Despite growing up in a small town in Northern BC, Kailee Vanderwoerd’s creativity knows no boundaries. If she isn’t out hiking, camping, playing volleyball, or baking at home in her free time, she’s hovered over a canvas and armed with several mediums. In each piece she completes, Kailee expresses her creativity vividly through her illustrations. She often finds inspiration in the scenes around her, or paints landscapes of places that lie farther beyond where she calls home.
Kailee’s journey with art began very young: “I’ve always been into art since I was a little kid… [and] in school, art class was always my favourite.” She first learned how to use watercolours from one of her aunts, which then pushed her to experiment with other mediums. Aside from her aunt, however, none of her other family members are artistic, which makes Kailee unique.
Her interest in art only grew from there. When she was just 13, Kailee already started doing commission works. It started off primarily as a lettering business, a skill she learned on her own through watching videos and constant practice. As she started adding bits of illustrations to each piece, it eventually grew into a painting business. Being in a small town, news spread quickly and many were immediately drawn in by her talent, requesting custom lettering pieces, paintings, and even logos.
When she graduated from high school, Kailee wasn’t yet sure about what she wanted to pursue and wasn’t quite ready to move away, either. Art, however, remained as her one constant: “I didn’t have any plans for what I wanted to do after [high] school, but… I knew I wanted to do something art related.” Her passion for art eventually led her to do the Graphic Design program at BCIT. At first, she had doubts choosing graphic design over fine arts, but it surprised her: “I almost like it more. It’s different but it’s so fun.”
When asked what she likes painting the most, Kailee says, “I like nature. Landscapes are probably my favourite thing to paint, just because I love to be outdoors, too. So [painting it] kind of makes me feel like I’m back out hiking again, captur[ing] that moment… [and] the untouched nature of it.”
Two of her most favourite works to date include the capstone painting she did in her senior year of high school, and a custom work she made for a client that opened up a new aspect of art to her. The capstone painting, done on a two-by-seven foot canvas using oil paints, showcases destinations around the world that Kailee hopes to travel to one day. The custom work was a lettering piece with added abstract illustrations, which Kailee notes had been particularly challenging as she was used to doing only floral elements at that time. But it worked out on her first attempt, which made her excited to explore more with that technique.
We then chat about her preference between traditional and digital art. Most artists agree that while painting digitally gives you flexibility and versatility, nothing can ever beat the feeling of creating traditional art. It’s easy to fix a mistake by “undo”-ing or organizing through layers when creating something digitally, but like Kailee notes, “Something about traditional art is just cool because it’s how it is. It’s set in place.”
And just like in traditional art where mistakes are almost inevitable, there’s charm in the natural flaws of things. Because sometimes, those imperfections are what makes them unique. Kailee understands this perfectly: “If I find a cabin for example, the wood chipping… [I love] painting that little wood chip or the rust on the door [and] things like that. I love noticing the little things, that’s my favourite. The things that make them imperfect.”
Kailee’s artistic influences range from a variety of people, from local artists in her hometown to bigger names, like Canadian artist Franklin Carmichael. When asked why, she replies that she “like[s] how he’s very colourful. He uses colours that you wouldn’t pick out… and [then] makes [them] dramatic.” She typically finds new sources of inspiration through Instagram and says that photographers influence her the most. The most recent one she’s been inspired by is photographer Skyler Carrico (@skalathamus on Instagram).
Being an artist is a journey. It’s trying to find and learn new things, experimenting with them, and seeing where they take you. At the same time, it’s easy to get stuck in a creative rut, and it’s even easier to leave a piece unfinished or bury it somewhere until you find motivation again. Like most creatives, Kailee does the same. But when she finds herself in a block, what helps motivate her is by either looking back at her older works to see how far she’s come, or by seeking new inspirations. She’s still growing as an artist, so she makes sure to constantly play around with different mediums and techniques to find her own style. That’s her favourite thing about art, after all.
I ask her if she has a message she’d like to share with other artists, perhaps to those who are still just starting out. Kailee smiles and says, “Keep going, and trying new mediums is really fun, even if it’s really scary for you. Your work doesn’t have to be perfect and that’s what makes it cool, when it’s not perfect.” Then, a little more bluntly and citing Pablo Picasso’s unique style as an example, she adds, “You might just think you suck, but you just have to [change your mindset]… There’s so many opportunities to use your own style and create a whole new one.”