Ask the Expert…Kate Zambrano

Question: When conveying strong emotion in a figure painting, what should I keep in mind?




For me, my life-interests manifest in my work. I am deeply fascinated by the psychology of humans. Despite the overpopulation of the world, we all share certain emotions – anger, love, betrayal, etc. The interesting part comes when each individual shows these feelings outwardly. The subtle changes in a face’s “tells” are endlessly intriguing to me.


All artists hope to tell a story non-verbally. My goal has always been to say something deeper than just “here is a model.” Each person I paint/draw has their own traumas and obstacles they have encountered in life. I want to tap into that. I want to portray emotions. With that comes different manifestations of each emotion from subject to subject. No two people are the same. They all process information differently, and, thus, show things differently. The realness of a mood is very relatable, though, not always welcome. Some people will, naturally, choose to suppress non-happy feelings. Which is another aspect of human psychology that interests me.



With a constant flood of tiny variations to even one emotion, I am always ready to put them down in charcoal or oil.


Once I decide on general mood for a piece while brainstorming, I then mentally zoom out and start thinking more about atmosphere. I think that body language is all-encompassing. Moods aren’t only portrayed with eye-rolling or death-stares. The placement of hands can run the spectrum from soft and delicate to menacing and violent. Zooming out even farther, the placement of the subject in the composition is also something I weigh heavily. Composition is what first brings the viewer into a piece – it makes them look longer and notice all the other things that the piece has to offer. When I enter a wing in a museum, I sweep my gaze around, and typically always beeline for the piece with the strongest composition. In a world of online thumbnail versions of our work, the composition needs to be incredibly strong to lead the viewer to take a second look and to also support the main idea.




I can become very connected with my art. Since I am trying to bring emotions to the surface, it’s important to feel that emotion as well. If I didn’t try to tap into it myself, the piece wouldn’t be as raw or real. When trying to truly connect to someone, I think that I need to be an authentic vessel – carrying a mood from conception to viewing.


This can be both completely exhausting and also gratifying. All of my feelings are right at the surface when I work. When painting for a solo show last year, there were times that I was wiping tears away while working. Not because I was “sad” particularly…it was a more visceral than just “sad.” I was feeling many different moods back to back, as a result each piece in the show was a flow of moods. This allowed me to reflect and work through issues in my personal life. It was a cathartic and healthy experience.


Kate Zambrano is an American painter hailing from across the United States. She grew up, with her sketchbook in hand, having a fervent desire to recreate the things she found beautiful.

Kate at work in her studio

To learn more about Kate and to see more of her work visit her website at

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