Art: Kayleigh Waters, a mini profile
By Mary Ann Ebner
arttimesjournal February 24, 2017
Kayleigh Waters tells stories. Some trail off imaginatively while others close with exclamation points, but all rely on visuals to convey message and meaning. She tackles issues, shares observations and entertains with drawings.
The younger version of the 23-year-old didn’t need a portfolio, studio, or distinguished degree to identify as an artist. With a stream of ideas and a supply of Ticonderoga #2 HB soft pencils, she found herself equipped and adapted to a routine of daily drawing, detailing a mix of life from light humor to the darker side.
Waters jokes that artist friends say they’ve been drawing since they could hold a pencil, and for many artists—Waters included—it’s no exaggeration.
“I’d say since fifth grade, I started drawing satire of the teachers,” Waters said. “I started passing it around to the students and they liked it.”
Now living in New York’s Hudson Valley, the Highland Falls resident recognizes a lifestyle of moving around with her family and reading comic books as early influences on her work. A lively girl sporting a pile of wavy red hair—undeniably a self-portrait—makes recurring appearances in her watercolor illustrations.
“Comic books, not just superhero, but comic books from Italy and Japan were a big influence,” Waters said. “We still have some like the old Adventures of Tintin from my grandma and my grandfather had a lot of World War II comics about soldiers. I’ve read the old classics and new Batman and cartoon styles are becoming more diverse instead of pure slapstick.”
Thanks to an enrollment at Leilehua High School in Hawaii, Waters found a mentor who recognized her abilities.
“When my family lived in Hawaii I went to high school there for about a year and a half and they had a phenomenal art program,” she said. “Lawrence Taguba was my teacher and his class was a lot of pencil artwork, portraits mainly, and I was getting started with cartooning. He really got me into it as a career option.”
Taguba describes his former student’s work as whimsical, employing the color palette with skill. Her aptitude stood out in his classroom, and she applied that talent further. He notes that artists can abstract their style, but in today’s illustration and cartooning circles, young artists need to develop drawing abilities.
“If Disney or Pixar had to choose from someone who could draw well and someone who could only manipulate digital images,” he said, “they would select the person who draws.”
Before Waters could complete her high school studies in Hawaii, her military family moved to West Point in the heart of the Hudson Valley, but she reunited with Taguba in New York for the 2010 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards program where she was awarded a Scholastic National Medal for drawing.
“When Kayleigh won this award I told her I was going to go and we were on stage at Carnegie Hall and it was amazing,” Taguba said. “Now she’s living her dream. I knew she could do it. She was a very good student academically and could have studied anything.”
She graduated in 2012 from James I. O’Neill High School in Highland Falls, secured a broad base of scholarships, and earned a spot at New York City’s School of Visual Arts. Taguba has seen many talented students in 39 years of teaching drawing and painting, and the best demonstrate an ability to look deeply into themselves, to be critiqued in every way, and to possess self-discipline. He saw those qualities—along with an understanding of drawing the human face—in Waters.
The 2016 SVA graduate practiced nearly every medium imaginable as part of the school’s ambitious curriculum. Studying in an innovative program and living on campus for four years provided a focused artistic setting.
“For seniors, a select few are assigned a cubicle for their studio,” Waters said. “You could decorate it, keep all your supplies there and it was only two or three blocks from the dorm. Here was a place where I could interact with other artists and other illustrators.”
With a degree in hand, the graduate moved a drafting table to her Hudson Valley home studio. She stays in touch with artists through social media and by meeting up where former classmates follow each other’s storyboards. Waters is currently doing magazine cartooning, including political satire, but her primary interests remain in telling visual stories specifically for children. She shares the experience of bouncing around the country as a military brat to provide a glimpse into the highs and lows of that reality.
“I like the idea of mixing fantasy and imagination,” she said. “I don’t want to talk down to kids and I want to be able to tell engaging stories through children’s books and cartoons. My teachers would say there’s never been a better time or worse time to be an illustrative artist but we have to be competitive.”
Like other contemporary artists, to balance creativity with commerce, she maintains a website, lists with an agency, checks in with online career sites, sends out promotional material and supports other artists. She creates everything from murals and family portraits to West Point landmarks and Hudson River views.
“The energy of the city is nice, but I consider the Hudson Valley more of my home,” she said. “I love the trees, the environment, and the river is stunning. I go running a lot and each time I see a great place for a story to be set.”
Several of her works are on view at a small restaurant a few blocks from her home. In “Million Dollar View of Trophy Point,” a lone sailboat rests on the Hudson while a puffy pillowy backdrop of clouds commands the skyline. The restaurant’s owner said he relates to the scene, which mirrors the local landscape, and if a stretch of wall space helps a young artist, he’ll continue to display Kayleigh’s art.
(Mary Ann Ebner lives in the Hudson Valley and writes about food, family and the arts)
(For more information about Kayleigh, visit Kayleighwaters.com and Rockboundhighlandhome.com.)