An artist from Peoria, Illinois
The Wise Owl talks to Hugo Keller, an artist from Peoria, Illinois. Hugo Keller has shipped his works to all 50 states in USA and across dozens of countries. He has also participated in many art shows and exhibits throughout the country, but he ruefully admits that he is shy by nature and tries to stay out of public view letting his art do all the speaking. Taking up the advice of his friends, he eventually set up a website and began posting on social media. That’s where everything really took off.
The Interview : Hugo Keller
(Rachna Singh, Editor The Wise Owl, in conversation with Hugo Keller)
The Wise Owl talks to Hugo Keller, an artist from Peoria, Illinois. While attending college, art was only a hobby for Hugo, but he decided to take several art classes anyway, just for fun. That’s when his eyes were opened to innumerable possibilities. The more he watched others, the more he learned and the more he learned, the more comfortable he felt trying new and different techniques. Hugo Keller has shipped his works to all 50 states in USA and across dozens of countries. He has also participated in many art shows and exhibits throughout the country, but he ruefully admits that he is shy by nature and tries to stay out of public view letting his art do all the speaking. Taking up the advice of his friends, he eventually set up a website and began posting on social media. That’s where everything really took off. He started getting sales from his website almost immediately and began building an ever-increasing fan base on social media. Since then, he says ‘I’ve never felt freer to explore and try new things. Each and every one of my artworks reflects my sensitivity, feelings and passion from my soul.’
Thank you, Hugo, for taking time out to talk to The Wise Owl.
RS: You are an artist with a diverse canvas of art forms – portraits, nature, flowers, animals, water scenes, abstracts etc. For the benefit of our readers please tell us a little about your journey as an artist and how you developed and evolved these different art forms.
HK: I have had other artists tell me to ‘pick a style and stick with it’ but that’s never really worked for me. I tend to paint when I am inspired. And when I am inspired, I keep going until I feel that I am able to achieve on canvas (or paper, wood, etc.) what was really in my mind. Most of my art is nature driven. It may be something that I see, hear or imagine but then most often, I take it as a challenge to try to emulate what I am seeing and turn it into something completely different. I’ve always loved using a palette knife and find that I can translate something that looks ordinary to most people into something really bright and colourful using this technique.
I tend to go on streaks of certain forms for a while or until something else inspires me. I only recently was able to create an antique look on my paintings, particularly still life. I’ve struggled for years but have finally created something that I feel satisfied with and that really matches what I saw in my mind.
Abstracts bring balance to my creativity because I feel freer to do whatever I want and express however I am feeling at that moment. I love work with nature and animals very much, but I still have to create an animal that looks just like that animal or a cabin that looks like a cabin. With abstract, I can do anything.
RS: Our readers would be eager to know what and who were the creative influences in your life?
HK: I have been blessed with a tight knit family that has always been supportive of me but most of all, my mother nurtured my creativity from a very young age. Whether it was my writing, my painting, my music or anything else, she always appreciated my imagination and gave me the confidence to express myself.
RS: Are there any traditional or contemporary artists who inspire you. What is it about their artwork that attracts you?
HK: You’ll probably laugh but I absolutely loved watching Bob Ross. He brought calmness to his painting that I’ve really taken to heart in my own. I am also a huge fan of Thomas Kinkade as he showed that you can really bring the entire painting to light by just highlighting a few key areas that draw your eye in and seem to radiate light across the entire painting. Last but not least, since I love the palette knife style, I have to include Leonid Afremov. His work (and several others similar to his) really combined the bright colours and light that I love along with the oil/palette knife combo.
RS: I was looking at your artworks displayed on your website. I notice that you do watercolours as well as oils and acrylics. You also use canvas as well as textiles. Our readers would be curious to know which is your favourite medium and why?
HK: Most of what I paint ends up being oil on canvas. The rich and lustrous quality of oil paints adds a unique depth and vibrancy to my artwork. The pigments in oil paints have a smooth consistency that allows for easy blending and layering, enabling me to achieve subtle transitions and intricate details in my compositions. The slow drying time of oil paints is another aspect I appreciate. Unlike other mediums, oil paints remain workable for an extended period, allowing me to make adjustments, blend colours, and create complex textures. This characteristic of oils grants me the freedom to explore different techniques and experiment with various brushstrokes, resulting in a more nuanced and expressive outcome. Furthermore, the archival quality of oil paints ensures the longevity of my paintings. When properly cared for, oil paintings on canvas can withstand the test of time, preserving their colours and textures for generations to come. This gives me a sense of confidence and satisfaction, knowing that my artwork can be enjoyed by future audiences.
The versatility of oil paints is also a major factor in my preference. They offer a wide range of applications, from smooth and precise brushwork to thick impasto textures. This versatility allows me to adapt my painting style and technique to suit the subject matter and concept of each piece, providing me with endless creative possibilities. There is also a certain traditional and timeless allure associated with oil paintings on canvas. The history and legacy of this medium, dating back centuries, add a sense of connection to artistic traditions and masters of the past. Working with oil on canvas gives me a profound appreciation for the art form's heritage and the craftsmanship involved.
While most of what I paint ends up being oil on canvas sometimes acrylics bring out the best of what I’m going for and sometimes it’s watercolour but more often than not oil on canvas just works for me.
RS: Your website shows that you pick up varied and diverse subjects and themes in your artworks- from a flower vase to a sailing boat to a lion tamer to a couple waltzing. Please share your creative process with our readers-from the time you decide on the subject for your painting to the finished product.
HK: Since I usually pull my inspiration from my life & travels, I keep a journal of notes and ideas on my phone so that I can jot down anything whenever I want. From there, the idea may take on multiple forms over days, weeks, months or even years on occasion. But the vast majority of the time I know pretty much what I want immediately. Once I feel that I have a solid idea and plan, I either pencil out a sketch or just jump right into painting. That being said, I still have many times when I have to completely start over and begin again from scratch and often with a slightly new idea and plan. Some details take me more time than others and depending on the overall detail I’m going for on the painting it may take weeks before I’m completely satisfied with my work. Once I’m done, I move the painting to another room to get different light on it and just leave it there for a few days. Often, I may make a change or two and then have a completed painting.
RS: Your paintings are a beautiful swathe of bright colours (especially your abstracts and the ‘blue boat’ series). They energize the viewer with their brilliance. What inspires you to pick up such gorgeous colours for your paintings?
HK: The inspiration behind my choice of vibrant colours in my artwork stems from a variety of sources. Firstly, I find inspiration in the sheer beauty and power of colours themselves. Bright and vivid hues have a way of capturing attention and conveying a sense of energy and vitality. They create a visual impact that can evoke strong emotions and engage the viewer's senses.
Additionally, I draw inspiration from the world around me. Nature is a constant source of awe-inspiring colours, from the breath-taking sunsets to the vibrant flora and fauna. The interplay of light and colour in the natural world fuels my imagination and finds its way into my paintings.
I am also influenced by my own experiences and emotions. Colours can be deeply connected to personal memories and feelings. By selecting and combining specific colours, I aim to convey certain moods, express emotions, or depict a particular atmosphere. Each colour has its own symbolic meaning and associations, and I take advantage of these nuances to enhance the message or narrative of my artwork.
Lastly, I embrace experimentation and the intuitive process of creating art. I am constantly exploring new colour combinations, experimenting with different techniques, and pushing the boundaries of my creative expression. This exploration allows me to discover unique and striking colour palettes that bring life and brilliance to my paintings.
RS: While looking at your artworks, I was particularly intrigued by your collection of ‘Roaring Animals’ & ‘Humming bird’ series. Tell us a little about these works which are reflective of a blend of traditional craft and innovation.
HK: My Roaring Animals series all began from seeing the roaring lion at the beginning of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movies for decades. One night when I was beginning to watch a movie, the lion came on as usual. I quickly paused the movie and went straight to canvas. After the lion was completed, I jumped to other animals that would have a good roaring face and just ran with it from there. My final painting in the series was the Roaring Monkey. It was the second one to sell (after the Roaring Lion) and then became one of my best-selling prints to date.
RS: You are a marvellous artist with a huge portfolio of varied works. What advice would you give budding artists about how to hone their craft?
HK: As an artist, honing your craft is an ongoing journey of growth and exploration. If you love what you do, keep doing it. It’s okay if you can’t jump right in full-time right away. Just keep at it and keep enjoying what you do. For years, I only painted in my spare time and kept it as a hobby. I then found myself trying new techniques and new methods; really just exploring what came more naturally to me and what I needed to work on. The more I kept at it and kept experimenting, the more comfortable I came to be with my paintings. With the help and encouragement of friends and family around me, I was eventually able to paint full-time. Dedicate regular time to create art, as it is through practice that you develop your skills, refine your techniques, and find your artistic voice. Embrace both quantity and quality in your practice, exploring different subjects, styles, and mediums to expand your artistic horizons.
I suggest seeking inspiration and to learn from others. Explore the works of established artists, both past and present, studying their techniques and styles. Attend art exhibitions, workshops, and classes to gain insights from experienced artists and expand your artistic knowledge. Engage with art communities, both online and offline, to connect with fellow artists, share ideas, and receive constructive feedback.
Next, be open to experimentation and take risks. Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try new techniques or subjects. Push yourself to explore different artistic approaches, as it is through experimentation that you'll discover new possibilities and find your unique style.
It’s important to seek constructive criticism and feedback. Share your work with trusted mentors, fellow artists, or art communities who can provide valuable insights and suggestions for improvement. Embrace this feedback as a means of growth and learning, while also staying true to your artistic vision and voice.
Additionally, develop a habit of self-reflection. Take time to evaluate your own work critically. Analyse what works well and what can be improved. Celebrate your successes, but also embrace failures as learning opportunities. Keep a sketchbook or journal to record ideas, observations, and artistic experiments.
Lastly, nurture your passion for art by staying curious and exploring diverse sources of inspiration. Immerse yourself in different art forms, literature, music, nature, and cultural experiences. Allow these influences to shape your creative expression and infuse your work with depth and originality.
Remember, honing your craft is an ongoing journey. Embrace the process, be patient with yourself, and celebrate your progress. Artistic growth takes time and dedication, but with passion, perseverance, and a willingness to learn, you can continue to develop your skills and create meaningful art.
RS: If I was to ask you to define yourself as an artist in three adjectives, what would they be and why?
HK: Bold – Some artists paint in such a way that you can instantly tell who painted it because they stay within certain boundaries. I feel that I take chances with my work by painting such a wide variety of art and trying to stand out amongst the vast amount of other talented artists. I strive to create artwork that captivates the viewer's attention and leaves a lasting impact. I embrace boldness to push the boundaries of artistic expression. Boldness allows me to take risks, challenge conventions, and create artwork that stands out with its audacity and visual strength.
Vivid – If there’s one thing that I try to keep consistent through most of my work, it’s bright vivid colours. Bringing out colours and being overly creative with my palette is basically a challenge that I make to myself each time I sit down to paint. I gravitate towards vibrant colours, using them to convey energy, emotion, and a sense of vibrancy. Through the use of light, shadow, and colour harmonies, I aim to create artwork that feels alive and exudes a sense of vitality. Vividness allows me to evoke strong emotional responses, transport viewers into dynamic visual narratives, and create a visually immersive experience.
Private – I mentioned before that I’m quite shy and because of this I do my best to keep my life more private. I truly love social media as I get to interact with many artists and all of the wonderful people who love my work and buy my artwork but at the same time keep myself more on the private side. Art serves as a means of self-expression, allowing me to explore my thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Through my artwork, I invite viewers to glimpse into my inner world, offering a personal and intimate connection. The private nature of my work allows me to create pieces that reflect my individual perspective and invite viewers to engage in their own contemplation and interpretation.
RS: Are you working on any specific project or exhibition? Do share details with our readers.
HK: Currently I am focused on just a couple things: Enjoying the freedom to travel, explore and search for continued inspiration for my work and being able to continue to build my brand through my website and social media. I do also have my artwork entered into a few prestigious art competitionsand I am really hoping the exposure from those will add to being more well-known and more people being able to see my paintings. I’ve only recently tried entering art contests (other than the traditional contests at art fairs) and will hopefully be showcasing my work alongside other amazing artists at more exhibits.
Thank you so much, Hugo, for taking time out to talk to The Wise Owl. We wish you the best in all your creative & artistic endeavours and hope you keep brightening the world with your fabulous paintings and the magic of your art.