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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight: Katie Shelly

Why is illustrator important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? Illustration is important to me because it’s a tool for reflecting and interpreting our world. An illustration can instantly suggest a new way of seeing or feeling. On the surface, illustration shows us a person, place or concept. Like writing, illustration gets interesting when the choices in rendering suggest a way to feel about that person, place or concept. That power of suggestion, to set the mood around a thing, is very important. One could certainly use this power for good or for evil! Personally, I like to use my “power” as an illustrator to bring an element of cheer to our lives. Cheer is so important to life. To many people’s surprise, on the inside I am often lacking in cheer, and I suppose my illustration practice is my attempt to cheer myself. I have learned through study and experience that some of the cheeriest illustrators can be the saddest people inside. Maybe we need this work simply to cheer ourselves. Cheer goes hand-in-hand with love. We all need more cheer and love in our lives. For me, it’s the ability to conjure some cheer that makes illustration (and music, and dance, and sculpture, and any art, really) sparkly and attractive.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure artist’s block? Through years of trial and error, I’ve finally come up with a personal system that keeps creative block at bay. I do my best to set aside the first hour of every morning for painting practice. I have a dedicated desk for painting, and beside it I keep a trove of ideas I might like to paint. Just sitting down to the desk with nothing on the “to-paint list” is a recipe for major creative block. It was a big help when I realized that I tend to get inspired when I’m away from my desk (at the museum, in the park, etc). At first I thought this meant I should take my paints on the go, but I figured out that I hate painting outside, it’s too distracting. So the act of getting inspired to paint and the act of painting are kept separate. Collecting inspiration happens in an organic, serendipitous way when I’m outside (and I take pictures on my phone to remind me). Combing through and reflecting on those fleeting moments of inspiration is what happens in the calm of the studio. I keep a calendar beside my painting desk just to mark each day (with a flower) that I manage to practice. When the calendar is looking empty, I know I have to put more effort into clearing that special morning time for practice. Too much time without practice and you get rusty. Creativity can be very pedestrian in that way, it’s like any other skill that needs practice.

What is your favorite time to work? The morning hours of (about 10am to noon) are really the only time I can get decent painting done. The rest of the day it’s like I have a different brain.

What’s the best piece of art/illustration advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? Just two days ago I started tutoring with Giuseppe Castellano, an illustration teacher. He mentioned something about “giving less of a damn” and I think that’s an idea for painting that I want to keep coming back to. Less hesitation, more audacity. Big, daring strokes.

What excites you most about being an illustrator in today’s age? The mood of our times is somewhat dark, so “excitement” isn’t a word I can easily use to describe my feelings in this age of climate disaster, pandemic and political polarization. My illustration practice feels more like a refuge than anything else. I need a respite from the scary headlines. We all do. I think the current cultural mood is about healing and even atonement. I hope I can provide a support for these things through illustration. And it is my honor and privilege to be able to offer some cheer when things get dark.

The Joy of Pizza, written by Dan Richer and Katie Parla, with illustrations by Katie Shelly is out now with Voracious Books.