Highly Concentrated: The Artwork of Kelly Eddington

Artist Kelly Eddington’s work is surprising, inventive, and…made with watercolors?! We were as stunned as you will be when you see her incredible, vivid, and rich artwork that’s a far cry from what you’ve seen done with watercolors ever before. Eddington’s dedication to making every detail—no matter how small—shows how passionate she is about her work, which continues to garner attention worldwide. Find out more about Eddington’s craft below:

Surround Yourself: Though it’s created with watercolors, your work is bright, vivid and rich. What drew you to use watercolors in such an inventive way?
Kelly Eddington: Watercolor has a reputation for being a lightweight medium, and it tends to stand in the shadow of its big sister, oil. When I was applying to graduate painting programs, my professors cautioned me that watercolor painters would not be taken as seriously as oil painters, and I never understood why. Both are beautiful. The only real difference I could see was the rich, juicy colors available to oil painters. I’ve been using Old Holland watercolor paints for many years now, and their pigments are highly concentrated–I would even say they’re unusually concentrated–and they help me create paintings that are similar to oils. Plus watercolor can create effects oil can’t achieve, so I feel like I have the best of both worlds.
I have always loved bright, bold colors. Painting something a bold yellow, for example, is so much more fun than filling it in with some kind of muddy beige. It can be addictive to always paint with colors right out of the tubes, but that can result in a painting that is garish and hard to look at. So I use a mixture of bright and muted colors. Putting beige next to yellow makes that yellow seem even more intense and special.


 Daffodil by Kelly Eddington

SY:Tell us about the transition from being an art teacher to being a full-time artist. How did your previous career help you become the artist you are today?

KE: Being a high school art teacher made me a faster and more confident artist. I don’t feel shy about painting before an audience. To teach something well, you have to understand that topic inside and out and be able to break it down in a way that beginners can understand. Doing this is so satisfying, but after seventeen years of it, the repetition was getting to me.

I think that if you’re a good teacher, you should be a little jealous of your students. I wanted to be the one doing the paintings, not the one handing out the supplies. I felt that sort of low-level jealousy for most of my career, but during the last couple of years, it became excruciating. As I pulled into my school’s parking lot each morning, all I could think was, “I am not supposed to be here.” So in 2010, I quit teaching and began painting full-time, and these have been the happiest years of my life.

A few years ago I started an instructional YouTube channel called Kelly Eddington Watercolors. So I still have the ability to teach, except this time I have 180,000 students in my classroom.

 Studio Painting

SY: What was the most important lesson you ever taught your students about art?

KE: I always made sure my students knew how to draw before they did anything else. On the first day of class, I explained that drawing was a physical skill that could be learned, similar to typing or driving a car. Pretty much everyone can learn how to do those things, and with some practice, a student will naturally improve. Some people can type a hundred words per minute, and some people go on to become race car drivers, and if they have the love for it, some people become artists.

Developmentally, most teenagers can learn to draw (and drive and type, for that matter) more easily than they could when they were eleven or twelve. A strong connection between their brains and their hands comes online at that time. As a teacher, my greatest thrill was to watch students discover abilities they never realized they had. As much as I tried to demystify the drawing process, that was truly magical to witness.
 Clever Boy by Kelly Eddington

SY: How do you overcome “painter’s block” on those days where you’re not feeling creative?

KE: I don’t let myself have that luxury. The following quote is by Nick Cave, and I live by this idea:

“Inspiration is a word used by people who aren’t really doing anything. I go into my office every day that I’m in Brighton and work. Whether I feel like it or not is irrelevant. Inspiration is nice, but if you only work when it strikes, you’re going to be an unhappy artist. This is especially true if you want to earn a living at it; you don’t hear about surgeons getting ‘surgeon’s block’ or garbage men getting ‘garbage men’s block.’ There are assuredly days when the surgeon doesn’t want to be removing gall bladders, but she does it anyway, because that’s her job.”
 Heirloom by Kelly Eddington


SY: If you could have lunch with any of your artistic idols (whether they’re painters or not), who would you pick?

KE: Get me in a room with U2, please (see embarrassing question below).
 U2 Desktop by Kelly Eddington

SY: When you don’t have a paintbrush in your hands, what do you enjoy doing?

KE: I love to write and cook. I especially love to bake things. Last year my husband and I built a house in a forest in rural Missouri, so exploring the woods and watching the seasons change is incredibly inspiring. And since 2002, I have been working for a U2 fan site where I have been creating a sort of episodic graphic novel about the band, and yes it’s just that geeky, and I am loathe to discuss it with pretty much anybody. But simply put, I have a U2 comic strip and Bono is my Charlie Brown. The upside of this is I got to exhibit some of my U2 paintings at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last month.

 In the Studio

SY: What’s one thing that you found surprising about being a full-time artist?

KE: I wish I could simply paint pictures and somehow the money would come flowing in, but it’s not that easy. Self-promotion is a necessary evil, and engagement on social media is crucial. I have also developed as many income streams as possible: YouTube ad revenue, merchandise, prints, commissions, sales of originals, and competitions. My social media presence made it possible for (art paper giant) Strathmore to find my work and reach out to me in April. Over the spring and summer, I developed two pads of watercolor paper with special instructional material for beginners, including step-by-step lessons and accompanying videos by me, and these will be released later this year as part of Strathmore’s new Learning Series.

 Palm Sketch by Kelly Eddington

SY: What do you hope viewers see when they look at your artwork?
KE: I feel like I’ve spent the bulk of my life noticing things most people don’t care about. I will spend untold hours painting a button that popped off a blazer (it’s a gorgeous button, but still). Or old fishing lures. Or acorns. Or gum balls. Or eyelashes. Or perfume bottles. I try to make these things as lush, shiny, delicious-looking, and desirable as possible. And I hope my viewers will start to notice the beauty that’s all around them.
 Seven Veils by Kelly Eddington

SY: What do you surround yourself with?

KE: Books, paintings, sentimental items, and photos of people and pets. I’ve had to move several times in the past ten years, and with each move came a ruthless purge of things I couldn’t justify keeping. So any objects that have survived the past decade are truly precious to me. My husband and I have decorated the house in an industrial-rustic style, and almost every piece of furniture or other accessory has some kind of story behind it.
 At Home


SY: Anything else we should know about you?

KE: The wonderful Roger Ebert was one of my earliest fans. He began paying attention to my work when I pointed out on Twitter that one of his movie guides was in a portrait of a little girl I had painted.


The background was loaded with books. Roger became a sort of an Internet pen pal–I was one of hundreds of people who could say that, and needless to say, I miss him a great deal.

I sent him a small painting, and he sent me art books. A retweet or a comment from him on my blog meant the world to me, and he even gave me the idea for a painting that went on to win awards. Roger Ebert’s power on Twitter was incredible. He’d tweet about me, and I’d get a hundred new followers within an hour. He crashed my website more than a few times. I was able to meet him in person the year before he died, and he introduced me to his friends via his little notepad as “artist.” I got the thrill of my life when he underlined that word.
 Mabel by Kelly Eddington


Check out Kelly Eddington’s collection at Imagekind!