Salt Water and Seashells: A Look at Kate Nelligan’s Coastal Designs

Kate Nelligan is a Maine-based artist whose work is synonymous with summer. Warm, playful, and full of color, Nelligan’s creations are inspired by her family and a love for the coast. Find out more about Kate Nelligan, her favorite way to wash her paintbrushes, and the unique ways she develops her designs below.

 

Kate Nelligan


 

SY: Have you always been interested in art?

 

KN: Yes, we all were in my family. But I was a little more into it than the others for some reason. My bedroom was my creative haven and my mother often jokes about the beautiful white bedspread she bought for me that quickly became stained with markers and paints as I used to make pictures in bed instead of reading like I was supposed to. She also reminds me about how she would buy me games and toys and I would take them all apart, mix them up and make art or something else altogether with the various pieces. So mothers take note! Sometimes those messy kids are really just misdiagnosed designers!

 

My mom comes up a lot when I’m asked questions like this — she was a teacher during the school year and for a few summers, she was also the arts and crafts teacher for our beach camp and we would get to do all the projects more than once as she was preparing the lessons. She had a lot of projects but I remember the fish print one the most. I’ll never forget walking out over the mudflats at low tide to Strawberry Island with a real fish in a bucket, paint, brushes and all our other supplies. We laid the fish out on a rock, painted it and then pressed it onto paper to get a print. I can still smell the combination of paint mixed with the waft of mud flats as the breeze picked up and using salt water to wash our hands. You can see how this has influenced a few of my images like this one. it’s a block print, but the same idea:

 

Kate Nelligan


 

SY: You have a beautiful array of coastal-inspired designs and artwork. What inspires you to keep coming up with fresh ideas for your collections?

 

KN: I like to go to new places where my eye is energized by new sights. We recently visited someplace quite tropical and I spent one morning painting on the beach with watercolors trying to capture the colors of the sky and water together, against the bright white sand. Sand in Maine is gray, so it’s always so striking to see another color of sand and how that plays against the water. It was so beautiful I knew I would use it in future designs and art. And I’ll never get sick of washing out a paintbrush in salt water.

 

Kate Nelligan

 

Kate Nelligan


 

SY: Could you tell us a bit about your family? Have they inspired any of your designs?
 

KN: When I met my husband he was a commercial fisherman and he showed me the daily life of commercial fishing. He used to take me out for harbor cruises on the dragger and I remember just sitting on the dock for hours watching boxes and boxes of fish being swung up from the boat to the pier. I watched so much of it that I think certain imagery just really stuck with me – like the net mending, and all the orange oil gear they wear…
 

Kate Nelligan

 

Kate Nelligan


 

SY: Your designs are bursting with color! How do you come up with such good color schemes for your work?

 

KN: I like the simplicity of using one perfect color against white so a color can be enjoyed in its purest form. When I’m using two or more colors together, I work hard to make sure they sit well together. It’s a visceral thing. I also use a very limited pallet so that my designs can be mixed and matched within the same space.

 

Kate Nelligan


 

SY: You use several different methods when creating your designs. How do they all work together to complete a final design?

 

KN: A lot of my designs started out as silk screens which explains their distilled quality and why a lot of them are just one color. And that look has sort of become my “style” if I had to pick one. I still like that starkness even if I’m not making an actual silk screen. So whether I make an image as a block print, a sketch or a collage, I’ll make a digital file of it that can be scaled and colorized any way I choose. The computer makes it easier to bring it all together. Gottta love a mac.

 

Kate Nelligan

 

Kate Nelligan

 

Kate Nelligan


 

SY: What’s been the most challenging part of being a designer and artist?

 
KN: I’d have to say putting myself “out there”. I struggled with this and resisted it for a long time but it was just time to say “this is me, this is my stuff, I hope you like it, but it’s ok if you don’t.”

 

SY: Your designs exude instant warmth with their summery feel. How do you capture that feeling and put it into your designs?

 

KN: To me, there are certain colors that have summer energy, and certain images and icons the evoke the feeling of summer. I’m trying to take the classic coastal icons and make my own version of them to give them a fresh new life.

 
SY: Your work and products have been featured in several magazines. How does it feel to see the things you’ve worked so hard to create being recognized?

 

KN: It is kind of fun flipping through a magazine and spotting one of my rugs or pillows in a photo. Sort of like a musician hearing his song on the radio for the first time I imagine. I love seeing my items as part of a beautiful design scheme.

 
SY: What would a perfect summer day be like for you?

 

KN: Cruising out to one of the islands here on a hot day to swim, laze around and float or if I have a day to myself, you’ll find me on a beach chair sketching things I find on the beach until sundown.

 

Kate Nelligan

 

Kate Nelligan

 

Kate Nelligan


 

SY: What’s one thing you think makes a house into a home?

 

KN: I think your home should be your own personal museum. What you love about life should be reflected in the objects, photos and art you choose to have around you.

 

SY: What do you surround yourself with?

 

KN: Funny friends, good food, wine and music, inspiring books, lots art supplies and salt air.


 

Thanks, Kate! Shop Kate’s collection on Great BIG Canvas and check out her website here.