Sunday, December 9, 2012

Painter, Traveler Finds Wonder and Inspiration in the Natural World

Katerina Ring comes from a family of painters.  Her mother painted underwater scenes in oil, and her great aunt painted portraits.  As a child Ring spent hours drawing and painting and dabbling in art projects of all kinds.  Having a father in the Navy meant that she and her family moved around a lot, but it also meant that there were new landscapes to explore.

“I remember when we lived in Brussels, Belgium painting in acrylics on panel, a goldfish with seaweed, or some guppies, mostly animals,” she said.  “My sister and I entertained ourselves for hours just drawing and coloring.” 

As youngsters, Ring and her sister also spent time raising money for animal welfare groups.  As a University student, while her sister studied veterinary sciences, Ring became involved on campus and volunteered at a rehabilitation center for birds of prey.  “I probably learned more working there than in any of my academic classes,” she said.

Ring’s appreciation for the natural world would soon become a personal passion and an inspiration for her paintings.  After her early years traveling with her family, she went to the University of California at Davis to study Landscape Architecture, later changing her major to Graphic and Textile Design.  But it wasn’t until she had left the University and moved to Europe that she began to study fine art.

“I started studying painting when I was living in Germany in the early 1990’s, learning watercolor from a fresco painter,” she said.  “In 1996, in Italy, I took my first oil painting classes in Cortona and Florence.”

She worked hard in Italy—her new home, painted often, and improved her skills.  Soon she was having shows. To support herself, Ring restored old houses and served as a tour guide in Tuscany and Umbria.  By 1998, she was having several shows a year and was able to quit her other jobs and paint full time.   

“I have good timing and Frances Mayes to thank,” she said.  “I was living in Cortona when Mayes’ book, Under the Tuscan Sun, made it big.  The town was flooded with visitors who had read the book, and we artists who were living there were selling faster than we could paint!”

As a full time painter, Ring started out painting in watercolor, but found that her training in Graphic Design made her painting process a bit tight.

“So I dabbled in pastel to loosen up, and then oil, trying always to use the biggest brush possible,” she said.  “I did mostly still life in watercolor, mostly landscape in pastel, and focused on landscape in Plein Air and animal subjects in oil.”

Ring enjoys painting animals and architecture, landscapes, and close ups of unusual African trees and plants.  Her preference leans to impressionism rather than photorealism, and in her words, “always learning to say more with less – an economy of brushstrokes.” 

“I never tire of painting pumpkins, sausage trees, and ground horn bills,” she said.  “I change my style of painting constantly, always trying new ways of applying paint or working with the composition and value patterns.  There are so many ways to interpret a scene, creature, or gourd!”

Ring splits her time between living in Lucca, Italy and Mazabuka, Zambia in Southern Africa.  And while she says her father’s profession explains her family’s relocations during her first 17 years, she is responsible for everything after that. 

“Curiosity about the rest of the world keeps taking me overseas,” she confessed.

Ring’s primary residence is in Lucca where she purchased and fixed up a small house outside of town in 1999, which includes an artist’s studio on the top floor.

“Italy is incredibly paintable, and very supportive of the arts,” she said.  “There are places where artists can exhibit their works, often sponsored by the city.  People who visit Italy tend to love art and good wine.”

“Zambia just kind of happened,” she said of her second home.  “I did not plan to move there.  One thing led to another and I just stayed open to the possibilities.  The landscape is amazing, as is the light; the markets and villages inspire me, and the more I know the animals, the better I can paint them.”

In addition to her painting, Ring has been a volunteer for an after-school program in Mazabuka since 2004 where she taught English conversation, developmental reading, and basic art to hundreds of indigent children who had fallen behind in classes because of reading problems.  

“I worked one-on-one with them and did the art as a creative outlet for whoever wanted to show up,” she said.  “Spending time drawing is a better alternative to getting into trouble in the ghettoes, and many kids got really into it and would stay late just drawing.”

At one point, Ring had up to 60 kids at a time, ages 2-22, several to a desk and often sprawled all over the floor.

“What I found out is how very observant the kids are,” she said.  “They can all draw a chicken, a papaya tree or a hut, a bicycle or a truck.  If it is familiar to them, they can draw it.  They would line up outside the door of the youth center hours early.  Having a fresh piece of paper in front of them and a pencil is really something special.”

Ring will start a new job in January teaching art to children in grades 1-7 twice a week, this time at a private school outside Mazabuka.

“It will be quite a different experience,” she said.  “There is a designated art room, and an entire separate room with art supplies on shelves lining the walls.”

Despite her busy life painting, teaching, and exploring new and familiar landscapes on the other side of the world, Ring takes the time to sharpen her craft by studying with renowned painters – Dan Young, Ralph Oberg, Joseph Pacquet, Phil and Marty Beck, Judy Morris, Libby Tolley, Camille Przewodek, Matt Smith and Robert Lemler.

“I learn new techniques and ideas which I can share with other artists and children who will never have the opportunity to study with the masters,” she said about her trips to America.  “Getting better requires a journey across miles of canvas, and receiving expert feedback really helps along the way.”


Katerina Ring has been taking workshops at Scottsdale Artists’ School every other year since 2006.  She was awarded Scottsdale Artists’ School’s Windgate Scholarship in 2007 and 2012.  To learn more about Katerina, or to view her paintings, visit her website at

Photos above, from top to bottom:
Ground Horn Bills” by Katerina Ring.  50 x 100cm, oil, from the artist’s reference photos of the birds in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia.  This painting recently won the Grand Prize in the David Shepard Foundation’s ‘Art for Wildlife’ contest in Lusaka, Zambia.  The David Shepard Foundation raises money to support projects protecting endangered species.

“Lion” by Katerina Ring.  16” x 20,” oil, from one of the artist’s photos from Chobe National Park, Botswana.  Painted during a recent Scottsdale Artists’ School workshop with Phil Beck.

Katerina Ring hiking on a trail at the Scottsdale McDowell Sonoran Preserve during a recent visit to Arizona and Scottsdale Artists’ School.


Scottsdale Artists’ School, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was founded in 1983 by a group of dedicated artists and community leaders. Tucked away in the heart of the Scottsdale Arts District, located in a charming historic schoolhouse, the School features over 160 workshops and classes taught annually by the nation’s leading artists.  Scottsdale Artists’ School is considered a leader in traditional, representational art training for all skill levels—from absolute beginner to professional artist. 

--Written by Denise Kronsteiner


  1. Good article. Can't wait for more!

  2. A great story about an amazing woman! I can't wait to read more!

  3. Wow! What a life! Great story and great artist.