Photographs by Steven Johnson
Kathleen Carbonara is a stylish wife and mother of three. Her home is filled with gorgeous décor—a mélange of chic, modern, and artistic furniture arrangements—and walls filled with beautiful paintings, mostly portraits of her children, from the toddler years through high school and college. It is no surprise to learn that Kathleen did all of the decorating herself, but what is unexpected, at least for those who don’t know her, is the fact that Kathleen—who is also an exceptional professional painter—painted all of the beautiful portraits in her home.
For nearly 20 years, Kathleen has painted representational, realistic portraits of denizens of the North Shore. From Lake Forest to Winnetka and Evanston, her oil-on-linen paintings decorate the walls of our finest homes. “Portraits have always been popular on the North Shore. People in this area respect the tradition of family heirlooms; they want something to pass down to their children and grandchildren,” says Kathleen.
Her desire to create, artistically, is as old as she is. When she was a young girl, whenever she was upset, she would sneak off and draw. Later, her mother would find her coloring with pages and pages all around her. Although Kathleen started her career along a different, more “secure” path (she worked as a fashion buyer and model in Chicago before getting into advertising, where she was very successful), she always knew that her heart belonged to art.
So Kathleen decided to leave her job in advertising and begin her journey as a professional artist—and when her husband, John Ver Bockel, asked her what she really wanted to do, her answer was immediate and simple.“Paint,” she answered.
Her decision was really no surprise. As Kathleen describes it, she paints when she is happy and wants to share her joy. She paints when she is content and wants to express that peace. She paints when she is sad or angry and hopes to transform those feelings into more positive ones. So portraiture was a natural fit. As Kathleen gets to know her clients, she learns how she can not only paint their likeness, but also capture their spirit and personality.
“I know I have done my job when somebody cries,” Kathleen says. (She has made two North Shore fathers cry upon seeing her portraits of their children—well done!).
Creating a portrait is a very hands-on process for Kathleen. She especially loves to guide clients who have never been through the portrait process before. Many of her subjects, upon commissioning Kathleen, do not know what it is they truly
desire from their portrait. But with almost 20 years of experience, Kathleen certainly knows how to ask all the right questions in order to make her designs both personal and completely memorable.
Then she goes to work. First, she takes hundreds of professional pictures, from which she paints. This is particularly useful because Kathleen often paints children, most of whom would not sit still long enough for a sketch.
Kathleen loves painting children. She has many portraits of her own three beautiful children in her home, most depicting their younger years. “This is how I remember my children,” Kathleen says. “I’m so glad I captured them at that age.”
Parents across the country feel the same. Kathleen’s business has become a national one, with families in Palm Beach, Seattle, Dallas, and Hawaii commissioning her work. Kathleen loves the travel and new opportunities this has brought her. She is constantly evolving, striving, and challenging herself. She also donates her time and talent, teaching art and creative development to children at The Creative Development Center under friend and fellow artist Gail Wirtz.
So, what’s next on her list? Kathleen is experimenting with different styles of painting the figure and is considering getting a master’s of fine arts. “I would also like to have my first art show,” she says, with a determined gleam in her eye. We’re willing to bet that she certainly will.
For more information on Kathleen Carbonara, or to commission a portrait, please visit her website, portraitsbykathleencarbonara.com.