Arizona native Kelly Blevins, whose work is featured in Issue #53, is a two-dimensional artist currently living and working in Pittsburgh, PA. She graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh with a BS in graphic design. Blevins’s work, known for its isolated statue-esque figures and political subject matter, has received awards in Illinois, Arkansas, Louisiana, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Idaho.
To create her drawings, Blevins begins by first applying charcoal powder with a large brush for basic shape and composition. Next, she uses an eraser and a charcoal pencil to develop a realistic representation of her visions. Using these classical and traditional drawing practices to create large stimulating and emotional images, Blevins addresses social stigmas of nudity, politics and philosophies. Her work has been published in Helsinki, the UK, Cincinnati, New York and Denver.
For more, please visit her website.
What’s your creative process usually like?
The process I have is typically whimsical. I wait for inspiration to hit, and then I take a photograph or use a combination of photographs to create my vision. Charcoal powder plays a big role in my style, as it allows me to paint like dry brushing.
Did this project for CNF’s Mistakes issue alter that process at all? If so, how?
This project changed my approach in that I was looking for more narrative than usual or a way to express myself like an author would. Also, in the quick renderings I created, there was a sense of immediacy in getting my ideas—even the bad ideas because, after all, we learn from mistakes—on canvas. Overall, this project definitely opened up my mind to different avenues in which I can take my work.
When you were first given the details of this CNF project, what was your reaction? What opportunities did you see? What challenges?
The reaction I had upon being given this project was excitement. I love to read books, short stories and other forms of literature, and to be given a chance to illustrate written work was really flattering. The only real challenge at first was the time frame, but everything fell into place perfectly, and I had a wonderful time working with CNF.
What are the unique challenges of working with charcoal? What are the benefits?
Charcoal has great challenges, like all mediums, but what is so romantic about it to me is the permanent impressions it leaves on the paper. Mistakes are recorded in ghost-like markings all over the paper, giving the viewer a look at the artist’s hand. The medium is also black and white, so the challenge for me is to work without color while still giving a vivid image. I benefit fully from working with charcoal because I enter into a relationship with my medium; I am always learning and improving from my work so I can allow each piece to stand on its own.
Your work involves a lot of contrast: black charcoal versus white paper, detailed subject versus empty background, the hyper-reality of your usual work versus the more abstract nature of these illustrations. What aesthetic value do you personally derive from this approach?
There was a painterly aspect to creating these CNF illustrations, which I enjoyed. This loose approach to the drawings came from my practice of painting, which is more expressive aesthetically than charcoal. I thought this approach worked especially well in creating portraits that offer a visual element for each story. I felt that keeping these illustrations vague and sketchy would leave room for mystery, taking the viewer more deeply into the personal tales of each author. The process let me practice quick and responsive strokes that reflected what I felt during my reading of each essay. The tales of human error were something I related to and what I feel anyone could relate to.
Of your own work, what is your favorite piece and why?
My favorite drawing is “The Keeper,” an image of my body attached to a wolf’s head that is glaring at a camera outside the image’s frame. It’s an intimate piece. Though its new home is in Montreal, it will always be the piece I think of as “the one.”
Vulnerability seems to play a huge role in your aesthetic. Does this change in your commissioned works versus your personal works?
There is a bit of a difference between commissioned work and personal work; however, I try to apply myself to everything I do. Compromising my style for a commission is difficult, but ultimately I learn from it, so it’s always a good experience. The portraits I made for CNF weren’t so much a compromise as they were a challenge that I welcomed. Although I do have a specific lust for doing black-and-white, high rendered drawings, redundancy in my art is inevitable. So, I search for opportunities, such as this project for CNF, to reinvent and improve my work. I believe that without change, there is no real progression in the arts, resulting in no real progression of the mind. This is where vulnerability is important to what I do. I leave myself open to improvement as a person and an artist.
What kind of response are you hoping readers will have to your illustrations in the Mistakes issue?
My hopes are that the drawings, at a brief glance, illuminate the stories. But I feel all responses should be saved for the stories. I enjoyed reading every one.
Does your art tell a story about you? What does it say? Did you feel like the illustrations for this issue tell a different story? Is one truer than the other?
Most of the work I do is rooted in self-expression. Whether my works say something specific or vague, there is always a piece of my story somewhere in them. I don’t believe any one story is less true than another, no. How we explain ourselves or what we’ve been through is always different, regardless of whether our expression is written, drawn, painted or spoken. All of it is honesty.