don’t get how people magically know the social rules in any situation, so that really affects my ability to promote my work.

Through all this I have gotten to meet a lot of cool people, though, and it’s given me confidence to talk about the work.

In the future I’d like to do more large-scale projects. They give you something to work on day to day. And I’m really into digital these days because if you mess up a watercolor you have to start all over. With digital, you can just hit delete and it fixes your last mistake. So many times, I’ve tried to hit delete on a piece of paper and then realized I needed an eraser.

When I think about experiencing beauty as an artist, I think about being 4 or 5 at my grandparents’ hobby farm. They had the prettiest wooden house with a wraparound porch and we would sit there drinking orange juice, looking at their apple orchard, and hearing the birds. My grandpa could tell me exactly what bird it was by hearing a few notes of its song.

I found out later that my grandma was a prolific artist and the paintings I remembered from her house were her work. If I could go back and talk with one artist in history, it would be her.

Art for All Show Aims to Challenge and Include | Fitzgerald’s work is featured in this Art for All exhibit, recently featured on Minnesota Public Radio.