Sunday, January 28, 2007

Turnbull on Campbell

Shauna Turnbull is going to start doing some emerging artist profiles once in a while. Below is her first one:

"Coffee break with Muralist Kelly Campbell"

by Shauna Turnbull, Art Addicts

Turnbull: You graduated with a degree in graphic design from Liberty University in 2006, but you've stated your true passion is painting. Tell us about the juxtaposition of graphic design, portrait painting, and murals.
Kelly Campbell
Campbell: Graphic design, portrait painting, and murals have a few things in common. Each relies on the knowledge of composition, color, value, and relaying a specific message to its viewer. Graphic design is heavily based on text to relay its message, whereas something more fine art in nature depends on subtleties such as an expression, or a color choice, to get a visual message across.

Turnbull: You currently make your career as a portrait painter and a muralist. Can you speak to the challenges and rewards of being a full-time freelance artist? How do you divide your time between making art and selling art?

Campbell: I find inspiration in everything. Dreams, everyday life, a wise phrase a friend might have said, nature, my family. There is so much life it's hard not to get inspiration. And it's not just artists that can find this "inspiration" from things; anyone can, as long as they take the time to "smell the roses"-- take the time to stop and see something beautiful, or sad, or ugly instead of just passing it by.

I love being an artist. So for me, the rewards far outweigh the challenges. Some rewards I have are that I can work at my own pace. I don't have a 9-5 job, I don't sit in rush hour traffic (Now everyone in DC wants to be an artist after hearing that), I work from home, and I have free-time.... sometimes.

Challenges are that as a freelance artist, the jobs aren't always continual. My work is very seasonal. Over Christmas I was swamped with portrait jobs-- everyone wanted that special gift for a loved one. Now that rush has died down, the jobs are coming in slower, however it's mostly mural jobs (which pay a lot more), but I have lots of down time.

That's why I have a part-time job as a Kidzart teacher as well--so I can at least have some kind of steady income. I've also picked up a job teaching painting classes (for ages 15+) at Michael's. Another challenge I have are deadlines. Sometimes people come to me a week before they need something and I always do my best to meet their needs. Right now I have three portraits due in February, and on top of that I have to fit in mural jobs. It can be difficult to manage my time. I have been so busy that I haven't really had time to make art other than the commissioned work. So for me, making art is selling art.

Turnbull: You are fairly responsible in using non-toxic and lead free paints (especially in residential homes and in children's rooms). Tell us about your favorite products and how they tie to today's environmental concerns.

Campbell: Well, lucky today being able to buy lead based paint is almost non-existent. I add those details to my ads though because many people don't know anything about paint and have genuine concerns about it. For murals and many of my paintings my medium of choice is acrylic. I like acrylic because it dries fast, cleans up with water (no turpentine) and can do a variety of techniques. My favorite brands are Liquitex Basics acrylic paint--it comes in a great squeeze tube and lasts FOREVER, some of mine I've had for over ten years and it hasn't dried out, and I also use Americana, and Craft Smart brands for murals. Below is a copy of a winning portrait that took first place in painting in a juried art show at my college.

portrait by Campbell

Turnbull: As a portrait painter and a residential muralist, how do you best bridge the gap between the patron's vision and the artist's vision for completed works?

Campbell: Well, that is a difficult question because you need to give the client what they want--but I also realize that they aren't the artist. If they were they wouldn't have hired me, so it's my job to ask the right questions and get on the same page visually as them, and to be truthful and upfront with them if I think something that they want might not fit--or wouldn't work in the total composition.

If they are set in their idea, then it's also my job to "make it work". Even if they have an exact photo of what they want I always show them a sketch of what I am going to do and make sure it is exactly what they would like. One of the worst things a client can say to me is, "you're the artist, do what you think" because 9 times out of 10 it is not at all what they think. And just because I AM the artist doesn't make everything I think great. This is why asking questions and getting into the client's head is vital.

Turnbull: What major differences do you find between residential murals and completed commercial murals?

Campbell: There are a couple differences between residential and commercial murals... none of which involve painting them. The method of painting them is pretty much the same.

With commercial murals, I get more exposure as an artist because more people see them. It's also a lot more impersonal. But when I am invited into someone's home, to paint something they are going to live with for a very long time, it makes the painting so much more personal to me and to them. It drives me to create something they don't just like, they LOVE. Something that after I'm done, they want to have a get together at their house so they can show it off to all their friends and family.

This reminds me that people view murals as somewhat of a luxury (even though mine are VERY affordable). Something I enjoy about doing residential murals is getting to know some of the family. One of my favorite memories is when I did the Scooby mural in a two-year old's room, and after I was done he came running in yelling, "Scooby! Scooby!" and tried to hug the wall.

Two examples of my commercial murals can be found at the Sacramento Veterinary Hospital in Alexandria, VA and the Explore and Moore Children's Museum in Occoquan, VA. A portion of the vet mural is below.

mural by Campbell

Turnbull: When you think of great muralists, who most inspires you? Of living artists in the DC area, who do you expect to see rapidly rise in the art world.

Campbell: Well one of the greatest muralists was of course Michelangelo with the Sistine Chapel. He did the whole thing on his back, and the quality of work was amazingly beautiful. It will bring you to tears, and I know for a fact - I got to see it this past summer. How can any muralist compete with that?

Of living artists in the area do I expect to see rapidly rise - well me of course. There are many artists out there that I am sure will “make it¨, but with art today that’s so hard to say because many times art is about the latest trend and the newest idea. And a lot of artists make paintings that are so open for interpretation for whatever the viewer wants to think about it. So who am I to say who the next big name in art is?

Some of my favorite galleries are in Old Town Alexandria. There are so many it is hard to choose one, and each offer a variety of beautiful works of art from various artists - each piece offering something unique to its viewer.

Turnbull: Do you routinely do trade shows, craft shows, fairs? Do you exhibit in boutiques or eateries? Can you speak to the marketing techniques that either work or do not work in your experience?

Campbell: I don’t do any craft shows or trades shows right now, but they are definitely a possibility in the future. One thing I really enjoy and would love to market especially in places like Saratoga, NY is horse portraits and art. I would love to be able to spend my free time painting and drawing them and doing a specific show just for that. But right now I keep busy and pretty much only have time for my commissions and my art journal.

Something I’ve found to be very important when getting jobs is to be personal with the client. Whenever I get an email asking about estimates or whatever, I don’t just send out an already typed up letter with just their name dropped in, I do my best to write each person (and it takes hours every day to write everyone back) and I’ve found that people who end up being my clients like that. When I take the time to email them or call and answer their questions ultimately it made them want to work with me, and not someone else. A technique for advertising that I’ve also tried that did not work was fliers. The most effective method I’ve found has been online advertising and word of mouth.

Turnbull: Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming an artist (where you grew up, when you knew you wanted to "art", how it was to share that vision with family, how it's been to realize that vision, what you're looking to accomplish in 07)?

Campbell: I was born and raised in Alexandria and have been drawing since I could hold a pencil in my hand. I was lucky enough to have parents who realized that my artistic ability was well-advanced over other children and encouraged me to do art in any way they could. They bought me art supplies, enrolled me in various after-school art classes, and encouraged me to attend college for art. I consider myself so lucky to have parents that let me be what I was born to be. When I was little I always said I wanted to be an artist when I grew up and that passion and desire is still in me and I will continue working in this profession for as long as I can. I am currently in the Manassas area. I pretty much work some of MD, DC, and Northern VA. My website is at

Turnbull: Annie Liebovitz recently explained she believes interaction with her subjects (even entering a simple dialogue) changes both the light and mood before she's even begun shooting. For your portrait work, can you share an experience you had about the transference between painter and model?

Campbell: I can draw/paint from a live model, but for my work I prefer working from photos. It is true, knowing the subject puts a whole new light to the portrait. I am doing a portrait now of a child who is in one of my art classes. He is so full of energy (it can be hard to calm him down sometimes) and I want to portray that in the portrait.

I think it’s more difficult to portray someone you know because adding their personality to the portrait gives a whole new aspect to the painting and it takes so much more planning. However, when you’re finished even someone who doesn’t know the person will be able to look at it and say, "Wow, he looks like a very spirited child."

Turnbull: Although the nation is enjoying tremendous growth in new commercial development, it is also true that many neighborhoods suffer from disrepair and neglect. When you think about murals as an art form as they exist to revitalize older or ugly buildings, where do you think mural artists need to "go."

Campbell: I always enjoy seeing collaged street murals done on the side of a brick building, providing a sense of life and a taste of what that city has to offer. With something like that, I think the artist has to decide what he wants to portray to a multitude of people in a fast amount of time. Murals like that are somewhat of a billboard for the artist. I’ve never done a mural like that so this question is difficult to answer.

Turnbull: Animal portraiture is another growing trend, with anticipated market increases in all things having to do with animals (clothes, toys, art, schools, etc.) What do you make of this current boom?

Campbell: I didn’t even know this was a growing trend. I am excited to see how it affects my work because animals are my favorite subject. I do think that there are definitely a lot more animal portrait artists out there than people portraitists so I know there would be more competition.

Turnbull: Kelly, do you participate in or know of any interesting or new art related non-profits? We are always interested in highlighting causes utilizing art to achieve goals.

Campbell: Well what comes to mind is recently I have been asked to “donate” a mural for a child’s room for a silent auction benefiting an inclusive preschool (that accepts all children, even those with disabilities) in Alexandria. The auction is for a six foot mural and one accent of their choice (normal retail value being around $600-700). The auction takes place in March.

Turnbull: Lastly, if you could be director of the National Gallery (or any other DC area museum) for one day - what immediate change(s) would you implement?

Campbell: I wish I could give an interesting and ingenious answer to this question, but I can’t think of anything that I would want changed. I’ve visited the National Gallery many times and I always enjoy it the way it is.