Kelly Frye Larson was born just south of Scranton, Pennsylvania, where Jim and Pam from the Office live and work. Well, technically they are fictional characters and they don’t really work there. In fact, the Office wasn’t even filmed in Scranton. I’m sorry to be the one to have to break this to you, Kelly, but the Office was not real and Jim and Pam were played by actors, John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer. They did make a cute couple, though. Dwight Schrute, on the other hand, is a real person. But you probably knew all that.
Apart from confusing fact and fiction on occasion, Kelly is a smart and talented artist. She graduated Syracuse University in 2003 and went, degree in Surface Pattern Design in hand, to New York City to work in the fashion industry. There she helped put patterns on sexy undies if I am not mistaken. After that, she traveled around the US a bit until she finally settled in the frozen wasteland of Minnesota where her two bulldogs enjoy turning the snow yellow. I have a feeling that when I check back in a few more years, Kelly aka Kellabell9 will have a few more adventures under her belt. Read on!
How did your nickname come about?
I think this is one of those stories that a lot of tee designers can relate to… My name is Kelly & Kell-a-bell was a high school nickname. When I first signed up for Threadless 9 years ago, I just made the username in passing (I think my favorite baseball player at the time had a jersey number 9?). Then fast forward to 3 years ago, I started subbing more regularly to test the waters and actually won a few contests. I always meant to go back and change it, but I started to build a name so I didn’t want to lose any people supporting my work. I was worried they wouldn’t be able to find me under a new pen name… for better or worse I’m Kellabell9 😉
Where were you born/raised/live?
I was born & raised in Wilkes-Barre, PA. (Just south of Scranton and Jim & Pam) I attended college at Syracuse, worked in NYC for 8 years, then because of my husband’s job, I have lived in Birmingham, AL, Minneapolis, MN, and am about to move to Oklahoma City, OK….. (that is a lot of road trips!)
What do you like to do in your free time?
I have definitely learned the lesson of when you have your own company you don’t get too much of this 😉 but when I have time I love to travel, try new brew pubs & restaurants, take care of my two ginormous bulldogs, and watch Netflix.
Do you work full-time in art and design?
I do! I worked in NYC for a fashion company designing patterns for clothing, and now I run my own company which encompasses both my Etsy store brand, Waverly & 8th, and my tee shirt graphics line, Kellabell9.
About the Artist
When did you start creating art?
My parents were awesome and made me try everything when I was little. At age 5 I think they threw me in my first art class (along with ballet, soccer, t-ball, ice skating <– which I only made it through half a lesson before I twisted my ankle… athlete, I am not). Art was the one that stuck, and I was fortunate enough to take classes from 5 right on through high school & then college.
I see you have a degree in Surface Pattern Design. Can you describe what that means and how it has helped your career in art?
Surface Pattern Design was a major I stumbled on to when some college level students visited my high school art class. They talked about their majors & what careers they will lead to. One woman explained SPD and it sounded like a great fit. SPD is the designing of patterns for many applications such as fabric for fashion, fabric & wallpaper for home decor, household product decor such as china patterns, bedding, towels, etc., greeting cards, gift wrap….. basically anything where you would need pattern development & graphic illustration. Because the options for application were so varied, it gave me exposure in college to many different areas of design and allowed me to team up with people in other majors such as fashion, graphic, industrial… to really figure out what I love best. When I graduated, I knew I wanted to steer more towards the fashion aspect & developing graphics for clothing so I headed to NYC & that where I landed my first job 🙂
Can you also tell us about Waverly & 8th?
Waverly & 8th is my Etsy shop. I started it after I got married in 2012. I didn’t have a big budget and ended up creating a lot of the decorations myself. The one thing I was surprised about when looking for ideas was how boring all the traditional “guestbooks” looked. I decided to create custom art that I can frame which would be special to my husband & I, and all my friends & family could sign the border. That way we ended up with a nice picture for the wall that reminds us of the big day, instead of some book that will never get looked at. I started listing custom art “guestbooks” on my site and it has grown into invitations also.
For your t-shirt designs, where do you usually get your inspiration?
They really come from everywhere… sometimes I’m randomly searching the internet for one thing and will stumble across an idea for something completely different. I’ve been watching a ton of TV/Movies that people love on the sites I design for, which is awesome because then I discover new shows I love too. I also love perusing vintage advertisements & illustrations or just spending 10 minutes looking at tattoos on Pinterest, Instagram, or Tumblr.
Could you describe your typical design process from concept to completion?
I usually get an idea and do a really basic sketch in my journal before it flies out of my head & I forget it. Then I’ll do some research to makes sure it hasn’t been done before, & start searching for inspiration pics. I’ll lay out all my pictures around my artboard in Illustrator and start my linework. I usually won’t start from a hand sketch unless I have some crazy perspective element I can’t wrap my head around. Once my line work is done, I’ll bring it into Photoshop. I add basic colors, then shade it & halftone the art to get it ready for printing.
Not including digital, what medium do you like to work with?
I used to have to paint in gauche for my college projects which was difficult to work with at first, but I really grew to love it. Besides that, my usual go to is watercolor or pastels.
About the T-Shirts
How did you first hear about t-shirt design contests like Design by Humans and Threadless?
My sister has been a long time customer of Threadless, and would always send me their email blasts when she saw a contest she thought I’d be good for. The first one I actually I entered was their “college” contest (design a tee for one of 12? schools… Syracuse was one of them so I felt like I had to throw my hat in the ring). After that, I started consistently entering different contests and through their artist forums learned about all the other POD sites I could sell my art on.
Do you remember your first print? If so, what was it and how did you feel?
My first print was on Threadless for their Exercise contest. I won with my animal yogi design. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to receive that email!! I thought my designs and ideas were fun, but I never thought I would get picked among all the talented artists on that website.
You sell your designs on TeePublic, RedBubble, Design by Humans, NeatoShop, and Society6.
Which performs best for you?
I have had a lot of success with Design by Humans & RedBubble lately… NeatoShop has been picking up. I had a lot of success on TeePublic earlier in the year. I think if you get a crowd favorite on that site, you can really do well. I’ve never done very well on Society6, but I also update that shop the least.
Which is easiest to work with?
The guys at Neatoshop are awesome to the artists & probably my most favorite to work with. TeePublic & DBHs are really good at reaching out to the artists for cool opportunities & helping with sales blasts. Overall, I haven’t had a negative experience with anyone.
Of the t-shirts that you designed, which one is your favorite?
Eeek, that’s like picking my favorite kid (sure, you have some dud kids, but still you don’t want to hurt their feelings). I think my personal favorite is the Bobsled Champs on woot.com. Cool Runnings just one of those movies I can randomly quote to my sisters, and we’ll end up laughing. I love my first woot print too, which was Make it Sew. I grew up in a New Gen household, so I’ve bought one of these for my whole family. Last one (I promise!) would be my latest one on Threadless, Sloth Stripe. It was one of those ideas I had sketched out a while ago & ever got around to drawing. Finally, one day I was playing around with some sketches and it just clicked. It brought me back to my days of making patterns.
Do you wear the t-shirts that you have designed?
Absolutely! I also supply my family with them too so they can advertise for me… nothing is better than walking through Disney World with my dad & someone approaching him asking him where he got the awesome Buffy the Vampire Slayer tee.
Have you seen somebody wearing one of your t-shirts in the real world?
No, but I can not wait for that day! I need to go to more comic cons I think….
Photoshop or Illustrator?
Photoshop for sure. I like Illustrator for my linework, but everything else I do in Photoshop.
About the World
Do you have any role models?
When I was starting out a lot of my role models were in fashion because that is the world I was in. I loved the way designers like Betsey Johnson, Diane Von Furstenberg, & Lilly Pulitzer combined bright colors & pattern. You can look at one of their prints and know exactly what brand they belong too. Now I look for tee shops as role models. I love brands like Buy Me Brunch. They have a simple style and use their social media to allow their customers to vote on possible printed designs. I think it’s genius to get your customer involved at the design stage and gauge how successful it’s going to be based on the comments & excitement level.
What is the most exotic location you have been to?
I haven’t been to too many exotic locations, but I think the coolest place I ever visited was Cinque Terre, Italy or Monaco. The colors & architecture in both places was so inspiring!
Where would you most like to visit? Why?
I am dying to do a trip to around seeing exotic animals like the sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica or visiting an elephant sanctuary in Africa. I love animals and being able to see these beautiful creatures in person would be so amazing. Also, on my bucket list would be seeing the northern lights in Iceland & the night sky in Chile (my husband will be searching for UFO’s, as he has seen every episode of Ancient Aliens).
About Other Designers
Which t-shirt designer(s) do you admire the most?
I absolutely love Megan Lara’s tees. Her pieces blow my mind with how intricate they are, and the talent you have to have to create art like that. I always look forward to seeing her new work & have many of her tee shirts. I also love the artists who frequent Shirt.Woot. They are all so talented and I’m always amazed how quick they are to come up with and execute really clever ideas in a matter of days for the derbies. Some of my favorites are Fishbiscuit5, Radscoolian, Maloandthewhale, & Oakenspirit.
Have you done any collaborations for t-shirts?
No, I haven’t yet, but I would love to! I’d be open to working with anyone… I think every artist brings something unique to the table you can learn from.
Who would you like to see interviewed on the Shirt List next?
I think Megan Lara would be an amazing interview!! I’d love to know more about her & her design process.
Any advice for new designers/artists?
When I first started doing tees everybody on the artist forums would talk about how you should have a specific style. I didn’t, and thought I wouldn’t be at the same level as everyone else artistically. Now, I love that I don’t have a specific look. I get inspired from so many different sources, & I want to be able to adapt my style to fit the vision in my head of how I want the design to look. This pushes me to constantly try new techniques & watch tons of YouTube tutorials. I am always amazed by what you can achieve in Photoshop & I’m always looking to learn something new! SOooo if you don’t have a go-to style, don’t stress, and even if you do always keep learning & don’t be afraid to branch out of your normal drawing style!
What are you watching on TV at the moment?
My current favorites are HBO shows like Game of Thrones, Veep, & Silicon Valley, Netflix series like House of Cards or Orange is the New Black, or cartoons like Bob’s Burgers, Archer, & Rick & Morty. I also love horrible reality shows like Dance Moms & Housewives of wherever… I’m waiting for a call Bravo for the Real housewives of Oklahoma City.
What’s the last movie you saw in the cinema/movie theater?
I went to see Inside out… if there is a Pixar, Superhero, or Sci-Fi movie in the theater I try to go because I love them & they are great inspiration for tees.