“My cause is simply I want to put some magic into the universe.”
I’m scrolling through my Instagram feed. One last scroll before I force myself to pick up the book I’m reading. It’s better to wake up with a novel in your nose rather than a phone to the face, no?
But oops, I found something. Something good. Something marvelous. Something I can’t stop looking at.
As I cuddle inside myself, exhaling yes to the warm feeling of an appreciated aesthetic, I’ll pause from double tapping (like, like, like!!!) and introduce the woman behind the blossoming Instagram feed.
Meet Kyra Kendall.
Kyra is a freelance illustrator, designer and creator of the eBook whynot. Did I mention she also spent a chapter whizzing around in the professional realm of branding and has partnered with some major clients?
Her Instagram feed (@kendallkyra) is an array of luminous faces, up close and personal; mostly women appearing aloof, fierce, bothered or broken yet consistently vibrant. Watercolor is Kyra’s medium of choice. And her Instagram bio notes exactly whom she paints: strangers. Her subjects are as impressive as they are inclusive. Each piece has a special undercurrent that leaves the gazer an opportunity to wonder, relate, enjoy.
I was struck by the way Kendall’s art, often paired with an unpredictable caption, transferred through the screen. The glow of my device paired with the collection of faces practically roar at me in unison; fighting against the whispering hum of night.
We corresponded through email, and I quickly come to the realization that the warm and daring undertones that drip from her work are in fact deeply imbedded to the very being of Kyra Kendall herself.
Q & A with KYRA KENDALL
Tell me a bit about your experience at University of Toronto. What served as your favorite way to find inspiration as a developing visual studies student?
Okay so this one is tough. I didn’t initially start college at U of T. I started at this awesome tiny art school in Halifax. However, while I was there I got cancer. It meant I had to move back home to Toronto for treatment. I was really passionate about art, and I didn’t want to stop school while I was going through treatment, so I transferred to U of T. My time at U of T was filled with a tremendous amount of emotion. I started off resentful and sad that I was sick, at U of T and then grew to love the school. The professors I had there I will never forget. They taught me so much.
Describe your aesthetic in three words:
Instinctual, bold and expressionistic.
You have worked with some impressive clients: Mavatar, Boston Celtics, MTV, etc. What projects stands out to you and why?
My favourite project was doing all the branding and design and illustration for MaskerAide. The product is amazing, and I feel that my illustration work really sells what is inside the package. I love it for two reasons:
1. I met one of my closest friends while working on the project.
2. I had complete and total creative freedom.
How did you get into watercolors? And why do you like using them?
My mom, who was a sculptor and signed me up for after school watercolour painting classes when I was about 10, it blew my mind how difficult /magical it was. I have painted with watercolour ever since.
I like using them because:
1. They remind me of my mom (who took them up about the same time I started).
2. They are really portable.
3. They are massively unforgiving while also surprising. I like how you have to be dynamic when you paint with watercolour. You have to accept that your painting might really not work out the way you initially intended. I also like that they are not toxic. Having had cancer once, I am really not interested in getting it again lol.
Where is your favorite location to be creative?
Ah, so my answer is no location. I keep a mini watercolour set and notebook in my bag. I always have paints with me. I paint anywhere.
So first I have to say that I am obsessed with faces. It’s all I ever want to paint. I remember having a conversation with my grandmother about it (who also was a watercolour painter) she told me that she sees faces everywhere. I was about 13 and I knew exactly what she was talking about. Then we just sat in the kitchen, looking at her wooden floor, picking out and describing all the faces we saw in the grain patterns. So I guess my mind just really likes faces.
I paint strangers because there is something about taking an image at literal face value. Not knowing the person, how they would like to be perceived. Just seeing, then painting what you see. I feel like strangers allow for me to be completely honest while painting.
What is your cause?
Oh, this is going to sound precarious but when I paint I will say a prayer in my mind for the person I am painting. I will say, ‘God, let this painting lift this person up. Let it amuse them. Let is surprise them’. My cause is simply I want to put some magic into the universe.
How has social media helped your cause?
It is enabling me to paint people I don’t know. And it picks the people for me. I just hit the magnifying glass at the bottom of my phone and see what comes up.
Who/what inspires your creativity?
Well, when I am scrolling, what causes me to stop and paint someone is hard to explain. It has something to do with the angles of the form in the image or the negative space, but also what the photo is expressing. Generally I am inspired by positive imagery. Or true imagery. This is a really hard question to answer with words.
Describe the different variables that make you most feel at home:
I feel like the best work I do comes from not feeling at home at all. The best painting I have done is when I begin to put brush to paper and I think, ‘This really might not work out, but fuck it I am going to try anyway.’ I also have a mantra I say in my head when I am painting, and it is this: if you are scared to do it, THEN DO IT. I think I am driven by diving into an awkward situation, and trying to paint my way out of it. I think you can see that in a lot of my painting; it is seriously not about taking it slow or hanging back with the goal of perfection. My work is about diving in.
Taking risks and conjuring magic, indeed.
I recognize Kyra Kendall for her urgency to uplift others and a determination to find comfort in the uncomfortable.
Sift through her numerous spellbinding creations on her blog, here.
Shop her watercolors, here.
(*she does commissions on request; holidays are right around the corner!)
Follow here Instagram feed, here.