Artists Among Us: Kelly O’Brien


As a child, her parents called her “Doodle.”

From the moment Kelly O’Brien picked up a pencil, she picked up a lifelong passion and a future career.

“I’ve always been drawing my whole life,” she said, "I used to want to be a lot of different things, but I think it was senior year of high school I decided I wanted to be an art teacher.”

The 21-year-old drawing major said she sees herself teaching higher education after receiving her masters degree. Although she has an appetite for inspiring others, actively creating her own work is what consumes her time, thoughts, and wallet. She said she knows all too well that “the starving artist” is more than just a phrase.

“It’s funny because if I had $10 left, I would probably buy paint," she said. "Not food.”

It’s her top priority, O'Brien said. Her backpack guards a sketchbook at all times; her hands are often stained with tinted splatters; and, her dinner may consist of only a strawberry Pop-Tart, but she said none of these things matter when she is behind an easel.

O'Brien said she once spent 82 hours straight – without sleep – on a project for class. But even without an assignment deadline, she often loses perception of time.

“I could spend seven hours on something and not even realize it,” she said. “I can spend hours upon hours on something, and not even think about food, other people, anything – I’ll just be in the zone.”

However, O'Brien said it’s also important for artists to know when to step away. Otherwise, a painting may never be done, and therefore, the artist’s job never finished.

It is that cycle that fascinates O’Brien, she said. Something can always be changed, added, or taken away. And depending on her current mood or artistic influence she’s following, she will explore different mediums of art as well.

“I’m different from each piece to each piece,” she said. “I’m not going to make anything the same way twice. Ever.”

O'Brien explained how she often draws inspiration from other artists with a different style. Her touch tends to be light, her subjects soft. But she constantly tries new techniques and concepts. She explained how she recently tried to embody the style of an Australian painter whose work juxtaposes her own.

"I could be stuck doing my own thing forever and be content with that, but I’m never going to grow (that way),” she said. “I usually try to pick artists completely opposite from myself.”

However, an attempted approach at another artist’s method isn’t the same between two creators, just as it’s different for two viewers. O’Brien said inaccuracy and imperfections can be good, and ambiguity can be interpreted in multiple ways.

But she urges her peers to spend a little more time thinking about art, rather than passing by with a message unnoticed.

According to a study by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the general public spends about 15-17 seconds looking at a painting.

O’Brien’s trips to museums and galleries are slightly more time-consuming. After studying abroad in Florence, Italy, she had the opportunity to visit the Louvre in Paris. She watched as people flocked to the Mona Lisa and left. But she said there were better da Vinci works in the next room over. And locally, she said, gallery openings often have artists there to ask questions about work or museums have statements about a collection, but attendees pass by.

Whether creating or viewing, art is something O’Brien said she does not only to impact others, but also for herself.

“It’s like that for anyone with a passion,” she said. “No one can take this away from me. This will always be a part of my life.”