5×5: Kelly McKernan

We kicked off our 5×5 series last month with Zoetica Ebb. Now we’re back with the second instalment, this time featuring Nashville-based artist Kelly McKernan. Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Kelly holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing and Painting from Kennesaw State University.

The internal struggle between natural inclination and cognitive reasoning, especially as conveyed in the moment of resolution and resulting in personal growth, is a theme that’s explored in much of Kelly’s work. The women depicted in her images are at once strong and vulnerable, otherworldly and relatable. Kelly herself is as multi-faceted and intriguing as the characters she portrays. Take a look for yourself:

1) You’ve been ruining carpets, walls and clothes from a young age – was there ever an alternative potential career?

I actually went to college intent on becoming a high school art teacher. I ended up deviating from that path when I enjoyed my drawing and painting classes far more than my education classes. I truly do enjoy teaching and working with children and young adults, though, and whenever I’ve needed to take some part time work, I’ve been a nanny, summer camp art teacher, preschool teacher, and substitute art teacher in the past. I also briefly considered being a photographer when I fell in love with the darkroom, film photography and process while in college. I tried to double-major for a year, until I decided to take what I loved from the darkroom and combine it with my painting, though I eventually settled on watercolor only since the process became more difficult to achieve without the correct equipment and space after I graduated. Anyway, now that I have a 5 month old daughter that I plan to home school, I can look forward to taking care of that teaching bug.

2) What’s coming up in your world? What are you really excited about doing?

In addition to my gallery work, I’m focusing on building a career as a freelance illustrator. I’m most interested in book and comic covers, but really open to anything. Because I’ve found that my watercolor work isn’t too conducive the style I’m trying to achieve, I’ve been trying to build up a portfolio of work done with acrylic as well as tackle new subject matter and compositions. It’s quite scary trying to break into something new to me, since “illustration” was a bit of a dirty word while I was in art school and I was discouraged from pursing it, but the illustration community is so generous with their resources, time, and help that I don’t feel entirely lost!

3) Do you like listening to music while you create? If so, what kind?

I’m always either listening to music, a podcast, or occasionally I’ll have a movie on in the background. As far as music, it completely depends on my mood, but I’ll often put on Pandora set to a Grizzly Bear or Blonde Redhead station. If I want something more specific, I’ll open up Spotify and look for something that strikes my fancy. Lately I’ve been enjoying Rufus Wainright, Vashti Bunyan, and Warpaint. If I feel more like listening to a podcast, my favorites are Radiolab, This American Life, and Welcome to Night Vale. I’ve also recently begun catching One Fantastic Week, a weekly web show that interviews artists. I really enjoyed one that they had with Rebecca Guay a few weeks ago. If I feel more like having a movie on in the background, I usually turn to something like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Amelie, or Marie Antoinette. If I’m not feeling too keen on any passive noise , I join a Google Hangout with other female illustrators, which has been really beneficial since I’m self-employed and often only have the company of my daughter, so getting to talk to other lady artists while we all work has been really encouraging and good for my mental health, I think.

4) Which artist makes your heart race?

Lately, every time I see anything that Dan Quintana posts on Instagram, my heart does indeed race. His work is just absolutely mind-blowing. I’m also a massive fan of Joao Ruas, James Jean, Soey Milk, JAW Cooper, Rebecca Yanovskaya, Jana Brike, and Erik Jones. Sorry, I can’t pick one!

5) Preferred social media platform?

Instagram. I love that it’s completely visual and remains relatively simple due to that constraint. Because of this, it’s become my favorite tool for reaching supporters of my artwork. I currently have 14,000 followers on my instagram account, which is really insane if you think about that number! Everyone is so sweet and encouraging. The only thing I really hate about it is that nudity is not allowed, so I often have to censor my artwork and WIPs when posting them, otherwise I could lose my account if someone flags it. It’s utterly ridiculous. Facebook is a close second, but it’s become very difficult to reach my followers through my account there without paying.

BONUS QUESTION: Nobody knows this, but…

I really, really love breakfast food. I discovered this while I was pregnant – it’s all I ever wanted, and that hasn’t changed. It’s on par with Leslie Knope’s obsession with waffles. I get ya, girl.


Although there aren’t any waffles in her portfolio, it’s still definitely well worth it to swing by! Visit Kelly’s portfolio.

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