Kelly Bjork is an artist and illustrator based in Seattle, Washington who works mainly in gouache, a type of paint like watercolor made of natural pigment, water, and a binding agent like gum arabic or dextrin that is used to make the paint opaque. The word most often used to describe her gouache paintings is intimate, not only because it often features people in their homes but also because Bjork gives the viewer a glimpse of the tiny moments in our daily routines that are often overlooked: drawing a bath, doing the dishes, cuddling the cat.
Bjork’s clients include The Washington Post, The Wing, The Stranger, McSweeney's, and Blu Dot, and her third solo exhibition launches later this year at the Nancy Margolis Gallery in New York. Kelly chatted with us about her busy creative life and gave us a plethora of podcast recommendations.
Photo credit: Michelle Alexis Newman
Tell us about your relationship with paper and the role it plays in your craft.
I love paper! It’s been there since the beginning. I always had a stack of blank paper when I was a kid, and I would draw all the time, everywhere. I’ve always enjoyed the physical act of drawing on paper — I’m a very tactile person. There’s a great satisfaction I get from working with my hands, this exciting high happens after I finish painting a scene and can physically hold it.
I’ve always been behind on technology; it is not my favorite thing, as it kind of freaks me out. I use it and love it for certain things, but if I don’t have to use it, I prefer it. I like knowing that when the internet falls apart, I can continue doing what I love anyway.
When you're starting a new painting or illustration, when do you begin thinking about the paper you're going to use, and what are the considerations you weigh when making that choice?
For the past several years, I have actually continued to use the same paper for all my work: personal, commercial, and editorial. It is super soft cotton and primarily used for printmaking. I was testing out this paper because an entire stack was gifted to me when a neighbor moved — I have a tendency to be really precious with paper, so this allowed me to be more free, and I found I loved how the paper took gouache. Haven’t looked back since!
What are the other tools or elements that are crucial to your art? What do you need in order to do your best work?
I need a clean workspace — it feels like an extension of my brain, so if things are scattered and unorganized it’s harder for me to get started. When I begin a drawing I like to listen to music that has a constant beat so my default is house. When I go into painting, I’ll usually switch it up to a podcast or an audiobook.
I also need time. I love having an open day where I know I don’t have any plans other than to work on a piece so that the flow can come naturally. For me, the creative juices come later in the day, so I tend to work later into the evening… or very late evening.
Tell us about a recent project or another milestone you’re particularly proud of.
I will be painting my first mural this April! I’ve wanted to do a mural for a while now, and am thrilled that this opportunity came along! After that, I’ll be retreating to my studio to continue working on a new body of work for a show at Nancy Margolis Gallery in New York City this September 2019.
In addition to painting and illustrating, you're also part owner of Pilgrim Paper Co. in Seattle. What has that experience been like, and what's the best part?
I love working with my Pilgrim partner, Teresa Grasseschi. It’s been a wild ride as we, two creatives, learn to navigate running a small business. We communicate well, are honest with each other, and get things done. We are also tremendously loving and supportive of our individual endeavors, which keep us both way too busy.
What's something great on your book/movie/TV/music/podcast rotation lately that you'd recommend?
Hoo boy, do I have some recommendations for you!
- Books: I’m currently reading the graphic novel Sabrina by Nick Drnaso and highly recommend.
- TV: PEN15. I had to watch this more than once — this show resonated so much with my childhood, it was ridiculous. Also, The Good Place and Superstore are two of my other favorites.
- Music: I have really been enjoying Anderson Paak lately, specifically the album Malibu.
- Podcasts: Still Processing, The Nod, American Hysteria, 2 Dope Queens, Heavyweight, and Reply All — to name a few!
Thanks to Kelly Bjork for taking the time to speak with us! Find more of her work at www.kellybjork.com.