Kathleen Kemly is a wonderful artist and illustrator who creates mesmerizing art. I find it impossible to just stroll by her work. There is something intangible that engages the viewer! I love the wonderful colors, the textures and the movement in her work.
Today Kathleen focuses on fine art paintings in oils.
Like many artists, Kathleen was the ‘art kid’ in school. Always drawing, always creating. After high school, she graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York City in the Illustration program.
It was a wonderful experience, where she often did six hours a day of life figure drawing. This is where she really honed her skills in realistic drawing and sketching.
Her first job after graduating was for a firm in New York that did toy packaging design and photo stylization. It was very intense, deadline-driven work. Here she learned the business side of things such as meeting deadlines, creating step-by-step illustrated instructions, working with models, selecting costumes for product shoots, and how packaging is engineered for toys.
She and her husband moved with their children to Seattle where she began illustration work for children’s books. She joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators(SCBWI) of Western Washington and began working on a portfolio of work. This organization provided her with the networking and business connections and advice that is crucial for professional illustrators in the children’s book market.
Kathleen has illustrated a whopping 20 books for children! Her latest book is Molly By Golly by Dian Ochiltree, a children’s picture book about the legend of America’s first female firefighter.
Here is an interior sample of a two-page spread from this wonderful book:
She has worked for over 17 years creating illustrations for textbooks, magazines, and other publications specific to the children’s market.
Kathleen enjoyed using torn painted paper in some of her acrylic illustrations. Some of my favorite pieces are the ones with orange or red underpainting and utilizing painted paper collage-like brushstrokes.
A few years into working this way, Kathleen found that the work began to be ‘about the technique more than the art’ for her.
In 2008, the book publishing industry fell apart. She went from being employed full time to no work at all. Yikes.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Kathleen used this unexpected event to take her art in a direction that had always pulled at her: learning how to paint. She was glad to leave collage paper behind, enjoying the challenges of painting form, color and composition. She pivoted to working with oils, which without the availability of collage paper to jazz things up, has forced her to learn more about what makes a painting work.
She enrolled in the prestigious Gage Academy in Seattle. This school teaches traditional atelier classes in realistic drawing and painting, among many other subjects. It provided her with stellar instruction in painting. With oils, Kathleen feels the freedom to fully express her ideas in the entire painting.
Inspirations and Influences
Early in her early education, the Impressionists were a big influence along with more contemporary artists like the Canadian Group of Seven. Today she loves the simplicity and modern art of landscape artists like Richard Diebenkorn and David Hockney.
Hiking in the Pacific Northwest provides the biggest inspiration, Kathleen strives to bring the whole experience of a place into her paintings.
When I asked her what she wished she’d known back when she first started training for her professional career in art, she said that “It’s hard to make money creating illustration art. Nowadays students need to be digitally fluent in programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator and other software. Since her interest was in fine art, rather than rather than illustration, she wishes that she had pursued fine art from the get-go. “It’s important to follow your heart and what you are interested in rather than what the world wants.”
About artists trying to find their own voice, Kathleen advises to work on your technique every day. “That way when inspiration strikes, you are ready. Keep working and learning. Study the old masters, the new artists you admire. You’ll find your own voice by doing your art.”
And lastly, “give yourself an uncomfortable assignment. It’s the struggle that you will learn the most from.”
Kathleen’s current is working in series of three paintings. She is using a similar place or similar colors.
“I’ve found if I’m working in multiples like in a series, I learn a lot with the first one, and then the second one. By the time I’ve arrived at the third piece, I’ve learned so much that the result really benefits.”
Find Her Online
You can find Kathleen online at her website:
On Instagram: @kathleenkemly
On Facebook: Kathleen Kemly