Continuing my interview series, I had the great fortune of interviewing Kelly Maryanski, a Chicago-based artist and illustrator. I met her at my mother’s work event, where she painted small portraits of guests. I found out that not only is she extremely talented and friendly, she is also a fan of Twin Peaks and was heading to a David Lynch Foundation event later that evening (too cool!). In this interview, we cover topics including her work, inspirations, life as an artist, and more. Here is the fabulous watercolor portrait of me and my mom that we were able to take home with us!

Mom and me!

Megan: Kelly, what is your earliest art memory?

Kelly: I remember when I was about 11, I entered an illustration of Sailor Moon into Tokyopop Magazine and it got published! So I guess I have been published since the age of 11. I also recently found a copy of that magazine on eBay and purchased it for my reference.

I also used to draw cats. Cats of all kinds, in pencil and charcoal. That led to me then drawing cats from the musical CATS, which is a whole other obsession and musical theatre gateway show we can talk about later. I also used to sew a lot in elementary school. I remember my first big sewing project was constructing a stuffed Pikachu doll.

M: I was a big musical theatre and Pokemon fan as well growing up! Which artists do you admire or have influenced your work?

K: John Tenniel. Edith Head. Maira Kalman. Michael Jackson. 1950 magazines like LOOK.

M: Is art your full-time job or do you view it more so as a side gig?

K: It is more my full time job. When I am not painting at live events or working on private client commissions I am also an aerialist, dancer, and actor.

M: How have you developed your natural talent in art? Did you go through any formal training?

K: I have always been artistic, drawing since I was very very little. I have a BFA in studio art (and dance) from Denison University where I feel I developed more of a contemporary approach to art in general.

M: What is your artistic process like?

K: It depends what the project is; am I drawing for a client or for me? Am I on a time frame? Am I painting live at an event where, I must paint fairly quickly? Overall, I would say “flowy”.

M: Do you work in other mediums besides watercolor?

K: I used to work a lot in charcoal and large scale charcoal. I once painted an eight foot height Michael Jackson in printing ink. This was prior to me downsizing to a micro studio. I also used to love working with porcelain.

M: What is your favorite thing to paint?

K: Anything in motion. Fabric. Buildings.

M: What’s the most challenging thing to paint?

K: Detailed faces and hands.

M: What do you think people misunderstand about artists?

K: That we all must have had trust funds to afford living. Kidding! But I am sure some people think this way. Also, that it is not possible to live life as an artist. All of you are wrong. We all need art.

M: Name your top three favorite museums.

K: Out of the ones I have been to in person? The Guggenheim. The Art Institute of Chicago. Primitive in the West Loop. Okay, that last one is also an antique store, but it still counts!

M: I love The Guggenheim! I went once for the Picasso black and white exhibit back when I lived in New York. The Art Institute is incredible too, of course. So, where can people find out more about you and/or contact you for a commission?

K: You can check out my website or if you are into instant gratification, my Instagram is @kellypaintswithwater. Feel free to contact me for inquiries at

All photos and artwork courtesy of Kelly Maryanski.

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