Interview: Kelly Leigh Miller on Illustration, Printmaking, and Art on Social Media

12:00 pm


When I think of cute and colourful illustrations, I think of Kelly Leigh Miller. Her style pops off of the page (or screen!), depicting animals, adorable people, and sweet little scenes, always brimming with character. We had a chat recently about getting into illustration, her artistic style, and that ever-present comparison to others! Make sure you check out her work on her website...

Magic & Musings:
Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions, Kelly! Would you like to introduce yourself and what you do? When did you first get into illustration? Is this something you’ve been formally trained in?

Kelly Leigh Miller:
Thank you for interviewing me! I’m Kelly Leigh Miller, a local Chicago illustrator. I specialize in a very whimsical, colourful, and cute style!

I am formally trained in illustration. I have a BFA in Illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art. I’m not sure when I first got into illustration, but I used to draw ever since I could hold a crayon. When I was in middle school, I used to create my own comic books. They were only a few pages long, but looking back, they were very zine-like since I used to photocopy them and give them to my friends! I don’t think I ever stopped drawing and telling stories.

Magic & Musings:
If you could describe your illustrations in three words, what would they be?

Kelly Leigh Miller:
Oh geez, probably colourful, silly, and cute!



Magic & Musings:
When did you first start sharing your illustrations online, and did you find yourself overcoming any hurdles regarding your confidence?

Kelly Leigh Miller:
I dabbled in putting my stuff online in high school, but really didn’t do much then. It wasn’t until sometime while I was in college I tried it again. That was back probably in 2010ish. I will say, I wasn’t terribly good at promoting my work back then and really wasn’t sure how to go about using the internet in that kind of way until the past couple of years, when I really started to get into it.

I think any artist who puts their work online has many of the same hurdles when it comes to confidence. It’s so easy to get lost in the void of other people’s work and comparing it to your own. It’ll make you think questions you might not often think when you’re actually working like “why doesn’t my art look as good as that persons,” or “they are producing so much more work than I am so I must be slacking,” or even “maybe I should just stop making art since I won’t ever be like them.” I’ve even had those low moments of feeling like I shouldn’t make art because there were so many other people out there that seemed “better” than me at art. I put better in quotes because it’s so subjective. Everyone has different styles and everyone brings something different to the table when it comes to art. Sometimes it’s hard to remind yourself of that. Each person has a unique individual voice that comes out naturally when they work. Some voices are louder only because they are more developed and worked on, but that doesn’t mean they are better and the others should stop making art because of it. It just takes time to get your voice to the same level.

I have better methods now to combat confidence hurdles. I keep a sketchbook and try to doodle at least a page a day in it. These drawings are purely for me and they remind me of what I like and what I am when it comes to art. I can also experiment in it to try new things in a very safe non-judgemental environment. It almost centers me in a way. I love sketchbooks! I think every artist should work in one regularly!

Magic & Musings:
On Magic & Musings I love talking about female-identifying and non-binary artists and their work. Which female artists, if any, would you say have been influences on your work? Do you have any favourites to look to when you need some inspiration or motivation?

Kelly Leigh Miller:
There’s so many! I absolutely love Lynda Barry, Lisa Hanawalt, Kate Beaton, Gemma Correll, Rebecca Green, and the list goes on!

Magic & Musings:
Of all of your designs, which are you the happiest with and why?

Oh goodness, that’s probably the project I’m currently working on, but unfortunately, I can’t show any of it now! It’s not ready for any public release yet. As a runner up though, I would have to say my knitting dragon piece! (See below!)

I had been experimenting for a while on different ways to work and this was the first piece that seemed to come together in a way that developed how I work now! I had so much fun making the piece that it helped me figure out my current look and way to work.


Magic & Musings:
I’m interested in knowing how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done? A specific hot drink? A relaxing album?

Kelly Leigh Miller:
Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee! It’s not even about the caffeine. There’s something familiar and welcoming about the scent and the taste that makes me feel at home when I’m working. I also always have a sketchbook with me to work out ideas or just doodle ideas that I may get while working. I often have more ideas, but not enough time to work on all of them so my sketchbook acts as a way I can record them for later when I might have time. Recently my tool of choice for finished work has been my iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. I use both Procreate and Photoshop (through Astropad) for my digital work. I like varying the places I work and working on the iPad Pro makes that super easy. I also paint in gouache a lot, though I don’t normally do that for client work. On occasion, I will take personal gouache painting commissions.

Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Kelly Leigh Miller:
I do a few things. I draw a ton in my sketchbook. Sometimes I switch mediums or try something new. I’ve been getting back into printmaking, which I used to do in high school. Mostly lithograph printing and risograph printing. I feel like working in unfamiliar mediums or ones that you don’t normally work in makes you get out of your head a bit and just work intuitively. It seems to break down any walls that I may be putting up creating the rut and just have fun working!

If that doesn’t work then usually I try to go out and do something else completely non-art related. I read a lot! I also take walks and play with my dog, Frankie. I might also hang out with friends, see a movie, go to a museum, or anything else to get my mind off of art and experience life a bit more. Bringing life experiences to my art helps my art feel more unique and more like me.



Magic & Musings:
What are your favourite tools you use to create your illustrations? Are there any books on creativity and/or working for yourself you would recommend to others?

Kelly Leigh Miller:
I mentioned some above, but the main things I work in now are my sketchbook, iPad Pro, and Apple Pencil!

My current favorite books on creativity would have to be Art Inc. by Lisa Congdon and Creative Pep Talk by Andy J Miller.

As for working on yourself books, I just started reading Quiet by Susan Cain. I recently saw her TED talk and totally related to the whole introvert who learned how to act like an extrovert. I haven’t finished it, but it is a good read so far!

Magic & Musings:
What would you say your relationship is like between your business and the internet/social media? Would you say this has helped you greatly in your success, or not?

Kelly Leigh Miller:
Social media has helped a lot in my business and helped get my name out there! My social media of choice is Instagram for its purely visual layout! It really is ideal for illustration. Twitter is a close second for me. Both of those have helped me a lot in marketing my work.


Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in this field?

Kelly Leigh Miller:
That it really takes a lot of time! I think someone probably did, but I wish I'd listened. I wasn’t one of the lucky ones who got to go into the field immediately after college, but looking back I think that was for the best. I don’t think I was ready or really found my voice until a few years ago.

Also just because someone’s not doing it at the time doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Like if there’s a weird thing that you are very into, but no one is doing it, that’s more the reason to do it! Pioneer that cool weird thing you want to do!

Magic & Musings:
Fun question! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you’ve enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?

Kelly Leigh Miller:
For books, my list is so long! I’ll narrow it down to recent stuff though! My current favorites are Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which I am re-reading since the show just started!

For music, I’ve been listening to a lot of David Bowie and El Vy recently as well as Paramore’s new album After Laughter, which sounds totally different than their old stuff and very fun! I like it when artists try something new with their work.

Magic & Musings:
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work?

Kelly Leigh Miller:
Thank you for the interview! The best place to stay current with my work would be Instagram or Twitter! Both of them are under the name bookofkellz, which is a play off of my name and the old illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells, which is very beautifully illustrated! My portfolio website (kellyleighmiller.com) is also a good place!

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