Hello, my name is John Keeling and I’m based in Kansas City, Missouri. I’ve liked to draw and paint since I was a small child growing up in Salina, Kansas. At the University of Kansas, I majored in Visual Communications – combined track of Graphic Design and Illustration. Despite this, I never thought of myself as being good enough to be an illustrator.
I took all my electives in the Journalism School at KU so I could be sure to get a job upon graduation! Still, I continued as a “weekend painter,” mostly in watercolor, while enjoying a career with Hallmark Cards as an Art Director and Creative Director. Since leaving Hallmark, I’ve been focused on painting for the past three years.
Like Monet was quoted as saying, “I perhaps owe my becoming a painter to flowers.” I grew zinnias in my childhood garden each summer and still do to this day. The garden provides endless inspiration and enables painting from life which we all need to do as much as possible. Learning to see is so important. Poppies are a favorite of mine to paint and have been popular with many of my customers as well.
Our three beagles also provide an abundance of painting inspiration. I enjoy trying to capture “that look” in a beloved pet’s eyes and have built a successful custom pet portrait business. It is a privilege to be invited in to people’s lives and deliver a painting that they love and will cherish.
Portraits are definitely one of the greatest challenges and I’m interested in exploring portraiture more these days. I did my first self-portrait since college two years ago, and now I use it as my “logo” for my “brand,” John Keeling Paintings. I recently painted a portrait of my mother, Audrey, who just turned 90 on July 13.
Materials and Process
Before painting, I usually create a sketch with a small nib Micron pen. I like the brown and sepia pens best, as they are less harsh than black and seem to integrate with the watercolor more. Some of the ink line remains visible in the final painting, while some of it is lost.
My “go-to” brush is the Scharff sable, size #7 or #8. I often use a larger brush for laying down washes and to keep from getting too detailed too soon. I once heard it said and have found it to be true, that the longer you can keep a watercolor loose, the better the finished painting will be. I do occasionally use a rigger for adding details such as delicate foliage and blades of grass.
I love watercolor paper, but NOT to paint on! I tend to use a fair amount of water and I end up constantly frustrated with the buckling of the paper. Instead, I choose Strathmore Multimedia board. It has a smoother finish and lets me control the paint a bit more. Not that one can ever truly control watercolor…
Custom watercolor pet portraits are my primary income generator. I work from photos, as I still haven’t found a dog willing to sit long enough! I prefer to meet the pet and take photos myself if feasible. However, sometimes the pet lives across the country or is no longer living. About 25% of commissioned portraits are for pets that have passed. I consider it a privilege to be able to provide a lasting keepsake for the pet owner.
I you’re in Kansas City, Missouri, I have prints available for sale at west elm on the Country Club Plaza, as part of their KC Local product line. They are great to work with and let local artists and artisans do “pop-up shops” in their showroom on weekends. This relationship has influenced my work, as I’m kept aware of trends and color palettes in home décor.
The Plaza itself provides inspiration throughout the year. I am currently working on a “Four Seasons” series of the Plaza, having just completed “Plaza Fall.” I began the series in 2016 with “Plaza Spring” and followed up with “Plaza Holiday” in time for the Plaza lighting ceremony last fall. Prints are available at west elm and on my website at www.johnkeelingpaintings.com.
Hallmark Cards will be launching a gift line for dog owners called “Best of Show” this September, featuring my watercolor paintings of top dog breeds. The product formats include mugs, magnets and small framed prints. In addition, my painting, “Plaza Lights” will be on a Hallmark boxed card for the upcoming holiday season!
My artwork can be found on everyday and seasonal greeting cards from Gina B Designs. I’m excited to have my first calendar coming for 2018 with Gina B. It will be a CD-sized desk calendar with simple watercolor images, including birds, flowers, watermelon and more!
Looking ahead, I plan to start giving watercolor lessons and doing workshops from my home studio and garden, starting in the fall.