As many of you know my husband and I recently moved back to New Zealand, after living overseas for the last 14 years I am incredibly excited to be reconnecting with the creative scene in the country I grew up in. There is a rich network of artists, typographers, type designers, letterers and calligraphers I admire practicing down here. One that I have been hoping to profile for sometime (we recently traced our first email exchanges back to 2013!) is an artist with a strong typographic focus based in Wellington.
"Kelly’s creative style is characterized by a bold use of colour, curvaceous forms, and clean lines. A multidisciplinary approach allows her to design across a wide variety of media and enjoy the freedom to produce work both in-studio and out In the world, adorning surfaces large and small with her colourful forms. Her work to date spans sign painting, murals/street art, illustration, apparel graphics, festival & gig branding, identity design and more."
One of Kelly's most recent pieces was a collaborative effort with christchurch based illustrator Natasha Vermeulen) created for the 2017 Graffiato: Taupo Street Art Festival is New Zealand’s premier street art events. ‘These glistening snakes and dew laden spiderwebs symbolise the dark side of placing too much value on material wealth, and tell the tale that all that truely glitters is of this earth, and can not be bought.’ An intricate, beautifully considered and impeccably crafted artwork.
The wall is approx 25x8m; the type is all aerosol, and the illustration all brushed acrylic. These talented ladies spent 35 hours up a scissor lift to create the gigantic piece (particularly impressive that this was also Natasha’s first wall!).
I asked Kelly to share some insights about the piece and her practice;
Can you tell us a little about why you love working with letterforms in your work and/or how the expressive potential of language enriches your artwork?
I get that deep-geek satisfaction of making the perfect curve on a letter, I’m not actually sure of the reasoning behind it and it’s probably just in my chemical make up. All forms of art speak to people on one level or another, but I do love the power of language. When choosing wording for a piece I like to keep it short and sweet and most of the time with a double meaning - repurposing words or phrases to make the audience do a double take like ‘hang on, what she’s saying is not necessarily what she’s written.’ I also mostly paint animals in my work, and the use of type allows me to create voices for those who can not be heard.
When designing lettering for a mural what does your process typically look like?
I’m actually shifting more and more to the iPad when sketching out murals. I still use paper when I want to be drawing outdoors, but this whole Procreate sensation is actually really useful - I can sketch in full colour directly onto a photo of the wall. I start super rough, and whether it’s digital or analogue I’ll work layer upon layer/tracing paper upon tracing paper til the design is tidy. The outputs vary a lot from there - either to sign painting with enamels, small scale painting with acrylics, digital branding or promotional work with adobe, or cans onto a wall. The biggest wall to date is this one with Natasha, it’s about 25x8meters.
How did your process for this mural differ collaborating with Natasha and how did you feel the process of collaboration added value to the finished work?
I absolutely loved working with Natasha, I doubt that all collabs are this sweet, but sign me up for the ones that are! I reckon collaboration adds great value, it pushes us to produce something different from what we would have done on our own and share the experience with another artist. Nat and I just flowed really well together, right through the design process to hanging out listening to tunes and painting the wall on our scissor lift for 35 hours.
The process didn’t differ much in this instance as we both have design backgrounds so worked in a similar way. We’d just send the image back and forward as we each worked on our own areas.
What are the challenges or constraints of working this large?
I get massive thrills from working this large, but its not without challenges like bad weather, aching bones, non-official creepy photographer dudes, and spray paint infused hair. I’m also really good at underestimating the amount of paint needed + the time it will take to complete a wall, and am working to change that.
Do you have a favourite medium, cans/ brush, pencil, etc? and what tips do you have for designers and artists keen to upskill with that tool or medium?
I love using cans. I’m definitely still a bit novice with them but I get better each time. They allow you to move your body and dance while painting! I tried switching back to brushes (on a wall) recently but it took way too long. My advice with cans is just the old traditional: Keep practising. It reminds me a bit of surfing (which I have not pursued long term) - it’s very rare to be good at it straight away. It’s a long game. Off the wall I will forever love using the humble HB pencil. And in sign painting the 1shot enamels are a dream (albeit a toxic dream) to paint with.
It is terrific to see councils and communities engaging artists to activate spaces in their towns/cities with events like the Graffito festival, what is the most rewarding part of creating a public artwork, and what sort of feedback have you had from the community?
95% of the time working out in a public space is a really enriching experience. I don’t think it’s always been this way, friends who have done this work longer than me have put in a lot of hard yards to get to the point where street art is so readily accepted. But for me, now, the public respond really well, they’re thrilled to have colour and forms going up on blank walls in their community, and they’ll openly come up to chat. This is one of the reasons I love working on walls, it’s quite social and you meet some interesting characters (occasional wild-cards too...) and learn little snippets of random people’s lives and values. I once had an elderly man bring me to tears with the joy he expressed for the piece I was working on. The connection to the work feels deeper than that which I create in the studio as I’m physically, mentally, emotionally THERE on site for the whole process.
What is your dream project/wall/collaboration?
Oosh... Long term goal is to paint in the international street art festivals. My love of travel is the reason I decided to build a freelance career all those years ago. Dream wall would be somewhere beside the sea with lots of green grass and trees and maybe some dogs.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a plan to get a good nights sleep. And 3 different mural designs that i’ll be painting in festivals in Mt Maunganui and Christchurch before the end of this year. Plus a few fun design jobs.
How can people get in touch with you and follow your work?
Website kellyspencer.co.nz and instagram @kell.sunshine.
All photos with thanks to: Natasha Vermullen, Graffiato Festval, Bespoke Photography Taupo and Kelly Spencer.
The 2017 Graffiato Festival kicked off on Friday 20 October with a mixed media collaboration evening where festival artists had 10 minutes to contribute their design to an ‘Exquisite Corpse’, with five artworks auctioned off on the night.
From Saturday morning, visitors had the opportunity to watch artists at work as they created their large-scale street artworks in Taupo over the three days. This years line up had a strong female focus (Find out more about the line-up here.)
While festivals of this nature now feature around the country, the 120 or so pieces created over the past 7 years in Taupo, as part of the Graffiato festival, represents the widest ranging and most comprehensive survey of New Zealand artists working in this field. Download the 2017 Graffiato: Taupo Street Art map here and check them out!