Kelly Light’s Studio Tour

After joining SCBWI I began meeting many artists and writers in person, but soon those connections began introducing me to an entire online kidlit community. Not too long ago, I came across the illustrations for Kelly Light’s upcoming book Louise Loves Art and I was captivated. The edgy black and white illustrations, with pops of color, paired with the funky look of Louise made me fall in love with the book. Plus, just like Louise, I LOVE art! I’m very excited to read the entire book (so far I’ve seen a few spreads) when it comes out September 9, 2014. Kelly is an artist who started out her career as a cartoon merchandiser. After taking five years off following the birth of her daughter, she decided that she wanted to go back into making art full time, but in a totally different way than what she’d been doing–she wanted to create picture books. Over the course of seven years, Kelly attended conferences, sent out postcards, and took illustrating classes before she had her first published book come out in 2010. Now she’s an in-demand author/illustrator who’s booked out for the next five years! Just as fun as it is hearing how Kelly’s hard work has paid off, it’s equally enjoyable seeing inside her studio where she creates her popular illustrations.


KellyLight_portraitTell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I live in Long Island, NY and work in the attic of a Tudor home built in 1927. The typical Tudor house design has a peak at the top, which means my studio walls are all angled. This makes it almost impossible for anyone but me to stand up anywhere but in the middle. My husband is 6’3”, my daughter, 5’9”. I’m 5’2”. Perfect.
KellyLight_studio3I usually draw, doodle and sketch all by hand with a blue pencil on vellum. I scan in my drawings and then, in Photoshop, sketch some more in layers, just as if there were layers of vellum on top, until I refine my drawings. Then I will go to color in Photoshop.

For my book Louise Loves Art, I did the drawings mostly with a black prismacolor pencil and scanned them in. Photoshop is a wonderful tool that seems to have endless possibilities, depending on the experimentation of the user. It also has endless control Zs. I am working on a book right now, that needs me to turn my back on control Z and be loose. So I am doing sketches in Photoshop and all finals by hand. Sometimes, you have to change it up and be crazy. 

How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process? I have lived here for 11 years. The first 3 years this attic was what I call, a “Johnny Bravo” room. For all of you young ins’–Johnny Bravo was Greg Brady’s alter ego on the Brady Bunch. He turned their attic into a swinging pad complete with beaded curtains, lava lamps, and shag carpet. That’s what my studio looked like. Complete with 1974 yearbook pages and a Seasons in the Sun 45 taped to the walls. My husband turned it into an art studio for me, and it changed my life to have a designated space for work. It separated my MOM work from my art work.

Are there any kind of rituals you do before you start creating? 
No. I wish there were. I go to the gym every morning, but that doesn’t help me work. I’m just tired and sweaty. It does help me keep the butt in the chair from getting bigger tho. 

I did learn to do transcendental meditation when I turned 40 (44 in 2.5 months but who’s counting?). I think meditating is amazing and helpful to deal with stress. I find that when I am engrossed in making art – I feel just like I do when I meditate. Not when I write tho – then I feel like I do when I am working out. Tired and sweaty.


Is there anything you like to listen to while you’re working? What are you reading/listening to now?
YES!! Music is everything to me. I need it. If I am in a great mood or need to clean or meet a deadline, I blast it. If I am in an awful mood, I sing. Typically I like old music. I like great singers. I love Gershwin, Django Reinhardt, and Billie Holiday. But I am also a nut for The Beatles and The Kinks. I never really tried audio books until this past year. I am really enjoying them when I have a large amount of art to get done. I have listened to The Book Thief, Austenland, My Years with Groucho, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, every single book by Jack Gantos, Dimension X-old sci-fi radio shows and now a book called Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart.  I’ll try anything, but it better hook me. I need to be hooked from the start. When I write, I need silence. KellyLight_studio12KellyLight_studio13
KellyLight_studio8Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you? 
I keep a few things right next to me. Gifts from some friends that were so thoughtful, they make me happy. A prayer candle to Saint Expedito–patron saint of deadlines, from my pal Susan, a print with a quote from Shakespeare from my beloved art director Alison, an old radio–I collect them and they are all over my house. I listen to AM radio–I’m nuts–I like the static. AND My very own Boo Boo Kitty. Boo Boo Kitty was sewn for me by my dear friend and author Heidi Stemple. I actually jumped up and down with joy when she gave it to me. I have a thing about Laverne and Shirley.




What would you say is the most useful tool in your studio? 
My Cintiq. It is a computer screen with a pressure sensitive stylus so you can draw directly on the screen. The only problem is staring so directly into the light of the screen. It may be making me go blind–so I may start drawing on the wall and not know.

What colors inspire your creativity. Are those colors incorporated in your space? 
I love red. That paint color was not conducive to a small space like an attic. It would absorb all of the light. Red is all around my house, though. It pops up around the studio as well. The colors in my studio came from a piece of 1950’s fabric that I found with atomic symbols and tiki shapes. Turquoise , brown, sand and pink. It’s a nice calm color scheme for me to freak out

What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?  
There should be no other space that is you-er!!! I always love homes, that when you walk into them, they look just like the people who live there. Your studio should reflect your art! Your interests, your passions! I have a lot of crap. But boy, do I love this crap.

KellyLight_studio11What age did you become interested in art and who encouraged you to pursue your dream?
I knew at the age of four and a half that I wanted to be a cartoonist. I have had that singular vision for my life, other than a brief love affair with Broadway and Annie at age 9! I have always drawn and never considered doing anything else. My mom and dad were supportive and when I amazed them drawing “Tippy the Turtle” out of a matchbook when I was 10, they sent it in and I won a year of mail order art lessons!! They never told me to put down my pencil. They knew I had to draw.

Can you tell us about your new books and where can we find out more?
I am working on the promotion for my book release in September. It’s my first picture book as the author and illustrator–Louise Loves Art is out on 9/9! It is a book about a girl who needs to draw and express herself by making art. She says, “It is my imagination, on the outside.” She also loves Art, her little brother, who gets into some of her stuff. It’s already getting some lovely reviews and I’m excited to share the book and my love of drawing with kids everywhere!! I’m already working on Louise’s second book, out next fall, and illustrating a book by the fascinating author Amy Krouse Rosenthal called Don’t Blink! My website is about to be redone but will remain  It’s where to go for all things me. I’m also on twitter @kellylight!

Thank you, Kelly for sharing your studio, which has loads of personality! I can’t wait to get my copy on Louise Loves Art when it comes out, and I hope to meet you in person one day so I can have you sign it.

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