Kelsey Garrity-Riley is an artist and illustrator working out of her home in Savannah, Georgia where she resides with her husband Erik Riley who is also a talented illustrator. She grew up in Germany and Belgium before coming to the States to pursue her love of art at the Savannah College of Art and Design. She graduated in 2010 and works for both professional publications and private commissions.
Ira: Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and what led you to move to America?
Kelsey: I grew up in Belgium and Germany. English is my first language, and as an American citizen I was eligible for better scholarships looking at schools in America. I love and miss Europe but I love it here as well. There really is amazing opportunity for young creatives.
Ira: What school did you attend? Were there courses besides Illustration that you particularly liked and that contributed to the development of your artistic vision?
Kelsey: I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design. I always knew I wanted to pursue art- but it took a while to declare a major exactly. I was very interested in fashion and fine art as well. Not that there can't be a lot of overlap creatively, but now I can't imagine having pursued anything but illustration! I really loved my experience at the school- especially within the Illustration department and on a study abroad quarter in southern France. I absolutely love getting to be creative in other mediums as well- other than my illustration classes I really enjoyed the basic 3d class we had to take.
Ira: Describe your typical working day. Do you have any other jobs besides doing freelance illustration?
Kelsey: I'm a display artist and visual merchandiser at an incredibly wonderful place in downtown Savannah- the Paris Market. Its been a really invigorating creative experience- a lot of the window displays we get to work on are a chance to be creative in ways that are refreshingly different than the work I produce from home. I really enjoy working with a small creative team of amazing people. I also do freelance prop styling on occasion. But lately 90% of my work is freelance illustration work from home.
Ira: What is your creation process? How do you come up with ideas? Where do you find your inspiration?
Kelsey: Hm. There is inspiration everywhere. I love antique stores, nature, old found objects with good stories. Ideas don’t necessarily com from anywhere in particular. I try and jot them down in a notebook as they come to me- and revisit them later to work them into a final piece. I’ve always kind of over-done it with collecting interesting things to surround myself with- a lot of nature pieces like old bones and sticks, I love religious art and taxidermy. My husband and his art inspire me constantly- we often talk through projects as well. I know this is kind of cheezy and modern, but pinterest has become a useful tool for me when I have to build up reference images for a project- especially if its one where a client wants to see or add images.
Ira: What is your favorite medium? Describe some of your favorite technical approaches.
Kelsey: I love working with a dip pen and ink. A small red handled pen called a "Brause 515" is now the only thing I ever use. Peat Brown ink by Windsor and Newton is my absolute favorite, as well as their gouaches. I often use some collage elements as well. I rarely collage imagery, but rather pieces of interesting old colors and patterns. I love the way the old faded colors mix to form the color pallet I'm drawn to. Then I always clean up my image in Photoshop before printing, posting, or sending it to a client!
Ira: Which artists’ work most inspires/influences your own?
Kelsey: When I first saw Carson Ellis's work I was overwhelmed with how well she mixes so many elements that I love. I love her stylization, subject matter and color choices. Growing up I adored the "Brambley hedge" series by Jill Barklem. Other contemporary artists I'm so inspired by are Olaf Hajek, Marcel Dzama and Camilla Engman.
Ira: Do you promote your work in any way? How do you find clients?
Kelsey: I'm constantly trying to be better at having a steady online presence. Its SO important for professional creatives! Maintaining a good website and blog are important.I also have a Facebook account for my work. So many of the illustration jobs I've gotten in the last year were from someone finding my work on line. This most often doesn't mean that they went strait to my website, but that they first found my work on pinterest or re-posted on other blogs. The more your work travels out into the internet world the better! Of course always make sure its credited to you and links back to either your own blog or website so people can find you.
I do also have an agent (Catugeau) for my children's book work, and as of recently one for Editorial and International work (Illozoo). These are great tools and support! I've been represented by Catugeau for 2 1/2 years now and only this month got a full book assignment, so things take time either way! Its so important to not be too discouraged. Every great thing requires a lot of patience, hard work and small consistent steps to get there.
This last year I also made the investment to have my work featured on theiSpot- an online illustration database. I actually wouldn't recommend it based off of my own personal experience- to my knowledge it hasn’t helped my find any jobs or clients. This might be different for people pursuing more editorial work! I’m not sure. But for me it hasn’t been worth it.
Ira: What was your most favorite project that you worked on lately?
Kelsey: I just recently finished a mural in a little girls room that was really enjoyable. It feels so rewarding to see her excited about and interacting with it. I'm in the earliest stages of two children's books which I'm beyond thrilled about!
Ira: Which book would you really want to illustrate and why?
Kelsey: Its hard to say…I love that Wes Anderson hires artists to design fake book covers for his movies- that would be a dream job. I would love to illustrate a very soft an subtle story- one not necessarily modern or historic so I could mix all the things I love together in it…not sure what that would be.
Ira: What do you find most challenging about being an illustrator?
Kelsey: For me, the most challenging thing about being a freelance illustrator is trying to strike a balance with life and work. I've always loved drawing and painting in my free time, but now that all of my work time is taken up with it as well sometimes its hard to know where work ends and daily life begins. I work from home and it can be hard to turn illustration "off" a lot of the time. There is always a feeling that I should be working, when its also very important to take time to pause and appreciate spending time with others, sleeping well, etc. Also I work right next to our kitchen and its hard to not snack all day!
Ira: In your opinion, what does it take for a young illustrator to be successful today?
Kelsey: Patience, dedication, and hard work. Above all probably Self Motivation! Its an exciting time where as young artists we have opportunities to spread our work to others through the Internet, competitions, etc. What that means though is you have to be disciplined enough to work on and promote your own projects even when there isn't a real deadline, or a paycheck or a client.