A special welcome today to Kelli Shedd, an artist who as you will see, holds a love for all things nature! Welcome to Artist Strong Kelli.
Carrie: How did you discover your love of drawing?
Kelli: I have always enjoyed drawing as an activity and form of artistic exercise, but I really fell in love with drawing when I decided to focus on printmaking as an undergraduate art student at the University of Connecticut. Each type of print process, whether planning for a woodcut or drawing on a metal plate with an etching needle, is dependent on a love for drawing. Once I had graduated and was unable to print as often drawing became my focus–I can draw everyday and in any location. When I worked as a hiking guide I perfected a small and light weight drawing kit that I could bring along for the down time- some of my favorite sketches and small drawings come from that little kit!
Kelli: My preference for working with mostly lines developed out of searching for a new way to create work that I felt I could connect with. Once I discovered the joy in challenging myself to create a landscape or object with only short lines,then say with a couple of long lines and all the remaining lines short, I found myself addicted like a boy who falls in love with a new video game! Using mostly line feels very clean and deliberate when I am working on a drawing. I don’t like to sketch out shapes or lines with a pencil beforehand–I prefer to attempt to be confident in my mark making by using pen immediately. If you think about it, almost every drawing is made up entirely of lines but the way they are positioned or layered makes all the difference. In my drawings the lines are both the primary focus of the piece, but also a supporting element in the overall description of the image. There is also a very calming and therapeutic aspect to using just lines. Someone asked me once if my drawings were “zen-tangles.” I had never heard of such a thing (kicking myself for not thinking of that name too!) but just the name made sense to me. While I don’t consider my work “zen-tangles” I definitely understand what the feeling and fascination that others have with lines too,
Carrie: What/who inspires you?
Kelli: The main inspiration for my work are the mountains and forests that surround me. I live near the Northern Presidential peaks of the White Mountains and am lucky enough to be able to see amazing stretches of ridge line and right into King Ravine from my kitchen window. These ridges and peaks are reoccurring images in much of my work. Hiking in these forests also provides a variety of unique flora and fauna to be inspired by, currently this has led to my obsession with fungi and the amazing line patterns that describe their shape. I am also inspired by patterns both found in nature, and also man made. Contour lines on hiking maps, intricate lace patterns and stitches are some of my favorite to use in my drawings to describe natural forms. Of the human variety, I have always been amazed and inspired by Alex Katz and Ed Emberley. The clean & deliberate brush strokes of Katz’s portraits and landscapes are so smart in how they describe the subject without over complicating it. And Ed Emberley’s series of books reinforced by passion for art and creativity as a child, allowing me to understand how to start with a simple idea or shape and turn it into a whole new world or object.
Carrie: How does an idea develop for you? (Do they come to you spontaneously, for example?)
Kelli: Most of my ideas develop by experience and the memory or in many cases the photograph I take to remember a particular experience. I spend a lot of time recreating in the mountains year round and find that almost any adventure leaves me with inspiration for a drawing or a new pattern to explore. This fall I was on a walk down the forest road at the end of my street and noticed a piece of a wasp nest on the ground, close by was the remaining nest still hanging in a red spruce. I brought my camera out the next day to take some photographs that would allow me to have a closer look at the texture and patterns of the nest, and before I knew it I was searching for images of nests made by different wasp species online and at the library. Another way I like to develop ideas is to make it into a game for myself. I’ll look through some of my favorite reference photos, knitting books, and a pile of favorite images I have collected over the years and pick the shape and pattern I am most drawn to at the time to combine. Sometimes this turns into a hot mess, but often it can lead to a new idea or different way to use line as a language in future pieces of work.
Kelli: I love this question! There are definitely times when I have an idea in my head of what sections of a drawing need to be filled with pattern or line to finish the piece, but more often than not, it can take me a few days or even a few weeks of studying a drawing to decide if it is complete or if it needs more work. When I am having this dilemma I will put the piece I am developing on a prominent shelf in my house that I walk by often–this way I have a variety of opportunities to glance at it as I walk my or study it more closely from a variety of distances. However, I think I still have many “unfinished” pieces lurking around that I may not figure out for another year!
Carrie: Can you share a time when you worked through a problem in your artist practice? What did that look like?
Kelli: A few years ago I was struggling to figure out once again what making “fine art” meant to me. In addition to my “fine art” I also create a more commercial line of stationery and paper goods, Borealchick Designs. While still predominantly nature based, I had been focusing on establishing my “business” for too long without taking a break for the work that was truer to myself. When I tried (fully expecting that I was just getting back on the bicycle) my mind was completely stuck. I was trying to draw anything and everything I could think of as a way to clear out all of the clutter and break off the rust, but was just treading water. Frusterated, I decided that instead of making art I was going to look at past art I had made in hopes that I would be inspired or figure out the solution to my problem somehow! Looking through just about every past sketch book I had filled from the past decade, and going through countless portfolios or older work, I was able to literally see when I had been in this same rut and how my work progressed after. I wasn’t inspired by any one particular drawing or sketch, but I let myself relax about the situation and realized that what I was going through was only temporary. The week after I started sketching out some landscape with a quick deliberate tick-line pattern. I developed a little language for how I could draw peaks, conifers and learned to describe a sense of depth with just a few of these little lines. This little invented language of pattern is the same one I use in much of my work today and I’d even go as far to say that I would not be using line and pattern in the manner I am today, without that language.
Carrie: What does your studio space look like?
Kelli: Currently I am fortunate enough to use one of the spare bedrooms in my house as a studio. I think that about 70% of my possessions are art (material) related so they do spread beyond the studio into the rest of the house (even my night stand contains a few knitting projects and drawing materials). But I don’t work strictly in my studio. When the weather is nice I enjoy bringing my work outside and in the winter I prefer to work in the living room since it is the warmest room in the house this time of the year! Most of the time I can tell by the “state” of my studio whether I am being productive or going through a block. When it appears as if a tornado has ripped through I feel most productive, and when I have been lazy I notice that I have re-categorized my plethora of paper, paints and pens! What’s nice about a mobile medium such as drawing is that I can (hopefully) work in just about any small sized space as well since my family will be expanding later this summer- meaning the studio will also be the guest room!
Kelli: My advice would be to think about why you are feeling held back and break this down into smaller pieces. Sometimes starting a new project can feel like you are biting off way more that you are capable of but so often this is not the case! Try to look at the project like a “problem” that needs a solution and then start to set parameters as to how you will go about solving the problem/project. This is a technique I use most often in freelance projects that I work on where the client has an idea of the feeling of what they want, but I am in charge of executing the idea in a visual manner. And if this doesn’t work- just put your pen on the paper and get all of the clutter that you imagine is holding you back out. It may not solve your problem right away, but your hand and technique will have been exercised which can lead to more confidence in your abilities to tackle that new idea or project.
Kelli: If you’d like to see more of my artwork the best place would be: borealchickdesigns.com While I use this site for both fine art and my business, I like to keep a balance of all of my work. (The gallery page has a nice little collection). My Etsy shop (www.etsy.com/shop/BorealChickDesigns) has a selection of my stationery line, but from time to time I stock my drawings as high quality reproductions or on note card sets.
Carrie: How do you define creativity?
Kelli: To me, creativity is having the passion and ability to look beyond what is right in front of ones self to interpret it in a new way. I don’t necessarily think this means coming up with a completely new idea each and every time, but understanding that nothing is what is seems on the surface, and that no one can interpret anything in the same exact way. I think it’s pretty “freeing” to interpret creativity like this since it really means that everything is open to a different interpretation. There are no rules or boundaries as to what is or isn’t art/creative and therefore it sort of takes the pressure off of trying new ideas or pursuing a crazy direction that may or may not end up manifesting itself into anything! I’ve seen and connected to this idea in many of the creative people I’ve been close with, whether they are musicians, mathematicians, or performers. When you make a piece of art, no one will have the same reaction or interpretation as the next person, and I think that’s pretty creative in itself.
Thank you again Kelli for sharing your Creative Spirit and taking the time to speak with Artist Strong readers.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: What project have you been holding back on? Try out Kelli’s structure of creating parameters. And if you feel stuck, don’t forget to check out her website borealchickdesigns.com!