Kayla Mahaffey, also known as KaylaMay, is a stellar talent who we have the esteemed honor of interviewing this week! Her portfolio is exploding with flowing colors and spectacular authenticity. Tell us a little bit about a typical day in your shoes. How do you weave through the complexities of earthly living?
On a typical day, I like waking up bright and early. I’m an early bird, so I want to get a head start on my day, so eating breakfast, answering emails, and working out is better done sooner than later. When noon starts to creep up on me, I head down to my home studio and start building up my palette, getting my brushes ready, and start painting on any sections that I didn’t get to the previous day.
If I’m not procrastinating too much, I tend to spend between 6 to 9 hours painting.On days that get really busy with things like errands or chores, I usually have to alternate between doing things earlier in the day and painting later or taking a break from painting altogether and making those things my priority.
Could you describe to us a bit about your creative process? What would you consider to be your most optimal space to create?
Before I even put paint on canvas, I have an inspiration stage. At this time, I might remember a story, see a movie, or read a book that jolts my creativity, and I instantly start getting ideas for compositions. I usually rush to jot it down in written form, describing how I want it to look, or I make a quick doodle and hope I can later decipher what I was trying to draw. After refining my sketch and working out a color scheme, it’s transferred to a canvas.
The painting process can go smoothly; at other times, more detailed elements might take more time to render. During this step, I will sometimes change certain factors where I see fit, and the piece may take a different direction with lighting or color. Lastly, I analyze the entire piece and make adjustments if I feel something is missing or to ensure the composition is balanced.
This entire process takes place in my studio, and for things to run correctly, I have to make sure the studio environment is perfect. I try to keep my space organized and clean because I don’t want my thoughts to be chaotic. I love a serene space, so it’s important for me to have some type of solitude with some enjoyable jams or sometimes complete quiet. These things keep me in the right headspace and help me concentrate on the task at hand.
We love the way your pieces reflect a whimsical nature and also places a focus on aspects of reality and society. When you’re combining these two elements, what sort of feelings do you experience? Do you develop a philosophical connection with each piece?
When merging those elements, I can feel a range of emotions, from sadness to joy to a rush of childhood memories. I condense these sensations down to directly create my visuals. I use the whimsical imagery to serve as a veil to the underlying issues or to tell a deeper narrative. Some of these stories come directly from my childhood, where times were simpler and new experiences were so special, but then some experiences, negative or positive, taught me tons of lessons along the way. I like to translate that very moment and show that emotion as it occurred.
My paintings have become a part of me, and as I evolve, I can appreciate the little nuisances of each piece. I’m connected to each piece now, but I still feel a deeper connection to some pieces more than others. Some pieces, paired with the right imagery and message, make me feel overwhelmed with emotions and make me proud regardless of the subject matter. Those are the pieces I hate to see leave the studio. They’re like a small piece of me, but I also think of it as a gift to someone else who hopefully cherishes it and feels the same as I did while I created it.
What kind of evolution, whether personal or artistic, have you witnessed in yourself over time? Any pivotal moments that you would like to share?
From an art perspective, I’ve started deep-diving into topics based more on reality and analyzing the concept of existence. I feel like I’m beginning to strengthen my craft from a narrative and technical standpoint. As a result, my pieces are something I can honestly say I’m proud of. These few years came with highs and lows, which taught me much about myself. I’ve changed into a more patient, healthier, and adaptable individual, and I want to keep that progression going for many years.
The most pivotal moment from last year was when I curated my first group show, “Fathom.” I treated the artists how I would want to be treated from a professional standpoint, and the experience showed me how important it is for Artists to have someone who not only supports them but also understands the complexities of the creative lifestyle. Curating showed me that I could challenge myself to do bigger and better self-produced projects, and when faced with many obstacles, I could find a way to come out on top.
Do you find yourself drawn to a specific theme or themes in your work? And when looking outward, are you drawn to the same sort of themes or seeking them out?
I find myself drawn to specific themes of self-identity, nostalgia, and societal issues. The figures in my art usually range from children to teenagers, which is a vital time of self-discovery and new experiences. I show how they deal with society and random encounters while trying their best to grow up and live. I try to always keep an open mind in my everyday life, and understanding things from different perspectives helps me navigate the world better. I always surround myself with nostalgic items that remind me of how far I’ve come. Still, I also actively seek out new outlooks from various groups and individuals to learn more and educate myself on issues.
How do you approach the use of color, texture, and composition in your artwork to convey a specific mood or message?
I always look for balance in my artwork, and I’m constantly ensuring all the pieces’ elements work together harmoniously. My colors always follow some form of triangulation, so if it’s red paint somewhere in the top-middle of a painting, there will surely be red on both sides on the bottom. This will not only balance the painting but help the viewer see the piece in a more satisfying way. I don’t like too much texture on my canvas because I want to see the fine lines and little details in the piece on a relatively flat piece. Some artists do texture well while keeping things rendered, but it’s never really been my forte.
When trying to set a piece’s tone, I usually use illustrative tactics of color to direct focal points or adjust the mood. Hues of blue and violets against a more saturated background give a sad or cold feeling, but for paintings that I want to give off a sense of energy or movement, I’ll add in reds, yellows, and even some fluorescent pinks to give off that feeling. Complimentary colors are always another go-to when I want something that looks pleasing, and in turn, the colors play off each other while having some contrast.
How do you engage with art criticism, both positive and negative, and how does it shape your perspective on your own work?
Art criticism comes up occasionally in my artistic career. Still, I’ve always tried my best not to let it dampen my spirit when it’s a negative comment, and I always try to better understand what the person is trying to say. Positive statements always feel good, but that doesn’t mean you should leave it at that and not continue honing in on your skills because there may be room for improvement. Why not brush up on some new techniques?
Some people are genuinely giving you constructive criticism for you to grow and work out your artistic framework or further establish your style or technique, and then there are minuscule comments that have little to do with the actual work, or their remarks might demand you abandon your trajectory all together which really can put you on a path you’re not too happy about. It’s up to us as the artist to figure out who is really directing you in the right direction and who is trying to lead you astray.
For example, in the past, when I was critiqued on my proportions, I took it fairly well. I knew I needed to work on it, so I started doing the work to ensure the scale of my figures compared to their surroundings was accurate. It only helped my work flourish and made me appreciate it more. Positive critiques definitely give me some perspective on how some people view my artwork, but the guidance also validates that I’m moving in the right direction.
Can you discuss any ongoing projects or future aspirations that you are excited about?
I’m currently putting together a solo exhibition, and this time, I really want to push myself when it comes to creating something special, innovative, and exciting. In these upcoming months or in the near future, I hope to start bringing new mediums into my practice, like ceramics or sculpture. I would love to get into a residency where I can relax, experiment a bit, and just create. It would put me in a different mindset and allow me to take part in a new adventure.
All images courtesy of Kayla Mahaffey
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