Kelsey Dake: 2013 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Visual Art

You submitted nominations for awards given to the Valley's emerging creatives and the results are in. Introducing our Big Brain 2013 Finalists.

Leading up to the Big Brain Award awards announcement and celebration on April 27, Chow Bella and Jackalope Ranch will introduce the finalists.

Up today: Kelsey Dake

Kelsey Dake: 2013 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Visual Art
Photos by Claire Lawton, Illustrations by Kelsey Dake

Kelsey Dake can remember who beat her in a coloring competition in second grade, and though she won't name any names, she says it was a pivotal moment in her creative career.

Dake now works as a full-time freelance illustrator. Her client list includes McSweeney's, Business Week, Lucky Peach, Wired, New York Times, and New York Times Magazine (to name a few). At 23, she's a big name in the national illustration scene but says she's ready to focus on her hometown.

Kelsey Dake's Phoenix studio
Kelsey Dake's Phoenix studio
photo by Claire Lawton

She grew up in Phoenix, went to Chaparral High School, and moved to Los Angeles to attend Art Center College of Design. After graduation, she flew across the country and set herself up in New York to make contacts with local publications and other illustrators. But after a year or so, she says she realized that for as much as she was paying to live in a tiny studio, she could move back home and live in her own house built by one of her favorite architects. So she jumped on a plane and flew back to Arizona.

Step inside Dake's 1958 Haver home and studio, and you'll see that she's a champion of Phoenix. She has vintage city maps on the wall and stored in flat files; she has a collection of Midcentury Modern furniture she's raced around town to lay claim on; she just finished creating a series of images of iconic Phoenix signs (including the Log Cabin Motel and Mesa's Diving Lady), which are on display and up for grabs at Phoenix Metro Retro.

"I know people leave all the time to go to the cities I've come from, and I often feel the need to stand up for Phoenix," she says. "But here's where I can make a difference . . . More than anywhere else, I feel like I belong here."

Dake says she's on a mission to connect with local illustrators and find a place in the local art scene, whether that's attending and supporting local events like Modern Phoenix Week and Phoenix Design Week or opening her own pop-up gallery for illustration work (fingers crossed). And all this while continuing to challenge herself.


Kelsey Dake: 2013 Big Brain Awards Finalist, Visual Art
Kelsey Dake

Her creative process depends on publication deadlines. (She has five or six per week.) Sometimes the deadlines have a same-day turnaround, or she might have a few days to illustrate a print or online story's theme or main character. But she always starts with a brush pen on cotton paper and works in finer details, textures, and colors after she scans the image into her computer.

She's known for her bold and detailed editorial work and celebrated for her unique style, which she says can only be described as "how I draw."

"I think, more than anything, it's just important to be yourself and stay true to what you do and how you do it," she says. "The second you try to be different or force your own work to be something that's unnatural, you're just being someone else."

Buy a $10 ticket to enjoy an evening of food, drink and entertainment April 27 at the Monarch Theater in downtown Phoenix. Meet the finalists and learn who won during our Big Brain celebration, Artopia.

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