kelsey is the lady behind kelzuki. kelzuki is full of warm colors and folk-inspired paintings that take you back to when things and life were much simpler. kelsey's gouache paintings are enthralling - take a look for yourself! and hear more about her process and how she got to where she is today.
what is your background?
i've been really, really privileged to have had a family who wanted to, and was able to, support my art education all throughout my childhood and young adulthood. i started taking youth studio classes at the minneapolis institute of art when i was in elementary school. when i got a little older, i took watercolor classes at the minnesota center for botanical arts, which turned out to be totally formative. botanical painting is really scientific and the color theory is incredibly sophisticated - i've never come anywhere close to the technical mastery that many of my classmates did, but the chance to learn with and from some true masters was incredible.
also, my dad is a "hobbyist" watercolor artist. i put hobbyist in quotes because while he won't admit it, he's really quite skilled and i have many of his paintings hanging in my home. because he was always painting when i was growing up, i had access to brushes, paint, and all kinds of cool watercolor paper, and he and i painted together. my mom loves museums, too, so she would take my siblings and i to art shows even when we were way too little to appreciate it. (this grew on me, and now i am museum-obsessed!) so basically, my parents and my childhood completely set me up for life as a painter.
i also have a degree in visual communications from loyola university chicago, and since i graduated four years ago i've found a new medium - gouache - which works so well for illustration. i'm obsessed with royal talens gouache - that stuff, and whatever paper i can get my hands on, is all i need these days!
how did you start illustrating and selling?
i started selling on etsy after graduating college. i was lucky to have some work featured on design*sponge early on, which gave me a great boost in audience (and some really cool exposure in other publications like good housekeeping and anthology magazines). since then, i've just been slowly growing my customer and client bases. i have an agent who represents me for children's illustration, and i do a lot of personal commissions. i've just started illustrating editorially for magazines and websites, too, which i love and hope to continue doing! and i still have an etsy shop, as well as a website of my own, where i sell prints and paintings.
are you illustrating full-time? if so, can you tell us about how it is being a lady boss?
about half my income comes from illustration and art sales, and the rest from freelance production design. juggling the two can be tricky- i don't feel like a lady boss much of the time, more like a blindfolded person trying to find my way through a forest. but i love what i do, so it's worth it- and organization and time management are becoming more manageable as i go on.
how did your style develop?
a lot of the subject matter in my personal work comes from nature. i love being outside. i've always lived near lakes, and currently i live just a couple blocks away from the mississippi river in minneapolis, so i get to see lots of wildlife for a city person! the twin cities are cool that way. i'm a sort of compulsive collector of things, so i'm always picking up pinecones and feathers and leaves. i also have a growing collection of old science and nature guides. i love the flat, folksy illustrations of a lot of vintage children's books. lois lenski is one of my favorites, and i read the betsy-tacy books she illustrated maybe 100 times or more as a kid, so i also think that style burned itself into my brain!
what are you currently working on?
i'm illustrating a children's picture book that's about nature identification- that comes out next year, and i can't wait! i'm also writing and illustrating a couple of children's books of my own, so i'm always trying to get those finished. and i'm also just making paintings and painted patterns and whatever personal work i can!
what are you looking forward to this year?
i'm just looking forward to making more art. i've been exploring some kind of mystical/cosmic/natural wonder-y themes and i'm excited to continue down that path, as far as personal work goes. there are a million projects i'd like to do, it's definitely hard to narrow them down!
what advice would you give to makers who are just getting started?
make something every day. make something twice a day! just make as much stuff as you can and don't get too hung up on things that don't work out. as an illustrator you need to really train your hand and eye and the only way that really happens is by working, working, working.
i'm also a big proponent of keeping your visual inspiration close- my studio walls are pretty much covered in art and photos and random bits that i like- that's not everyone's style but if you're a visual thinker i definitely recommend trying it out!