Meet Kelsey! A talented visual artist and interior decorator living in Toronto, Canada. We where lucky enough to interview her for this months small business feature – where she opened up about what exactly it means to be a independent artist in North America.
What first brought you to the visual arts?
I remember loving the arts for as long as my memory goes back. I like to think this stems from my mom; she was always having us do crafts, so that got me started at a young age. All through school my favourite class was Art (though there was never enough of those classes in my opinion!). When I got to high school, I was actually turned off from visual arts for a while, partly to do with certain teachers and partly because I wanted to try new things. Needless to say, I was pulled back into it, and full steamed ahead into getting my degree in Visual Arts, which then lead to a diploma in Interior Decorating.
How do you blend interior decorating and visual arts?
I think they’re actually closely related. Many interior decorators look for original artwork as inspiration for a home design. I do the same when I’m created a decorating concept for a home. Sometimes I will use my own paintings as a starting off point, if I think it will work for a client. Other times, I will look for another artist that would be a better match. Having artistic skills helps me navigate both worlds. I can choose work that will really match a client’s personality and home.
Where do you find inspiration?
Many people ask me how I got started painting African animals. Back in University I was doing a project and looking for inspiration. My dad had just gotten back from a trip to Uganda and had a ton of great photographs from his Safari experience. It just seemed like the perfect thing to paint. It felt right, and I felt a connection with these animals that it really felt like I was painting a part of my soul (sorry for the cheese!). Those photographs prompted me to do research of my own into these animals, how many are endangered, in zoos, and just the way they might live their lives. I just went with it and it hasn’t stopped feeling right yet to paint them as my main subject matter.
Now, I look for more inspiration from other artists that I generally find on social media: Pinterest, Instagram, the blogosphere. Looking at other work makes me consider what I could do differently: try new materials, new tools, new techniques, or even new subject matter.
Shes clearly doing somthing right.. Amazing!
What’s your normal process in terms of technique (for the art junkies)
It’s not always the same but generally my process goes something like this:
- Once I know what I’m going to paint I start looking for reference photographs. I usually find these on Pinterest or just simple google search. I always find several images as references. For example, if I am painting an elephant in a field, I would find an image of an elephant in the correct position and angle (or as close as I can get). Then I would find an image of a field that seems right. Then I might find an image of a sky with clouds. Then I might find a completely different image that has a similar colour palette to what I’m going to do. I might even find a few of each of these. This way I can take the element I need from each reference and create my own unique painting.
- I prepare my materials. I find the right size canvas. I typically use oils (though sometimes I switch back to acrylic if I need it to go quicker) which require a lot more preparation. Instead of water, I need paint thinner. I always use mineral spirits for this and combine linseed oil, and damars varnish to add sheen. This mixture thins out the paint to its easier to manipulate but also adds body back in the paint. I also however, use straight mineral spirits. This thins the paint without adding any body back into it, making it prone to dripping.
- I start with laying out the piece.
Side note: I don’t use pencil – ever! What’s the point? You can always paint over something if you make a mistake, and I personally think that all those “mistakes” only adds depth to your work.
I do quick sketch paintings of where the elephant goes, where the skyline is, where the mountains will be (you know, if there is mountains).
- I block in colours with a wash technique (a thin paint) that usually is quite “drippy”.
- After waiting several days for this layer to dry, I will start building up the piece. I add layers with my brush, with my palette knife, and sometimes add more “dripping”. I feel the paint and how I connect with it, and just let my hand do the work without thinking much about it.
- This layering process is the body of the work and can take a day, several days, a week, or several weeks. Since it needs time to dry between layers (or just partly dry), it usually takes more like several weeks to complete a piece.
- I sign the work and touch up the sides to it’s nice and neat. Then I take a ton of pictures of it in good, natural lighting.
Again, this is a very general process but most of my pieces usually follow this guideline!
What is the hardest and most rewarding parts of visual arts/decorating?
The hardest part is definitely finding people who appreciate your work and the time and effort you put into it. A lot of people don’t realize that an artist puts their soul into their work. Finding those clients that love the work you do makes it all worthwhile!
This goes for decorating too! Coming up with a design concept, a shopping list, and renderings take a lot, a lot of time and dedication! Often, (especially when you’re just starting out) you are not being paid for all the time you are putting in. The most rewarding part as a decorator is seeing your clients actually apply your concepts to their homes, and be thrilled with the results!
How can we buy your paintings/ where can we find you?
I actually just launched a new website dedicated to my art! So recently, in fact, that I haven’t even announced it on my blog or social media yet. Lucky you! Be the first to check it out at
Alternatively, my online decorating site is still in business at
If you like something you see, get in touch on my contact page on either site or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
My original paintings are all for sale as well as prints at Society6 . And if you can’t find something that quite fits your home, I do commission work as well. So lots of options for you!
Want to follow Kelsey on social media?
Kennedy Gallery (St. Catharines, 2012)
Art Battle (Toronto, 2015)
RAW Artists Showcase: Glimpse
and upcoming…I’m gonna have a booth at the Leslieville Flea Market on Sunday, September 20th