Fueled by fandom and fairy tales, Kelley Frisby of Kellsworth Ink creates some of the most unique artwork you’ll find at dozens of conventions and events where she vends and interacts with her fans.
You may already have seen her whimsical, vintage-style prints, cards, stickers and original creations, like her hand-painted brooches, nesting dolls and wine stoppers, if you’ve been to Leanna Lin’s Wonderland, Disney’s Dapper Day Expo, WonderCon, L.A. Comic Con, Spooky Expo, Designer Con, the Patchwork Show, or other similar Southern California events.
Raised on classic children’s books, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and Disney movies, and trained in traditional illustration, Kelley found a way to distinguish herself by embracing fan art inspired by her favorites, including John Hughes movies and other 1980s gems, Harry Potter, the Whedonverse, Marvel, Disney, She-Ra, Rainbow Brite, and Daria.
With a love of the “fun, beautiful, and charming,” Kelley aims to depict and create strong female characters to empower girls, like her own daughter, to be fierce. She’s on the verge of opening her own studio and retail space, so soon you’ll be able to visit her and browse her work in person.
Also a storyboard artist and aspiring children’s book illustrator, Kelley embraces the challenge of commissions and custom work. You can check out her memorable pieces on Instagram, @kellsworthink, or www.kellworthink.com.
You’re an artist and illustrator whose distinctive, vintage-style art can be found, under the name of Kellsworth Ink, on prints, cards, brooches, stickers, and other unique items. Your work has become a staple at SoCal expos, conventions, and events. When and how did you first begin selling your art at these venues?
I started selling my original card designs at craft shows, like Patchwork, and small scale pop-ups around 2013. From there, I started dabbling with “fanart” and started selling at conventions. It was with the geeky fan art that I started doing cons and finding niche shops that would sell my prints and cards.
You studied traditional illustration with a strong foundation in the classics. How has that influenced your style, which reminds me of vintage children book illustrations?
I’ve always had a love of old books. Books truly are where my inspiration sparks. Maurice Sendak, Windsor McKay and Beatrix Potter were my childhood heroes. I probably have more children’s books on my shelf than my 4 year old.
I read that as a child your two favorite things were fairy tales and drawing. Do you remember what initially sparked your interest in fairy tales?
Someone had given me a Grimm’s Fairy Tales anthology as a kid and I read through that book, probably eight times over. I always loved the many versions of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. It was so interesting to me, and all the fairy stories from other countries. I loved the tall tales and the pictures that those words created in my mind. To this day, I’m an avid reader and love to see how someone’s words can create pictures in my head.
What about drawing?
As a kid, I often would draw from scratch or copy the back of our Disney movie collection. I’d practice how to draw the characters and when we realized I was good at it, my younger sisters would start asking for specific characters.
What prompted you to pursue an education and, ultimately, a profession in art?
I knew that I wanted to have a creative job, but right out of high school wasn’t sure what that meant. So I went to a community college and took as many art classes as I could. I took everything from life drawing to sculpting and just tried it all. Ultimately, I found that illustration was where I wanted to end up. Creating pictures from other’s stories is really something I love.
You’ve said you “love to find the fun, charming and beautiful in art.” Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I love movies. I love TV and stories and finding a way to make something my own. I never realized years ago when I started making “fan art” that it would be so fun for me. Originally, I started putting my spin on other characters in order to help get some visibility.
Like so many artists out there, my name isn’t well known … but if you put your own spin on, say, Wonder Woman or Superman … well, you may show up in a search and find a new fan! For me, you can see I’m not trying to re-create their exact image, I very carefully put my own spin on a something so that you can see what they look like in my style. It’s a fun challenge trying to showcase something that is so well known.
What do you enjoy most about fan art?
I sort of stumbled into fan art by accident. I was following a bunch of people on Instagram and their takes on Inktober and decided that I would challenge myself to complete a drawing a day in October. However, I didn’t realize at the time that they were all following a specific prompt list. So I challenged myself to work my way through the John Hughes movies. I’ve always been a fan of Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. I thought it would be fun and, hey, it was an excuse to go back and watch them all over again, as I sat and “drew” inspiration.
Your art is inspired by a variety of fandoms, including Disney, Wicked, John Hughes films, Alice in Wonderland, superheroes, Harry Potter, She-Ra, Rainbow Brite, Star Wars, and Daria. What are some of your favorite personal fandoms?
Oh … man, I think I need to narrow it down, LOL. I love Harry Potter, the books, the movies — I’m a huge fan. Personally, the ‘80s are my all-time favorite. I’m a huge Marvel fan and I love Joss Whedon. My husband introduced me to Firefly (I was already a Buffy fan) but those Browncoats hold a special place in my heart. I feel like there’s too many to name.
I read that your work tends to features strong female characters because you want your daughter and other girls to have heroes to look up to. Why is this important to you?
When I first started attending cons, I remember seeing so many of the typical bikini clad ladies. I don’t have anything against it, but when I got pregnant with my daughter I started looking for artwork that would show her it’s good to be strong, to be fierce. I wanted strong girls but that were motivational for little girls and I just wasn’t seeing it as much as I wanted to. So I started focusing on the girl power messages. I drew Rainbow Brite and called the print Brite and Beautiful … you know, make it pun-ny but cute!
Your products are extremely unique, including your signature hand-painted brooches, collar clips, nesting dolls, and wine stoppers. Can you walk me through the process of creating these items?
So typically, I look at the show I’m attending or where I plan to sell a particular piece and try to plan around a theme. So if it’s Halloween or comic-related, or if it’s more of a nostalgia crowd. And then I sort of curate what the custom pieces will be.
When I go to Dapper Day at Disney, I obviously focus on some of the old fan favorites. When doing any of the custom stuff, if it’s to be sold at a show, it’s usually things I like and hope will go over well with the crowd.
For example, my wine stoppers are all wood. I piece different wooden pieces together to make these cute little chubby bodies. I assemble them all together and then paint each one. Once they are sealed, I add the cork and then display them in an old wine bottle or sometimes add them to recycled jars for displaying candy, etc.
What kind of equipment, techniques, and materials do you tend to use most?
I go back and forth between pen and ink/paint and digital. When using traditional, I usually work with wood and paint. But when going digital, I tend to start with a line drawing. I hand ink it, scan it. And then digitally paint in Photoshop.
You’ve said that linework is your favorite part of creating art. Why do you enjoy this step in particular?
I think I love brush pens, LOL. Honestly, I love the challenge of varying my line weights. I love to see if I can add texture without shadow or color. I will add it later, if I need to but it’s so interesting to play with just the lines.
You do a lot of vending at venues and events like Leanna Lin’s Wonderland, Dapper Day Expo, WonderCon, L.A. Comic Con, Spooky Expo, Designer Con, and Patchwork Show. You must be busy! Is vending at these places as much work as it seems?
It’s a lot of prep. It’s trying to make sure there is always at least one new thing on the table … because I do tend to stay local, I see a lot of the same people from one show to the next. It’s really important to me that I have something new to showcase each time I go to a show. Even if it’s just a new sticker design or a couple new prints. I always try to show what I’ve been working on.
It also seems like it would provide you the opportunity to really interact with people and bond with repeat customers. Do you find that to be the case?
Oh, definitely. There are so many new faces at each show … but honestly, when I see the same faces from shows past pop up, it’s really humbling. You make friends with people, they come out and say hi, they show support. It’s so wonderful to see what they like or get to chat with someone who supports online. Meeting Facebook, Instagram, Patreon supporters at a show is so fun. You get to hear what they like the most, because they pay attention to what you are doing! Personally, it’s a bit inspiring to me.
You also do a lot of commissions and custom work. What do you enjoy about that? What have been some of your favorite commissions so far?
Custom work is its own challenge. My favorites are the nesting dolls. They are a challenge on their own, but add to that the fact that someone is requesting you create their favorite fandom or even more scary: their family! For one, you have to simplify every character, but in doing that you have to make sure they are still recognizable for what they are. It can be hard!
I understand you’ve also done some storyboarding for film. Is that process very different from your personal art?
The storyboarding I’ve done has been for smaller scaler projects, so a lot of it is how I plan out my own personal projects. I’ve got a book I’ve been working on, on my own, for years. It gets put to the back burner far too often than it should, but the process is so similar to what I’ve done for the people working on set.
Can you talk about any of the storyboarding projects you’ve done so far?
I’ve done storyboarding for music videos and a number of short film projects. The music video was definitely the most challenging as they were both telling a story as well as positioning band members throughout. So you were juggling the incorporation of imagery with the movement of the band members.
Tell me about the custom movie posters you designed for Fandango. That sounds really fun!
I’ve only done one poster for them, it was for a summer series they did down at Santa Monica Pier. They had a series of artists redesign some of their favorite movies and showcases them in old-style, light-up marquees. It was a fun project. I actually got to create a poster for Harry Potter, in my own storybook style. I’ve done a few other projects for them, but all were used for their online promotion.
Describe your studio or workplace. What does it look like? Are there any rituals, props, or aids you find necessary or helpful to your artistic process?
I have actually just been working on my studio space. We recently moved into a town house where I actually have my own small commercial spot. I’m not ready to launch to the public, just yet … I’m still fine tuning and prepping it … but hopefully very soon, I’ll have my own little studio open for all to see!
So, yah. My space is mostly a flat work top in order to paint on. I have some of my own artwork up, some of my originals, prints that I’ve purchased from others over the years. I also use decorative jars and caddies to keep the clutter together. So … all my wooden bits and pieces that I use for my Inklings (my wine stopper characters and such), they are both on display, but ready for use.
If I’m not mistaken, you’re working on a children’s book. What can you tell me about that?
I have two personal projects I’m working on. The first is something I’ve been working on for forever, it’s always in the background, as I put other projects in front of it … but it’s a story about me and my younger sisters. We are supposed to be helping clean up the yard, but end up in an imaginary land that’s pretty much right out of Candyland. LOL. Clearly, it’s totally realistic.
The other project I’m working on is a work based on my superhero girls. I don’t have a title yet, but it’s a compilation of my “sheroes” series done as an ABC book. I’m hoping to have it done in a few months!
What other future goals, hopes, or dreams do you have for Kellsworth Ink?
My biggest goal is to finalize my personal projects, because I really want to illustrate books. It’s always been my goal to have my own books on my daughter’s bookshelf. That and my own Golden Book, if I could make that happen, I could mark those two goals off my bucket list.
If readers would like to purchase and/or support your work, what’s the best way for them to do that?
My website is: www.kellsworthink.com. It’s got my art prints and cards available. For custom items, you always have to message me, that way I can accurately quote and give a realistic time frame. So someone could reach out to me via the website or directly via Instagram, @kellsworthink.
And I’ve also got a Patreon, if anyone is interested in getting monthly rewards: patreon.com/kelleyfrisby.