Kelly Anna is the British designer behind increasingly popular figurative prints that are energetic, bright, bold with confident mark making – and most of them celebrate modern femininity in a way that’s captured the attention of the likes of Cara Delevingne and Beyonce. Kelly's subjects are often athletic female figures in the midst of remarkably elegant movement, accompanied by inspiring quotes like 'Work it like everyone's watching', or 'Survival of the slickest.'
We spoke to Kelly Anna about her unique style, creating bold slogans and what femininity looks like for the modern woman.
Using the sketchbook, smartpen and companion app, freehand drawings from paper to your smartphone screen can be transferred in real time, helping to speed up a creative process that relies on transferring sketches to Photoshop, for example. We’ve added it to our Christmas gift guide for artists and designers.
Kelly Anna was one of four artists commissioned by Huawei to share their work using the technology, alongside Olaf Hajek from Germany, Jonathan Calugi from Italy and Bruno Mangyuko from France. Watch the video above to see Kelly's creative process.
Kelly started drawing from a young age. She was a professional dancer and gymnast, but used to live illustrate competitions and shows with the advice of her father, an artist himself, to guide her.
"My dad always taught me to be really, really confident with your mark making and never hesitate," she says.
"A lot of artists starting out are quite conscious of the lines they make, but dad always taught me to draw what you see, and that’s really helped with my development."
Using confident lines and years of observing athletes in different forms – whether it be sport, dance or the Olympics – Kelly has garnered a unique mixed media style that always begins with an original sketch.
"I don’t think I could start the process without jotting notes and words to see where it begins. It’s really important for me, especially as an artist working on so many different projects at one time," she says.
Kelly's creative process is meticulous – a constant moving back and forth between analogue and digital work.
"It starts with hand drawing, and then I scan that in and work on Photoshop, then I go to Illustrator, then back to Photoshop; it just depends on what I’m working on," she says.
"One style might work better in Photoshop, one style might work better with really clean lines in Illustrator, and then I’ll usually print that out, work over the top of it, and scan it back in, so I work a lot on these different mediums."
Kelly creates simple yet inspiring slogans, mantras even, that she weaves into the artwork (as seen here).
"I just started playing with words the way I play with my paper collage, so I’ll think of words that relate to the project, write them down, rip them up and collage them," she says.
"That way you’re not thinking too hard about what you’re trying to say. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense and sometimes comes out as a banger."
Kelly's female figures show strength as well as elegance and a range of body shapes. Her work is not only visually impressive, it contributes to the growing social movement of female empowerment, equality and ‘silence breaking’. Just note the events of the past year – waves of sexual assault accusations against high-profile men and scrutiny over the gender pay gap – to see the works of a society accepting modern femininity. Time’s Person of the Year acknowledged women who spoke out against sexual harassment and assault.
"When you think of the word feminine years ago, you think women behind the scenes, but now being feminine is quite strong, and being feminine is being confident and powerful and brave," she says.
"I’m quite a tomboy myself, but I hate using that phrase. I love wearing men’s clothing but I love being feminine as well; the lines are so blurred now.
"I think being feminine now is a lot more than what is was years ago, and I think that’s something exciting to explore; I definitely haven’t explored it enough."
Her advice for female artists with a less-established career but who want to create their own voice of encouragement through artwork, is to be confident, work hard and explore your own voice and illustrative style.
"Believe in your own voice and own opinions and don’t be afraid to show people what you really believe is right, and also just have fun with it.
"I think a lot of the time young girls are so worried now about their image, and that’s a lot to do with social media and it can be quite dangerous. They’re not truly exploring what they can be."
Kelly, like many artists we meet, is extremely humble about her success. Her prints have been worn by Beyonce and Cara Delevingne, and although this has helped her profile, she says it can only get you so far.
"I didn’t even know Beyonce had worn my stuff. And my mate was like, 'Isn’t that your print?' And I was like, 'What? Oh right yeah, it is'," she says.
"In print design you’re going to see your stuff out there, but to be honest, I don’t really think about that. It’s nice to see your work go from 2D to 3D and if someone’s wearing it that’s amazing, but its more about the artwork being appreciated."
Kelly’s currently working on a number of major projects expected to be released next spring. She has her first solo exhibition in spring also, and she’s looking at different mediums for her artwork, such as still life photography and set design.
Here are some more of her prints.