Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mind Body Spirit Artist Series: Kelly Tankersley

I discovered Kelly Tankersley's stunning artwork one day, quite by accident, while I was scrolling through Etsy looking at artists.  The fact that she is a printmaker AND makes handmade paper (two of my all-time favorite mediums) made me want to find out a little bit more her and the varied processes she uses to create her beautiful prints.  As it turned out, Kelly is also an ex-art consultant.  So this turned out to be a very interesting interview, with a twist, as she reflected quite realistically on wearing both hats.
                                                                                                            ~ diane fergurson

Night Voyage Guided by the Moon
MBS: Can you tell us a little about your background?  How you got started in art?

Kelly:  Ha Ha!  I don’t know why I find that question funny but I do. I’ve loved making art since I can remember. My mother dabbled and was a great art appreciator—she hung a Georges Braque still life (poster) in our kitchen nook as well as some others from that period. Also, I was lucky enough to live in Japan as a little girl and that definitely raised the bar and expanded my aesthetic antenna. In addition to winning a few art contest as a school girl I was also a math whiz. I started college as a math major, but became board and switched to art somewhere in the middle. My father (chemical engineer) was floored. My BFA is in photography and printmaking—go figure! After college, I managed to work in art related fields as a dark room technician, art consultant, gallery manager, grant writer for non-profits art orgs, and so on. It wasn’t really until I joined the regular corporate world that I began making my own art again instead of promoting others’ work. The timing also coincided with the kids growing up—so young mothers and fathers don’t give up on your dream! That’s how I got started but a shout out to a beloved colleague from my past life, creative writer Brad Parks, for coming over one weekend and showing me how to make paper. That was a catalyst moment for me—it all just came together, the marriage of photography and printmaking on handmade paper. Pure bliss . . .

MBS:  Ah, the love of making handmade paper... I can relate to that!  What did you find magical about it?

Kelly:  Making paper is magical, as is printmaking, because so much of the result is, in a way, beyond my control--or "out of my hands." I love the happy accident and the magical transformation that takes place when you cook and beat plant materials. Each type of plant renders its own unique signature. Inner tree bark, such as Polynesian gampi, it super strong and translucent! Rain lily paper is a gorgeous green and the fibers seem to run in parallel pairs—quite unexpected! Banana skins are tough and can make great paper for embossing etc … It is simply fascinating!

MBS:  Tell us a little bit about your printmaking process. What kind of prints do you make?  What materials do you use?

Kelly:  My art really came together for me when I married my love of photography with making my own paper. I match up images with types of paper from white cotton with grass seeds in it to give it an Asian feeling to an oriental paper created as thin and translucent as I can get it to use as a chine colle substrate. The photographs are exposed on a solar plate and printed as intaglio etchings. A typical photo for me is the sky, trees, seed pods, whatever, me and my German Shepherd come across on our walks. I often manipulate the images slightly in Photoshop to increase the contrast and reduce them to their most calligraphic state while still being recognizable.

Moonrise in Charmed Meadow
After I've made a very planned and choreographed suite of prints, such as February Visit, I go into the studio and just play--I call it "free falling."  This is how the series "Moonrise in Charmed Meadow" came to be. I printed a photo image over folded paper that had been monotyped on the back. The results were quite surprising and I loved the happy accident that most printmakers enjoy.

Alas, I don't always have access to an etching press. Thank goodness for gelatin printing. Anybody can create gelatin prints at home. You simply create a concentrated "jello" slab, ink it up, walla, perfect printing substrate--very suitable for botanical studies using pressed plants, etc . . .

MBS:  That's interesting because I've often noticed that the way people make their art, and also the mediums they choose to work in, reflect a lot about their approach to life and often their spiritual belief systems too.  Even for a printmaker...some printing processes are very measured and precise. Very ordered.  Other methods allow for more "free falling", as you called it.  What are your thoughts about that, and how does the way you work reflect your nature and spirituality?

Kelly:  First and foremost, I view my work as a collaboration with nature. Not an equal one, more like I'm an apprentice, learning, observing, soaking it all in. I'm happiest when I have less control--thus the print making versus painting, thus the mad-scientist making paper versus purchasing already made paper.  I never tire of just looking and waiting to "glean" the secrets the universe unfolds to me. The understanding is not literal or neat, it's all just a feeling, a feeling of connection—a happiness to be invited to the party.

MBS:  What's a typical work day like for you?  Do you work on your artwork every day?

Kelly:  Unfortunately, I am not a working artist. I have to have a day job. So, alas, I am mostly a weekend artist with plans and preparations happening during the week.

I have been known to take art vacations where I take a week off and go to the studio at 8am just like my day job. Those are a blast and, of course, very productive.

When I make paper, I take over the entire house for three to five days. I dry the paper on our windows so the house looks quite odd to the passerby. For printing, I tend to also do marathon printing sessions. I guess my obsessive nature shows, when I get started, nothing else gets done. no laundry, no housework, oh and yeah? Do I really need a shower today?

My dream work day would be up and out hiking with my dog by dawn. Back to make art all day. Early to bed and do it all again the next day.  What bliss that would be.

Double Moon
MBS: I know many artists who are very hesitant about selling their work online. I've noticed that you actively sell quite a bit of of your work that way.  How has selling online and social networking worked out for you as an artist? Any advice you can give to other artists who are thinking about selling their work this way?

Kelly:  I have been selling my work online for almost a year now.
The amount of sales is low, which as an ex-art consultant, I kind of expected.
The real value to me in selling online is the feedback and encouragement from other artist. Sure, we can't all buy art, but you bet kindred spirits just find each other online--they just do!

What that does for me as an artist is I turn off that negative voice in my head while in the studio, because sales or no sales, I have received enormous positive feedback from the online community so I know I am reaching people through my art. That's all we really need, along with love, food and shelter. The sense of community and bonding is worth every minute spent online.

February Visit, Doves Dip
MBS:  I think that's an interesting area you touched on, that someone viewing sales through the eyes of an art consultant is much different then the same person viewing it through the eyes of an artist.
It can be a real issue between artists and their art representatives/galleries, and people wrestle with it constantly. As someone who has been on both sides of the fence, how do you view the issue and how to you balance two things yourself?  What advice would you give to people - besides turning off the voice in your head or following your own drummer etc...

Kelly:  Honestly, we all know how essential art is to the human experience, and yet it remains a luxury.
The only solution is to make art because you love to make it. Put in some serious marketing time and then don't expect to make a living at it. Another solution, which I am considering, is to merge your art with something functional like wearable art or home decor on an affordable basis.  Fine art is like acting, only the top 1% make it--that's just the facts.

Me and several of my friends discuss this quite often. At the end of the day, we would never stop making art. I'm also a normal middle-class "worker-bee" who never mustered the nerve to be the hippie I feel I am inside. And there is something to be said about the value of a work environment--the community can be very positive, I've found. I am rambling at this point, but I guess I'm saying be careful what you wish for. Most artists are alone in their studios, and I actually like the regular daily camaraderie of the work place. I wouldn't want to face just me everyday.

MBS:  So it sounds like you are advising people who want to pursue  their passion of "being an artist", that they they may need a healthy dose of being "realistic" too? 

Kelly:  YES 
be practical in your expectations of sales
shoot for the moon in your imagination!

Moonrise Charmed Meadow solarplate etching
MBS:  What are you currently working on and what would you like to explore next?

Kelly:  I am going to treat myself to a printmaking workshop and learn pronto-plate.
I hear it is very easy, but I prefer to learn from an expert!
I have a series of cloud images that I hope to realize into prints soon.
It's just a matter of time and money . . .

MBS:  Good luck, and thank you for the interview Kelly!

Kelly's gorgeous artwork can be found in her Etsy Shop, 88editions.

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  1. love kelly's work, congrats on the interview, wonderful!

  2. lovely interview with Kelly. Love her work, and it's so nice to learn more about her!

  3. It was so much fun to learn a bit more about the artist behind the beautiful work! Congratulations, Kelly!

  4. Great interview! I really love Kelly's work, I sometimes go over many listings along etsy, but Kelly's work always grabs my attention and I need to stop there to enjoy her work.

  5. Thanks for sharing this interview, I love Kelly's work!

  6. Loved to learn more about Kelly, especially about her creative process. I'm in love with her work since I first saw the Night Voyage in her shop.
    Thanks for sharing Kelly and Diane!

  7. I just love Kelly's work. Grand interview!

  8. Great feature! Love your work, Kelly!

  9. wonderful interview -- Kelly's work is amazing!!

  10. Wow! Cool interview! Congrats Kelly! :)

  11. Great Job Kelly, Congrats! :0) Elvia

  12. It's so nice to hear an artist talk about her work, beautiful work too, it looks great on line!

  13. Such a good interview. It was fun to learn a bit more about Kelly's process and motivation.

  14. What a wonderful interview Kelly! It was so nice to learn more about who you are - the creative person behind the amazing artwork. Congratulations!

  15. I loved reading about your work and seeing more of it! Well done, Kelly!

  16. Amazing work Kelly! Wonderful interview!

  17. I really love Kelly's work! She creates an amazing mood!

  18. Nice interview! Glad to see Kelly getting more exposure and learn more about her and her processes! I have a couple small pieces from her; one is a cigar box top with a mirror attached, then a print placed over that as a flap - very inventive.

  19. Thanks for sharing Kelly! It's wonderful to learn more about you and your work!

  20. loved reading this interview and kelly's work is so beautiful :)
    thank you both!



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