Designed Realism (1926–1944; with a few isolated realist paintings through 1953):
Kirkland used mostly watercolor during his first and second periods (28 years). His watercolor paintings are striking and unusual for their strong colors, stylized images and dramatic subjects. Kirkland painted most of his watercolors on location. When it was below freezing in the Colorado mountains, he mixed antifreeze or sometimes alcoholic spirits into his watercolors. For his watercolors, he was recognized nationally with 18 group shows at The Art Institute of Chicago (1930–1948), 6 group shows at the Kansas City Art Institute (1932–1942), 4 group shows at the Los Angeles County Museum (1940–1945), 4 solo shows (1930–1942) and 25 group shows (1929–1953) at the Denver Art Museum and many other institutions.