M-J Kelley Studio - Onward (pencil)

The early years

After receiving a degree in Art History from Carleton University in Ottawa, I moved to Los Angeles. There I studied figurative drawing at the Brentwood Art Center for four years.

My figurative drawing teacher was the ever-talented Stephen Douglas. He taught me to “climb that mountain with your teeth.” Figure drawing is that tough. But he didn’t just teach the mechanics; he also talked of the philosophy of art. One day after mentioning to him that I needed a studio he said to me,

“You need a way to draw, not a place to draw.”

He was so right.

M-J Kelley Studio - Onward (pencil)
Common Sense is Not a Flower That Grows in Everyone’s Garden

The in-between years

After four years in Los Angeles, I moved to  San Francisco having had decided that earning an MFA in painting was all I needed. I was again incorrect.

Though the additional study was important, the education lacked and was costly. After a year and a half, I left the program and wandered off aimlessly with disappointment and debt trailing close by.

I replied to an ad, “looking for a wildlife illustrator,” and got the job. I feverishly began drawing realistic wildlife from photographs. Jobs come and go but I learned about drawing animals including house cats, dogs and birds.

Figured drawing is sight-based drawing. Animals drawings are from photographs (mostly). What I didn’t do was draw from my imagination, well not yet anyway.

In 2000 I moved to Kansas City, Missouri. Though I loved drawing the human form and animals I knew there was something missing.

I wanted to say something with my artwork. But how?

Well, I came across a course called Cartooning, Comic Art and Sequential Storytelling. It was a continuing adult education class being held at KC Art Institute.

It was about drawing from your imagination. At first, I was really bad at it.  Which really surprised me. But I got over myself and ended up studying with the marvellous Rick Stasi for four years. It was with this that I started my migration to cartooning.

M-J Kelley's drawing My Workload. A self-portrait with Elephants Beast and Burden.
My Workload

These last few years

I have been back in the Toronto area since 2007. I still draw the human form. And I still draw animals. But I mostly work from my imagination.

I don’t have a studio. Instead, I have a coffee table, a pile of sketchbooks, and a bunch of pencils and erasers.

Most importantly what I have is a way to draw and a way to say something.

I draw every morning. I don’t know what I am going to find on the page. But there is usually something and with it a story.

I am a visual storyteller.