This is the 12th installment in the series ‘When Art Meets Chickens’, profiles of artists, crafters and writers that are inspired by, and incorporate, chickens into their work.
I met Kelly online and fired off some questions – which she promptly answered – to get some insight into her process and how chickens came to be subject matter in her paintings.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m a 40-year-old mom of three who works full time at a high school as an instructional assistant. My second job is as an artist. I took many classes at university and almost had enough to double major in science and art. I’ve never stopped pursuing art and have dabbled in many different forms, but until two years ago I hadn’t really figured out my identity as an artist. Watercolor is, by far, my favorite medium and I enhance my compositions with pen, pencil and acrylic paint. My hope is to eventually work as a full-time artist and become locally known in Roanoke, Virginia where I live.
How does that influence your work?
My degree is in Environmental Biology, and I’ve always had a deep love of animals; birds in particular. Using my science background has influenced how I represent the natural world: plants animals, even the weather. I took some time off from art for a few years and worked as a zookeeper and conservationist. After I married and had three kids I really needed to get back to my art and worked on learning as much art history as I could, as well as working in other media.
What’s your history with creating art?
In third grade I took art lessons after school from a university professor in my hometown of Wingate, North Carolina. I later had her as a teacher in college level classes where she pushed me to work bigger and think in terms of overall composition before I even started on painting or drawing. Her instruction gave me a good foundation on how to be professional in my art. The work I did as a kid and the classes I took in school centered me. I enjoyed learning ceramics, carving and welding in school and, later, sewing, embroidery, jewelry making, weaving and calligraphy.
How has your practice changed over time?
I was able to do a lot of work in acrylics in college and helped create two murals for the local hospital. I have done some commission work in acrylics, but I always had this nagging feeling it wasn’t what truly made me happy. I never stopped doing art, but it always felt as if I was trying to fit into someone else’s preconceived notions of what ‘good’ art was supposed to be. Once all my kids were in school, I started working in the public school system and began pursuing my own style both in the media I prefer, and in painting what makes me feel most satisfied. It’s an ongoing process searching for what I want to convey in my painting.
What work is most fulfilling?
I’ve met a lot of watercolor artists that paint landscapes, architecture, animals and plants but I see watercolor a bit differently and enjoy pop art influences, Japanese aesthetics that echo woodblock prints, and themes that may be more dark or confrontational. I enjoy finding the colours in black and white objects and chickens have become a favorite subject matter.
I like when people have an immediate reaction to my work; that tells me that their first impression is at least something strong enough that it shows on their face. Art should make the viewer have some kind of feeling, even a negative one, though I mostly prefer to paint works that are amusing or thought provoking.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
For a long time, I wouldn’t do portraits of dogs, but I now find pet portraits very fulfilling because the emotional response of the owners is so strong. Seeing people cry tears of joy because they received a painting of a pet that had recently passed away is a lot of what art represents to me. I especially enjoy it when clients show me how they have framed or displayed a piece. I also love hearing that something I painted ended up in a person’s kitchen, since that’s usually where the heart of the home is located.
What is your dream project?
I would like to do a mixed media installation project at our local art museum. And I’d love to become known along the eastern seaboard as an unconventional watercolor painter that transforms the media into something not only pretty, but something that provokes thought, that confronts preconceived ideas, and shows new perspectives.
What motivates you to create?
I love seeing the details take shape under my fingers in a composition that I saw in my mind. When I was younger art was something I wasn’t brave enough to pursue, but now have a lower tolerance for putting off the things that are important to me. I always wanted to see how successful I could be once I’d completely devoted my energy toward it. I’ve taken the plunge into the world of professional artists and am excited to make progress. A lot of becoming a successful artist is NOT about the things you learn in school because marketing and business are not taught to art majors in undergrad classes; that part is all achieved by trial and error. Learning to connect with people who will want what I paint and learning how to represent myself as a different person than the one I was when I was a zookeeper or a mom, has been an exciting transformative experience. I believe a person is never too old to re-make themselves.
First experience with chickens?
My first memory of chickens was going to the local hardware store downtown in spring and seeing all the different types of chicks. I was never allowed to get any but like any small child I wanted to take care of something cute, tiny and helpless. We never ended up taking any of them home.
My first experience taking care of chickens was in 1999 when my neighbour believed the world would probably shut down for six months after Y2K. She stockpiled non-perishable goods, planted a garden, got goats for milk and six very fast and feisty Rhode Island Red chickens, including a massive, strong rooster. I went over to look at her new flock and when she cautiously lifted the lid on the coop they took that as their cue to escape. For the next hour or so I had to help chase them down. Of the five hens only one screamed at me when I carried her back to the coop. The rooster was finally caught about a half mile away and he glared when I toted him back. At that point I realized that chickens were fast, challenging, and had very individual personalities.
Do you have chickens?
I kept chickens for a couple years, but we didn’t really have the space for them to be happy and ended up giving them to someone with a larger flock and more land.
I keep myself busy reading blogs like this one and reading discussions on Facebook. I get a lot of my inspiration for my painting in the things I hear that are important to chicken owners in the online groups I follow.
How do chickens inspire your work?
As a whole, our society is less connected to the natural world than we were even 100 years ago. I think the resurgence of backyard chicken keepers is partly a response to this hole left in our lives. Chickens fulfill this need for connection. Any dog or cat owner can talk about their animals and it is never questioned that others believe them when they say “my dog or my cat is really sweet, fun, unusual, silly…” because we have accepted this to be true, that animals have distinct personalities and can develop affection for us.
We don’t have the same perceptions about poultry, so chicken owners are somewhat of a subculture that embody a side of life that gets overlooked by the majority but shows us truths about our lives. Chickens permeate our lives whether as food, objects of humour, in memes or as pets so the range of uses in art is nearly limitless. I prefer representing chickens as they interact with the viewer. As domestic birds they get up close, so it’s this personal and emotional connection I really like and the part that most inspires me to continue painting chickens.