I had the distinct honor of interviewing my dear friend, artist, visionary and goddess Monica Rose Kelly of Monica Kelly Studio. I could speak lengths about the amounts of inspiration this woman has given to me in the past few years. Her words of wisdom, determination, dedication, and creative support have played a huge role in shaping who I am today. I sat down with her in her St. Roch studio to discuss New Orleans, art, inspiration, women entrepreneurs and holistic healing. You’ve most likely seen her creations on the signs at The New Orleans Healing Center, all of the art at Jazz in the Park, the mural at the Frenchmen Street Dat Dog, or on the downstairs bar at Dragon’s Den. Her most recent collaboration with Dashing Bicycles has produced one of a kind bike bells and helmets for stylish and safe riders.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Give me the Monica Kelly creative life timeline!
I’m an illustrator primarily, but I’ve always been a painter since I was young. I can communicate ideas with illustrations and have people understand them on a different level than just words.
In high school I was the Art Director for the school newspaper. During this time my digital training started with learning Photoshop. After high school, I attended Savannah College of Art and Design where I earned my BFA in Illustration, but also studied painting and printmaking.. I’ve never been one to apply the same formula to each piece and always want to try something new, so I’ve done a lot of experimenting with watercolor, wood burning, spray painting and other artistic mediums.
Freshly graduated from SCAD I interned with David Goldman Agency in NYC. David represents 12 illustrators and I would sit in and listen to his negotiations. Through this internship I learned how to be more business savvy, and to develop thorough knowledge of copyright law. Also during this time a friend of mine asked me to curate an exhibition to fund a volunteer trip to New Orleans to help rebuild after Katrina. I organized a themed show telling the story of Katrina, while educating people about the culture of New Orleans through the eyes of different artists. I wanted the show to tell the truth about this disaster, because the media allowed the rest of the country to forget about it. I did a lot of research on the city and culture. For artists who hadn’t visited New Orleans, I gave them homework and wanted to challenge them intellectually. The show was wildly successful — We hung 180 pieces of work just for one night! Thanks to Tiffany Smith, an amazing photographer out of NYC (the Thelma to my Louise) we stayed up for 48 hours hanging the show. We raised between $2,000 and $3,000 to bring volunteers down to New Orleans. That volunteer trip was my first to New Orleans, and upon setting foot on the soil and smelling the swampy air, I knew this place would be my home.
My first official job was as an Assistant Graphic Designer with a woman that did layout for community ads. After realizing I wouldn’t be able to use my creativity with that type of work, I continued my search and was then hired as a Store Artist at Whole Foods Market. There I had creative control over all signs and design materials for the store. New Orleans was still on my mind, and four years later I was hired as the Store Artist at the Arabella Station store. This position was 25% art and 75% production, which didn’t lead to much creativity in my work. That’s when I decided to go out on my own and start Monica Kelly Studio where I offer services in illustration, signage, graphic design, and murals.
If you were to name three females who inspire you creatively, personally, professionally and beyond who would they be?
1. My Mom – She had me at a very young age but went to night school. She later went on to get her Masters and then a Ph.D. She is now a professor, physicist and chemist, published, and a grant getting master. Her dissertation was on Physics Equity in New York inner city schools. I get my drive from her. She is just a badass and has showed me that I can do anything no matter what. Three cheers for awesome moms! I know I have one as well.
2. Laura Stein – Founder of Dancing Grounds. She is a dear friend and role model. She has accomplished so much in a short amount of time and has done it gracefully and with poise.
3. Erykah Badu – She is a singer and a mother. She always says it how it is and has blown the top off of so many issues women deal with in the workplace and in society. On top of all that she is an incredible performer and has been doing it for decades.
How do you handle being a female artist and entrepreneur in a very male-dominated business world?
I’ve actually been reading Play Like a Man and Win like a Woman by Gail Evans. It’s about being a woman in the workplace and the different sets of rules that we work by. It’s a lesson on how to play the man’s game without affecting your integrity as a businesswoman. I’ve definitely experienced some harsh realities due to being judged by my appearance. I’ve worked very hard over the years to build my credibility and my skillset. I am a well-versed professional when it comes to visual art and design, but I’ve found myself in many situations where I’ve been perceived as not knowing what I’m doing. Through all these experiences I’ve learned not to take it personally, speak up a little louder and a carry myself more confidently.
Like many in New Orleans who teach children through various after-school programs, what was it like working with students this past year?
I think it’s very healing for children to learn through art and other creative mediums. All children need a release. I especially enjoyed doing watercolor with them, through this they learned it’s ok to make mistakes, learn from them, and turn them into beautiful creations. Our motto in class was “There’s no mistakes in art class, just happy accidents”.
I was lucky enough to receive a flower essence reading to pinpoint proper essences to help control stress and a little anxiety from the past few months. Before you read more about Monica’s experiences with them and how they heal I just want to state…they work, they really, really work!
I’ve been studying flower essences for a few years because I want to share them with the world. While in college I discovered their healing powers. Flower essences are potentized energy medicines made from plants. Each flower that exists matches up and can treat a specific emotional imbalance. There are no side effects. I studied at the Flower Essence Institute in California last summer, and am continuing my studies with them to become a certified practitioner of Flower Essence Therapy. I am very passionate about this healing modality, and it has recently been inspiring my art. I’d eventually like to create more illustrations that show how they work. They are a good example of abstract ideas that can’t be explained very well in technical medicinal terms, but can be shown and illustrated to further describe the effects in a more tangible sense.
How do flower essences and nature tie into your art work?
My art is vibrational in nature. Most my large scale paintings have been painted live, during music or dance performances. Intuitively the images come through me while I’m painting. I enjoy live painting because you don’t have time to overanalyze anything, you’re letting your creative spirit take over, and you’re channeling different things through you. One thing all my pieces have in common are repetition of lines to give a vibrational quality. They portray emotions and energy you don’t see in real life. The way that music affects us; the way that beautiful soulful song affects you on a fundamental level is similar to the way flower essences affect your subtle energy field.
I’m also a member of a group of amazing ladies started by Monica, called The New Orleans Society of Fly Ladies. What was the origin behind the creation of this group?
I came to New Orleans and started meeting more and more incredible, powerful, creative, unique women that are doing things that women have not done until our generation. We are pioneers. Each generation of women has pioneered in their own way, but we are the first generation that is completely free of the expectations and the traditions and the ingrained restrictions from past generations. I’ve met similar women and wanted to create a network. There are so many loud styles amongst us. We have no inhibitions about how we express ourselves through dance & fashion, and how we live our lives as works of art defines Fly. We’ve curated amazing art parties for over two years now, helped Dancing Grounds fundraise for their studio space, and we’ve done events during Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras. Our next step is to share our talents with the next generation by working with young girls in our city. It’s just an incredible, unified support system.
To get a little more inspired by Monica: www.monicakellystudio.com
If you want to get digital: https://www.facebook.com/MonicaKellyStudio