A lot of Utah's art scene is focused in SLC, not because the rest of the state doesn't have great art, it just tends to pool here. But Provo has been making waves of their own in recent years. --- A lot of that success is due in part to their own Gallery Stroll, held on the first Friday of the month among their row of galleries and unique businesses in the downtown area, giving artists who normally wouldn't find a spot in one of the higher-end galleries a chance to capture the minds of the growing youth culture in the city.
One artist who's making a big impression is Kristin Gulledge, a multi-talented artists known best for her illustrations and paintings, as well as her photography and digital arts on the side. Today we chat with Gulledge about her artwork and career as well as coming up through the Provo art scene and thoughts on a few other topics. (All pictures courtesy of Gulledge.)
Gavin: Hey Kristin, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Kristin: Well first off, I'm the youngest of six kids and I grew up in Provo. In addition to all the art stuff we'll talk about today, I absolutely love music. I sang all growing up, mostly in choirs, and I love being connected to the Provo music scene. Cliche as it sounds, I also enjoy traveling, yoga, running and dancing. I really like learning about anything and everything. I graduated from BYU in November 2012, freelanced all last year, and ended the year living in Mexico for three months teaching kids English. I recently accepted a job as an adjunct faculty member at BYU teaching a section of figure drawing for animation. When I get excited about something, everybody usually ends up knowing about it. I love experiencing life: nature, culture, people. But I like it more when I can share it with others. I suppose that's why I create art.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art and what were some influences on you growing up?
Kristin: I've been doing art as long as I can remember. I used to draw from those "how to draw" sections that used to run in newspapers when I was little. Those were golden. In elementary school I entered the art contests but never won anything. I remember being frustrated because my concepts went way beyond what I portrayed in my artwork. I specifically remember a James Christensen piece our elementary school librarian showed us one time and I loved that because it had so many details and it showed so many stories. I've always liked stories. And so I drew. But I never thought I'd be a legit "artist" with a capital “A” someday. I took private art lessons in 6th grade from Beth Jepson. One meaningful experience there was the first time I noticed my hands working together as a team: my right one did the fine motor details and my left hand was surprisingly coming in with help in smearing some of the more expressive parts of the pastel drawing I was working on. When I was about 16, I got a chance to work for local children's book illustrator Guy Francis, and that was awesome. I got to see what a real illustrator did, and thought, "hey, maybe I could really get into this." I started to emulate his style, as well as the styles of some illustrators he introduced me to, like Maryn Roos and Hala Wittwer. And of course, I still loved James Christensen's stuff. I think with all of these artists, I loved how expressive and well-designed their pieces were, and the colors were always so fun. Story was always key and that’s still the case for me.
Gavin: Prior to college, what were some of your earlier works like while exploring mediums?
Kristin: Even though I'd worked for Guy and everyone told me I should be an artist, I still looked at it like when people tell little girls in gymnastics that they should try out for the Olympics. I just didn't really see myself doing it. But I didn't really mind it and enjoyed it so I kept at it. I didn't really think much of it. So most of my pre-college work was in high school art classes, which were pretty standard.
Gavin: You received a BFA from BYU, what made you choose BYU and what was their program like?
Kristin: I applied sort of expecting I wouldn't get in, as an excuse to say "yes I'm doing something with my life" while secretly figuring out what I really wanted to do. It totally threw me off when I was actually accepted to both the illustration and graphic design programs. Illustration was perfect for me because they really focus on the fundamental principles of art. They emphasize and push the basics like drawing from life, good design, critical thinking and good presentation as well as exploring different mediums. While I was tugging at the reins a bit to be pushed more creatively, looking back, I'm really grateful I know all that stuff because those basic principles are what gives an artist the tools to take their art in any direction they want. Renowned artist Glenn Vilppu voiced my goals in a really good way: "If you think of all the possible visual elements that you must learn as keys on a piano, the more keys you have, the wider range of possibilities you can enjoy. Of course, you can make music with just a few keys, but that should be based on choice, not limitations." I think illustration helped me with that. The BA is two years shorter than getting the BFA, but I would highly encourage anyone who really wants to make it in the art world to try out for the BFA. College actually took me six years total, but my time there was totally worth it and I felt a lot more prepared for the post-college art world with the extra time I'd spent there.
Gavin: While you were there, how did you take interest in so many different genres?
Kristin: At first, I thought I wanted to do children's book illustrations, but when I actually tried it out, I was dismayed to find I didn't like actually doing it. But it was cool to find out there is a LOT more the illustration world encompasses than just children's book illustrations. So I explored different things. My classes, as well as the guest artist lectures, gave me a sampler of things to try and learn from, from editorial stuff to concept art. I had the opportunity to intern at the Society of Illustrators in NYC and got some gallery curatorial experience there. I also worked for Brett Helquist, who is most known for illustrating The Series of Unfortunate Events. This gave me a better perspective on what it's like working as a freelance illustrator for children's books and for the young adult audience. During the end of my experience at BYU, I was part of an unofficial concept art track for illustration students wanting to work in the animation industry. I was fortunate to work a little on the visual development team for the student film Estefan (which recently won a student Emmy!) so that gave me a little experience into the concept art and 2D side of the animation world. I also had as a graphic designer on campus, which helped me better design my illustration pieces.
Gavin: What was it like for you breaking into the art scene with your paintings and illustrations, and taking part in exhibitions in Provo?
Kristin: It was sort of a surprise, really. It was exciting and intimidating. I owe it to a few friends who had connections to get my first few shows. I hadn't intended on becoming a "gallery" artist, but that's sort of where my work led. I had graduated with my art degree in November 2012 and expected that I'd probably need to get a day job to keep doing art. But then Muse Music asked me if I could do a solo show there in January 2013, so I was busy making things for that... and they sold. I was thrilled and humbled. I already had another show scheduled for February, so I spent January starting some freelance graphic design jobs and making prints to sell with my art at the next show. From there, I just never ended up getting a day job. I was a part of five shows last year, as well as some other events. It's a lot of work though; when you're your own boss, you're also your gallery curator, your publicity rep, and your name is what you're selling. It seems pretty selfish at times but I remember the reasons I do art and a lot of it is because I've seen the positive effect it has on others. As a freelance fine artist, shows are great because they get people to see your work in real life, which looks a billion times better than online. It was and is very exciting. I learn more every show I'm a part of, and with every art exhibition I'm a little more prepared. Of course, I can't do it without the amazing vendors, curators, and supportive friends and family who help.
Gavin: What's the process like for you in creating a new painting or illustration, from concept to final piece?
Kristin: It's sort of hard to say, because everyone is different. I start with an idea: usually either an image or a concept. If I have an image in mind, it's the aesthetics I start with. I thumbnail it out and figure out the composition, or draw some rough sketches in my sketchbook. With some of my pieces, I need photographic reference, so then I'll have a lot of fun doing a photo shoot or sometimes two, to get it just right. This gets me pretty stoked for my painting and the concept oftentimes get more refined as I talk it through with those involved. Past shoots have included being photographed upside down underwater in the chilly fall weather (got chlorine poisoning for that), tying a friend up in ropes and hanging her by her knees on a trapeze bar on a swing set at sunrise, shooting details of various patterns at Velour, having another friend lay in really sharp weeds. Sometimes I can't quite figure out how I want a composition to look like on paper, but I can compose in-camera pretty well because of my photography experience so these shoots are great. I collect all my photographs and sort out the ones that are best for what I need. I sometimes Photoshop them together and print some out. I then prepare the surface for what I'm painting on. Again, this can be really fun and exploratory for me. I explore with textures and I always try to push myself. Then I tone the surface with a pretty neutral color in acrylic. After the surface is prepared, I practice drawing my reference. However, if I start with an idea rather than an image, sometimes it helps if I write it out first, in words instead of pictures. For my BFA show, The Grey Area, all of the paintings included words I’d written to accompany them. I had to make sure those words could encapsulate the ideas and image I wanted to convey. When I wrote those concepts, sometimes they came out pretty well on the first try while other times they went through plenty of revisions. And then they come together: words and art.
Kristin: Often, I'll do studies before I create a final painting. These are important and usually less pressure because they're smaller and more expendable: they are usually experimentation of elements I want to incorporate in the final painting that I need to figure out. Sometimes they'll be textures that I'm trying to figure out, others experiment with the way to draw something, while others deal with the colors of the final piece. When I feel like I have enough research and material, I start the actual final piece. It's a lot easier to go big when I'm familiar with smaller parts of it. Sometimes I'll take a photo of my work and look at it on my phone because I can more easily see the flaws when the image is small. Another trick I use is to look at my image through a mirror; discrepancies can be more obvious when the image is reversed. I primarily experiment with the mixture of charcoal, paint and metal leaf on wood. I create acrylic underpaintings and use oil for rendering and finishing touches. I’m obsessed with process. I love the idea of a drawing as a finished work of art. In my paintings, I try to leave some areas unfinished; I enjoy seeing a piece of art where the viewer can point out where the artist laid down the first stroke and just left it there, and can see layers of paint in other places. I guess that's the idea of visually explaining the process. I try to play with that finished/unfinished spectrum to varying degrees in my pieces. Also, I generally make my own boards to paint on with their accompanying cradles (wood adhered to the back of the piece to provide a backing to hang it on the wall); the boards are masonite and the cradles are poplar. I’m not necessarily an art purist; it’s just cheaper that way...but there is something pretty cool about taking some absolutely raw material from Home Depot and making something beautiful from it. Based off of that solo show at Muse Music, I call my more whimsical pieces (I drew various muses) my "muse" style. These images usually come from my head and require no elaborate photo shoots. Often they come from my sketchbooks.
Gavin: Do you experiment with your creations a lot or do you stick to the idea you had when you started?
Kristin: Oh man, the whole thing's usually an experiment. Should I be admitting that? That's what keeps it really fun for me though, and also really terrifying, when I’m up against a deadline. I'm always looking for new things to incorporate into my work. It's happened a few times, but usually I don't know exactly what a piece will look like in the end when I first start. As I work on it, I have to look at it with a critical eye and my ideas will sometimes change or develop through the process. It's sort of cool to work with your art and not against it. If I try to control my stuff too much, it looks contrived. Of course, I try to maintain a good balance of control and flexibility. And I remind myself that not every painting can accomplish every element of everything I know how to do or want to do.
Gavin: When did you begin to incorporate graphic design into your art and how much of a transition was it for you to take your skills to that medium?
Kristin: As I mentioned before, I was super fortunate to get a graphic design job on campus for the College of Life Sciences, and I had that for five years. I had a few graphic design classes as part of my art core to get me started, but a lot of it was just self-taught: lots of tutorials from the best graphic designers on the internet. And of course, the more I did it, the more of a critical eye I developed because I tried to surround myself with as much current good design online as well. There is definitely a specific skill set for graphic design, and I firmly believe you need to know all about typography, gridding, user experience, etc to be a good designer. But as far as good design in general, like composition, shape design and color theory--it's hand-in-hand with what I learned in the illustration program.
Gavin: What was it like for you building up a set of clients to do design work for, and what are some of the projects you've worked on that you were most proud of?
Kristin: I was fortunate to have a friend who started a nonprofit organization and needed a web designer. I didn't really want to focus on web design as much as actual art-making, but it was either that or get a desk job. I took this freelance design job, and took my office at Barnes & Noble, cafes around town and random places that looked cozy with wi-fi to work on that project. I have continued to design for him on and off through the year. A lot of my stuff last year was just by word of mouth or through my website/Facebook page. One of my absolute favorite projects I worked on was to help brand and advertise a local band, Searching for Celia, and help them with publicity or various shows as well as their CD release show. I was pretty proud of the flyers I worked on with their bassist Robby Jarstad, as they looked more like classy playing cards printed on stiff glossy paper rather than the typical quarter-sheet on printer paper. It was fun to create posters and shirts for them as well as a few other bands around town. Arguably the most proud and certainly the most memorable project I worked on was also for Searching for Celia; they released their album on a USB drive rather than a typical CD. I was able to collaborate with Robby and Sebastien Gallego, their guitarist (another artist) to create the work of art we called their album. The USB's are rather classy; they are silver with the artwork I created based off a drawing from Seb of a tree with a man next to it, all wrapped neatly in a black magnet-bound case with the man/tree combo on front. I’m still pretty proud of that. Though it's sometimes a pain, I'm pretty old-school; I love doing print work a lot more than web stuff. Flyers, posters, invitations and packaging are all things I really enjoy doing. I like tangibility.
Gavin: What sparked your interest in photography and what was it like learning that medium?
Kristin: I think I grew up with a camera in my face. My parents love documentation. Rumor has it my dad sometimes made us blow out our candles two or three times on our birthdays so he could get a good shot, but I have a terrible memory. Either way, I always have loved photography. As fortune would have it, because of that graphic design job on campus, I was asked to take photos of the faculty and staff. That came with having to learn how to set up the little makeshift photo studio we had there. I learned more about lighting as well as equipment. Luckily, I have a good friend who worked in the film industry for seven years and taught me all about what I needed to know there; we would go out and practice shooting a lot because my boss let me take the camera from work and practice elsewhere. At first I was super concerned about the technicality of it all; eventually, I was able to maneuver my camera in manual mode pretty well without over-thinking what exactly was happening on the inside and I could manipulate the settings to do what I wanted them to do based off of the image I want to produce. I'm always learning, though.
Gavin: What kind of equipment do you prefer to shoot with?
Kristin: I'm a Canon girl, but I think various brands have their benefits. I learned on a Canon, and right now I just have a lil' Rebel T2i. I usually take my 24-105 L-series lens as well as a 50mm or 80mm lens to shoots, and those are a good combo for the shots I usually end up wanting. I'd love to upgrade to a 6D or a even a 5D MarkIII soon, though. I also love my Holga film camera, because those shots can't be wasted. It reminds me to really think about my shot before I push the trigger. For daily life, I like my iPhone because I heard a quote once that said the best camera is the one you have with you. And I like that idea. So I embraced Instagram and try to keep the principles in mind of "making" rather than "taking" a photo.
Gavin: Considering the different forms of art you do, what made you decide to take on so many different aspects, and are you looking to take on more?
Kristin: You know what? I don't think I really consciously tried to take on so many aspects. I dislike being over-busy, but I often find that I am. It’s something I'm working on. But they all sort of fell in my lap like how I've described--one thing led to another and I've embraced them all. I've considered giving up one or two but it's like giving up kids. So it becomes a task of prioritizing. As far as "looking to take on more" – it's probably more accurate to say, "more comes to take me on when I'm looking the other way". I feel like I really need to focus on what I already do so I can get to be really amazing at it before I move on to learn something new, but I seem to just do it anyway. I’ve already started to venture a bit into video.
Gavin: For those who would like to commission you for work or hire you for photography, how do they get in touch with you?
Kristin: They can check out my photography portfolio by clicking the photo link on my website. If they like what they see, they can email me at email@example.com.
Gavin: What's your take on the local art scene, both good and bad?
Kristin: I think it's so great that Provo is so rich in culture and I really like that Mayor Curtis is so supportive of the arts. Our downtown area is filled with art and I think that’s fantastic. The First Friday Gallery Stroll is a great idea. However, I wish more people knew about them. I also wish that in general, people would buy local first more. Provo is a great place to get a start and start a following, but it's not a great place to sell work. The reality is, it takes a lot of time and money to create art. To make it worth it by selling that art usually requires more than is in the budgets of residents here in Provo. Also, I think the artists themselves should publicize their art more. There are such amazing artists here and so many aren’t recognized for it! But it’s sort of up to us to let people know.
Gavin: Aside yourself, who are some local artists you believe people should be checking out?
Kristin: That's a tough question because there are so many! So here are a few just from BYU's illustration program... Normandie Luscher's art is super whimsical and fun and is backed up by a lot of interesting commentary and intricate thought process. Nate Hardyman has SUCH a fun style. Think: abominable snowman mixed with rockstars. He's interested in editorial and book art but is open to other work as well. Melissa Manwill has an incredible sense of design; she really pushes herself and she's definitely going to go places. Renee Bates is a hybrid of classically trained illustrator and concept-driven animator. She's always up for a challenge. Ellis Elkins is an amazing hybrid of illustration and motion graphics. He really knows his stuff when it comes to moving an image around Adobe After Effects. SolJee Lee is ridiculously good. She's meticulous and has a very James Jean-esque style, with really cool concepts. Spencer Hawks is drawing all the time. Among other things, he draws comics and has a fun style.
Gavin: What differences have you noticed between the art coming out of Provo compared to SLC or other cities?
Kristin: Quite honestly, I need to be in the other cities’ art scenes more. I’ve noticed that because the Provo/Orem area houses BYU and UVU, sometimes the styles that come out are really similar since they’re right out of college. On the other hand though, I’ve also noticed that’s an overall art movement thing in general. I noticed that in New York as well. I’d say there is definitely more religious art in Provo, which isn’t a bad thing. People make art about what they’re passionate about; I’m all for that.
Gavin: For those up-and-coming artists looking to break out, what recommendations do you have for them?
Kristin: First of all, be involved in the scene! Find the scene you want to be in. If it's gallery art, go visit galleries. If it's comic books, read comics. If it's animation, go watch movies. And honestly, doing all of these things will make you a better artist; inspiration comes from everywhere. Look outside of your art form as well; look into music and dance for help when you're feeling artistically dry. Make connections like crazy, but make them because you're genuinely interested in them. People can tell a difference in others being genuine or not. Never disregard anyone or their work. You can find value in things you don't like. Challenge yourself. Include yourself in a community so that you always have a place to show your work even if you don't have a show coming up. Expect yourself to produce a certain amount of work. As far as actual art making: be amazing at time management. This is so key. When it's time to do art, whether it's an assignment due or you're done with school and you know you should "probably be working on art," pretend like it's your job. Grab a Google spreadsheet or just a paper and clock in and out. It'll help you be accountable to yourself, as well as understand your workflow and how long it actually takes you to do various projects. When it's your work time, be stoked about it! Get yourself pumped up–grab your music, set the timer for ten minutes and go through your inspirations (Pinterest) and then start. Turn your phone off or on silent and log out of your social media distractions. It will help a lot. Make yourself a web presence. Yes, our line is continually "here's my website; I'm working on upgrading it..." but something is better than nothing. Advertise for your events! Word of mouth, flyers, social media--do it all. That's how you get the best turn-outs.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Kristin: I'm hoping to expand my audience and have more shows in Salt Lake and the surrounding areas. I want to find a studio and produce a whole lot more work. I have some ideas I've held on the back burner and I'm looking forward to working on them. I'm also self-publishing a pamphlet I wrote called "The Grey Area: Exploring Concepts of Vulnerability and Art-Making" and I'm starting to sell those, which is exciting. It talks about how I created my BFA show in detail as well as takes an academic approach to understanding concepts of embracing vulnerability in making art. I'm excited to make prints that people can purchase of The Grey Area as well, so those are coming soon.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Kristin: Oh, for sure! I mentioned Normandie Luscher earlier, and she has an art show coming up at Muse as part of Provo's first Friday Gallery Stroll this Friday. Also, my BFA show The Grey Area is up in Salt Lake Library Sprague Branch right now until February 28. If you check that out, please leave a comment in my book there. I love the dialogue that takes place between artist/artwork/viewer. I often learn from other people about my own art. If anyone is interested in purchasing that pamphlet on vulnerability and artmaking, or wants details on that, they can email me as well. I update my Facebook fan page often, so like that and check it for updates. If anyone wants updates to come to their inbox about once per month, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "opt-in" and I'll put them on my mailing list. I try to keep that pretty informative but light and hopefully pretty entertaining to read. And...usually there are pictures. Check out my website, Facebook and Instagram.
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