Hello there, art lovers! Are you excited for another round of Illustrators Arise? Well, are ya? Then let's get started! As May is the month where most countries celebrate Mother's Day and Japan celebrates Children's Day (こどもの日), I thought this month I'd introduce to you a children's book illustrator who I've been admiring for years, Kelsey Garrity-Riley. When I first stumbled upon one of her works was through They Draw and Travel, where she did an illustration of Savannah, Georgia. Ever since then, I've been following her work, which never fails to make me swoon upon sight. After graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design, Kelsey stayed in said town for four years and moved to Brooklyn, NY, where she now lives. Take it away, Kelsey!
Hi, Kelsey! Why don’t we start by what first got you into illustration and why did you stick with it?
I always loved creating! When I was very young I always enjoyed drawing, painting and making things with my hands. When I first got to College I wasn't sure for a while if I wanted to do Illustration, Fashion or Fine Art. Everything always seemed to lead back to illustration though! I started to realize I always wanted to create narratives with imagery.I see you went to SCAD. It’s only my favourite art college in the USA! What did you learn there aside from art and would you recommend people going to an art college?
Oh cool! You should definitely apply! I really enjoyed my time at SCAD and loved the illustration professors. I definitely also learned a lot through experiences outside of the illustration department. It was so great getting to know people who were in different majors and going into different creative fields (learning about creative jobs I didn't even know existed!) Some of my favorite classes were the basic non illustration classes where you get to explore different ways of working- they definitely helped me understand illustration was the right fit for me! I loved a required 3D class, and an intro to Photography, and Fashion courses I took. I think its important to look all areas of creativity for inspiration, not just illustration.
What materials do you usually work with?
I usually work with a dip pen and Winsor and Newton "Peat Brown" ink, gouache, and sometimes collage on Watercolor or "Vellum" Bristol paper. Then I always clean up the image a bit in photoshop.
You’ve made at least two children’s book illustration before. Would you ever be interested in writing your own book one day?I would LOVE to write one! I have a few ideas up my sleeve I'm trying to work on, but its hard to find the time to dedicate to it at the moment. Fingers crossed I'll have my own book out one day soon!
Do you think working in a field closely related to children influences you in any way?
It's inspiring, and sometimes hard. I'm trying to learn to look at things more simply and not spell everything out visually. Children understand and appreciate more than we think!
Until 2014 you worked as a display artist and buyer for The Paris Market in Savannah. Can you tell us what the jobs entail and how much do they differ from illustrations?
It ended up being hugely influential for me and my work! I really loved getting to curate inspiring objects- it helped me learn to think of creative problem solving in a different way. I sometimes got to incorporate my illustration work. Working as a part of a creative team that I loved also really helped me grow as a person. As a buyer I would look at retailers and order for the coming season, and as a display artist I set up the windows and arrangements of product all over the store.
My husband Erik (also an illustrator) and I just always wanted to experience New York! Savannah is wonderful, but is a very small town- we are loving being up here with such a richness of things to experience. Endless museums, parks, restaurants etc. We also never really got used to the horrible, humid Savannah heat- Being back where there are Seasons again is so wonderful!
What was the most memorable advice someone told you when you were a child? How did it help you later on in life?
Hm...I can't think of something directly. But I am super grateful for the support my parents gave me- they were always thrilled with the things I created, they never questioned, only encouraged it! Having that freedom when you are very young is a wonderful thing. (This seems like an especially appropriate thing to be saying on Mothers Day, haha- but its true!)
I'm grateful I get to do what I love, and I just want to keep getting to do it! I'd really love to write and illustrate my own book, and always love getting to work on new projects- I'd love to explore pattern design.
Do you have any word of wisdom to share with starting-out illustrators, like myself?
I know its obvious but just never stop creating! Being a freelance illustrator is exciting and exhausting and there are so many ups and downs! Putting your work out there can feel very vulnerable, but the Internet really is a great tool to sharing your creations (and one I need to get better at using...)
A little note from me
There is a certain endearing quality in Kelsey's artworks. Her warm tones and soft lines feel like the way a mother would stroke her daughter's hair and kiss her forehead. All her works tend to remind me of a fireplace lit at the end of a long day of a father, where his wife and children are waiting. They speak of a friendly neighbourhood in a sentimental autumn day. They seem like a mug of hot apple cider in a cold evening. Her choice of colour for every piece and impressive depiction of the people, without being too serious or defined, create a certain sentimental value, despite being quite new. It's like a story told from generation to generation. A tradition withheld and a love grasped. I think there's no better way to describe her works other than this: her illustrations feel like home.