• Hilary Kelley

The Fash and the Fillious

This is an evolution story.

I never took an art class; a fact about which I, by turns, have been both boastful and embarrassed.

It's not that I wasn't allowed or that I didn't want to, it just didn't happen. By the time I started making my own decisions in school I already knew I could draw (I probably thought I was the shit, let's be real), so I exorcised my creative energies through theater.

The first art I ever made, according to my mom, was a big purple egg pasted with little pictures. She was ridiculously proud, my glue game was tight. The first ever art I remember making was a drawing of a very long-bodied dog.

It was always just my thing. I couldn't handle the constraints of coloring books, so I wrote little stories and illustrated them. When I decided it was time to get serious (around age 6 or 7), I posted up at the kitchen counter with a horse model and learned how to sketch anatomy.

Maybe you think I meant a model horse.

No, I mean a horse who is a model. A Fashion Star Filly.

I couldn't care less for Barbies or humanoid dolls, but weirdly sexualized horse figurines? Over here, please. I had an army of gorgeous femme fashion-forward equines whose rich and complicated inner lives dominated most of my playtime. Within the whole collection available there was only one male horse character, of course there was going to be drama.

Where is the designer manure bag tho

The good thing is they were mostly anatomically proportional (genitalia notwithstanding, or present), so I quickly learned about muscles and curves and knuckles and muzzle-length-to-ear ratio. I can still draw a damn good horse from memory.

I never really stopped drawing. In my teens I focused on my favorite musicians (Thom York, Fiona Apple, Beck) and made moody graphite sketches of their faces. I gravitated towards black ink line drawings of angsty women trying to sleep. It was for fun and it was to see what I could do, but not until about 2009 did I begin to think that this ability would translate into a sort of career.

I thought I would be really into expensive markers, Copics and Chartpaks. I was getting an itch for the blend of watercolor but it'd be another two years before I realized it.


I don't look back at these and dismiss them as bad or unskilled and neither do I praise them for their effort. I often examine these and wonder who I thought I was.

i mean sure, but why? (2011ish)

A lot of the old work is grasping at high-concept, self-importance. I felt like I was contributing social commentary, but I remember some of these ideas coming out half-baked and feeling "yeah this is good enough to run with."

That might be the biggest difference between then and now. I've improved in skill, but I've also long since let go of the compulsion to force that commentary. I had to learn to relax and allow ideas to come. I can trash a painting halfway through if I think I'm forcing it.

These days, I can identify three distinct voices inside me when it comes to creating: the head, the heart, and the body. If the head latches onto a turn of phrase or a poem or story and can manifest an image for it, we go with that. If the heart needs to pour out we go with that. And if my fingers just need to make a particular shape, we go with that. There's a focus on development of skill and finding a voice when we talk about evolving as artists, but for me, the most significant growth has come just from listening to and learning my own language.


You can be complex and create work that has intense social impact and work that devastates and work that needs to be sat in front of, quietly, while it sinks into a person. You can create work that no one will understand but you. If it's what compels you, then it's the right thing. I love those pieces, we need more of those pieces.

But sometimes you just want to draw a horse.

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