Everyone’s work is deeply idiosyncratic: in our regular Spotlight segment we explore artists’ experiences and inspiration to understand what defines and inspires their unique styles. Creating some hyper real 'portraits' and studies of animals and in particular birds, KC Gillies has a bold and unique style and is open to commissions.
I never intended to be an artist. I drew a lot as a kid, but my teen years were spent mostly outside with dogs and horses. I didn't have the time or desire to be inside drawing. However, about four years ago, while being snowed in, I picked up an old sketchbook in an effort to relieve some boredom. It wasn't something I was exceptionally good at, but I quickly became addicted to creating and seeing my skills progress. Since then, more days have gone by that I have drawn than days that I haven't. I started posting work on Instagram, and after a couple years, people started inquiring about buying and commissioning work. Now, commissions are my main source of income. Previously, I did freelance WordPress support for work.
I moved to SE Asia about a year and half ago. When I first moved here, the majority of my work was done in pen and ink. But with the expensive and unreliable shipping to and from here, I switched over to digital art. This area is also very... urban. Buildings are crammed into every little spare space of land, leaving very little room for nature in between. As a result, people here create beauty around them by keeping songbirds and plants. While the songbird trade isn't the most humane, regularly seeing and hearing these beautiful birds up close both inspires me as an artist and motives me to educate others through art about conservation and ethical aviculture. As a result, birds feature heavily in my work. Another way that being here has impacted my work is in my use of color. Being surrounded by concrete and steel makes me crave and seek out more color in my life, so my work since being here has become progressively more vibrant.
Honestly, I don't put a lot of importance on inspiration. I think having good, regular drawing and creating habits and a solid process will get you much further. But when I have felt inspired, it's always been by the little things in nature - the tiny sparrows that sing louder than the traffic, coral and seashells, the house plants I can never seem to keep alive, and that gorgeous golden hour afternoon light on a clear day. I'm also inspired by words the evoke tangible feelings - lush, fluffy, airy etc... I want my work to elicit a sensation, to feel like you can reach out and touch it.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of seeing Frederic Edwin Church's the Icebergs in Dallas, TX. It's a ginormous painting from 1861 that has the most incredible detail and coloring in the highlights and shadows. It completely blew my brain that someone could create something so lifelike and detailed from just sketches and studies, before the time of color photographs. It also really cemented in my brain that realism comes from lights and shadows, more than detail. That piece is always in the back of my mind when I'm trying to figure out how to light my portraits and paintings.
I think the most useful skills are always the most basic. A good understanding of form, anatomy, and lighting and shadows goes a very long way, no matter what the media. These days, I paint and draw mostly with an iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and a Wacom Cintiq display tablet because I like that I can work fast and from anywhere, sketching out idea after idea without worrying about wasting paper or paint. When I need to slow down though, I always bring my fountain pens back out for a stippling session. I don't sell much pen and ink work, but nothing is quite as therapeutic for me as drawing thousands of tiny dots!
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