Friday, January 20, 2012

INSPIRING ARTIST: Kelsey Garrity Riley

Hi Everyone! This week actually marks the new year for the Chinese people. (In our Lunar Calender context) So with the "start" of the New Year (again, haha) we bring you a cool illustrator that we've promised last week! We bring you, Kelsey Garrity Riley! Kelsey graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design. In 2010, we were featured in the same EXHIBITION as her and since then, we've been a fan of her work. As you can see from Kelsey's illustration, her illustration are simple, the usage of negative space  in her works is ingenious and they are appealing! 

Grab a cup of coffee and enjoy the long post!!!!!

Visit Kelsey's website HERE

Rabbits: You graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design majoring in illustration. How did that happened and why did you choose illustration as a major? 

Kelsey: I first heard of SCAD from a few professors in High school ( I went to an international school in Germany) I knew I wanted to go to art school, to study fashion, painting or illustration, I wasn't sure yet- I enjoyed it all so much! SCAD seemed like it had great programs in many different majors and the opportunity to try classes in all of them. I applied early and was accepted, and since I had received a scholarship I decided it was the right place to go. I had been looking at a few other colleges of course, Parsons and an art school in San Francisco. I never had any particular art education in Germany, I just always enjoyed it, and my parents always encouraged it. Thankfully there was a lot of freedom in high school art classes to try new things and use equipment outside of classes. 

As I said, I was always interested in several fields of the arts. Even once in College I switched my major between fashion and illustration several times before reaching the point when I absolutely knew I wanted to pursue illustration. Some of my favorite classes were random ones like 3d design, I think in any field you can learn so much from the other arts! I even considered starting over with an interior design major at one point. but all that to say.. I love illustration! and cant imagine wanting to do anything more.

Rabbits: Your illustration style is very unique and your use of negative space ( even the whites) are bold and daring allowing your characters to stand out elegantly in a pleasing way. How did you get to where you were today? Did SCAD help build your style?

Kelsey: Ooh, personal style is such a difficult topic. In school we were always told not to settle on one too soon- to experiment around for a while. Then by the last few months of class the hope is that you've developed a style without even realising it. I didn't know anyone who wasn't frustrated by the fact that there is almost no other way to "develop a style", you really just have to try what works for you, see what work you are drawn to without taking from it too strongly. A lot of it is trial and error, and seeing what people respond to, and what you feel most comfortable in. I loved the illustration department at SCAD so much, there was a lot of support from professors and other students when it came to figuring out what the best direction for your work was. 

For me personally, as I'm sure there is for most people, there were a few pieces of work that once i had finished, they really felt like the "right direction" for me, certainly one I was excited about. Especially my final year of school, things were really starting to make sense. I knew I liked subtle colors, varied line work and a mix of  gentle imagery with a little bit of dark undertones. I should say too that I think once you figure out what medium works best for you, and what supplies it will help direct your work. Even something seemingly is simple as what paper you are working on makes a huge difference. I had always loved collaging outside of my school work, and I sort of had a light bulb moment when I realised I could incorporate something I loved separately into projects. If you aren't sure where to go with your work, pull in things you love, no matter how abstract they may be. For me this also meant what i was choosing to illustrate- personal memories, and stories I loved rather than what seemed like more popular things to illustrate.

Kelsey developed her unique style through lots of exploration.

Rabbits: The colors in your illustrations have a water color and nostalgic feel to them. Why did you choose this approach? 

Kelsey: My answer to question 2 sort of leads into this question. I love subtle colors! The idea of a piece looking old and worn, with history, but clearly one that's contemporary. Still trying to figure that idea out completely in every piece! sometimes it works, and sometimes the balance is more difficult. Also the American market in particular, at least for mainstream children's book publishing, hasn't been entirely receptive of it. Things might be changing, but for a while I was getting a lot of comments that I needed to use brighter colors and more exaggerated expressions. I'm still hoping I can learn from these critiques but also stick to what I love doing. I have always loved old found objects and now have a very large stash of old papers I use for collaging. A lot of it I've brought back from Europe especially and my brother is always sending us old papers. 

My husband works with collage as well, so we are always on the hunt for these things together. I rarely use collage exclusively though, its often hard to tell that I have at all, I always use collaged tones mixed in with gouache and pen and ink. Sometimes a bit of acrylic as well. I always use Windsor and Newton gouaches! also, their "Peet Brown" ink. that was another helpful realization- that I loved ink work, but that using black ink was too harsh with what I wanted to do. I also now always use the thin 515 nib pen by Brause. I tried it out in a beautiful little pen and ink shop in Paris called Melodie Graphique and now I cant use anything else. They aren't expensive and give a really beautiful line, I've only been able to find them online since then.  I personally don't care for much work that's done entirely digitally. But being able to clean up and add finishing touches to my work in photoshop is so important! It makes the biggest difference having that option. Learning to work with digital programs was by far one of the most valuable things I got from school, as much as I struggled with it at the time, I would say now that its invaluable.

Rabbits: Can you talk about your first official gig/exhibition? 

Kelsey: hm...official gig? I don't know what qualifies as an official gig, I would say I'm still working towards that in some ways. I started selling artwork in high school, certainly not the kind of work I do now- I did a lot of watercolor paintings, so portraiture as well. I still sell other kinds of work- landscape and portrait paintings and other things that come up. As for selling work of my current illustrative style, I started getting a few jobs right before graduation- as well as through the career fair at SCAD, I got signed on by an agent (Chris Tugeau) who represents children's book artists mostly to publishing houses in new york. As a day job now I do visual merchandising for the Paris Market and Brocante in downtown Savannah (I love it so much!) and have had some amazing opportunities through working there, meeting clients through them and producing art as part of displays. Even if opportunities don't seem to be exactly what you are working towards, you never know where they might lead.

You can find more of Kelsey's illustration at her online store.

Rabbits: These days, you travel between Germany and the United States and your work spans between the two countries. How do you maintain your contacts? 

Kelsey: I wish I traveled back and forth from here and Europe more often! Having lived over there my whole life, and then loving it here in Savannah when I came for college, my husband and I weren't sure at first where we wanted to start our careers. Really, illustration is a blessing because with a good computer and scanner you can work from almost anywhere. We spent three months in Germany last winter and hope to go back for a while at some point. But right now, it makes more sense for us to work on our career in the US. We're also considering moving, maybe in the next few years- New York maybe, I think every artist thinks they will spend a bit of time there.

Rabbits: Is there a difference in the illustration industry between Germany and the United States ?

Kelsey: There is very much a difference between the styles and artistic influence of America and Europe! As I mentioned before- a more muted color palette seems more accepted in Europe, even more than that anything more "dark" or edgy has more of an audience in Europe. Some of my favorite work was the 5 piece collection I did that got third place in Teatrio, an Italian children's book competition. A bit darker and more muted than anything else Ive done, the same work that was awarded, is probably the most alienating for the American publishers I've showed it to.

Apart from illustrations, Kelsey's works are translated into other forms as well.

Rabbits: The career of an illustrator is an exceptionally tough one, many artists took years to find their own unique voices in their work. Can you give some advice to artists that are starting out fresh?

Kelsey: As for getting ones work out there- yikes! Its a constant battle! I'm still working at it certainly. I will say again, to take every opportunity, even ones that may not seem like they are exactly the direction you want. You never know where it will lead, you never know who will see it and what that may lead to. Be grateful to the people and opportunities that help you out. for me that's certainly been my family and my incredibly supportive husband, my agent who took a risk on hiring me right out of school, the people at The Paris Market who have provided great opportunities. Getting your work spread around online is so important, and something I'm trying to figure out how to do more of. 

Deborah Beau from the amazing blog Kickan an Conkers has been really encouraging to me in particular, featuring my work and passing it along to others. I also want to say that at least in my experience so many things that were difficult upfront proved to be the most rewarding in the end- work I had to stay up late for, struggle to enter into competitions on time and things like that. The business of illustration does not come naturally to me, but I'm trying to work on it, its so important! The industry is changing in some ways though, a lot of the bigger artists now are self made- that means developing your own projects, promoting your own work. I just started an Etsy and I very much recommend that or some other way to sell your work online- so people have a reference point for your work. I've also enjoyed developing my style into different projects- like me dolls- making your specific vision distinctive across the board.

Rabbits: Being an artist, we have to maintain our personal growth. How do you keep yourself current? 

Kelsey: The illustration market is so overwhelming! there are so many incredible artists out there and to be honest, often when I spend too much time looking through their work it can seem daunting. I still will look at a few artists I really like now and then. For the most part though if I want to see inspiring imagery, I look to work I like in other mediums- fine art, interior design, fashion and nature. I find I'm still getting visual inspiration but not becoming distracted by other peoples style.

These days, Kelsey's illustration can be found on displays at stores. 

Rabbits: Are you working on any personal stuff right now? What are your future plans?

Kelsey: I'm always trying to work on new things. I'd like to develop my own full length children's book, work on making more prints available, so many new ideas are always overwhelming me. I am excited to create some finger puppets that will be sold at Kickan and Conkers new online store soon. A dear friend of mine and I will be starting a joint blog/ semi-annual collective collection too! Its going to be called Bois de la Laine and will feature spring/fall collections of our original work. Shes an amazing fashion/knitwear designer. It will also feature works by my amazing husband and my brother. I've also just joined my husband and friends in - a bimonthly blogpost where we choose a topic to create original work based of off. Hopefully more crazy and amazing projects will always be presenting themselves!


  1. thanks for this, it's very inspiring to hear how other artists started developing their style :)

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