Kathryn Beals: Empowering change through personal transformation

Kathryn Beals is a B.C.-based artist with a unique approach to an art practice. A lifelong sufferer of migraine auras, she also experiences synesthesia. The word means 'perceived together'. People who experience synesthesia see colours or shapes when they hear sounds, for example. Their senses blend together to create a very rare way of experiencing the world.

Migraine runs in her family; her mother and grandmother both experience the same effects. Kathryn, however, also has synesthesia. Instead of reacting negatively to the potentially destructive power of migraine, she has embraced it and the resulting effects on her art practice are astounding. (“Synesthesia is often described as a “crossing of the senses.” – Healthline). You can see videos of her processes below.

Kathryn received a degree in forestry, and on that day she received a silver ring and took an oath to be a steward of the land. She has made it a professional practice to donate to conservation and humanitarian causes, and to date has raised almost $50,000 USD for non-profits, with a goal to raise $100,000.

In addition to participating in our art auction and Artists for the Great Bear Rainforest network (she donated $500 to the Save Wild Salmon campaign earlier this year), Kathryn annually completes a large project for her ‘Repurpose’ series and donates the proceeds to a non-profit.

Reclamation Series Pacific Wild
Repurpose Series for Pacific Wild, 2021


Pacific Wild is proud to be this year’s recipient. The work focuses on the life and beauty of intertidal zones and funds raised will go to the Marine Protected Areas (MPA) campaign.

Previous recipients of Kathryn’s major fundraisers have been Doctors Without Borders, Surfrider Pacific Rim, and Canopy.org.


Why did you choose to support Pacific Wild with your work?
I grew up near Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, looking in tide pools, exploring small islands in a rowboat, and watching eagles on the beach. These places felt ordinary and limitless to me when I was a kid, but now as an adult, I know that BC’s coastal ecosystems are anything but. As an artist, my work is rooted in my love for these wild places. I give back a portion of proceeds from each series to support the important work of nonprofits like Pacific Wild, who understand our connection to the land and are working to protect this special area of the world.

What is most important to you when choosing a non-profit to support?
I’ve worked with a wide variety of conservation and humanitarian nonprofits as an artist. My background in forestry and environmental science has made me appreciate the complexity of conservation, and I believe a diverse set of approaches is necessary. I like Pacific Wild’s science-based messaging, and their emphasis on the way the parts of an ecosystem are connected. I chose Pacific Wild’s salmon monitoring project as the beneficiary of my recycled art series earlier this year, and I look forward to donating a piece to the upcoming auction in April.

What’s your favourite project you’ve ever worked on?
Several years ago when I was undergoing cancer treatment, I needed to be isolated for a week, away from my family. To keep focused during that time, I decided to paint a dedicated series in support of a nonprofit. I made 29 small landscape paintings, and donated the full proceeds to a coastal cleanup organization. That experience gave me so much joy and drive during a difficult season, and inspired me to push myself as an artist and share more of my work. I have since painted nonprofit series for Leave No Trace and Conservation International, and done many smaller fundraisers for other causes such as Doctors Without Borders.

Kathryn Beals Drs Without Borders Reclamation Series
Mosaic series for Doctors Without Borders, 2020


How has surviving cancer affected your connection to nature?
I have a renewed appreciation for many things — stepping outdoors for the first time after isolation, or being able to walk in the forest for the first time after surgeries made me reflect on how much we need nature, for our own health and resilience. My experience made me bolder about sharing my art and the inspiration behind it. I believe artists can give people a different way of looking at the things we see every day, and it’s a privilege to use my work to help support conservation.

Aspens, for Stanford Cancer Centre, 2019
Aspens, for Stanford Cancer Centre, 2019

What are the benefits of your synesthesia to your way of seeing and experiencing the world?
I’ve experienced synesthesia my whole life — a neurological trait that affects how I perceive colour. I don’t know what it is like to be without it, but it has an impact on how I remember names, numbers and patterns. I also experience visual disturbances from classic migraines, which have made their way into the skies of many of my landscape paintings. I used to hide the ways my brain was different, but these traits have shaped how I see the world, and I am glad I can use painting to show you what I can see. (Learn more about how migraines inform Kathryn’s aura paintings here.)

Synesthesia in Kathryn’s art practice

What do you hope for your children?
We now live in the Salish Sea, and my kids are growing up as island kids too. Like any parent, I worry about the world they will inherit as adults. I’m hoping they can learn to see the nature around them through the lenses of both science and art. I’m teaching them to pick up trash each time we go to the beach, like my mom taught me, and I want them to feel empowered to make a difference. My hope is that they can learn and experience as much as they can about BC’s oceans and forests, but will never see them as ordinary or take them for granted. We’re grateful to live here.

Magnetic aura painting, using magnets and ferromagnetic paints

We are so grateful to Kathryn, and our other artists in Friends of Pacific Wild, for their commitment to making conservation a foundational part of their work and way of life.

If you’d like to learn more about Kathryn and her amazing work, please visit https://www.kathrynbeals.com.