Katie Holtkamp was born in Cuba and moved around a lot as a kid before finally settling in Key West at the age of 18. Once she arrived, she knew she'd found her home, crediting the laid-back vibes and tropical climate as the inspiration for her work as an artist. "I just love the atmosphere in Key West,” she told us from her sunny paint-splattered workspace downtown. "I've always wanted to be able to ride my bike around and just kind of take it easy. It's not about the hustle bustle. The community here feeds my artistic soul.”
But Katie's creative spirit blossomed long before she arrived in Key West as a teenager. Growing up with an artist mom, Katie and her brother frequented museums and were always encouraged to create at home. "I always had busy hands, even as a young kid,” she said. "We had a room in our house growing up that didn't have any beds or anything. So I created my own studio as a middle schooler and that's when I really got into painting.”
In college, Katie explored different career paths, from law to communications, but like a true artist, she always came back to her passion.
"I went to all the classes and nother ever felt right,” she said. "When I started to make the change from law to art, it just made sense. Painting was my favorite. And so I just kept going with it.”
Art has always been a family affair for Katie, so it makes sense that after college she'd end up building a life with a fellow artist and Key West native. Katie's husband, Garth Holtkamp, is a self-taught painter who shares her passion for bringing color, light and the vibrant energy of Key West to life through art. His mediums range from graffiti and paint to wood and carpentry. Despite their differing styles, Katie and Garth love finding opportunities to collaborate. "It's great being married to an artist, but it can also be tricky too because we have different ideas,” Katie explains. "We've done many projects together, from studio paintings to backdrops for the local theater and even giant parade floats.”
Perhaps Katie and Garth's greatest collaboration to date is their role as parents to their nine-year-old daughter Greta. And as a young family, the Holtkamps are always on the move, soaking up the natural beauty of their hometown and taking advantage of everything Key West has to offer, from biking and boating to swimming and kayaking.
It's this constant state of movement that has inspired Katie's most recent genre of art, which she likes to call push paint. "I'm constantly moving—working out, swimming, everything like that.
And the way I paint, I like to call it ‘push paint'—it's all about the movement of the paint and what it creates. I liked the idea of taking my ego away from it and letting the movement of the paint create the art, rather than me just creating the art.”
In addition to juggling her fine art studio and full-time mom duties, Katie also teaches art to the sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Horace O'Bryant School. She credits this side-gig-turned-15-year-career as one of the most important sources of inspiration for her current work as an artist. "I love my students and I love teaching art because the more I teach it, the more I understand it,” Katie says. "The art I create now wouldn't be what it is if I didn't teach. My students have taught me just as much as I've taught them. Plus, they're really funny. And the art they create is so good.”
When she's not teaching or working on her art, it's all about family time, whether it's a trip to Boca Chica beach to let their dog Cleo run around, or packing up the boat for a day in the backcountry. Katie and Garth share a pontoon boat with Garth's family and love getting out on the water any chance they can get. "We take the dog and the kids and we go far out.
That's the whole thing about living down here—being on the water is the best place to be.”
And when the lines between life, nature and work start to blur together, that's pretty much how you know you've made it. As Katie tells us, "My Every day should feel this good moment is being near the ocean with my family, running across the sand. I can take in the colors of the day and think about how I'm going to put that into my art. It all goes together, and it's very cohesive. That's the beauty of Key West, being able to do all those things.”