Robert’s Snow- Meet Kelly Murphy!

Welcome to Blogging for a Cure!
Here’s where we, the Bloggers of the Kidlitosphere, are chatting about the fabulous artwork that’s showing up on snowflakes these days. Each piece of art is available to buy through Robert’s Snow, with proceeds going to cancer research. If you know anyone who has fought this disease, then you know how important research funds are in finding new treatments and an eventual cure. It’s great art for a great cause, so bid like crazy!
Today’s guest: Author-illustrator Kelly Murphy!

Kelly with some new pals at a school visit.

Kelly lives and works in Massachusetts, where she has been pursuing her illustration career since graduating from Rhode Island School of Design in 1999. She also teaches illustration at Montserrat College of Art, and works with all kinds of clients on toys and products. A Renaissance woman!


Kelly is dedicating this year’s snowflake to her cousin’s son.

“This year, I dedicate my snowflake to Connor Ciesielski, a very gentle, adventurous little boy who was truly, a great crab hunter. Connor’s true love was being on a Cape Cod beach. He enjoyed the hot days in the sun and the early evenings on the beach. It was on the beach that “Conman” was his happiest. He would fish and hunt for crabs all day. He always made sure that any sea life that he and his brother caught was always returned back to the sea so that they wouldn’t be missed by their daddy and mommy and could grow bigger in hopes of catching them again on another day. Connor passed away due to Leukemia this July 15th. He was a very brave warrior.”

I am sure Connor would have loved your painted tribute to him, Kelly. I also had a young cousin who died of leukemia; the impact of these special people who have lost their battle endures. Kelly’s snowflake goes up for bid from Dec. 3-7. Let’s raise some research money!

There’s Kelly, working hard in her studio.

I have known Kelly for quite a few years now, and her work is only getting better and more beautiful every year. I got to see one of her books truly unfold when she accepted the illustration assignment for Gallop-o-Gallop, a book of horse-inspired poetry written by my long-term critique group member, Sandy Alonzo. It’s a beauty- check it out!


I had a few questions for Kelly, and she was very generous with her answers!

Liz: Have you had other jobs before becoming an illustrator?

Kelly: Goodness gracious, haven’t we all? I do admit, my jobs while I was younger were kind of cool. In high school, I worked at a record store (do they still call them that?) where I got a good solid beginning for what was decent music. While I was in college, though, I always felt inadequate. Many people went to internships and assisantant design jobs, while I was either battling children at summer camps or painting barns at a local educational farm. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my sun filled summers, but I always felt I was missing out on some big opportunities to get my career underway. At least I had kicking tan when I got back to school. After graduation, I had a few design jobs, one with a newspaper and the other at a web design firm, each really helping me to focus my graphic design and concept skills. Eventually, it was the commute that almost made me snap. Since then, I’ve been freelancing for seven years.

Liz: I bet all of those experiences have added to what your art has become now. So, What’s you favorite place? How have your travels influenced your art?

Kelly: As cheesy as it sounds, my memories are my favorite places. Growing up, you develop certain attachment to places, but as you get older you realize that it’s not so much the physical but the mental aspect of a place that you really hold dear. So while my childhood home was a great place, it was more the sunlight coming through the front door on a Sunday afternoon while my Dad and I watched golf together. That was the real place I loved. Quite often it is a sound or time of day that are my favorite things to remember. BUT, there are beautiful places I have been lucky enough to visit that do inspire me. Ireland is a completely magical place, with it’s small roads, intimate towns, amazing landscape, and fabulous history, (not to mention really great pubs), I instantly felt a connection to the flora and fauna when I first visited. One relative said “tis in the blood”, more specifically about my love of the animals. BUT, Paris has recently switched my typically agrarian outlook on life to a more metropolitan craving. I can honestly say, it’s one of the more inspirational places on earth. There’s something about it’s attention to detail and passion for living are what attract me. It’s got a brut honesty that you don’t need to question, but eventually admire. After living there earlier this year for a few months, I am dying to go back for another stint. How has this all affected my art? I guess it’s the lighting and atmosphere I like to capture most… but I think it will take a bit of time to calculate all these recent visions.

Liz: I love your answer, Kelly. I think you are right about the moments being important, and it’s good to be the type of person who can see them for what they are, and integrate them into your art. What kind of medium are you using in your paintings these days, and how long does each take?

Kelly: I have been switching things up lately. Typically I have been using watercolor ontop of gessoed paper, then sealed and layered over with acrylics and gel medium. For the last two books, I have been switching the watercolor layer with oils, to get a softer, more saturated look. But what people have to understand is that this all came about because I was a horrible painter. I mean TERRIBLE. I had taken core classes on composition and color, but putting everything together for me was painful. I couldn’t create images I envisioned with just one medium. Either my paintings came out looking like a psychotic clown dancing through a rainbow, or it was a big March muddy mess, where everything blended into each other. So, I needed to work in separate layers, each one either dealing with either tone or color. Breaking it down into this method helped alot. Typically, one picture book spread takes me around forty to sixty hours to complete. Not because of the detail level (which I think it is lacking), but because of the subtle build up of layers that makes the visual structure in the painting. Finding your own way of working is one of the best things in illustration. No one ever says to you, “you’re doing it wrong”, and I love that.

Liz: Drat, now I wish I had asked you for one of those “psychotic clown dancing through a rainbow” pieces! So, besides demented clowns, what are your favorite subjects to draw?

Kelly: Once again a cheesy answer, but I like anything that comes my way. I was taught that it wasn’t the assignment that made the subject boring, but the illustrators attitude towards it. I really do love history, science, and social related subject matter. If I have a chance to research a theme, and then bring in my own ideas and materials I have found, it’s that much more exciting. For a few books, it’s been fun looking to other painters or stylistic movements for inspiration. But deep down inside, I think I love the extremely silly or slightly morose subject matter, the kind of stuff that brings a subtle smile to your face, but still makes you really ponder the meaning of it all as you lay down to go to bed. Fun stuff.

Liz: Now you’re making me re-think my own aversion to drawing cars (shudder). That combo of goofy-but-thought-provoking is very apparent in your work. Soooo, what’s coming up for you? Tell us about your new books, etc.

Kelly: Well! Spring will bring (hey that rhymed!) Hush Little Dragon (Harry N. Abrams) written by Boni Ashburn. I really loved painting this book. It’s a take on the Hush Little Baby lullaby, but it’s got that slightly dark theme that I love! Also, Brand New Baby Blues (HarperCollins) written by Kathi Appelt will also be coming out next year. This book has that saturation of color that I was not able to achieve before, and it’s all because of the medium switch to oils. I can’t wait to see it printed. I also hope to have a bit more time to write again! AND more importantly, start animation ideas. I am not too sure what to do with them, but I have felt the need to make things move for awhile now, so we’ll see where that takes us. I’m feeling mighty kinetic! All in all, I can barely remember what I did yesterday, so maybe that’s a blessing for what I can do tomorrow, right?

Liz: Wow, animation ,too? We’ll look forward to seeing all these new projects unfurl!

Kelly was nice enough to give us a sneak peek at one of the spreads from “Hush, Little Dragon”!

The sketch stage.

Midway through the painting stage.

The final version!

Thanks a million, Kelly!
You could actually own Kelly’s gorgeous flake this year- it goes up for bid on December 3-7 at the Robert’s Snow site. Check out the other awesome illustrators profiled this week, too:

Monday, October 22

Tuesday, October 23

Wednesday, October 24

Thursday, October 25

Friday, October 26

Saturday, October 27

Sunday, October 28

  • Ashley Wolff at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
  • Barbara Garrison at Brooklyn Arden
  • Please take time out to visit all of these blogs, and read about these fabulous illustrators. And, if you’re so inclined, think about bidding for a snowflake in the Robert’s Snow auction. Each snowflake makes a unique gift (for yourself or for someone else), and supports an important cause.

6 comments on “Robert’s Snow- Meet Kelly Murphy!

  • on Sunday, October 28, 2007 at 9:11 am, Mary Beth said:

    What a great post – I never realized how many layers it took to get to the final printing of an illustration. Thanks for showing the genesis from the first sketch to final picture. Great post!

  • on Sunday, October 28, 2007 at 9:11 am, Helen said:

    What a great interview and I love this snowflake. It’s so neat to see the three stages of her work. Thanks!

  • on Sunday, October 28, 2007 at 10:32 am, Jules said:

    Thanks so much to both of you! What a fabulous write-up! I love love love Kelly’s art and getting to see that dragon spread and hear about her new books. Woot! I was nodding my head at her responses. I’m not an artist, but I love what she had to say about memory.

    And, yeah, I wanna see that psychotic clown in the rainbow, too. Maybe she can even animate him. Heh.

  • on Sunday, October 28, 2007 at 7:20 pm, eisha said:

    What a great interview, and what a lovely tribute to Kelly’s cousin’s son.

    I’m strangely thrilled by the girl scout sash hanging off Kelly’s studio chair, too.

  • on Sunday, November 4, 2007 at 4:32 pm, Lesley Breen Withrow said:

    What a great post Liz! I’ve met Kelly a couple times, it’s nice to see what she’s doing now, and how she works. I also enjoyed seeing her sketch, intermediate step and final art. Really cool!

  • on Wednesday, November 7, 2007 at 8:32 pm, Rosemary LoVuolo said:

    Thanks Kelly, We will be going up to the Danforth in the next week to see the snowfake. It is so beautiful and so very Connor. Thanks so much again!
    Aunt Rosemary

Comments are closed.