Last June, my boss, Linda Wehrli was uploading art student photos to the school’s Instagram page as usual, when a post by M Street Coffee caught her attention. “I almost spilled my tea”, she remembers. “Some guy had illustrated in a caricature style, the inside of the M Street Coffee, complete with details only us hardcore customers would notice. It was so stylish and remarkable, I had to reach out to the artist.”
She did and was pleased to find Kevin Church to be a warm, kind and fun person. When she asked if he might be interested in illustrating her art studio in full swing, he couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. Saturday, June 15, 2019, at 11:30 AM at the studio was confirmed.
With nothing but a black felt tip pen, a blue highlighter, and a large piece of foam core board, Kevin spent the hour illustrating Linda teaching her art classroom full of students! His perch in the corner of the room was unobtrusive, allowing the students to go about their projects without feeling like they were being watched. He captured endearing details from the wall art to the desk fans. The caricatures of Linda and her students were uncanny. Linda was thrilled and had his work professionally framed at our favorite frame shop, U-Frame-It. It proudly hangs in our beautiful sunroom waiting area for all to enjoy.
It suddenly occurred to Linda that her longtime piano student, Aidan Caplan was to attend his very last piano lesson on Saturday, June 29, before going off to college. In honor of this special occasion, Linda asked Kevin if he might be interested in illustrating a scene from Aidan’s last piano lesson. He was again very enthusiastic. Showing up with his trusty black felt tip pen and blue highlighter, Kevin illustrated candidly across from the piano room so as not to disturb the lesson. The result was so outstanding, Linda had it framed at U-Frame-It and it is now part of the artwork that graces the piano studio. She also made color copies for Aidan and his family to enjoy. Such a delightful way to celebrate a rite of passage and commemorate the occasion.
Kevin’s talent and kind personality shine through his ability to capture the atmosphere of any setting. It occurred to us that our readers might enjoy becoming acquainted with this eclectic illustrator. He graciously accepted our invitation to be interviewed. We are pleased to introduce you to illustrator-extraordinaire, Kevin Church.
Q1. What is your style of drawing referred to? For our art students, would you please describe what this style means or represents?
A1. For my drawings from life, my style is usually line based with a looseness that comes from quick attempts to capture what is in front of me. Many of the subjects of my drawings from life are dynamic – people move! The result is a bunch of thick and thin lines, not always connecting, often overlapping, and less calculated.
The art that comes from my Imagination has a bit of the same looseness but varies greatly in style beyond that. I have been recently digging a good mix between tightly wound perspective – focused environments, and fluid character shapes. I tend to use limited color palettes, which comes from having small time windows, a rather intuition-reliant knowledge of color (no formal study), and limited material colors when I go to create art (colored pencils, watercolors, markers, highlighters, etc.).
Q2. Your looseness is not without great mastery and technique, though. Much of your recent work features people in cafés or concert halls. What is the story or inspiration behind your choice of subject matter?
A2. For many years, probably starting around 2009, the only time I would draw from life was at café open mic nights and performances. Musicians were playing their hearts out. I’d draw them on something small, like an index card, and put it in their tip jar, or give it to them after the show. It was, and is, one of my favorite joys ever to draw performers.
I finally got around to taking a drawing 101 class in 2017 at Pierce College. Professor Vicich had us fill up a 9×12 (min) sketchbook with 50 pages of drawings from life. I turned in over 100. That is when my subject matter grew. Everything was game. I especially enjoyed the challenge of representing a whole view of a place in one drawing – and with time limits! I really improved so so so much just by not shying away from scenes that looked impossible to draw. A dancer? A café? A wallaby? A 5-piece jazz combo? 10-piece? A whole jazz orchestra? A crowded dance floor of swing dancers? Soon as I didn’t stop myself from taking on something that I probably could not accurately represent, I felt the world open up. What a wonderful excuse to just ‘be’ somewhere. To draw what you see. I’m on draw-from-life book #4 right now and I also realize that it acts as a bit of a journal. Like… a very very effective memory stock. So many things about a moment attach themselves to the drawing.
Q3. Your enthusiasm is infectious. Our students are interested in the latest tools of the trade. May I please inquire your preference for pens or markers? Is your work on regular sketch paper? What brands work best for you?
A3. I really use anything I collect. I like to use pens and materials until they are completely used up. Here are some common tools for me:
Micron Pen (08) – of course, a micron, but the thickest kind, thick enough to use the edges to get thin lines in addition to the thick.Kuretake Sumi Brush Pen – refillable brush pen, super loose and super swellKuretake brush pen in Character (No 22) blister, like the Sumi: refillable, even looser and bigger strokes, just as swell
Gelly Roll (Sakura) gel pens – all the colors are vibrant and are GREAT for highlights, especially on toned paper
Highlighters, various colored pencils, markers (Prismacolor especially), watercolor from tubes and a water-storing brush, and paint pens.
Strathmore 400 Series Recycled 9″ x 12″ Sketch Pad, Crescent 99 15″ x 20″ White Illustration Board 14 ply and Strathmore 400 series Recycled Toned Sketch Wirebound Journals.
Q4. Thank you for the intel. Our students and readers will appreciate that. One of my boss’ favorite questions on her interview list is, At what age did you realize you were an art spirit?
A4. Gosh… I’ve always been drawing. Most little kids draw. I think those that keep drawing are either the ones that felt like they were good at it or the ones that drew for some motive. For me, I think it was a bit of both. My family and friends encouraged me and seemed to enjoy the drawings, so for “elementary school Kevin”, that was nice… but the real reason I liked to draw was to illustrate or come up with stories, characters, and worlds. I want to say that this started as early as first grade, but was really in full-swing around 6th grade when my friends and I would create hero stories and movies and I would draw the characters and scenes all the time.
Oh ALSO. My Uncle Joe and cousin Christina were both huge inspirations. My uncle was a Bluth animator and my cousin was an aspiring animator (now storyboard artist); I really wanted to be as able as they were to draw and create.
Q5. Very cool. Did anyone try to discourage your love for drawing? If so, how did you handle it?
A5. Hmm… I think the only discouragement came from drawing when it ‘wasn’t appropriate to draw’. Examples: being told not to draw in class by teachers because it was ‘not focusing’, not to draw at parties because it was ‘antisocial’, or not to draw at meals because it was ‘rude’.
I handled that (and currently handle it) with some respect and some risk. I would draw ‘test’ drawings in high school to see which teachers wouldn’t mind my doodling during class and respect the wishes of those that did mind (most of the time). I was happily surprised in college that none of the teachers cared, so long as you paid attention and did the work.
I still draw at get-togethers, depending on the function. The consequence is usually a bit of isolation between you and the other party-goers, but I find that forgivable depending on the occasion – sometimes it will spark conversation sooo… *shrug. I don’t usually draw when at restaurants, but I will sometimes… again, it is more about the occasion.
Overall I say yay for drawing lots, but respect that how it affects those around is still a matter to consider.
I’m also very blessed to have been encouraged by family and friends through most of my art endeavors, whether it was in critique or praise.
Q6. Good to be mindful. How did you get into engineering? Did you find a correlation between art and engineering?
A6. I got into engineering as a career choice partially due to my love for high school calculus, my dad’s suggestion (he is an engineer), and my interest in a profession that combined art and math.
Though there are some jobs where an engineer is directly linked to art, I think that the profession is more of a mix of creativity and math. We draw to explain, clarify and specify, not to express. But the solutions we come up with are creatively achieved between many parameters. I work in structural engineering for buildings, for a company called Kurt Fischer Structural Engineering. I love the job, but I’d call it creative over artistic.
Q7. Nice distinction. Art can touch people’s lives, bringing happiness and hope. For example, my boss’ art school partners with CoachArt to provide free art classes for families impacted by childhood chronic illness. Is there a charity you are fond of or support, that you might like my readers to learn more about?
A7. That sounds WONDERFUL. I wish I knew of a like charity. With my art, I am only at the stage where I use it to brighten days, to be present for people, and to connect with others. I have had daydreams of hosting charity variety art shows, but I think I will start first with the baby step of showing work at a show and work up to hosting such events.
Q8. Sounds great. Please keep up posted so we can support your endeavors. In closing, do you have a favorite quote, mantra or process that you find inspiring or helpful when faced with a creative block, that you would like to share with our readers?
A8. I don’t really pick up quotes or mantras to live by, but I do have a few I really enjoy. One of my favorites is from a poem that was quoted in the animated Studio Ghibli movie The Wind Rises. The poem is called “Le Cimetière Marin” by Paul Valéry. The quote used in the movie is “Le vent se lève!… Il faut tenter de vivre!”, translated to “The wind is rising!… We must try to live!”
Wow! That gave me goosebumps. Thank you for sharing the inspo and granting us your gracious time for this interview. We wish you all the best and look forward to seeing more of your great illustrations on Instagram!
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