Hi everyone! My name is Kelsey Nolan, and I’m originally from New Hampshire, but have lived in Roanoke, Virginia for the past thirteen years. I’m an illustrator, writer, wife, and mom, and I’m absolutely thrilled to share my art journey with you.
I haven’t gotten over the surprise of this yet. Even just two years ago, I could have given you a long list of things I might have become by (nearly) 30, and “artist” would not have been on it. I’ve certainly always been a creative person, and I’ve played around with a lot of crafts over the years, but my chosen outlet has always been writing.
In July of 2016, I was a stay-at-home mom to the easiest, happiest ten month old on the planet, and I needed a hobby, because she was too good at entertaining herself. I bought a nice sketchbook and, completely on a whim, a beginner’s set of Royal & Langnickel watercolors, which came with ten colors, brushes, drawing supplies, and a bare-bones artist’s guide. I hadn’t used watercolors since probably age seven, so I didn’t want to make a huge investment right away.
My goal was to keep an illustrated journal, with the paintings serving as an accent to the writing, and to share pictures of it on Instagram. I did start that way, but it very quickly became clear that I was enjoying the painting more than the journaling. It wasn’t long before it was really just a sketchbook.
When I found World Watercolor Group a few months after I started, my work became more focused, and I started making so many wonderful friends on Instagram. You couldn’t ask for a more supportive community of people! I’m grateful every single day for their encouragement. The sense of togetherness and willingness to share our struggles kept me picking up my brushes every day.
I try to experiment with different subject matter. I love to paint silly interpretations of characters from movies and tv shows, snails with desserts as shells, and illustrated lists, which I still think of as being connected to my original goal of art journaling. But I always come back to food. I’m the type of person who remembers events by what I ate. As a kid, I hiked to the top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, and, other than the wind, the thing I remember most is that I ate my very first cheese danish at the summit!
Most of my childhood movie and book memories are centered around the foods that the characters enjoyed. The waffles, ice cream, and pizza in All Dogs Go To Heaven. The dollhouse food in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Two Bad Mice. The beautifully described cakes, cheeses, creams, and fruits in Brian Jacques’ Redwall book series. The birthday cake and golden honey from Winnie the Pooh. I distinctly remember being confused the first time I tried honey as a kid, because watching Winnie the Pooh had given me the impression it would be something like nacho cheese.
Food has a unique ability to bring us comfort and happiness, to evoke the past, and to help us celebrate. I paint out of joy, and food brings me joy. My most popular posts on Instagram are all about food, and I’m always humbled and excited to find that a food painting that holds very specific meaning to me still strikes a chord of comfort with so many other people. I try to make my work warm, cozy, and welcoming. Like a homemade cookie or a cup of tea. Food is both highly personal and universal, so for me it’s the perfect way to tell a relatable story, which is really my ultimate goal. But I absolutely do make myself hungry with my art! Sometimes I just like to look at a good, chocolatey donut!
More often than not, I’m going for a certain level of realism when I paint, especially with foods. I don’t want it to look like a photograph – I still want to know it’s a painting – but I do want to capture the texture and dimension of a thing in a way that gives it some weight on the page. My inability to do that was my biggest frustration and biggest motivator in the early days. For a long time, I didn’t feel like I was moving forward, but I kept trying.
I think there’s something nice about being self taught. You can’t help but to develop a style that’s all your own, and there’s so much joy in making something you know is a true expression of yourself. But I often felt held back by not knowing the simpler mechanics of how watercolor was traditionally used. I felt like I was fighting with the paint.
I definitely wasn’t taking much risk or painting with confidence. I couldn’t afford to take a class, though I would still love to, so I had to look elsewhere for information.
Eventually, I made a point to learn as much as I could from other artists, and I watched countless tutorials and did exercises from drawing and painting books. It made all the difference. Seeking out information from other artists, even those who were figuring it out as they went like I was, was eye opening, and it changed my work for the better.
I can’t express strongly enough the importance of talking to other artists. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been painting, whether they’re professionals or hobbyists, or if their style is light years away from your own. Talking to other artists helped me see the importance of patience, of investing my time, and of sharing the pieces I didn’t think were so great.
We are so harsh on ourselves, and I’ve found that when all I can see is what went wrong, my artist friends are always able to remind me of the parts that succeeded. And they usually have practical, clear advice to get over the hurdles that tripped me up in the first place.
You don’t need to have the best materials or endless free time to make room for art in your life. I still use those same Royal & Langnickel paints every day, with a few Reeves colors thrown in. I’ll probably upgrade to more professional quality supplies eventually, but those little tubes seem to last forever! Only the burnt umber I use to paint chocolate is running low at all. I use inexpensive brushes, because I can’t seem to make myself take care of them properly, and for most paintings I use Canson XL paper, which is affordable and stands up reasonably well to heavy washes. I’ve got a two year old running around, so I paint on a clipboard on the couch. It’s not glamorous, but it fits my life.
When I get messages asking for advice, which I’m so honored to be asked, the thought I always come back to is this: If you enjoy it, it’s worth it. Paint things that make you happy or that you wish you could be surrounded with. Talent requires cultivation and practice, but a painting doesn’t need to be a masterpiece to have value. I truly believe in my heart of hearts that time spent with art is never time wasted. And you really can’t paint too many donuts.