The next in this series of interviews bringing you inside the worlds of some of my favourite creatives.
This time I have the pleasure of introducing you to a wonderful friend from across The Pond, the always joyful and superbly talented artist, Jay Kell!
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your art journey so far.
Hiii! I am Jay and I started with charcoal sketches about 5 years ago and then really started practicing harder with it, drawing or sketching several times a week. I switched to watercolors in the summer of 2019.
Who or what inspired you to pick up a paintbrush and who or what have been the most important influences on your artistic life and career?
In 2019 I was posting more art and I was following more artists and watercolors were intriguing. I was like ‘wow that doesn't look so bad?‘ (I was wrong 😂😂). It turned out it was world watercolor month and I found a nice little set of Sakura Koi watercolors on sale and used the prompts to try and teach myself how to paint.
As for who is the greatest influence, well a few people pushed me to sell some of my works. That and losing my job 😂 really pushed me to focus on the painting as more than just a casual hobby, but to treat it like a practice. Focusing on it daily. Having people (like you) encourage and support the work is very driving and makes me want to strive to paint better things.
What was your first painting project and how have you progressed to the art you make and sell now?
My first painting project was the prompts from world watercolor month, but I developed a knack for figures. I have slowly pushed the lessons from figures into other objects but I really like painting people. The pandemic has been helpful in finding ready access to life models in a way that in the past was hard as someone who wasnt ‘in’ the art world. I wouldn’t even know where to look local for a life drawing group or even what it was called before 2020!
How would you describe your artistic
I don’t know how to answer this. I would say ‘evolving’. I am really trying to actively learn and practice. I set down and try and work on certain skills: a good wash, sketching, edges, value studies, pushing how dark I can paint. I feel bad when I ‘cheat’ … like, sometimes I can’t get some shadows right and so just use a nice transparent blue over the area. It works, but it is like a bandaid rather than a proper bit of color work. So… trying to be intentional in how I paint is my mode at the moment. Which is also why I like the life drawing, because it forces me to let a lot of that go in the mad rush to capture a pose under a time limit.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I get great satisfaction when I am happy with a piece. I rarely hate something I make. But I love when I try something and it works. As intentional as I am trying to be, I also treat it like ‘play’. I don’t have to be super serious with it. I really like when the ‘What if I…?’ actually does what you think. I enjoy that false sense of believing I ‘get it’ … because invariably, the next time I try it… it goes south pretty hard.
When are you at your most productive?
For the first 2+ years painting, I would usually do a lot of my work in the evenings between 9 and 11 pm or so. But lately I have found myself waking up early (5am!!) and using the hour before work to paint some.
What are you working on today and could you let us take a peek at your workspace?
I am currently moving! So my work station is a folding table in an empty house or the desk of a hotel!
What are your favourite materials/tools to use?
I primarily use 140lb 100% cotton cold press paper that I tear into painting sizes… but I really enjoy watercolor blocks that are glued up, but they are a bit expensive for my work. I have two sets of brushes that really changed my style. But a friend once told me you can art on a napkin and I actually take that to heart and like to work with what I have. Yes, some nice smooth washes and background are superb on the good paper, but I have gotten comfortable with most paper and learned how to use less water on some of the pulp paper rather than the nice absorbent cotton. I really like limited palettes too, just using 2 colors or 3-4 to give a nice painting.
What do you listen to/watch when you’re working?
Rarely anything! Usually I just paint, no music, no podcasts, no tv.
What have you learned that’s been invaluable to your creative process?
Two lessons often bubble up from my art friends: ‘Be Bold’ and ‘It is only paper’. The first is mostly just when you have to make a choice… go with the more extreme. And the second is really an extension of the first. Because watercolors are blessed with a less resource intensive set up (no canvases/boards, and a little watercolor
pigment can go far) the real cost is the time… and if you mess up 🤷🏽♂️ you just get to practice it again!!
If you were granted an extra hour each day, how would you use it?
Chilling with coffee and friends. Maybe even painting at the same time!!! I would need two hours… because I love a good nap.
Do you have a motto or favourite quote for inspiration?
The art lessons above capture it pretty well… but one quote I try and focus on is ‘You aren’t competing with anyone but yourself.’ I have spent a lot of time looking at things others do and the voice in my head is like ‘wow, I could never do that!’ but then I remember that I couldn’t paint three years ago either. So focusing on being happy with the work and the improvements.
What tip or truth would you tell yourself at the beginning of this journey if you could go back and give past-Jay a heads up?
Hmmm this is tough… I would say that you are gonna hit spots where you feel like you can’t succeed… and you just have to push through them.
What have been your greatest challenges so far?
I hit this spot I call ‘the hole’ a lot… where the stuff you paint you just hate. Like Ugh… other people might love it… but it is all effort and no joy. Usually for me ‘the hole’ is where I have something in my mind I want to be able to produce, but I can’t get there with my skill level… then the skill catches up and you feel good again. You just have to push past the hole.
What is it about Jay Kell Art that you are most proud of?
I like going through my stuff and thinking ‘wow, did I do that?’. Of course, my proudest moments are painting a really good one and being able to (mostly) recreate it.
What do you like to do when you’re not painting?
I like being out in nature and sitting in the quiet with my coffee.
What are you looking forward to next?
At moment I have a lot of flux in life so I am looking forward to being able to plan more time to paint. I am not doing as much as I like and I can feel that it is missed. I am making up for my regular painting time (which was 1-2x daily there for most of 2021) by jamming in longer plein air or life drawing sessions.
What are your plans or ambitions for the future?
I hope to go to a few more art events and have my work in them or for sale at them. I managed to get one piece accepted and sold and would love to do more things like that.
How can we find out more about you?
Slip into my DM’s 😂
You can find Jay (and his DMs) on Instagram.