Monthly Archives: April 2016

Kayela Larsen: Room for Open Interpretation


Kayela Larsen is an illustrator with a bright, fun style who writes, “I guess the best way to sum myself up is that I like to create things. Almost anything.” Larsen lives in Utah.

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Tell us about your evolution as an artist. I’ve loved to draw as long as I can remember. In fact, I can’t recall ever wanting to be anything but an artist. Animation definitely had a huge impact on me. I believe my initial interest in art developed from seeing films like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. I was amazed that something like that could be created from drawings and I knew that was what I wanted to do! I started drawing all the time. Fortunately for me, my siblings and many of my cousins were really into art as well. I’ve always felt very lucky for that. How many kids can say they grew up with their own team of animators? Whenever we would get together we would plan out story-lines and make up characters for films that we planned to make some time in the future… once we figured out how animated films were made of course. After I started college, my time became more and more limited and art slowly got moved to the back burner. When I got married and had kids I nearly stopped completely. Not intentionally, life just got really busy and time slowly slipped away before I even realized it. I remember sitting up at the kitchen table one night after a particularly rough day. The kids were all asleep and I was alone with my thoughts. Being a new parent had led me to a massive identity crisis. I always thought that “figuring out who you are” was something that you did when you were a teenager, but here I was, a full grown adult and I had no idea who I was anymore. Parenthood brings out a different side of you, in many ways for the better. While I’m incredibly grateful for that, it was still a really hard transition. I felt like a stranger to myself. This new role had turned me into a person that I didn’t even recognize, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about it.

That night I pulled out a sketch pad and paper. I decided I needed to engage myself in something that made me feel the most like me. Drawing seemed like the perfect antidote. Unfortunately my experience was not as healing as I had hoped. My sketches turned out horrible… and the process wasn’t as relaxing or therapeutic as I remember. I felt awkward even holding the pencil and tragically, my drawing reflected that. I realized it had been years since the last time I had sketched and consequently it seemed that I had forgotten how to draw. Staring at my ugly attempt of a portrait, I decided that “artist” was one part of my identity that I wasn’t quite ready to give up yet. I guess that was the wake-up call I needed because I immediately got to work. I spent the next few years attempting to re-build my skills and get to a place that I felt comfortable enough that maybe I could do something with my art. Ultimately I still intend to follow my childhood dream of being involved in film, but I imagine that will probably be several years down the road. I still have a lot to learn and the market is saturated with incredibly talented artist. So in the meantime, I’m trying to find other means to tell stories with my art and continue to develop my skills. Hopefully through things like children’s books or magazine illustrations.

You like to create. And you have wonderful characters. How do you approach new projects? Usually when I start a drawing I begin by identifying what I want to say to the audience. Sometimes it’s a well thought-out story or a joke, but sometimes it’s just a feeling… like portraying someone beaming with happiness, or determined to get something done. Once I know what I want to say I just dive-in and start working through all the problems. I’m still very much in the amateur phase of my craft so it doesn’t always come out as strong as I would like, but I if I stay focused on that original idea, I usually end up satisfied with how it turns out. It’s very important to me that my artwork communicates well. I like to know how the audience is going to respond. Maybe I’m a little controlling that way? I try not to leave a lot of room for open interpretation. I want them to understand the character the way I understand the character. It’s my way of communicating with the audience. I’ve never been very good at expressing myself verbally, I was always the socially awkward, shy kid. Well, truth be told… I still am. I suppose I try to compensate for my lack of verbal communication by having strong visual communication.

How does your art shape your spirituality? Art and spirituality are two aspects of my life that are constantly intertwining. I could write a novel on the topic… seriously! But for your sake, I won’t do it here. One thing that always comes to mind is the creation. When I read about the process of God creating the world, it feels so much like the creative process we all experience when creating something. Finding those similarities brings that part of the scriptures to life for me. It suddenly feels less like some crazy abstract idea, and more like something very relatable and familiar. It’s very grounding. I read your interview with Rose Datoc Dall, and I can relate to her experience on so many levels. I started out with a strategic decision to avoid religious references or even focusing too much on motherhood and children. Even though those things were import to me, I felt like it could be very limiting. I mean, I’m a stereotypical stay-at-home, Mormon mom, ha-ha! Who wants to hear about that? But I found that once I removed those things from my art, I had nothing left to create. As unexciting as my life may be, it’s who I am. My beliefs and my family fuel everything that I do. It’s the deepest, rawest, and fullest part of me. When I try to filter those things out, I lose the sincerity in my work, and I believe people can sense that.

Visit Kayela Larsen’s website.

Follow Kayela Larsen on Instagram.


Natalie Wood: Immersive Spaces


Natalie Wood is an MFA candidate in Digital Art at the University of Oregon and graduated from BYU. Wood lives in Oregon.

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Tell us about your evolution as an artist. In my previous work I was interested in memory, specifically how memory is inherently shifting and intangible. I would reflect back on childhood memories such as planting flowers with my mother, or the crystals that hung in our kitchen window casting rainbows, and I wanted so badly to relive these moments through my art. My work revolved around re-creating these memories but the pieces would fall short of how the experience really felt. They lacked in smell, touch, sound and I could not find the right balance of sharpness and blurriness that memories teeter between. So I stopped thinking about re-creation but instead imagined experiences in that might happen in the future, such as what it would be like to travel to space or change my identity. In this way, I did not have an emotional connection to the moments in the same way I did with the memory pieces, because the events I was playing out never really happened. All the while I was experimenting with video, gifs, screenshots, and found objects to convey these experiences. This began to evolve into what I am currently working on, which is embodying elements of those childhood memories and attempting to create immersive spaces that feel magical. I use projectors as a way to cast images of flowers and colors around a dark room, onto objects and viewers as they enter into the space. I have also started to consider scale with these diorama size sculptures that have videos and images projected onto them. With the dioramas, the audience must shrink themselves down to imagine themselves in the space thus activating their imagination. My hope is to create works that place the viewer in a suspended sense of reality where they believe magic might exist.

How are your experience at Oregon contrasted your undergrad at BYU? My experience at the University of Oregon has been a very positive one thus far and is adding to the knowledge I gained at BYU. In Provo, I was fortunate enough to have professors who were highly encouraging while pushing me to experiment with new mediums and develop strong conceptual ideas. I was surrounded by a group of friends in the BFA program where we worked closely, had pop up shows, and an art club. I am grateful that I was able to foster and develop my art practice among people who also helped strengthen my testimony of the gospel. However after six years in Provo, I felt the need to go somewhere new. Here in Oregon I have found a similar community of artists who are welcoming, hard working, and help one another to improve. It is exciting to be apart of a new program that is rigorous, challenging, and exposing me to new ideas. I am meeting new types of people that I have not encountered in my before and it is stretching my ideas about art while also helping me to analyze my work from different perspectives. The amount of work that I am producing has increased and is evolving in ways I did not imagine before starting. I think about video so much differently now. Rather that making a video and then using a TV or a projector to display it, I am now using the projector or screen much like another object or medium, integrating it into the content of the work. I am very excited about the upcoming years that I will spend here and how my work will continue to change.

How do you feel about the arts within the Church these days? When I think of art in the Church the first thing that comes to mind is what is being sold Deseret Bookstores, art that is specifically geared towards a Mormon audience. This work is often narrative, didactic, and representational. While it has its place and is beloved by many, I think we could do a lot to expand the type of artwork we use to represent our faith. Outside of the Desert Book and Ensign arena, there is a lot of art being made that embodies the spirit of Christ without being a direct depiction of Him. The Internet is a great tool for shedding light on the variety of ways members of the church are doing this. We can see that there are Mormons working more conceptually, digitally, and performatively. My hope that that these shifts will soon be reflected in the images we use to represent the church. I also feel excited thinking about a future of more LDS artists who are active in their faith, creating critical dialogues, and expanding ideas of what Mormonism is showing in contemporary galleries and museums.

What are you working on next? Lately I have been thinking a lot about the old theatre technique Pepper’s Ghost, which was used to make apparitions appear on stage or more recently in things such as Hatsune Miku, a Japanese hologram pop star. Pepper’s Ghost is a simple trick that involves reflecting light or video off of glass. I am interested in using this technique to create illusions and to do it in a way that is magical yet also exposes the process to the audience. I have also been taking projectors apart and trying to find cheap ways to display an images or videos that are not reliant on thousands of dollars worth of technology. I think it is easy to make something enchanting with high tech tools, but I am curious to see if I can make magic happen while on a low scale budget.

Visit Natalie Wood’s website.

Follow Natalie Wood on Instagram.


Jake Parker: Fan Art


Jake Parker is an incredibly talented and prolific artist with a particular interest in pop culture and fan art. His newest book, Drawings III, was recently released in both digital and print. His art empire stretches across numerous projects and social media outlets. In 2009 Parker started Inktober, a popular annual celebration of ink drawing during the month of October that spawns hundreds of thousands of images each year. His YouTube channel and online art lessons are also very popular. Last year he launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new project called Skyheart. He lives with his family in Utah.


You grew up reading comics at a comic book store in Mesa while your mom bought sewing supplies next door. Explain what appeals to you about these characters and stories. I grew up reading Superman and Batman. I collected Batman for a couple of years. That was fun. I love Batman because, for the reasons everybody loves Batman, he’s a vigilante, he’s taken law into his own hands, he’s got the cool gadgets, and the crazy villains that he’s up against. I switched to collecting X-Men. I really got into X-Men because I was fascinated with their mutant powers and the whole, just the interesting world that Marvel was building. It just felt like it was way more connected, interconnected, than the DC Universe, at least during that time when I was collecting in the early ’90’s. Then things transitioned to Image comics when all the Marvel artists left to make their own comics.

There was a comic that came out that really stood out to me, and I remember I saw it in the comic shop, it was Hellboy #1. I looked at it, you know it stopped me in my tracks and I was like “No this is different. This is something really special.” From that day on I was a huge Mike Mignola fan and a Hellboy fan. I collected all those. The thing that I love about Hellboy is his world is our world. The things that happen in his world have consequences, just like the things in our world. When anything happens … You know I feel like there’s a status quo for Batman. Right? There’s always going to be crime so that there can always be a Batman. As soon as crime is stalled there’s no more Batman. The thing with Marvel is, is everything, as soon as all their problems are solved new problems start and New York is destroyed all over again. Then they fix it and build it up, and then another thing destroys New York. With Hellboy that world is permanent, and the things that happen in there stay happened. If a character dies, they’re dead. They never come back.

But what’s cool, and you know the thing that kind of, I think, worries creators and writers for Marvel or DC, is that if you kill Captain America now you can’t sell Captain America books anymore. What Mike Mignola has done, and the other people who are collaborating with him is, let’s say you kill Hellboy, which they did. Well now we can follow his adventures in Hell, where he was sent, and we get to see him in this new world where there’s completely different stakes, and there’s different consequences, and there’s a different reality and so there’s weird and strange things happening. On one level it’s like we still get to follow Hellboy, but it is a completely different Hellboy now.

The other thing is, if you want to go back, if you want a more traditional Hellboy story where he’s fighting a ghost in some small village in Ireland, you can do a story about Hellboy that took place in the ’70’s and say “Oh we never told this story, but here’s what happened to Hellboy in 1973.” Hellboy has a very strict timeline in that certain things happen on certain dates, and you can’t change those dates, and it isn’t some fake 1970’s or 1990’s. It’s the actual 1990’s and 1970’s. In a way I think Hellboy is a lot like Indiana Jones, in fact it really is. Things have consequences, he interacts with our world, there are things in our world that interact with the Hellboy world. That’s really what I love about it. When I tell stories, and when I create my own worlds, it’s very much inspired by what Mike Mignola and his collaborators have done with the Hellboy world.

I love the Asterix series but few have heard of it. What characters that you grew up with do you wish people appreciated more? I guess in that same vein I really did love the Smurfs growing up, but it wasn’t a comic, it was just a cartoon. That franchise really has been ruined lately with what Sony’s done for it. I think there’s a really cool world there, and some neat stuff with the Smurf’s, I just wish it was being shepherded by a different creative team. You know, the people at Sony are very creative, but I think that the problem there is the actual studio executives not knowing, not having a vision, or having a weird dumb vision. Also, Thundercats are good, yeah they’re really good. It was frustrating because they did the new Thundercats version. They did a sort of revival, or a reboot of the Thundercats, which I thought was really cool but it never really took hold. So I wish there was more Thundercats. Actually SkyHeart is somewhat influenced by Thundercats too, so I guess it’s me taking matters into my own hands and doing it the way I want to do it.

Visit Jake Parker’s website.

Follow Jake Parker on Instagram.

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Melissa Leaym-Fernandez: Pachyderms


Melissa Leaym-Fernandez is a painter, teacher, activist, consultant, runner, grant writer, and lover of elephants. She has numerous degrees from the University of Michigan; Eastern Michigan University; and the University of Michigan, Flint. She works as a teaching artist in Flint and lives in the Blue Water Area, near Port Huron, Michigan.

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Tell us about your evolution as an artist. I have always been excited about the use of color. Yet I recently came to understand why and how I cling to certain colors more clearly. I have always loved the elephant. My biological father (who left my mother and I) is from Sri Lanka. I have always been drawn to the cultural colors of Sri Lanka and Southern India. As an early painter I just became excited about the elephant, as a subject matter. I found several similarities in the life of a herd and my own life. In a herd, the matriarch provides all—she is the leader, she delegates, she provides care. My mother did that for me as a child. In a herd the males come in from the wild to mate and then leave again—the do not engage in the raising, care or protection of the herd. See the similarities? I saw my mother as this strong, bold leader and that was reinforced in the matriarch of a strong herd. I love the texture, the energy, the personalities of elephants. I have researched them all over including the Detroit Zoo, the Woodland Park Zoo I Seattle, WA, African Lion Safari in Ontario, Canada and my favorite experience was while I lived in London, England.

In 1999 I was able to go into the paddock at the London Zoo and play with the three females! Super exciting! I was able to touch them, take photos, learn about their individual personalities, feel the textures of their skin and hair—plus get smelled up one side and down the other! It was a very exciting experience. To top it off, I was invited back anytime I wanted, as the elephants liked me so much (and probably because I was well behaved too!). I painted with a passion, fervor and had a blast.

My work started to change, or my responses to my own work, started to change about 2012—when I came home to a sewage flood that destroyed my studio. I lost about 27 paintings in varying forms of completion. It was horribly demoralizing. I found that people “loved” my work and aesthetic responses remained strong but sales were nonexistent. Businesses wanted my work as “eye candy” to improve the look of their spaces (i.e.: I pay to transport paintings, hang paintings and transport paintings back to the studio paintings but without any compensation). At this time, after the destruction of so much work, and the lack of sales I was really bitter. I would try to work, but to be honest, I felt quite betrayed by art. It seemed like everyone wanted a piece of my creativity for free and this was infuriating as my only goal is to get debt free. I painted infrequently and with anger, dark tones and abstractly.

More recently I have had some moments of clarity regarding my own creative processes and responses to art, my art. Currently, I am working as a Teaching Artist in the Flint Community Schools. Yes, that Flint, the one with the toxic water. I work in the alternative high school teaching the elements of art to kids who have been forgotten, are parents, have no parents, who have seen loved ones die; seen gun violence; been the perpetrator of the violence; can’t say a sentence without using “f—,” “ni—-” or “b—-;” and kids who society has written off, yet a society who still want to complain about teen pregnancy, welfare and the poor and needy in the urban setting. Yep, this is where I spend my days. I am here because I know what it is like to be the child victim of a violent act, poor, and belittle by those in leadership. I can relate. I realized that that I was, and am, angry. I find that that energy is coming out in the new works I have completed—which are a bit darker in color. I am angry that my students are forgotten; I am angry that Rick Snyder feels poisoning a city is acceptable. I am angry that I cannot do anything substantial to help my students other than show up each day and be there. I am angry that my kids believe that the way their lives are today is what they think their lives will be like forever. I realized that the cheery, bold, in-your-face color in my work, that aesthetic that makes the viewer say, “Oh, wow, I love that!” is just my emotional response to the violence in life, past and present. I paint to lifts others too. I know they feel the heaviness, the helplessness, the stress and my work is a moment of emotional release. In that moment, what I do matters and has power.

Your style is so colorful and positive. What is your approach to a new piece? As I start a new piece, I look for shapes that I like. I also look for inspirational images that have an emotional context. I think about possible connections that could be made with text. For instance, if I want to do an image of a mother and calf elephant I would look for photos in my own collections, or elsewhere that inspire. I use that photo to create a base shape and then I let the colors ideas flow. I may lay a lean layer or two to work out color ideas in my head and then I paint it out. I am finding now that I know why I paint, that ideas are starting to really flow again and I love this!

What do you think of art in the Church these days? I think the art in the church is extremely limited but I feel like the leaders, at a very minuscule level, are trying to change that. Not fast enough for my liking though and that change may be from the directors of the museum vs. actual church leaders. As I was in the worldwide competition with a large 5×5’ painting the art that was purchased and won awards was the same old boring stuff, unimaginative, figurative—bleh. I submitted work to be sold (prints) at the BYU Bookstore. I was told, “your work won’t sell, why don’t you do a Noah’s ark image and we will try that.” At Deseret Book for instance (and I do not know if the Church still owns this business) all the work is saturated in browns, figurative and literally from the scriptures. There is so much more to uplifting art. My work celebrates nature—the creation of our world is a big part of the Plan of Salvation yet I have been told “your work really is not part of the market”. Well, lets be leaders and change the market wants! Tell the people what is hot and they will buy it! I don’t find images saturated in deep browns all that uplifting to the spirit. I think clean bold color, strategically placed in a home can inspire, uplift and empower the viewer for a daily dose of happy.

What are you working on next? I just finished a couple of large paintings in response to the toxic, poisoned water in Flint. Last night I started a new painting (2×6’) of running zebras. I like to work bigger, the 3×4’ canvas is my favorite size though I do go much larger. I just finished two 3×6’ canvases of running zebras too. Something about the stripes and the motion, the energy of running and the question the images provoke—are they running to someplace or away from something? I also plan to complete more mother and calf image this summer—all oil on canvas. Also, this summer I will be working on my USA watercolor series—the shape of the state with layers and layers of text inside that describes that state. This work is more tedious and takes more research but I want to complete a painting for each state in the USA and possibly the provinces in Canada, as they are super near me—just across the river! I also have a more trendy series called “Love My Michigan!” I will probably add some new pieces to that collection as well.

Visit Melissa Leaym-Fernandez’s website.


Kazuto Uota: The Base and the Motif


Kazuto Uota is a painter and conceptual artist. Uota studied at Musashino Art School in Tokyo, Japan and now lives in Nagano, Japan.

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Tell us how you came to be an artist. I was born at Osaka Japan in 1960. I started painting after I graduated from high school when I was 18 years old. First, I studied the Japanese style of painting as a pupil under a professional painter for about two years. Then, at another school I studied drawing. I joined the church at 19 years old and went on a mission at age 21 for 18 months. After I returned from my mission I studied the Japanese style of painting seriously again at the Musashino Art School in Tokyo, Japan for an additional three years.

How does the gospel influence your art? I joined the church in 1979 and I started studying art and life of the gospel at almost the same time. The gospel is the base and the motif of my artwork. Both the gospel and art lead me to the truth of God. For example, It is a way of expressing of my creating to using nails, I use nails as an icon of sin which I have committed. I have been always hammering a lot of nail(sin) into a body of my Lord, and his body has been injured and broken by my sins. When I act using nails in my creating, I realize my weakness and love of my Lord which he had paid the price to redeem me from my sins.

What are you working on next? Now, I have created works using different ways of expressing myself. For example, by using nails, by knitting hemp clothes and twines, and by burning, etc. The way of expressing of art will be changed, but I am going to create art works based on the gospel all the time from now on.

Visit Kazuto Uota’s website.