Oh Instagram. The place I spend hours upon hours discovering inspiration to love, people to meet and places I want to travel. Kelsey Howard is one of the gems I recently discovered in an inspirational scroll session. I was first drawn to her work for the bold use of color and expressions in her facial series, but the more I discovered, the more enamored I became with her variety of work, always in her happy + joyous colors.
I’m excited to talk to Kelsey today about her work, her creative practice and how being a creative has shaped her life in all the most beautiful of ways.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Hello! My name is Kelsey Howard. I currently reside in Wilmington, NC (where I was born and raised). From when I was a young teenager, I was certain I would do something with art and medicine as an adult. I eventually landed on being a registered nurse. Before I went to nursing school, I received a studio art degree with a concentration in painting from Elon University while I also got my prerequisites for nursing school. The stress of my first nursing job was actually what pushed me to begin painting every day. Being creative has filled me with a passion and energy that not many things have in my entire life. I could sit for hours and paint. The more you put into your artwork/being creative, the more creative energy you can get back. There are no mistakes in making art. It’s only one giant learning process.
What is your FIRST memory of being creative?
When I was a kid, I loved to make cards for other people. I drew lots of cats and dogs dressed up in outfits in these cards. I also remember winning the “cutest bunny” drawing award when I was in the second grade during Easter time. By the time I was in middle school, I was reading anatomical drawing books. That’s when faces became my passion. I don’t remember this moment, but my mom has a picture of me when I was three years old painting on a little easel.
Your work is quite varied, both in terms of style, color + approach. What’s the process you go through when figuring out your next piece?
I think I am perhaps a little impulsive when it comes to making work. I am drawn to many different artists and subjects, but bright color is the one constant. By experimenting with different subjects, I am able to narrow in on what I truly enjoy and what I probably won’t try again. Whenever an idea runs through my head, I try to paint it out or write it down to try in the future. I’m also constantly saving images of paintings by other artists that I find exciting and fun. Often times I’ll discover colors I’ve never used before or subjects I’d like to try. I had never painted big cats until this year and they have been very popular.
What’s your creative practice look like on an average day?
Usually I’ll have had an idea in my head for a while before I begin. Others days I just want to play around and loosen up. The best way to be the most productive (for myself) is to set a timer, put the phone down, and just focus on the piece for a certain amount of time. Otherwise I get way too distracted by other tasks. One artist who I really admire once said that during her painting time, she only allows herself to do certain things like- go to the bathroom, listen to music, or make tea. Often times I’ll be painting and then think of a chore I have to do. I then gently remind myself that it can wait and my painting time is precious.
What first attracted me to your work was your use of expressive color in the ladies faces you paint. How did you first start pushing yourself to explore color in new ways?
Thank you! To put it simply, I think bright colors just make me happy. The artists I admire the most typically have a deep sense of color knowledge. At times I just think, “how on earth did they know to throw in that color there?” Colors can have a magical effect if you know where to place them. Lately, I have been exploring shadows and light, value, and overall color theory in more depth. I signed up for an online painting course and have learned an immense amount of useful knowledge. Pushing myself to constantly learn has helped me grow and ultimately create more meaningful work.
What advice to you have for someone trying to hone their own style or practice?
Make a lot of work! Making bad work means you are just learning and making all the mistakes that it takes to begin creating great work. Unless you are just an art-making genius, most people don’t make great work until after years of practice. I have been painting on and off my whole life, but I didn’t see progress until I was doing it every day. I have come so far in the last two or three years and made work I didn’t think I could. Strive to keep learning and keep making!
Rapid Fire Round.
Being creative means_ Seeing the world in a different way. You see something that hasn’t been created yet and bring it into the light.
My creative habit brings me: Connection with others and a deeper connection with myself. When I am not talking with clients or participating in markets, my creative process is largely a solo process. I spend a lot of time by myself when creating. Painting has taught me to be kind and patient with myself. I am not that way with myself all the time, but I try.
My advice to anyone looking to push themselves into a creative life_ No one is inherently born with talent. You have to work at it, study it, learn from others, and ultimately just put in the time. I once read in a book that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. That’s a great deal of devotion! You need to give yourself years of time to improve. It doesn’t come overnight. If you believe in yourself, go with it and push yourself.
Favorite read on creativity: “Girl, stop apologizing” There are so many amazing books out there that I have on my list to read, but I have found a great deal of motivation from this book. I’m definitely one of those people who is like “we have one life to live and have to make the most of it!!” I’m working on living the best life I can and art is a huge part of that.
Best place to travel for inspiration_ I recently traveled through the Palm Springs/ Palm Desert region of California. The light is so bright out in the desert. It seems to enhance every color it touches. The desert itself presented a range of nudes, beiges, and yellows. The sky at sunset was a stunning shade of hazy pink and light lavender. The flora was every shade of green possible and there were brightly colored flowers in every corner.
Best way to get out of a creative slump_ I have a giant collection of saved photos and images on my instagram. I will scroll through these pictures and other artists’ pages to awaken my senses. It reminds me what I am passionate about and what I love. Listening to creative podcasts also helps get me pumped up.
Thanks, Kelsey for sharing your work, your journey and your story with us!