Kelley is a book illustrator based in California, but currently traveling the world. She paints elegant and charming book illustrations with a wide appeal. Kelley received her MFA in Illustration from the Academy of Art University and a BA in Japanese at San Jose State University. In 2013 Kelley won the SCBWI Student Illustrator Scholarship. Clients include Disney Hyperion, Scholastic, Lifeway, NASA, Highlights and Cricket magazine. Her work has been featured in Illustration West 52, Applied Arts, ImagineFX and the SCBWI bulletin. She also creates all the art and animations for the independent video game Crea.
B. Portfolio: kmcmorris.com
When did you first decide to become an illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
Growing up a lot of people told me that I should become an artist, but I shrugged it off, thinking that artists were sad, starving people and I didn't want to be like that. So instead, I majored in Japanese in college; don't ask me why; I guess I wasn't a particularly bright teenager. By the time I graduated, my language skills were mediocre at best and I no longer had enough interest in the language to study it further. I had to work in a boring office job to get by while wondering what I wanted to do with my life. I realized that I needed to be excellent at something, become obsessed with it, work on it every day - not just get passing grades. My husband suggested that I could go into art, and this time I was ready to consider it.
Who do you look up to? Who are your heroes in the industry?
Too many to count! Some of my favorites are Jason Chan, Wylie Beckert, Nicolas Delort and Dan Dos Santos. Generally I look up to any artist who enjoys what he/she does and is able to make a living out of it.
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
A lot of both! As a kid I couldn't stop drawing. My Mom tells a story about one time when she banished me to the backyard for 20 minutes so she could get some housework done. Ten minutes later I came inside crying, "I miss drawing!" When I entered the Academy of Art University as a grad student in 2010, I had a lot of drawing experience but wasn't sure what to do with it. In art school I learned how to develop a portfolio with a career in children's book illustration in mind.
Tell us a little about your process. What tools do you use?
I work almost exclusively in digital, using Photoshop CS6 and a Wacom Intuos tablet. First a client tells me what they're looking for. If I have the time, I like to let the ideas ferment in my head for a few days. Then I'll sketch some thumbnails, choose my favorite three and develop them into black-and-white sketches. This is the hardest part, because it's where I have to work out all the issues of perspective and anatomy. I show these sketches to the client, they choose their favorite one and ask for adjustments if needed. Sometimes I'll go straight to the final from here, or I might have more rounds of back-and-forth with the client, depending on the project. Either way, my favorite part is when the client gives me the green light to go ahead and finish the painting!
How do you keep it "fresh"?
By wearing deodorant every day.
What are you currently working on?
I have two long-term projects going on: a series of book covers for crochet-themed mystery novels, and some Bible illustrations for Sunday school curriculum. I'm also working on a series of middle-grade novels for Scholastic about a time-traveling golden retriever!
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
I'm quite excited about the series about the golden retriever. I've put a lot of time into it, probably more time than on any other projects I've worked on so far.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
I'd like to try writing and illustrating my own children's book. It feels like an intimidating task, though, and I don't have as many ideas for stories as I do for drawings. We'll see!
Any advice to the novice illustrator?
The most important thing is to draw every day. Books, classes, tutorials, online videos, etc., are very good, but all they do is multiply whatever effort you're putting into your drawing - so it's important to get those hours of work in. Also, it can be inspiring to look at other people's artwork online, but if you start to feel discouraged or overwhelmed instead of inspired, it's ok to take a break from that for a while.
What makes an illustration successful?
I believe that an illustration is successful when it communicates the mood, feeling, or story that the illustrator intended. Whether that's communicating the majestic scale of ancient ruins or the stuffiness of a classroom in summer, all an illustrator's tools (composition, color, perspective, lighting, etc) should work towards this goal.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
Whenever I'm feeling a lack of motivation, I revert towards the things I liked to draw as a child: fairy tales and fables. Drawing things in my comfort zone is not only fun, it also helps re-build my confidence because they tend to turn out well. It re-energizes me to tackle client work that might be difficult or uninspiring.
Finish this sentence. "If I weren't a designer/illustrator I would have been a..."
Ringo in an all-female Beatles tribute band.
And finally, what is the best thing on TV right now?
I don't know; after Almost Human was canceled I can't look at a tv screen without weeping.