there are layers of feelings in an illustration

Kate Dehler

ART  .  December 4th, 2020

Can we get a little intro about you?

Sure! I’m from a small beach town in Maryland, on the East Coast of the USA, that I couldn’t wait to leave. I studied French, history, and philosophy in college, thinking I wanted to stay in academia because I loved books and thoughts (I still do). I’ve worked since I was 15 – at restaurants, shops, miscellaneous jobs – and I hadn’t really stopped to think about what I might actually enjoy doing.

When I married my now-wife, she really encouraged me to spend time drawing and to nurture that part of myself. My wife is French, and I often say that when I was studying French in college, I was just preparing to meet her, which is silly but feels true in a way.

I was working as an administrative assistant and was in a real psychological rut, but I kept drawing and eventually started thinking, what if I tried to have a creative career? This isn’t a very interesting chronology – but the point is that there might be a whole industry you don’t even know exists. There might be a market for that thing you really enjoy doing, so it’s worth looking into because what else is there to do? I had an art teacher in high school who didn’t make me do any of the assignments – she let me come up with my own and spend class sitting in the back with my headphones on, making whatever I wanted. This meant a lot to me both in terms of feeling like I was getting the approval of an adult I respected, and in terms of having a respite from whatever else.

What do you do when you’re not working?

These days I watch a lot of Jeopardy and Star Trek. But in general, I love reading and watching movies and TV. I love hikes and being outside. I love eating. I do yoga every morning, because it is the only way I have found it possible to focus.

Your work reminds me of some psychedelic or stoner rock album artworks. Which album would you like to do artwork for?

Ooohh so many to choose from. I get a love of inspiration from music. I’d love to work with any artist whose music I enjoy, really. It’d be a dream to work with Kikagaku Moyo or Khruangbin – I listen to them a lot when I’m working so it would be exciting to actually make something with them. Arcade Fire, Beach Fossils, Toro y Moi, Wild Nothing, Big Thief – those would all be a true dream to work with. I also think it would be super fun to do artwork for a pop album, or something where my style isn’t necessarily what you’d expect. I like collaborations that push my work, and I think partnering with another artist and working together on a vision is the most exciting thing.

How did you come to such a recognizable style?

I’m so glad you think I have a recognizable style because it’s been a long journey trying to develop one! I’ve spent years making stuff I really didn’t like, trying out different lines and ways of working. Line has always been important to me so finding a line that felt right took a while. I love 60s and 70s ephemera – calendars, posters, buttons, brochures, stamps, postcards, etc. – so I spend a lot of time looking at that kind of thing, and collecting books with reference materials. Ultimately I love to draw, and I spent a lot of time trying to avoid that for some reason, trying to come up with a process that involved less drawing – more shape-building or something. I was fighting my instincts, and at some point I decided to embrace that impulse instead, and here we are.

How is your process?

My process really came from finding my style – once I embraced the fact that I really like the act of drawing more than anything else, I started experimenting with different tools. I landed on Procreate for iPad because nothing really beats being able to tap two fingers to undo a stroke. There is no fear of mistakes in Procreate, so that’s a huge benefit both in terms of confidence and in terms of speed. When you mess up or if something needs to be changed, you don’t have to start all over again.

When I start a project, I usually compile a bunch of reference images into a doc, and add words related to mood or that just feel related somehow. I’ll do some free association, just writing whatever words come to mind, to see if any interesting themes or relationships emerge.

Lately I’ve been drawing with pencil on big pieces of paper at this stage as well…Then I take the ideas I like best, work through some sketches (also on my iPad!), do all the linework, and fill in main colors. I have a doc of color combinations I love that I just keep adding to, so I usually reference that when I choose colors. Once all the line work is done, I go into Photoshop to add textures and refine the colors. That’s where a piece really comes to life. Sometimes I post the before and after on Instagram of that stage – it’s really striking how much difference texture makes.

What role does texture play in your illustrations?

Texture is huge for me. It feels like a necessary dimension to play with, since I’m thinking about feelings a lot of the time. There are layers of feelings in an illustration – colors that make you feel something, the actual subject of a piece, the style of the line, shadows and highlights. Texture is another way for an illustration to evoke feeling, and to me it’s so significant because it’s obviously related to touch. I guess I think it’s human somehow? I personally feel more connected to an illustration that has a tactile quality, that maybe looks like it has aged and lived, as opposed to something quite flat. An illustration isn’t just a drawing of something, it’s a material thing in itself, so that’s sort of what I’m trying to get at with texture.

Do you also play around with textures using non-digital mediums? Or is it what you like about it, to use it digitally?

A lot of the textures I use are physical textures that I’ve scanned. My wife and I make these together by rubbing ink, crinkling paper, using different brushes…So a lot of them start analog and then I manipulate them digitally. I do like that transfer — bringing something tactile and tangible into a digital space.

What do you wish your illustrations to make others feel like? Which emotions, feelings, do you want to share?

I love the idea of being part of anyone feeling just sort of awake and alive. I want my illustrations to be a celebration of feeling in general. I’ve spent a lot of time not feeling in my life, so I’m just thrilled and excited about experiencing the world in living color, across the spectrum of feelings, and I hope that comes through in my work.

What would be your dream project?

Probably working with a director and writer I admire and an excellent animator to make an animated short film! Honestly any project where I can work with a designer or other creative whose craft I admire is a dream.

About that, could you share with us some artists that you like?

Yes! There are so, so many. In terms of my sort of enduring inspirations – I love Milton Glaser & Seymour Chwast — Pushin has been a huge inspiration for me. Joost Swaarte, Peter Max, Ken Price, John Alcorn. Moebius. I love Japanese airbrush artists – Masao Saito, Toshikuni Okubo. Children’s book illustrators/authors – Tomi Ungerer, Nicole Claveloux. I couldn’t even begin to make a list of all of the incredible artists working currently that I love, but some that I’ve been following closely recently include: Robert Beatty, Armando Veve, Cynthia Kittler, Maaike Canne, Seb Agresti, Thibaud Herem, Aiste Stancikaite, Mikey Burey, Max Loffler, Nolan Pelletier, Stella Murphy, Lan Truong. I would be remiss not to mention how much inspiration and collaboration I get from my wife, Julia Dufossé. Her work, sensibility, and technique inspires me constantly.

Kate Dehler is an american illustrator. You can follow her on instagram and check out her website.