Featured Artist: Redbubble Resident Kelly Gilleran

Artist Kelly Gilleran is one of the three Artists in Residence at our Melbourne office. Kelly’s artworks are known for their depiction of bright, bold food. Drool-worthy depictions of ice cream, french fries, and hot dogs with human legs are a routine part of Kelly’s daring illustrations. Kelly has traveled from Colorado to create works that meld classic pin-up sexiness with pop art-inspired camp.

Visit Kelly’s shop to find products featuring her amazing work.

Featured artist Kelly Gilleran

[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]”The first time I painted a cake with legs my immediate response was, ‘This is my spirit animal.'”[/tweet_box]

Where has the inspiration for your food artworks come from?

The food started when I was working in an art store in college, I’d be trapped on a register surrounded with paper samples and expensive, fancy markers. Soft serve doodles were my go-to, because you can test out lots of colors. I was sent home with a set of gouache one night to paint something for a store display, and 2 hours later I created a cheeseburger painting. At the time I was primarily focusing on large-scale figurative narratives, so to look at this perfect spontaneous little cheeseburger was a huge breath of fresh air. That cheeseburger is still my favorite (exclusively) food painting.

Two years later I was finishing college, and I was working as an artist assistant full time. Literally all I was doing was painting, and I started to hate it. There’s an incredible pressure when you feel like you’ve been given a gift, and you feel obligated to keep moving, and not let your ability atrophy. Painting is the most important thing to me, and I refused to hate it; I needed a change of scenery so I ran away from Connecticut to Colorado.  Living on my own meant I needed a day job, which meant transitioning my artwork to something that was sustainable with only two days a week to work. I wanted to be prolific, so I wanted to focus on something that I could paint a lot of without getting bored. I wanted to feel like I felt when I painted that cheeseburger.

I collect vintage ephemera and I would look at vintage advertising and feel nostalgic for an era I was never a part of. It used to be that a traditional media illustrator could still get work in advertising. I loved the warmth, the color, and the idealism. I envisioned illustrators of the ’50s and ’60s sitting and painting, communicating a simple sentiment in a small little piece of artwork. Food innately comes with its own story; everyone feels like a kid when they see an ice cream cone. That was my dream job, but there wasn’t a demand for it. I didn’t see anyone else making this style of work, but I knew if it appealed to me, there would be an audience for it.

[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]”I didn’t see anyone else making this style of work, but I knew if it appealed to me, there would be an audience for it.”[/tweet_box]

What’s your favorite material to create with? 

Other than Photoshop for layouts and my scanner, I try to keep my process as close to techniques that mid-century illustrators used. I use a projector with colored pencils; I am not a fan of graphite pencil lines, and this expedites my process with the limited amount of time I have to work. I also use frisket/masking film to create geometric backgrounds on the original painting, but will usually add a digital background to accommodate different Redbubble products.  I work on illustration board because it’s super durable, scans really well, and is easy to frame. Number one weapon of choice is Gouache (opaque watercolor)! It’s one of the easiest paints to work with; you can do washes like watercolor and then build to awesome bold detail like you can with acrylic. It’s also super easy to clean up, which is a serious bonus because I’m not very kind to my brushes.

What’s been the best advice or lesson you’ve learned about creating repeat patterns? 

Hahaha… I’m probably not the best person to talk to about pattern because I don’t use swatches; I am only learning that skill now. Giovanna (FreshInkStain) has been an awesome resource to think about swatches in a totally different way, so I’m just starting to transition my work into swatches. Right now I make the patterns manually (copy, paste, line up the pixels) because I like to have the patterns cocked at different angles to look more dynamic, but this means a swatch would be a parallelogram rather than a rectangle or a square. My best advice would be if swatches are confusing to you, make your files on the Redbubble duvet cover, because then you can use that file for every product. I usually start my patterns by figuring out the arrangement of three of the same image to figure out the negative space between them. Negative space in a pattern is just as important as the image. I’ve recently figured out how to make a half-brick swatch, which allows the image to repeat at a 45-degree angle, so I’m just starting to convert my patterns into swatches that look closer to the original artwork.

Honestly the best advice is that you should learn how to use Photoshop and Illustrator so you don’t have to be a crazy person like me.

[tweet_box design=”default” float=”none”]”Do work that you love, but be smart about it.  Find something that you love and other people love too.” [/tweet_box]

Could you talk to us about the fun or empowering aspects of combining pin-up girl culture with pop-art food subjects?

American culture treats food and sex along the same indulgent lines. Women are objectified in the same way we lustfully look at a pretty cake or a cheeseburger, so the juxtaposition of them together is interesting. The girls are just like the food; they’re idealistic rather than realistic.  It’s important not to take anything too seriously; they make me laugh more than anything. When I was painting “Wonder Women” my boyfriend said, “You know the one on the left, she’s definitely the sexiest of the three.” To which I responded “They’re bread.” I’m always amused by the uncomfortable response they elicit, “Am I really turned on by a sandwich right now?”

I used to paint a lot of portraits, so it was amazing to me how much personality you can get out of a pair of legs. The first time I painted a cake with legs my immediate response was “This is my spirit animal.” They’re funny, they’re sexy when they feel like it, they’re absolutely ridiculous, and they’re a bit tacky. I’d like to think those things describe me too. People laugh when I refer to a painting as “her” or “she” but just as any girl, or any food for that matter, they each have their own vibe about them. My other dream job is to be a drag queen, I feel like this is as close as I can get with the wrong genitalia: food drag.

"Chocolate Donut Pattern - Pink" Studio Pouch

Do you have a routine?

I’m methodical and organized. I dislike most of the process of art making other than physically sitting and painting and seeing the finished product. I try to figure out as much of an artwork as possible before I paint so I can get to that awesome meditative brain state. I work on paintings in batches so that if something is frustrating me I can move on to something else and keep working. I get up and walk away about once an hour; it’s good to have fresh eyes to see things and also good to move out of a hunched position. Usually when I’m working I either have music in the background (I’m a better painter when I’m singing along to the radio), or I have the TV on in the background; the TV has to be really mindless stuff though because you can’t at all pay full attention, usually re-runs. South Park, Broad City, and RuPaul’s Drag Race are my go-to re-watchables.

Where do you see your artwork developing to next? 

I miss doing narrative works, so I want to transition back into that. I feel like I’ve done a good job connecting with shared experience, so now I want to tell a story. I’m still incredibly inspired by retro and vintage stuff, so anything I do is going to be some kind of throwback, but I want to expand out of the realm of food and see how my style translates in a new genre.

Is your style still forming?

As an artist you are always looking and always learning. I don’t think my style is forming; I have probably clocked more hours painting than most artists my age, but my aspirations are certainly expanding.  I made the conscious decision to be extremely focused on one thing, and I wanted to turn over every stone. I’ve come to the realization that there will always be more stones to turn, so it’s time to challenge myself to something new. You should always leave a party while you’re having a good time.

"Pepperoni Pizza Pattern" Laptop Skin

What advice would you give to other young artists out there who want to become more independent or autonomous in their creative careers? 

I think there’s a big misconception that when you see amazing artwork on the Internet that you think “Oh wow, this person is a full-time artist.” No way. Sure, lots of artists are lucky to figure out how to make that happen, but not most of us! My artwork is my passion; it does not pay my bills. In my everyday life, I get one day a week to work. There is an incredible amount of organization and discipline to make sure I get a lot of work done in the limited amount of time I have. If you want to be an artist, you have to sit and be an artist. There are absolutely no short cuts. Do work that you love, but be smart about it.  Find something that you love and other people love too. Getting noticed isn’t purely about self-indulgence, it’s about compromise.

When did art become a central part of your life? 

My mother was always very creative and artistic, and my grandfather on my Dad’s side was a portrait artist. I never met him and the first time I saw one of his artworks was when I was in college. It was eerie to see his work; it was like looking at someone who saw things the same way I did, down to the mark-making. When I was in preschool, apparently my artistic ability was advanced compared to the other children, and I was labeled as “gifted.” Being “gifted” is such a buzzword for parents, so my mom was always very encouraging for me to explore things artistically and creatively. I think being an artist was genetically thrust upon me, but it was certainly nurtured and cultivated by my mother.

Art was always been a central part of my life; I was always compelled to create, and I always considered creativity to be my greatest strength. Growing up I experimented with a lot of different mediums. I explored animation, architecture, fashion design, filmmaking, pretty much every utilitarian version of art. It wasn’t until I was in my second year of college as a graphic design major, that I felt frustrated and limited by the computer, and I decided to focus solely on painting and illustration.

What’s been the highlight of the Redbubble Residency for you? 

I live in Colorado Springs, where the art is mainly focused on landscapes and Native American art, and I don’t particularly feel connected to the art scene, so most of what I do is Internet based. In Melbourne I’m surrounded by other artists, I get to learn from them, be inspired, and actually get feedback on my artwork. Learning how to connect with artists, and learning how to go out and make things happen in the real world is really inspiring. I hope to take new skills home with me, and make a more conscious effort to connect to an art scene, probably in Denver.

What’s your favorite thing about Redbubble? 

When I was working on large scale paintings I would spend months on one painting, I had a lot of people interested in my work, but most of those people were my age, and weren’t at a place in their lives where they could justifiably drop a couple thousand dollars on a painting. With a platform like Redbubble, suddenly your artwork becomes accessible to a huge global audience, people can view my artwork and they can have it.  My artwork is an extension of myself: my favorite part is that there are little bits of me floating all over the globe, places that I’ve never even dreamed of going.

Visit Kelly’s shop to purchase products featuring her illustrations.