Society of Illustrators Student Exhibition

Every year thousands of students from across the United States enter the prestigious Society of Illustrators Student Exhibition, but only a small fraction of those entries make it in to the final exhibition.  The exhibition is held annually at the Museum of Illustration at the Society of Illustrators in New York. We are proud to announce that four of our students had work selected for exhibition! Congratulations to Jasmine Mendez ('18), Hannah Gibbs ('19), MacKenzie Fulmer ('19) and Isaac Lee ('20)!!

The Student Scholarship 2019 Exhibition opens on May 8 and runs through June 9, 2018. 

 Jasmine Mendez, '18

Jasmine Mendez, '18

 Hannah Gibbs, '19

Hannah Gibbs, '19

 MacKenzie Fulmer, '19

MacKenzie Fulmer, '19

 Isaac Lee, '20

Isaac Lee, '20

Spring 2018 April Student Feature: Sarah Tennant

Happy Wednesday everyone! We're wrapping up the semester of the student features with Junior Sarah Tennant! 


1.      Tell us about yourself! What’s your name, where are you from?

I'm Sarah Tennant, a junior in illustration hailing from Miami, FL

2.      Why illustration? What brought you to KCAI?

I love to tell stories and I love to draw; I've made up characters and stories since before I can remember! Illustration combines these two interests so it was only natural that I gravitate toward it. You could argue that animation would satisfy these interests just as well, but I'm a very methodical person so, after much consideration, I concluded illustration was the better fit for me. I'm not fast enough or committed enough to draw roughly the same thing over and over 12 times for one second of film. Illustration also felt like the most direct route to comics and character design, the areas of art I currently wish to pursue as a career.

I came to KCAI in a very roundabout way, but it was one that told me I was meant to be here and do this. I applied to many colleges, some of which were art schools (such as KCAI), some of which were liberal arts. I thought if I went to an art school, I would sacrifice liberal arts classes such as science, language, literature, and the performing arts. I also felt pushed by family and respected adults to go to a liberal arts school in order to be more well-rounded and marketable. I ended up going to Wheaton College in Norton, MA. While I loved my academic classes and professors, I felt extremely unsatisfied with their art program and thought I was headed toward a dead end. The art classes were small, geared toward fine arts, and were difficult to get into. Most of my classmates didn't seem to take art as seriously as I and my skill set as a freshman were already on par with most seniors; I didn't think I was learning the skills I needed or that I'd have a strong portfolio prepared upon graduation. I felt like my art was playing second fiddle to academics and it was depressing. My illustration professor at Wheaton told me that I belonged at an art school, and she brought illustrator Yuko Shimizu as a guest speaker for our class, where I was reminded through her speech that it's never too late to pursue a career in art. With the encouragement of friends, I applied to two art schools (one being KCAI). I knew now that art was most important to me and had to come first. Ultimately I chose KCAI because this school offered Japanese Language, a class I always wanted to take, and I knew people from my high school in KCAI's illustration department that were happy with it. I had enough credits from Wheaton to transfer directly into illustration as a sophomore, and I've been very happy here since. I'm challenged, able to focus on my art, and learn valuable skills I need for an art career alongside peers who are just as inspiring and inspired as I am.


3.      What medium do you prefer?

My preferred media are pen and ink, digital, watercolor, and markers. I like to combine digital and traditional art, too, since I like both mediums equally

4.      Favorite project thus far and why?

I'm not very good at picking favorites, so I'll just say that I enjoy the projects that give me the most leeway to draw what I want, such as my characters. When you're intrinsically motivated you have the most fun. I absolutely love that this semester is almost exclusively focused on narrative, especially comics. We had an assignment where we had to draw a comic every day. I learned whether I liked comics or not very quickly. I concluded that so long as I don't burn myself out, draw what I like, and don't get overwhelmed by the details, I really enjoy making them. I was also forced to get over my fear of drawing comics. I was always intimidated by making so many drawings on one page and having to draw things I've never drawn before. I was convinced I was too slow and paralyzed to be part of the professional comics industry. Then I procrastinated and had to draw a large number of comics in about three days. That was the end of that fear! The comics didn't look bad either.

5.      Who and or what is an inspiration for you in art making?

I draw inspiration from many different things. Movies, books, video games, and especially music. Science fiction and fantasy are huge for me too. If there is a story about the human condition somewhere, it is inspiring, as I like to focus on people and their relationships in my art. Of course, I am also very inspired by the work of fellow artists, such as Yoshitaka Amano, Becky Cloonan, Ayami Kojima, Harry Clarke, Yoji Shinkawa, Takeshi Obata, J C Leyendecker...the list goes on. 

unnamed (2).jpg

6.      Go to tool for sketching and idea making?

I tend to just grab a pencil, preferably one with colored led (like red), and start scribbling in my sketchbook. If I like the sketch and end up working on it further, I find a colored undesketch easier to remove digitally. Sakura pens are also helpful for fleshing out ideas. If I'm feeling really stiff with a pencil, I will pick up my trusty old bamboo fun tablet and try drawing on the computer, and vice versa. One of the two usually works in the end.

7.      What is your favorite go to meal?

I usually eat whatever is on hand at the moment because I'm a broke college student, but lately, I've taken to cream cheese and smoked salmon on brown sugar cinnamon toast. It makes me feel a little more sophisticated and it beats being fueled by ramen.

unnamed (1).jpg

8.      If you were not doing art, what do you think you would be studying or doing instead?

I'd probably be an actor, author or musician. Though I intend to pursue these career options in the future anyway! I always thought astrophysics and biomedical tech were cool, too, but I'm not good enough at math to even think about working in those fields seriously, so that will just remain a hobby!

9.      What other types of work interest you?

Pixel art interests me and I'd like to explore painting more. Specifically acrylic paints and gouache.

unnamed (3).jpg

Social Media: 


Instagram: @raconteurreaper


Seniors draw at Kansas City University of Medicine and BioSciences

Assistant Professor David Terrill recently took his senior Cultural Safari sketchbook class to observe medical students dissect donor cadavers at Kansas City University of Medicine and BioScience (KCUMB). These donors gave their bodies to science to further our knowledge of the human anatomy and to train our future doctors. David and the seniors worked alongside the med students and anatomy fellows. They drew as they dissected the cadavers. When I asked David about it, he said "It was a humbling and fascinating experience." After their visit, David received an email from one of the anatomy fellows with a watercolor attached. He was so inspired by their visit that he went out and started drawing himself. 

 Everyone that enters the classroom lab is required to wear a lab coat. KCAI Illustration seniors Kaitlyn Jordan, Jose Leal, Miles Klos and Jesse Bonniwell are ready to draw!

Everyone that enters the classroom lab is required to wear a lab coat. KCAI Illustration seniors Kaitlyn Jordan, Jose Leal, Miles Klos and Jesse Bonniwell are ready to draw!

The professor is “live” dissecting a cadaver at the beginning of the lab in a central part of the lab. The students all have a monitor above each station where they are dissecting at the same time. They pause and watch, get the idea of what to do, and go from there.

 David Terrill

David Terrill

 David Terrill

David Terrill

I wanted share some of the pages from my sketchbook from our first trip to KCUMB yesterday. It was an AMAZING experience. I ended up with 14 seniors observing med students actively dissecting the donors. We had the ability to roam and draw what we liked. Even the opportunity to dissect ourselves. Lots of great conversations with the Medical Fellows and mutual love of drawing. It was a crowded environment with well over 100 med students with a 30-ish cadavers on tables. Lots of technology as well broadcasting the professor demonstrating the dissections on the head and neck.

We are going back tomorrow morning from 10-12. We will have a different experience Wednesday where we will have the dissection theatre to ourselves with a Fellow showing us anatomy and dissections in a "one on one" environment. We can dissect if we wish to.

The students held up well. Only one student had to step out on a couple of occasions. We even had one student attend that wasn't originally going to come. He was glad he did.

We were officially through at 3pm, but my ride wasn't arriving until 4:15. I was allowed to stay and draw in the next session of students coming in to dissect. One of the seniors stayed with me and we were able to get another hour of drawing in.

I am now so fascinated with the anatomy, perhaps I would have been an anatomist is another life.  It’s pretty sobering and amazing at the same time.

- David Terrill, March 2018

David is currently gathering images from the students. Below are a few from the initial trip. Many thanks to the folks at the Kansas City University of Medicine and BioSciences for allowing our students to come by and draw. 

 Jasmine Mendez

Jasmine Mendez

 Claire Harlow

Claire Harlow

 Jesse Bonniwell

Jesse Bonniwell

 Jack Mied

Jack Mied

 Miles Klos

Miles Klos

Whittier Elementary Mural project: Part One

Over the past several years, Assistant Professor Hector Casanova and KCAI Illustration juniors have been partnering with the Kansas City Public School District to add large scale murals to several area schools. The first mural they created, for Scarritt Elementary, added a spark of life, beauty and positivity to this closed, blighted school. Although there has been some tagging since the murals were installed, the bulk of the murals remain intact. Since that project, Hector and the juniors have moved onto a project with Whittier Elementary. We caught up with Hector recently for a bit of an update on that project and how this kind of collaborative work finds its way into the curriculum.

Do you have any new mural sites in mind for after Whittier Elementary school is complete?

We expect to finish the Whittier Elementary mural this Fall. After that is finished, we hope to continue working with the Kansas City Public School District. There are other schools that the school district has put forth for consideration: R.J. Delano School on Linwood Boulevard, Primitivo Garcia on the West Side, and Northeast High School. Once we finish Whittier, we'll determine which one of these (or any other candidates that come up) will be the best fit for us. 

 KCAI Illustration junior Eli Harris talking to the kids at Whittier about his teams' mural

KCAI Illustration junior Eli Harris talking to the kids at Whittier about his teams' mural

Has anybody contacted you about having the students provide a mural for their business?

Yes, a few times. I have passed on these possibilities to students who have expressed interest, and some of them have panned out into paying gigs. Some have fizzled out, when the budget or timeline was not a good fit for artist and client. 

How did you come to the decision of the color palette used throughout the mural?

Keeping the color palette limited is crucial to keep everything looking cohesive, especially when there are so many artists with diverse styles working on a project. Finalizing the color palette for this project was challenging, as the school principal at Whittier wanted the murals to reflect the school's cultural diversity, and each section represents a different nationality. I narrowed down the palette to 4 colors total (plus black and white). Each section only uses three colors, which reflect that section's cultural heritage or colors common in the flags from those regions: the Africa section used red, gold and green (the Pan-African color palette), Asia used red, gold, and blue, Latin America was red, green and gold, North America was red, white and blue, etc... This helped all sections remain visually integrated to the adjacent sections. 

 Team Wildcat working on their section of the Whittier Mural

Team Wildcat working on their section of the Whittier Mural

What makes murals so important? Why is this a project that you integrate in the junior year curriculum?

So much of the work that we make as illustrators is viewed by the public, but its presence is fleeting: magazine covers, websites, posters: they're in the public eye for a few moments, but have a relatively short shelf life. That's the nature of working within popular culture. Murals are one way in which illustrators can tangibly shape the world around them in a lasting way: the can help give a community a sense of identity, become a visual landmark, infuse color and energy into a blighted neighborhood, stimulate conversation and bring art to people who may never have set foot in an art gallery or museum... It's the most democratic art form there is: once a mural is painted, it cannot be bought or sold; it belongs to the people who live in the community. As far as why it is in the curriculum, there are two big reasons: I think it is important for art students to understand and embrace their power to shape the world in very tangible ways through their art, affecting positive change and literally making their mark on a community... and also, to push them to tackle a project much much bigger than they would've likely tackled on their own... We tend to underestimate ourselves, and sometimes diving into the deep end will show us that we are capable of much more than we may have realized. All it takes is courage and focus to break a big project down into smaller chunks.

 Team Wildcat's completed mural section

Team Wildcat's completed mural section

 Team Dragonfruit's completed mural section

Team Dragonfruit's completed mural section

How do you want to impact the community and KCAI through the mural projects?

The two mural projects we have done are both on public school buildings: Scarritt Elementary and Whittier Elementary. Both schools are in the urban core. At its most basic level, the impetus for both projects was to serve as deterrent to graffiti tags. Cities all around the world have discovered that one of the most effective ways to prevent tagging is through murals. Taggers tend to prefer blank walls; if a wall has art that they an appreciate, they usually move on in search of another target. But the graffiti deterrence is just one aspect. Walls covered with graffiti tags are be an eye sore to residents and can make a neighborhood feel unsafe, and murals help ameliorate that problem. But another, more subtle effect can have even bigger repercussions: the infusion of art into a neglected neighborhood can help boost morale for the community, foster a sense of civic pride in neighbors, and even stimulate the local economy: The streets feel safer, the murals attract onlookers, and with increased pedestrians activity, local businesses thrive... over time, murals can help an economically depressed neighborhood rebound and potentially become a tourist destination, as has happened in San Francisco, Philadelphia and Richmond, Virginia. 

As far as impacting KCAI... this project is an opportunity for us as an institution to use our talents and abilities to make Kansas City into a better, safer, more vibrant and more beautiful city. Increasing our presence, visibility and impact in the community helps us not only be better neighbors, but allows us to give back to the city that has been a haven for artists for so many years. 

 A mother and daughter out for a walk in their neighborhood stop by the mural

A mother and daughter out for a walk in their neighborhood stop by the mural

When did you first get the idea to assign the mural project? Were there challenges in getting the project started?

I wanted to do some sort of large scale public art project with students as soon as I started teaching full time. For the reasons that I mentioned, I think that tackling a huge ambitious project, and using your artwork to make the world a better place are both very important things to do as an art student. I had done a few community beautification projects before, but teaching opened doors to tackle much bigger projects. As a teacher, I have an army of talented artists, and together we can do so much more than any one artist could ever do alone. 

There were many challenges getting a project off the ground: my first year, I sent out dozens of emails and made tons of phone calls to anyone who I thought may be interested in a community beautification project. Various branches of city government, grassroots organizations, neighborhood associations, etc. There were a lot of dead ends, and some false starts that fizzled out halfway through. For a long time, things didn't look very hopeful... Not giving up was the hardest part, and every few weeks I would send out a new batch of emails to get the word out. Eventually, Dr. Luis Cordoba at the KC Public School District heard of my wish to start a mural project, and called me in for a meeting. And the rest is history.

 KCAI juniors touching up the mural after installation

KCAI juniors touching up the mural after installation

BIG thanks to Hector for taking time out of his busy schedule to chat with us! We're looking forward to the next round of murals, which will be happening this fall. 

Spring 2018 March Student Feature Rachel Smith

Hello everyone! Happy Thursday, it is the last week of March and we have senior Rachel Smith to feature! 


1. Tell us about yourself! What’s your name, where are you from?

Well, My name is Rachel Smith. I’m currently living in Blue Springs Missouri and I have lived there for most of my life. I have lived in the Kansas City area for all of my life and I have never lived in another state.

My Little Muse.JPG

2. Why illustration? What brought you to KCAI?

I was brought to KCAI out of an interest in art in general, and to tell the truth it was the dream school for me. I will honestly say that I was very interested in making a comic when I first transferred into KCAI, though some things have changed a lot since then and I have found the place in my artwork where I belong . . . at least for now. I hope that my work will continue to evolve as time progresses.

3. What medium do you prefer?

I prefer to use dimensional media, such as clay. However, my sculpture style is mixed media in nature. However, I will always love flat media as well, such as: ink, markers, watercolor and colored pencils. Even if they are not my strong suit.


4. Favorite project thus far and why?

Hmmm… there have been so many projects that I have a hard time picking a single one. I did really like the rail project from sophomore year though and the animal mask that we made as well. I’m looking back now and I wonder if even then my mind knew that dimensional work was what I needed to be doing. I wasn’t doing a lot of dimensional work at the time so I think that is why I might have enjoyed them so much. Also, our rail day was on Star Wars day . . . mine was a Y-wing . . .

5. Who and or what is an inspiration for you in art making?

A lot of the time the people around me are my greatest inspirations, my classmates have caused some great conversations between all of us. I also follow Salley Mavor on Instagram and her art is fun and interesting. Chris Sickels is also someone who has inspired me quite a bit and his artwork helped me to find the style that I use now. History and mythology are also inspirations for me as well, though this is for some more recent ideas that are still in the design phase. Also, Youtube.

6. Go to tool for sketching and idea making?

When I am sketching just about anything will do, however, I prefer for my sketchbooks to have thicker paper, as then I can use markers or watercolor easier. Usually I try to use a mixed media level paper at the very least. I have also started to create initial sketches with a lead holder that holds a non-photo blue lead in it and I have one of those sandpaper pad paddle things to keep the led sharp. I’m sorry, I don’t know what they are called exactly. I just know that they are incredibly useful.


7. What is your favorite go to meal?

Hmm . . . anyone that lives with me knows that when I want something fast and don’t want to cook then I will microwave a burrito to eat . . . If I feel okay with cooking (and I have the ingredients) I would go for some mac-n-cheese with sliced up hotdogs and peas mixed in. Tasty! I can also substitute chicken or ham if I don’t have hotdogs.

8. If you were not doing art, what do you think you would be studying or doing instead?

If I were not doing art, which is a lie because I would always be drawing no matter what major I had, I would likely be studying math or science, probably physics which is a great connection between the both.

Yuki Onna (1).jpg

9. What other types of work interest you?

I love to write. I’ve got a lot of stories in my head that I hope to get out of my head someday and on to “paper.”


I am on instagram and Tumblr (though my Tumblr is dead at the moment).  I am @RandomAsymmetry on both. Come to my Instagram for my daily drawings and ramblings.

Spring 2018 February Student Feature: Brinnon Schaub

Happy Tuesday everybody! To help wrap up the month of February we have Senior Brinnon Schaub to feature.


1. Tell us about yourself! What’s your name, where are you from?

Brinnon Schaub 

My spirit animal is a Pancake. 

I'm from West Des Moines, Iowa.

2. Why illustration? What brought you to KCAI?

I chose Illustration simply because I love to draw and be creative.

3. What medium do you prefer?

I use a lot of colored pens.


4. Favorite project thus far and why? 

One of my favorite past projects was the Layered Narrative assignment, junior year. I literally layered my own sketches during a lecture. What I created for that project initiated my own specific drawing aesthetic.

5. Who and or what is an inspiration for you in art making?

I'm inspired by locations. Being apart of an environment urges me to document and dissect it. I'm also inspired by illustrators who have a keen eye for detail and accuracy such as Syd Mead and Kim Jung Gi.


6. Go to tool for sketching and idea making?

If I had to do a quick sketch, I'd probably find a pen or pencil.

7. What is your favorite go to meal?

KRAFT Macaroni & Cheese


8. If you were not doing art, what do you think you would be studying or doing instead?

If I wasn't studying art I'd probably be studying architecture.

9. What other types of work interest you?

SCAT and Baking (frosting cakes more specifically)

Spring 2018 February Student Feature: Michelle Julmisse

Howdy all! We're back for the Spring semester for some new students to feature! Here we have Michelle Julmisse who is currently a junior.


1. Tell us about yourself! What’s your name, where are you from?

Hey! My name is Michelle Julmisse, and I was born and raised in Miami, Florida.

2. Why illustration? What brought you to KCAI?

I always loved to draw. When attending portfolio days in high school, I noticed that on top of offering better scholarships than most places, KCAI was always one of the nicest schools I got reviewed by. When I came here, I originally wanted to study graphic design, but seeing the end-of-semester show at the illustration department reminded me that I (again) love to draw, and that it's all I want to do.


3.  What medium do you prefer?

I really like plain old graphite! I feel like it gives me the most control compared to other materials. It's also great for sketches and the early stages of rendering.

4. Favorite project thus far and why?

I think one of my favorite projects was a book cover I made for the visiting artist, Gerard Dubois. After going through a funk for a couple of weeks, I decided to just have fun, create a crazy narrative, and do the kind of art I was feeling. It ended up being one my favorite pieces in my portfolio.


5. Who and or what is an inspiration for you in art making?

I find that my faith is my major source of inspiration. As a Christian, trying to incorporate Biblical themes into my pieces is the fun challenge that keeps me going. I find that those meaningful messages in my projects give me a lot of peace and encouragement, and my hope is that my work can do the same for someone else.

6.  Go to tool for sketching and idea making?

Whenever I’m having trouble coming up with an idea for a project, Pinterest is my go-to! For me, going there is the quickest and most efficient way to find inspiration. When I finally start to come up with something, I like to use colored lead pencils for preliminary sketches.


7.  What is your favorite go to meal?

Chipotle, Chipotle, CHIPOTLE. A hearty bowl full of rice, beans, chicken, pico and corn for less than $10 is always gonna be one of my favorites!

8. If you were not doing art, what do you think you would be studying or doing instead?

I think I would go into teaching. I like kids, and I enjoy helping people understand things. In elementary and middle school, I remember I had a few instructors who were kind, inspiring, and interested in art even though they weren’t art teachers. I would want to be a lot like them, teaching art or history by day, but being a productive artist by night.

9. What other types of work interest you?

I am deeply interested in writing stories, and narrative and illustration go hand in hand! I hope to better my skills as a visual artist and writer so I can write novels and/or comics in the future and illustrate them all myself.



You can catch me on INSTA @michellejulmisse <3

Thank you so much for this awesome opportunity! :)

Faculty Feature: John Ferry, 3x3 and beyond

Happy 2018 everyone! We're into the third week of the semester and although we're gearing up for a busy semester, we thought we'd take a look back on some of the projects that happened within the Illustration department last fall. Our second faculty feature is on Associate Professor and KCAI Illustration alum ('92) John Ferry. Seniors Jack Mied and Cam Kunke caught up with John recently to talk to him about one of the classes that he teaches in the fall, Color and Space, and what he loves about being an illustrator and educator. 

  Livestock Exchange, Kansas City #1  oil on panel, 11.25 x 13.25 inches, framed

Livestock Exchange, Kansas City #1
oil on panel, 11.25 x 13.25 inches, framed

What inspired you to pursue art? There is no “One” inspiration – it’s a series of - too may to name. I will say, growing up in Decatur, IL, I had a Frank Lloyd Wright home behind my house. My dad loved architecture and Wright, that was probably my first major influence. And my 1st grade teacher wrote on my report card “John draws the best cars in class.”

What is the most rewarding thing you experience as a teacher? Every time a student has a self discovery.

How has teaching influenced your practice? I learn from the students – all of them – that is a blessing.

 sophomores Lauren Koluch (left) and Maddie Knaus (right)&nbsp;working on their 3x3s

sophomores Lauren Koluch (left) and Maddie Knaus (right) working on their 3x3s

 3x3s and 4x4s in progress, Fall 2017

3x3s and 4x4s in progress, Fall 2017

What is one of the most fulfilling things, for you, about being an artist? Being able to sit in my studio and paint, having the time to practice it on a regular basis, learning about myself through my work.

What is one of your favorite anecdotes about KCAI? Well, when I was a junior I was in a painting class in the illustration department. One day my professor was showing me “The Bay Area Figurative Art” book. He pointed out the scissor paintings by Richard Diebenkorn. I saw GOD in those scissors that day. I painted numerous bad paintings of scissors the rest of the day. That was the first book I purchased with a purpose. Not sure this is the anecdote you are looking for – but there it is.

 Richard Diebenkorn

Richard Diebenkorn

What is the purpose of the 3x3/4x4 project? To learn to really see & mix color, to overcome challenging obstacles, to build confidence, to surprise yourself.

 sophomore Marco Defilio with his finished 3x3

sophomore Marco Defilio with his finished 3x3

 sophomore Anh Le with his finished 4x4

sophomore Anh Le with his finished 4x4

What the focus behind pushing the sophomore to use oil rather than acrylic? I like oil better – I think it’s a medium that students are more afraid of than acrylic. It can be very messy and difficult to use. Once we de-stigmatize the medium, our confidence builds.

Which class do you feel most challenges your students? All, possibly figure drawing – the students would say the 4 X 4.

Did you expect to be a professor at your Alma matter? Yes.

Has being a father changed your goals as an artist? No. It’s added to the depth of my painting.

Since graduation how have you seen your work change? Learning and gaining confidence is a blessing. I enjoy so many more other artists’ works’ now. I appreciate more artists as I search. I see and feel growth in all areas. I like feeling like I’m learning.

How has has it stayed similar to what it used to be? Good question – I’m not sure.

What inspirations, outside the illustration community, influence your work? Reading – reading about artists’ work habits, work ethic. Reading to learn about myself. This is a gift I’ve given myself later in life.

  New York x2 #3  oil on panel, 11 x 13 inches,&nbsp;framed

New York x2 #3
oil on panel, 11 x 13 inches, framed

What has been one of the best things about being a professional illustrator? I’m a professional artist – and a student. Someday I’ll reach “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” and become self actualized . . . until then, I still enjoy seeing my work in print. Back in 1996 I got my first review in the “Kansas City Star.” That same morning a man showed up at the gallery before it opening and purchased my first work as a professional. He pointed the the picture in the paper and said “I want that painting.” That was a special day and was very infectious – for good or bad. My father used to say to me – “success breeds success.”

What has been one of the worst things about being a professional illustrator? I hate the feeling of seeing work that had to be turned in (deadline), that doesn’t meet my expectations . . . not every work can be a masterpiece, but you sure feel more pressure when it’s for a client and going to be in print. To feel ashamed of your work is a bad enough feeling – when it’s printed it makes a bad sensation worse.

Can you bench press a bear? When I was a kid I bought a cub - I picked up that cub everyday until one day I was picking up a bear - I couldn't bench press it though.

What's your favorite sports team? I suspect you already know the answer - The 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs - I never thought I'd be able to say that! I did think I would teach at KCAI though.

Thank you, John, for taking the time to talk to us about your class and career! John is currently represented at Blue Gallery in Kansas City.

Fall 2017 December Student Feature: Colin Kettler

For the last week of the semester we'd like to feature one more student before the break. Here is Senior Colin Kettler!

1.  Tell us about yourself! What’s your name, where are you from?  

My name is Colin Kettler and I am from Kansas City.


2.  Why illustration? What brought you to KCAI?

I came to KCAI to study film with little drawing experience. I fell in love with drawing in my foundations year and I ended up going into the painting department. I loved the creative process and the experience of the artwork that was being made around me. I started to crave commercial knowledge and a new point of view so I came to the Illustration department.  

3.  What medium do you prefer?

I prefer paint of any kind. I started with oil paint, then I moved into watercolor, and now I am exploring digital painting. I have recently started painting murals. I also love drawing with charcoal and ballpoint pen.

Layered narrative final.jpg

4.  Favorite project thus far and why?

My favorite project was the layered narrative image project in my narrative class my Junior year. I had a great time painting it and I think it was an important piece for my development.   

5.  Who and or what is an inspiration for you in art making?

I am inspired by my friends and family and also by my faith in Jesus Christ. My favorite painters are J.M.W Turner, John Singer Sargent, and Wayne Thiebaud, and my favorite digital painters are Atey Ghailan, and Pascal Campion.

forest digital painting 2.jpg

6.  Go to tool for sketching and idea making?

My sketchbook and my journal are the idea generating tools for me. I find that I need to write out my thoughts and make a list, and then after that make thumbnail sketches. The list puts my mind at ease and then I am free to create sketches and visual solutions. Lately I have been doing sketches in Photoshop and painting over them. I also work from personal photography. 

7.   What is your favorite go to meal?

My go-to meal is Chipotle because it’s delicious and good for 2 meals, but if I want to treat myself I get a big ol’ BBQ sandwich and fries from Gates or Joe’s KC.

Memory comic pg 2 copy.jpg

8.  If you were not doing art, what do you think you would be studying or doing instead?

I think I would be studying business or accounting, because I like math and I am very interested in small businesses. Or I would be learning some kind of manual labor trade.

9.   What other types of work interest you?

I am also interested in photography and design, and I wish I had time to learn sculpture and ceramics. 

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Contact info:

insta: @kettlercreations


TWO EVENTS this week!!

Hi everyone! It's been a busy, bustling semester! After months of planning, we have two events coming up THIS WEEK here in Kansas City, both of which highlight and feature the work of our junior and senior Illustration students. 

Our first event, The Harvest (held on Thursday, November 30, from 5-8pm), is an annual event that enables students to make connections, meet people and share their work with various individuals from the creative community of Kansas City that we invite to our department for the evening. If you're looking for an intern or are curious about the work that's currently being created within the department, we'd love for you to join us! The event is set up trade-show-style; juniors and seniors will have their portfolios available and will be in attendance for the duration of the evening to answer your questions and share their work with you.

Our second event, ILLUSTRATION NOW (held on Friday, December 1, from 5-8pm), features exceptional junior and senior work that was selected, curated and juried by the faculty. This show is also being held in the Illustration department and coincides with the campus-wide End of Semester shows at KCAI. This show, along with the End of Semester shows, continues throughout the weekend on Saturday, December 2 from 10am-5pm and on Sunday, December 3 from 12-5pm.

The work featured below is a sampling of some of the work that will be featured in ILLUSTRATION NOW 2017. We hope to see you at The Harvest and/or ILLUSTRATION NOW!

KCAI Illustration is located at 324 East 43rd Street, KCMO, 64111. Street parking is available.

 Gabbi Brandini, '18

Gabbi Brandini, '18

 Meredith Lucius, '18

Meredith Lucius, '18

 Vaughn Parish, '19

Vaughn Parish, '19

 Austin Chapman, '19

Austin Chapman, '19

 Jeff Schoenhofen, '19

Jeff Schoenhofen, '19

 Willow Hardman, '19

Willow Hardman, '19

 Brinnon Schaub, '18

Brinnon Schaub, '18

 Arlan Engin, '19

Arlan Engin, '19

 Jess Bonniwell, '18

Jess Bonniwell, '18

Fall 2017 November Student Feature: Rory Frazier

Happy November everyone, we have new students to feature this month! Here we have Senior Rory Frazier!

1.      Tell us about yourself! What’s your name; where are you from?

 I'm Rory! I grew up in South Carolina and moved to Kansas City to go to school here.


2.      Why illustration? What brought you to KCAI?
 I chose KCAI because I liked the campus and the city, and I was awarded relatively more scholarship money here than any of my other options. My original intent was to major in animation, but after one semester of that I knew it wasn't my thing. I wanted to make a living doing creative work, but I wasn't very interested in pursuing a fine art lifestyle, so Illustration was the obvious second choice.

3.      What medium do you prefer?
I really enjoy linoleum block printing or working with pen and ink on paper, but I have a tendency to go with digital solutions.


4.      What’s been your favorite project thus far and why?
The Ouija Board project was a really great opportunity to play with illustrative lettering and design, and I had a lot of fun with it. I love a good hand lettering project!

5.      Who and or what is an inspiration for you in terms of your art making?
I can't think of any specific artists who were hugely influential to my work, but I find a lot of perspective in discussing work with others. For aesthetic inspiration I tend to look at a lot of tattoos, lettering work, plants, animals, and geometric design work.


6.      What’s your go to tool for sketching and idea making?
Sketchbooking is my favorite part of the creative process! I hate erasing stuff so I use a ton of paint markers, mostly Posca brand.

7.      What is your favorite go to meal?
Spaghetti with mushrooms!

8.      If you were not doing art, what do you think you would be studying or doing instead?
I can't see myself participating in society at large if I wasn't pursuing a career as an artist. Without art, typical modern life sounds dreadfully boring. I'd probably be trying to build a self-sustaining home in the wilderness. Maybe I'd join a commune or something.

9.      What other types of work interest you?
I'm really fascinated with high-end cake decorating for some reason? I also love ceramics and glass, and I've always thought that I might like to learn to work with glass some day. 



You can find Rory on other social media platforms here:

instagram: roardraws

Nathan Fox is visiting tomorrow!

Nationally recognized illustration artist and KCAI alumnus Nathan Fox (’97 Illustration) will give a presentation about his life’s work and his role as the Chair of the groundbreaking Master of Fine Arts in Visual Narrative program at the School of Visual Arts in New York on Wednesday, Nov. 8 beginning at 7 p.m. in Epperson Auditorium on the KCAI campus in Kansas City, MO.

Nathan is an award-winning editorial and advertising illustrator, comic book artist and chair of the low-residency, interdisciplinary MFA Visual Storytelling Program for Creative Writing and Visual Arts through the education of the Artist as Author with clients that include The New York Times Newspaper and Magazine, Interview, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Wired, ESPN Magazine, Print, Entertainment Weekly, Mother Jones, Spin, Mad Magazine, MTV Store Windows and T-shirts, Burton US Open, Instant Winner and REAL Skateboards, DC Comics, Vertigo, Dark Horse Comics, Marvel and many other publications and mediums. Other projects include comics, narrative illustration, gallery work, murals, and skate deck designs. 

To view Nathan’s work, go to He is also represented by Bernstein & Andriullli, a creative management agency and media consultancy with offices in New York, USA, London, England, Sydney, Australia, and Shanghai, China.

Nathan will also be giving a ink/brush demo in the Illustration department (324 East 43rd Street, KCMO, 64111) on Friday, November 10 from 12:30-2:30.

 Nathan Fox / Subway poster for SVA

Nathan Fox / Subway poster for SVA

Fall 2017 October Student Feature Lauren Koluch

We have another student feature to help wrap up the month! This is sophomore Lauren Koluch!

1.      Tell us about yourself! What’s your name; where are you from?

My name is Lauren Nicole Koluch: a combination of two common mid-west names and a last name that no one can pronounce. I moved around a lot as a kid, but I was born in Kansas City, Kansas. Right now my older brother and I share an apartment in Kansas city, but our home is back in Liberty with our mom, younger brother, and Tuffy, the most bipolar bichon frise in the world.



2.      Why illustration? What brought you to KCAI?

I was interested in KCAI because of my exposure to the school. I have taken pre-college art classes here and I have followed the work of several artists that graduated from the illustration program. For me this college was a dream choice because I got to stay close to my family and I'm in a major that I know will help me refine the work I am passionate about.

3.      What medium do you prefer?

I've always considered myself a digital artist ever since I got my first tablet in middle schoo. I don't hate traditional mediums, but there's a very streamlined and efficient translation from idea to finalized image within digital art that I adore. Even if I'm working on a traditional piece, I start with several digital sketches to get a clearer concept of the final image. I prefer Photoshop as a digital painting medium.

4.      What’s been your favorite project thus far and why?

My favorite project thus far has been the Ouija board for Hector Casanova's Graphic Form class. The focus on hand lettering is helping me break from my usual style and have a little fun!

5.      Who and or what is an inspiration for you in terms of your art making?

The concept art behind video games and films are always the most inspirational for me. I have several art-books for different movies that feature illustrations of objects, characters, and locations that were sifted through for the final aesthetic of the movie. For me, I love to see the exploration of multiple illustrators invested in one concept, even if their design wasn't chosen in the end.

6.      What’s your go to tool for sketching and idea making?

For concept sketching I always use Photoshop, but when working in a sketchbook I try to keep it fun by incorporating multiple mediums. My favorite materials to throw in are cut paper and glitter. It gets messy

7.      What is your favorite go to meal?

My go to meal will always be a gigantic fruit smoothie because it's sweet, creamy, and pink. A bonus is that you can sneak a broccoli or two in there and you can't even tell.


8.      If you were not doing art, what do you think you would be studying or doing instead?

If I wasn't pursuing art I would focus my studies on the sciences. I have a knack for chemistry, but I'm also interested in biology and psychology.

9.      What other types of work interest you?

Sculpture and 3D modeling work has always fascinated me. Especially when it contains a narrative or sense of action in that space. I'm always interested in art that has an intriguing narrative woven finely into it, no matter what medium.


You can find Lauren on social media!



Fall 2017 October Student Feature: Astrid Blurr

On behalf of the Illustration department, the web team would like to feature students each month in showcasing who is in the department and who they are. Here we have Astrid Blurr!

1.      Tell us about yourself! What’s your name; where are you from?

Hi! My name is Astrid Blurr. I’m from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I love animals, pastel colors, cartoons, video games, comics, so i’m pretty much a media nerd.


2.      Why illustration? What brought you to KCAI?

I actually didn’t know what illustration was, and thought I’d go into something like drawing and painting. I was fortunate enough to go to UNCSA’s high school visual art program my senior year, and they brought representatives from different art schools to give presentations. It was actually when one of the representatives from KCAI came to visit, and during our interview told me I’d do good in Illustration that I really started to look into illustration programs. Along with my really good talk with the KCAI representative, I really loved the mixture of nature and city that Kansas City had, and I really enjoyed the work coming out of Illustration. It felt like the right fit compared to all the other art schools.

3.      What medium do you prefer?

I’m versatile when it comes to choosing a medium, so it depends on the needs of what project i’m working on that I choose what medium I use. Though I primarily use ink for line work, and then I color digitally. It’s the quickest way to work which is why i use it the most.

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4.      What’s been your favorite project thus far and why?

My favorite project thus far is in between the ME project and Maura’s quick zine project. I really loved that the quick turnaround that then gave you the ability to just be goofy and not get attached. I still love looking back at the nonsensical narrative I made. I also loved the ME project because I got to do what I wanted. After three years of doing teacher projects it was really freeing and rewarding.

unwritten volume 1 cover.jpg

5.      Who and or what is an inspiration for you in terms of your art making?

This is really hard to answer because I have so many outlets of inspiration. I’m drawn to Sarah Lasater, Harmony Becker, Studio Ghibli, Steven Universe, music like Glass Animals, and Jungle Giants, and I could go on forever so I’ll stopヽ(o-` _ ′-o)

6.      What’s your go to tool for sketching and idea making?

My go to tool is the classic pencil. It’s erasable because god knows I make a shit ton of mistakes, and it’s easy to draw over with ink.

7.      What is your favorite go to meal?

My go to meal is jarred fruit, easy to travel with and natural/organic enough. I also like eating pickles sometimes. I’m vegan so my “favorite” go to meals are going to be odd.

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8.      If you were not doing art, what do you think you would be studying or doing instead?

Because of my love of animals I actually wanted to be a veterinarian before I realized I wanted to be an artist, but i’m queasy with blood  and super emphatic so that wasn’t going to happen. Considering art was really one of the only things I was good at in school, I might have tried to make it as a singer. I love singing and have been told a lot I have a nice voice, but sadly I have stage fright when it comes to singing, so don’t know how long that would have lasted.

9.      What other types of work interest you?

I’m super interested in game art. I love the idea of making things as simple and as exaggerated as possible while still being readable. I also love visual storytelling, and I think video games are one of the most successful forms of storytelling. Video games like Hyper Light Drifter, Zelda Wind Waker, Stardew Valley, Animal crossing, and Mario Sunshine are my top favorites.

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You can find Astrid on other forms of social media too! 



Faculty Feature: Il Sung Na!

This year the KCAI Illustration Web Team is launching a few new features one of which will focus on our faculty, all of whom are working illustrators/artists. Our first feature is on the newest member of our faculty team, Assistant Professor Il Sung Na. This summer, Il Sung and his wife relocated from New Jersey to Kansas City. We were able to catch up with him recently and ask him a few questions about this new position, his first impressions of the Midwest and what he loves about being an illustrator and educator. 

When did you first realize that you wanted to be an illustrator?

When I first got into an art college, I only knew that I like drawings but nothing more than that. Then I met a friend who loved children’s picture books and we spent a lot of time together in bookstores. I was fascinated by how picture books can tell stories with illustrations. Text and illustration are telling the same story but different ways. In a picture book, illustrations extend, clarify, complement, or take a place of words. And as a visual person and also a non-English speaker, this was a perfect way to tell my stories without saying/writing too many words. Since then, I wanted to make picture books with my stories and that’s exactly what happened. 


What has been the most challenging aspect to your craft and profession?

Keeping a creative routine. Although I love creative processes, sometimes it gives a hard time to go through. I enjoy the process of thumbnail sketches, character drawings and colors, however I always have a hard time to come up with ideas and write stories. So I spend more or less half potion of times from a whole creative process to find good ideas/stories. There are also lots of thumbnails and crossed out lines (there are lots of revisions involved), but I have to keep drawing/making/creating until I get it right. It’s a kind of routine we (as creative people) cannot get away. Productivity comes at a price. 


Who has been your mentor? What makes you different from them and the same?

I had a professor at my foundation who discovered my talent of drawings and lead me to the right direction. He emphasized students to draw from life. Observation drawing was the key with his assignments.  

And there are more! Although I haven’t met them, I learned a lot of things from their works. I know this may not what you meant, but this is how I learned and found my ways of working.

I made my first dummy book when I was a sophomore level, but I did not know anything about a picture book. So I used picture books as my mentors. The Rabbit by John Marsden (author) & Shaun Tan (illustrator) and Slow Loris by Alexis Deacon. I read the books over and over, exam layouts, compositions and flows in the books. I really enjoyed the ways they tell a story. Simple text but just enough, and illustration does the rest of the job. Shaun Tan and Alexis Deacon are still among my favorites, and I was influenced by their works very heavily from the beginning. Maybe that’s why all of my picture books have simple texts, only one or two sentences on each spread. Maybe because I still believe that illustration can tell more stories than texts.

There are many artists/illustrator who I got inspirations from, such as Kveta Pacovska, Quentin Blake, Brian Wildsmith and John Birningham. And of course, there are a lot more because I keep adding artists to my lists.

My recent discovery of Javier Zabala, Spanish illustrator, made me to try watercolor after being away from it for many years because I did not enjoy using it. At first I tried to make a drawing like his, then I modified the ways of working with my tastes, adding color pencils and marker pens. 


What are you most excited about with this position?

Well, what’s the most rewarding is when I know that students make some progress in their works in any way. I am no difference, but I want to see students prove me wrong in a way, too. I try to be honest but all feedback and critique are from my perspective and we all have different experiences and different opinions. Sometimes we agree but sometimes we disagree. I think that’s the moment that students really jump in and dig deeper, and show what they can do. I wait for that moment to happen. And once it happens, I appreciate and enjoy the moment.

What are your first impressions of the Midwest?

Green, hot summer, kind people and Antiques! 


What part of your career best prepared you for educating?

This is a tricky question indeed. Because I am still learning things from others and I guess this is on going process which never ends.

When I was in college, I had good professors and great studio mates throughout years. But I did not get specific feedback for picture books as there were no one who had experiences in the children’s picture book industry. I learned many things while I worked with publishers and year after year I gained more experiences that I want to share with students who want to be an illustrator (or storyteller). When I looked back my student years I sometimes wondered if I had some experienced people around, I would have learned more efficiently? Maybe or maybe not. But that made me consider sharing my experiences.  

Also working with clay is one of my strength. Nowadays it’s not strange at all that illustrators work with different media like ceramics. I have started working with clay knowing nothing and wanted to get away from my daily creative routine. I just wanted to have some fun, make a lot of junks. However, it certainly added to my artistic repertoire and enriched my range as a visual creator and a storyteller. It was a kind of ‘AHA’ moment. And I want students to try some different materials because we never know what we are capable with until we try. 


7. What career did you think you would have when you were a child?

Architect! My dad was an architect and I lived in a house that he built when I was a kid. Although I had a different path to study industrial engineering when I was in Korea, I was fortunate to pursue my parent that I had a passion for drawing. 

I still dream about design or draw my future house in the future though. Maybe one day I will do. 


What keeps you inspired? Do you have a mantra or philosophy to your work?

A lot of things really. It can be from conversations with people, in exhibitions, watching documentary films or anything touches my curiosity. Sometimes it starts from a word or an image. I keep my eyes and ears wide open you can observe so many things. Always ask to myself how and why. I also keep recording ideas on my sketchbooks otherwise I will forget them after seconds.

"Keep It simple" has been my motto. Sometimes less is better. I understand that we want to show so many things at once but showing one at a time makes it easier to understand.

"If there is something to steal, I steal."  -Pablo Picasso

This is the quote that I have been following since I was a student. I don’t mean to steal physical things or other artists’ ideas. What I mean by that is learning from others.

There is always something to learn. I learned good compositions from photograph, movie scene or painting and use it my works. I learned how to write a story by reading other people’s story. It’s not copying other people’s work. You need to digest it in you well and make it yours. We are creative people but it’s really hard to create something from nothing.  

BIG thanks to Il Sung for taking the time to answer our questions. Welcome to KCAI, Il Sung! To see more of Il Sung's work be sure to visit his website.

2017 Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators Conference!

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference is coming up! Mark your calendars for November 3-4, 2017. This year's conference will be held at the KU Edwards campus in Overland Park, Kansas. The Kansas/Missouri region of SCBWI will host a day-long conference on Saturday the 4th with agents, authors and editors from across the nation offering keynotes and informative breakout sessions for those interested in writing/illustrating picture books, middle grade or young adult novels. Friday the 3rd will consist of portfolio and manuscript reviews, along with a regional social. Many of the speakers/reviewers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, but paid conference attendees will be able to submit manuscripts to them after the conference which is an added benefit of attendance.

Those interested can visit the website at for information on registration, faculty bios and the conference schedule. If you have further questions, please send an email to

SCBWI 2017 flier.jpg

Happy Eclipse & Happy First Day of the Semester!

Welcome to all of our new sophomores and transfer students and welcome back to all of our returning students! The new semester is here! Although we had a pretty steady downpour this morning, the skies cleared up just enough for all of us to go outside and witness the 2017 Solar Eclipse. Wow, it was amazing! We're all looking forward to another fantastic year! What a way to kick it off!

 KCAI Illustration students and faculty, getting ready to watch the 2017 eclipse

KCAI Illustration students and faculty, getting ready to watch the 2017 eclipse

2017 KCAI Art & Design Auction!

After a month of wrapping things up, the summer is officially upon us. Yay! The 2017 Art & Design Auction is this Saturday, June 3! All of the full-time Illustration faculty have work in the auction this year. We are proud and honored to support KCAI in its effort to raise funds for student scholarships.

Assistant Professor Maura Cluthe was recently interviewed by KC Studio Magazine about why she continually donates work to the auction:

Maura Cluthe, assistant professor of illustration and KCAI alumna, knows first-hand the impact scholarships make to students. The amount of financial aid she received from KCAI helped her make her final decision to come to Kansas City for college. 

“Since the inception of the KCAI Art & Design Auction, I have donated work to the auction. As a student, I relied heavily on my student scholarships and worked very hard to maintain them. They enabled me to be here; I am immensely grateful for that. As an alumna and now as a faculty member, I am happy to donate work to the auction with the hope that it will not only find its way into a new home, but also help to support a student like me. Every little bit helps, and can make all the difference. I’m honored to be a small part of this ongoing effort to support our students,” said Cluthe

Cluthe’s art blurs the lines between art, illustration and design. Her mixed media work integrates text drawing, photography, painting and other things she has collected. Her donated piece, “Arrange and Rearrange”, oil, alkyd, enamel, enamel marker on canvas, 48 x 48 inches, is valued at $2,800.

Below are the pieces that were donated by KCAI Illustration faculty. For more information on the auction, or to bid on a piece, visit .

  Steve Mayse ,  2nd Hand Rose

Steve Mayse, 2nd Hand Rose

  David Terrill ,  Jazz Capitol

David Terrill, Jazz Capitol

  Hector Casanova ,  Soft Like A Prayer

Hector Casanova, Soft Like A Prayer

  John Ferry ,  Omaha

John Ferry, Omaha

  Maura Cluthe ,  Arrange and Rearrange

Maura Cluthe, Arrange and Rearrange