We had the good fortune of connecting with Kimberly Roberts and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kimberly, why did you pursue a creative career?
My entire life I wanted to be an artist. For the longest time, I thought of the word ‘artist’ literally, as in a painter or sculptor. My dad and uncle were very gifted painters and while I could draw decently when referencing something, I wasn’t great, and I didn’t have the patience to learn. That didn’t stop me from trying though. I spent a lot of money on canvases, sketch books, “how to” books, paint, brushes, and other various tools. I’d spend a day obsessing over my new crafts and then get bored. This would happen with a lot of different mediums. I have picked up embroidery, crocheting, watercolors, etc. If it’s readily available at a hobby store, I’ve tried it. And spent a lot of time and money in the process. I never stuck with something long enough to get really good at it and my main focus was finishing my degree.
I have my bachelors in Social Work and have been working with at-risk youth for the last several years. I started working in foster care at the beginning of my career and now work in a rehab for adolescents struggling with mental health, addiction, and trauma. The facility I work at has remained open this entire time during the pandemic and, as you can imagine, most of our clients come to us with deteriorating mental health due to the quarantine and isolation. It’s been challenging trying to manage my own mental health on top of helping other people with theirs. Self-care is the most important thing when you work in my field, and having a creative outlet is the best form of self-care for me.
Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with autism. It’s very common for those on the spectrum to have several special interests and obsessions. This would explain why I’m a jack of all trades, master of none. As someone who picks up different hobbies often, I really dove in when the pandemic hit. My first quarantine hobby was building miniature dollhouses. After gluing several wrong pieces of a tiny chair together, I gave that up. Following that, I started to collect oddities and began learning about taxidermy. A taxidermist I follow on Instagram had just starting selling “butterfly preservation kits.” It was a kit completed with everything you needed to preserve your own butterfly. I had just raised caterpillars and released them as butterflies a few weeks prior – another quarantine hobby. I purchased the kit and when it arrived, I was so scared to even pick up the huge butterfly specimen it came with. After working up the courage and completing the task, I was hooked. I fell in love with the process of working with such beautiful and delicate creatures. I had all of the tools needed for pinning butterflies, so I started to purchase more specimens from places that sourced them ethically. After several months of perfecting the skill, I started to advertise them on social media and had a lot of interest from people wanting to purchase my framed butterflies and moths. I had such a high demand that I made my own business, Bees and Wings.
Bees and Wings has had such great success over the last year that I’ve been able to reduce my hours at my social work job and started to create art full time. Social work is my first love, and I can’t imagine ever not doing it in some capacity, but being able to have my art has kept me sane during my own mental health struggles. I’ve been able to bring my social work job and my art together by doing Horticulture groups each week with my clients. I teach them things like gardening, composting, house plants, the planet, and insects. Nothing makes me happier than seeing kids freak out over my bug collection.
I’ve wanted to be an artist my whole life, but I never imagined that the one thing to stick would be creating insect art.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I preserve butterflies, moths, bees, and other various insects. All of my specimens are cruelty-free and sustainably sourced. I source them from butterflies houses in third world countries. They raise the butterflies and then release half of them to maintain the population. The other half of butterflies live their full lives and die of natural causes, then they are sold to people like me. This provides financial incentives to these countries to maintain the natural flora and fauna and helps the butterfly population. I get my bees from local beekeepers in California and sometimes I’ll have friends who gift me dead bugs they find around their yard. The lifespan of a butterfly can be as little as a week or just a few months. Bees have a lifespan of only a couple of weeks. By preserving them, I’m able to give them a second chance and allow their beauty to live on much longer. We’re also able to learn about genetics, mutations, and diseases when you preserve specimens.
Working with these specimens are not easy. You can’t touch the butterfly wings at all because the oils from your fingers will rub off the scales. The wings are very delicate and rip easily. I’ve messed up several in the process, but I never let a specimen go to waste. I always find a way to turn it into art.
When I tell people what I do, I often get told “my grandparents would collect framed butterflies!” I’m learning that this is a dying art and I feel honored to not only get to recycle nature, but to bring this art form back. I also get to educate others on the importance of insects and the contributions they make to us and our planet.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
When I have friends in town, I always take them to my two favorite bars – Cliftons and No Vacancy. These themed bars are always a hit. For food, I take them to all you can eat Korean BBQ or taco trucks. Then we’ll finish the day by watching the sunset at Point Dume.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’m from a small town in the middle of nowhere, Texas. There aren’t many artists or creatives there and the “normal” thing to do is go to college, get a job, and start a family. I never felt like I fit in or belonged in my hometown. I moved to Los Angeles two years ago and it was the first place I ever felt at home. Since moving to LA, I’ve met so many interesting, unique, and creative people that have inspired me in some way or another. Most of my friends are artists, musicians, creatives, or work in entrainment. My boyfriend and friends have been so supportive in my transition of being a full time social worker, to being a full time artist. Seeing all of those around me who work so hard to do what they love is so inspiring and gives me the confidence to have my own business. I want to especially thank my boyfriend for encouraging me to always do what makes me feel fulfilled.
Other: Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/BeesandWings
Jennica Mae (@jennicamaephoto)