• UO Studio Visits: KT Smail

    KT Smail, a Scottish illustrator currently residing in NYC, won us over with her quirky, colorful studio; the first thing you notice when you walk into KT Smail's studio is the abundant art that lines the walls. Held up with colorful washi tape, the displays have a casual, familiar appearance that immediately makes you feel at home, or like you're visiting the dorm room of an older, cooler friend. A mix of KT's own work and inspiration, the art mimics the style in KT's own work: bold, bright colors and patterns.We spoke to KT about her process and which colors she can't get enough of.
    Photos by Frankie Marin

    Hi KT! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do – where do you live, where do you work, etc?
    I moved to New York from Scotland eight years ago and now I live and work in Brooklyn, with my husband Fidel and our cat, Rosey. I draw and paint; working on commercial jobs with different brands as an illustrator, and my own personal paintings. I am also beginning to work as an art director for fashion photography which I love; drawing and painting are very solitary so it is nice to be on set with a team where the energy is the opposite of my quiet personal work. I love that every week is different, and all the different things I do seem to feed into each other.

    When did you first get started with painting and drawing in a serious way?
    I began to feel serious about it while I was studying at Edinburgh College of Art . Drawing and painting brought me so much joy and I felt very determined to make a career out of that. When I graduated I was very ambitious and blinkered and worked very hard to make it happen.

    How did your style evolve to what it is today?
    Naturally; through practice, experimenting and trusting my intuition.

    Do you feel your own personal aesthetic translates to your artistic aesthetic?
    I think that perhaps there is an attention to color, the love of a good print and a certain scruffiness that show up in both my art and my personal style.

    What's the most important thing to you when creating a piece of art? What do you hope the viewer takes away from it?
    When I am creating something, it is a kind of energy, an intangible feeling that I am looking for. Mood is really what determines how happy I am with a piece. For me, that almost always comes back to color; I am always looking at the ways in which different tones can change energy. I want the viewer to feel something, too; whether is just a gentle sense of calm from a color combination or something a little stronger from the look in my girls' eyes.

    We looove your studio and how everything is held up with colorful tape! Can you tell us what you look for when you're picking items to hang on your walls?
    Thank you! My walls are my mood boards, and what goes up and down is always evolving. I like to be surrounded by images that inspire me, colors that I like and my own works in progress. A kind of beautiful mess of imagery that gets me into the zone to create. I like to feel engrossed by my aesthetic, to fall down the rabbit hole a little.

    Any other studio decorating tips?
    Plants and flowers! My plant actually died :( ... but I definitely feel better and more inspired when I have some living botanicals around me.

    What about someone who may not have a separate studio to work out of? Any tips for getting work done in a shared space?
    I worked from home for many years, on a desk in our bedroom. Not ideal, but that is the reality when you are starting out. I learned that it was really important to set boundaries and structure my day ; getting dressed for "work" in the morning, making sure to step out for walks or to yoga class and having a finishing time each day so that work doesn't take over your life. I work from a co-working space now, which is nice. I like the hum of other people working.

    Having said that, headphones are very important when I am struggling to focus. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I share my room with my friend Sam Kalda; a talented illustrator with a great eye that is very helpful when I am stuck on something. It's nice not to be completely alone, to be able to stop for a cup of tea and a chat. I am more productive when I work in bursts and have little breaks.

    Do you have any advice for young artists out there trying to find and hone their own style?
    Don't try to make art like anybody else. Trust your own instincts. Keep going.

    How do you make sure you stand out among all the other artists out there? What is it about your art that draws other people in?
    I try not to spend too much time looking at other people's art. We are so inundated with visual inspiration now, through social media, that I think it is important to retreat a little. So that you can remain true to yourself and not get caught up in trying to be like whoever is the most successful at that very moment. If I draw and paint like me, then my work will stand out because it is mine, regardless of trends. I have to remind myself of that often.... People seem to respond to my color palettes which makes me happy because my color work is really important to me.

    Finally, tell us three things you've been interested in lately (can be anything!)?
    Boom Saloon - a beautiful new magazine from Scotland. My brother is the art director! :)
    Ayurveda - reading and studying about herbs and holistic health is one of my favorite pastimes.
    Women's Hour - I listen to this podcast every morning for current affairs with a feminist slant. It is perfect for when I feel homesick and need some quintessential Britishness.

    To see more from KT, follow her on Instagram
    Shop KT Smail