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Phoenix Illustrator Kelsey Dake's Mid-Century Modern, Hyper-Organized Studio

Phoenix Illustrator Kelsey Dake's Mid-Century Modern, Hyper-Organized Studio
Photos by Claire Lawton

Kelsey Dake has a very thick half-wall between her studio and the rest of her home in uptown Phoenix.

The 23-year-old illustrator stresses the importance of a work and home-life balance, which is hard to pull off when both things happen in the same space, but probably necessary when you're juggling personal projects, assignments from big-name publications, and a commission from singer/songwriter Beck (more on all of that later).

See also: - Kelsey Dake in Jackalope Ranch's 100 Creatives - Beck's Song Reader To Get Local Treatment by Black Carl, Jim Adkins, Spirit Cave, and More

Dake describes her space as Mid-Century Modern with a collection of her own finds from ASU Surplus as well as vintage and modern home boutiques including Modern Manor, Modern Lighting, and Phoenix Metro Retro.

Her studio is casual, but hyper-organized. When she's not answering e-mails and catching up with her network of freelance artists on Twitter (find her at @kdakeis), she's illustrating by hand -- with Japanese brush pens -- on a large table in the middle of the space.

Toward the back of the room is a large drying rack and an enormous screen printer that she uses to hand-pull editions of her work that she occasionally puts up for sale.

Paper copies of Dake's work are relatively easy to find. She's done countless illustrations for McSweeney's, Business Week, Lucky Peach, Wired, New York Times, and New York Times Magazine (to name a few) and has been featured in American Illustration. But you'd be harder-pressed to come across an original -- most of which are hand-drawn only on cotton paper and are stored in a flat file.

"I have separation issues with my work . . . and I don't like creating work or printing on material that's going to fall apart," says Dake. "My work is a manifestation of time, and a representation of experiences I've had throughout my life. I want it to last forever."

As a result of her prolific schedule and her reluctancy to sell originals, her work has become simultaneously widespread and rare.

 

Phoenix Illustrator Kelsey Dake's Mid-Century Modern, Hyper-Organized Studio
Illustration by Kelsey Dake for New York Times, courtesy of Kelsey Dake

Dake says her creative process depends on publication deadlines. (She has five or six per week.) Sometimes the deadlines have a same-day turnaround, and other times she has a few days to illustrate a print or online story's theme or main character.

On a Friday afternoon in February, she pulls illustrations of battered then-presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for New York Times last November, and a series of falling Lindsay Lohans she created for NYT Magazine this January.

Kelsey Dake's sketchbooks from her days at Art Center College of Design.
Kelsey Dake's sketchbooks from her days at Art Center College of Design.
Claire Lawton

She pauses before describing her style -- a question she gets a lot as an artist who's known for her bold and detailed editorial work as well as colorful personal projects.

"I don't try to force it to be one thing or another, and I haven't seen anything I'd compare it to," she says. "Style is such a weird thing to try to describe. My work would look the same whether I draw right-side up or upside down . . . It's just what happens when I draw -- that's what I think style really is."

 

Phoenix Illustrator Kelsey Dake's Mid-Century Modern, Hyper-Organized Studio
Illustration by Kelsey Dake in Beck Hansen's Song Reader

The illustrator grew up in Phoenix, moved to Los Angeles to attend Art Center College of Design, and lived in New York before moving back to Phoenix a couple of years ago and settling into a 1958 Haver home.

When she moved in, the house required a lot of work -- a few knocked-out walls, some major repainting, and new appliances were in order. But growing up, she always wanted to live in a house designed by Ralph Haver, a modern architect who worked in metro Phoenix from the 1940s to the early 1980s.

When she was living in Manhattan, 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 by one of her favorite architects. So she jumped on a plane and hasn't thought about moving since.

"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."

Phoenix Illustrator Kelsey Dake's Mid-Century Modern, Hyper-Organized Studio
photos by Claire Lawton

You can see more of Dake's work on her official website, in the latest edition of McSweeney's, and in an exhibition of work included in Beck Hansen's Song Reader, which is on display at SONOS Studio in Los Angeles through March 24.

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