“Pushing Reset,” an Interview with Kelsey Dake
Last week, we asked Kelsey Dake to come to our studio and chat with us about art, her process, and what it’s like being an illustrator in Phoenix. She brought an entire flat file of original drawings, some of which we’d never seen before. She’s always been a pleasure to hang out with, and it was a great opportunity to hear about her experiences in the art world. In this interview, she talks about losing a coloring contest, befriending a barista, and why our city is such an important place to be a working creative.
I basically tell everyone that I draw for a living, because when you say illustrator, people say, “So, you do children’s books?” and I’m like, “No, no, not at all.” It’d be the radest children’s book, but probably also not a children’s book. I usually tell people, “I’m Kelsey Dake, and I draw for a living.”
I’ve drawn my entire life. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing. I like to tell the story about how I lost a coloring contest in first grade. We all filled out this coloring book page, the whole class voted, and I lost to this girl named Ashley. So, I feel like that was the first time that I was aware that I cared about art. And then throughout middle school and high school, I was always the kid that, when we did group projects, everybody’d say, “We want Kelsey in our group because she’s going to draw the poster.”
So, I can’t draw digitally to save my life. I went to art school, and I was exposed to a lot of different types of illustration. For me, you can always tell that digital illustration is digital. It doesn’t have any kind of intrinsic value, it’s flat. But if you look at the same thing drawn by hand, it all of the sudden has so much more life and soul to it. I care about things having quality.
I’ll either go take my own reference photos, or I’ll go research. That’s the same for people just as much as it is for objects. It’s hard for me, because I’m so emotionally invested in every piece that I make. I mean, there’s some where I’m like, “That was dog shit. I just turned in dog shit.” But it’s not my fault it was dog shit, because they asked for so many changes.
I really like the horse head that I drew. That was one where I was really upset when I drew it, and it really manifests how I was feeling. I have such a strong emotional connection to it, and I feel like I nailed all the line work. I did exactly what I saw in my head on paper.
I was born and raised here. I get kind of hacked off when people leave Phoenix and they’re like, “Peace out, Phoenix, you suck! PDX and NYC are way cooler, and are going to help me be more creative.” I kind of laugh now, because that’s never been the reason I’ve left.
I went to LA for art school, because there isn’t art school here. And then I finished art school, and even staying in LA, my career wouldn’t have taken off, so I went to New York. I hated New York. I mean, I moved out there without knowing a soul. I befriended the barista at my local coffee shop, and he’d come over and we’d drink wine, and we were friends. It was kind of sad, like, “I’m friends with the barista, and he’s my only friend here.”
So, when I came back to Phoenix the first time, I needed to push reset. When I left in 2007, I pretty much had the same impression that nothing was going on, there was no real art scene. When I came back, I was really surprised. I moved into central city, and all of a sudden there was cool stuff to walk to and really interesting things going on. There was a design scene—I connected with some designers before I moved back. There was actually some cool stuff happening.
Over the next few years, I realized that in Phoenix, if you want to do something cool, the design scene will support it. I like that Phoenix is what you make it, and you get out of Phoenix what you put into it.
I think that’s the best way to wrap up that whole rant.
Kelsey Dake lives in the desert and draws pictures. You can learn more about her on her website, which you will find if you click here.