Chicago-based creative Kate Dehler often utilised illustration as a way to tune out of the world, rather than a purposeful career choice. Never thinking she could make an income from it, she instead decided to study french, history and philosophy – “because that’s how you get to a lucrative career, right?” – and figured she’d stick around in academia. Yet after graduation Kate found someone who encouraged her creativity, someone “that made me feel connected,” and so, “I married at her 23,” she tells It’s Nice That.
Encouraging Kate to explore her love of drawing, her wife (fellow illustrator Julia Dufossé) noticed how happy it was making her, “she could see how grounded it made me,” the illustrator recalls to us. Then moving into graphic design at first, Kate still found that most of her enjoyment was coming from drawing “and I started to explore what people who called themselves ‘illustrators’ were up to,” she says. Finally having this realisation that she could follow this path that made her truly very happy as a job, Kate admits she “was shocked and thrilled that there seemed to be a career path for this thing I loved to do so much.”
Now fully on display for illustration lovers to see, Kate’s work can be spotted everywhere from The Washington Post, NBC, The New York Times and across various personal projects too. Often centring around objects, her aim is to “try to make work that channels the feeling of being fascinated by something, of really feeling awake and interested in things,” she tells It’s Nice That. In turn her pieces tend to hero the everyday object, placing something like a cafetière, a pair of shoes or even an egg centre stage. These pieces are given a Kate-make over in the process too, adding her highly colourful, textural, playful “and a bit surreal” stylistic approach which draws on the visual tendencies of illustrators from the 60s and 70s.
Looking back to this time frame for colour inspiration, a specific colour palette is one of the main recognisable factors in Kate’s output. “I like colours that create a mood, so I’m really attracted to peachy oranges, deep yellows and rusty reds – all colours that make me think of being out in the sun too long,” as she puts it. Usually drawing first on procreate and then moving over to Photoshop, it’s here that Kate additionally adds heavy, almost felt tip style fluffy textures to her pieces. Considering her work always features these textures, they’re a factor which inspire or influence other elements, such as colour or line work. “I can’t really see the colours properly until I have the textures in there, because the way the textures interact with the colours adds so much depth and changes the vibrancy,” adds the illustrator. “Once I find colours that look the way I like with texture, I tend to use those again and again.”
Often providing a visual metaphor in her pieces too, Kate’s process for what she’ll actually draw includes a large chunk of thinking, and some word association. Explaining how at first she’ll gather “a bunch of images in a doc” to make notes which she can then have some word play with. “Word association can be a great way to get an unexpected idea, so I often make lists of loose words, then read them back and try to see if there are any surprising or interesting relationships,” she explains. Then refining a selection she likes best, and once the art director she’s working with has signed off on a mutual direction, she’ll ink and colour the drawings before adding the texture at the last minute.
Each of these thoughtful processes all aim towards Kate creating a certain kind of atmosphere in her works, one which certainly speaks with its own tone of voice now. It means Kate can’t land on one possible object when we ask what her favourite thing to draw is, stating how anything new is exciting for her, “like an industrial wood chipper or something,” she says, “I’d be psyched to do it.”
This enthusiasm is something that still gives the viewer the sense Kate is still deeply in love with her craft, and still learning its ins and outs. And, having just made the decision to go full-time as an illustrator too, we look forward to seeing what atmospheres Kate will create next.
Kate Dehler: The Washington Post (Copyright © Kate Dehler 2020)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.