An Interview with Kimberly Yong Ratliff

Multi-medium-artist/writer/illustrator/Navy spouse Kimberly Yong Ratliff creates art and stories inspired by the multi-layered cultures around her and the beautiful landscapes she’s visited. Embracing the Ohana spirit, each new place (or even virtual connection) offers opportunities for friendships and sharing. 

MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.

Kimberly: I met my spouse through a mutual friend, Brian I’ve known since kindergarten, during Todd’s visit to Rhode Island when he started recruiting in Ohio. They were roommates in Pearl Harbor in the early ‘90s, and we would talk on the phone briefly whenever I called Brian, as well as their friends group leaving fun messages on my answering machine whenever they pulled into port. Meeting my husband, Todd, was the first time I had to also consider what his family would think of me. I grew up in Rhode Island (where I was one of 3 Asian kids in our town, but had more good than unpleasant experiences), and Todd was from Ohio, Caucasian Midwest! All was well immediately, and we moved on. Six months later, I moved to Ohio where Todd was recruiting. We then moved to CT, HI (finished my Graphic Design Degree at UH), Guam (we had child #1), WA, (we had child #2), then back to HI in 2010, where Todd rode out his final years at a desk job, and we planted retirement roots here in Ewa Beach bringing his career in the Navy to a total of 30.5yrs.

The kids have been unscathed by deployments I think due to waiting 8yrs together before having our first son and 2.5yrs later having our other son. In WA, we only had 3 month deployments on and off. Back to HI, Todd would ride a boat for a week here and there. Now he’s a contractor for Pearl Harbor and is still home by 3:30pm every day. Our story is not the norm as far as family and military. We’ve had a relatively stable environment for the boys, except for the adjustment to having friends move away from us.

I’ve learned that everyone’s experience in the military is different (some are very fascinating and some are a struggle); listen to what people have to share (tips, coping tools, their experience about a location…); have compassion for those in need of some help because it’s not easy with moves and deployments. Sometimes you just need to release the stress or sadness, and sometimes you just need to vent. I’ve always had a bestie at each location if not more than one. They are your lifeline, sister wife, ride or die friend through this. As you move, you hold onto them and you may add more to your tribe, and that’s a beautiful thing. The average citizen does not have this opportunity of meeting/crossing paths with people from around the world adding to their chosen Ohana, so wide open and embracing. Your chosen Military Family is just as precious as your actual Ohana/Family if not better for some. We are tight knit creatures, and I have grown as a person so much from these experiences. 

MilspoFAN: How did you become a painter? 

Kimberly: I’ve been painting my whole life. I started out drawing and I drew a portrait of a Great Dane in pencil when I was 6yrs old. That evolved into watercolors, and now I’m also using acrylics and any new medium I’m experimenting with.

MilspoFAN: Describe for us your creative work and the aesthetic of your painting? 

Kimberly: For the most part, my painting style is minimalist, however, I will do detailed paintings as well and I also enjoy doing fun subjects, too. It mixes it up when I’ve been possibly painting the same thing for a couple weeks or on one subject for a while.

MilspoFAN: It sounds like Covid lock down was a productive time for you. What was it like to illustrate a children’s book and get it published? 

Kimberly: I’ve always wanted to write a children’s book and had some ideas for years. When my niece was born November 2019 just before Covid lockdown started, that changed my whole direction in story-telling. I decided I’d write a book about a little mixed Korean girl and her family by my niece’s name, Seoul. There were NO Korean-American children’s books reflecting myself growing up as a kid. And again, nothing relatable when I had children. And still not much other than folk stories, historical or cooking, which are all good to know and pleasant to read, but nothing reflecting the Modern Mixed families. So, I decided I was going to write something about a modern mixed family, use Korean words with a glossary, and show that the mix of normal modern-day things Korean-American kids do alongside their cultural family life as well. It came easy to me. Illustrating was difficult for the first week. Going back to drawing was hard until I decided to give digital a go. I have a BS in Graphic Design, so I was familiar with digital art. Once I pulled out my iPad and Apple pen, I found a good tutorial and I was off and running. Once I had all that done, I had to research publishing. Oh my, was that a week’s worth of researching and asking questions in social media groups, etc. It’s extremely difficult to get an agent, so I decided to self-publish through since they offer distribution to other companies like Amazon and Borders Books among others. Now I have ideas for Kim-Chi the dog, a book with both my Pug and yellow Lab, and a book about my personal experience living in a dependent Navy Lift which has many comical stuff with adults and having children.

MilspoFAN: How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as a painter- creatively, logistically, or otherwise? 

Kimberly: The military experience has been a little tricky finishing college in late ‘90s with the Internet just coming of age and switching schools 3 times. I finally got my BS in Graphic Design at UH in 2003. There wasn’t as much opportunity for the Art business as there is today. I feel I might even be maybe 10yrs behind, but with the Internet, you can start an art business and travel and keep and grow your business with the use of your website shop, social media, local markets…endless. You just need to put in the hard work and time. And for me, it’s just a mental struggle switching my mental perspective to myself. It may sound simple, but as a mom and military dependent with so many facets of logistics going on in your brain, it can be a hard hump to get over. But once you start doing the things you need to do to be seen, work hard, get the website tools down, etc., it becomes a new kind of freedom with its own schedule and process that you embrace as your new routine. Being an Artist isn’t as easy as it sounds. You are the Artist, Web designer, Art Manager, Accountant, liaison to galleries/shops/markets. Even learning how to set up a tent at a market and learning what the logistics are to show your work in an inviting pop up tent is testing your confidence/stress levels/insecurities…There’s lots to learn, and it can be overwhelming. The best part I must say is the beautiful places we have been that I can draw my creativity from. The beautiful skyscape, mountains and nature from WA, the beautiful sunsets, ocean scape, and lifestyle of Rhode Island, all of Hawaii and Guam. Todd is no longer on active duty, and we now use our vacations to travel to beautiful places such as Tahiti and other islands to bring fresh perspective to new collections of paintings and other artwork.

MilspoFAN: How do you cultivate your creativity? 

Kimberly: I like to visit new beautiful places, meditate, buy new materials, new mediums, travel for inspiration, talk to friends from other lands, see what other artists are doing with different techniques, and see how it works with my style. If I don’t create for a while, I get very anxious and it might even be a new idea with no time at the present to bring to life, but when I finally do, it’s like a release of spirit, a mental dump and a magical day of listening to music and creating. I always create from the heart. I try “very hard” not to be distracted by other artists and what they are doing. Social media and Internet connections to other artists has created a beautiful Ohana and sometimes a terrible, stifling anxiety at the same time. I’m not social when I’m creating. I just can’t. Even with people I admire, sometimes I have to break off connection for a period of time so I can stay on my path, slow and steady from my own heart to feel and move with that flow.

MilspoFAN: How do you meet other artists or plug into the local arts scene when you PCS? 

Kimberly: I’ve met some local artists via social media groups and from doing vendor markets. In my experience, there’s less Ohana with new artists here than there is on Maui. Maui has an excellent support system among all artists of all ages and levels of their career. Here on Oahu, it is more competitive. Early 2000s while I was still in college full time and working full time while we were active duty, still moving around, I put my art on hold. I did make my own wedding invitations and for other weddings (No one was doing vellum and natural flower petal papers back in the late 1990s). I also helped create a handful of logos for people I knew. But now that we have retirement roots in Hawaii and my kids are in high school, it’s my turn to share my art and focus on that now.

MilspoFAN: What’s next for you? 

Kimberly: I’d like to create a series off my first book, Seoul Finds Her Talent, and do a separate book just about the pug, Kim-Chi, from the book since I have had a lot of positive feedback on the doggie. There will be a Tahiti collection of paintings this year influenced by my recent trip to all the Tahitian islands. It was Amazing!

MilspoFAN: What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other artists? 

Kimberly: I have 2 things: 1: Just do you from the heart. Put the blinders on and just enjoy your own journey and positive feedback from the people supporting you and your appreciative clients. Don’t compare yourself or worry about what another artist is doing. You go at your own pace with your own creativity.  2: If you’re still dealing with PCS’s, no sweat! Due to the ease of the Internet, you can continuously evolve your website with all your new works, keep in touch with your clients, make new artist friends and new vendor markets at your new location. It may be a little frustrating to introduce your work at all your new locations, however, it’s a blessing. You have the means to expose your artwork around the country/world and get new inspiration from your locations! 

Find Kimberly online at:
Facebook: @KimberlyRatliffArt

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