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SPOTLIGHT ARTIST Brett Kelley: Art Mercenary

Thalo loves to promote artists and each month, we will spotlight a member of our community!

This month we are pleased to have visual artist Brett Kelley as the thalo Spotlight Artist.

THALO Team: Can you give an "elevator pitch" of your work?

Brett Kelley: My personal work is a form of fusion illustration. I take my traditional illustration background and produce artwork that combines aspects of animation, tattoo design, graphic design and everything in between. My work is very utilitarian, and could be considered "Suggestivist" at best in a fine art setting. My work is versatile, so much so that I've been nicknamed "Art Mercenary" and it's stuck with me for the last five years or so. 


TT: What is your artwork about, and what do you want people to take from it?

BK:  My personal work is generally about combining and fusing opposites. Organic with technical, light with dark, big with small. I have a big kick about "The perpetual dychotomy of the human condition", which expands out to the world at large. I make work so people can find an understanding or enjoyment from a subject that they might not have. 

TT: Which artists do you feel have influenced your art the most? 

BK: I grew up inspired by Keith Haring and Bill Watterson, but these days I draw inspiration from a myriad of artists across different disciplines. From comic book artists like Ryan Ottley, Ken Lashley and Jim Mahfood to illustrators and painters like Kim Jung Gi, Steven Russell Black, Android Jones and Chet Zar. There are far too many to list, but those are some of my favorites. 


TT: Where do you like to present your work, and why? (Galleries, website, social media, etc.)

BK: I'm a sucker for a good gallery show, and have been working towards getting my latest illustration series into those spaces. Otherwise, I pump most of my work into my social media presence (Facebook, Instagram) out of sheer convenience. I also like live events, like conventions and craft fairs. I always meet new people who seem to like my work. 

TT: Do you feel like your work has evolved? If so, how?

BK:   I am thankful to say that my work and my process has matured nicely over the years. Going through old illustrations and notebooks from as far back as 2010 shows a nice progression of my skills. And even outside of that, I have noticed a distinct evolution in my illustration topics and how they are cultivated and distributed. Everything is in a nice streamlined system. My process has refined, as well as my palette. Getting older has its perks, I suppose. 

TT: Do you have any tips or advice for fellow artists based off of your experiences thus far?

BK: Absolutely. Drawing the boring stuff, lean into your uncomfortable spaces. Drawing from real life is the artistic equivalent of eating your vegetables. They might not taste as good, but will provide you with the nourishment you need to get better. Challenge yourself to be better than your last piece of art, not other artists. Always listen to yourself, but it helps to keep an ear open to outside feedback. Learn how to take all criticism, even the bad kind. All input is good input, so long as you know how to process it. 


TT: What are you working on right now, and why?

BK: I have been struggling to get a new book project off the production line. It's a collection of four or five illustration series I've been cultivating over the last few years. I also have an enamel pin design coming out in a few months, and that's very exciting to me. I am also attempting to teach myself how to incorporate more digital methods in my process. 


TT: What would you consider to be your "biggest achievement" with your work thus far? 

BK: I would say kickstarting a completely original coloring book in 2016 was a big accomplishment. It was my first independently produced product, and I sold all 150 copies of the book. It was really nice, and a big first step in developing my personal brand of artwork. 

TT: What was your first work of art that you were proud of? Where is it now?

BK: My father wrote and published a book when I was twelve and tasked me with providing interior illustrations and helping in designing the cover. That was the first time I'd drawn anything that was used for representational or display purposes, so I was pretty proud of that. It was definitely my first taste of making something that held a "professional" value.


TT: Do you take commissions? Why or why not?

BK: I have been taking commissions for the last twenty years of my career, but in the last few seasons I've been purposefully waning my list. I love commissions and the process of doing work for others, but it has become too demanding and I am looking to develop my personal work more going into the future. I have recently taken a small sabbatical from commisisons so I can get re-organized and refine my processes a bit. 

TT: What do you do when you aren't working on artwork? What are some of your hobbies/passions other than art-making?

BK: I've kept to the drawing table a lot these days, but outside of work I like to dance, practice martial arts, play games with friends, sing karaoke, do stand-up comedy, act, and do all sorts of things. Been trying to get more active after being glued to my studio for so long!


TT: How do you overcome art blocks?

BK: I have an art journal I use to collect all my ideas and concepts. If I ever feel like I'm not getting going, I'll pluck a page out of that book and get to work on that one. I will also rely on friends and contacts to help me, whether it's feeding me suggestions to draw when I'm not in it or to just talk through ideas. Art blocks have not been a challenge for me lately, rather the process of getting the work done has been the bigger hurdle. 


TT: Where do you see your work taking you in the next 5-10 years?

BK: I have some pretty big ambitions with my work over the next decade. My goal is to begin making more merch for public consumption, such as zines, comics, pins, fine art prints and more. I also plan on having some more gallery-ready artwork and would love to have a solo show. On top of all that I have a small list of random projects I would like to work on that range from vinyl figure production, prop production and a slew of other projects. My next 5-10 years will not be boring. 


TT: Is there something that you would like to share with us that we have not covered that pertains to you and your work?

BK: I would say that I am lucky and fortunate to have been able to take the artistic journey I have. Be thankful for what you have done instead of focusing on what hasn't been done. Be mindful of your emotional and mental health, and only turn your passion into your primary source of income if you have tackled the aspects of finances and business first. 


TT: If you have links for your website, Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, etc. that you would like to share, please include these addresses below.


You can see more of Brett's artwork on facebook at or on instagram at @bkartmerc