With her bobbed blond hair, flowered orange dress, and a jean jacket covered in pins (mostly cats in some form or another), artist Chloe Kehm looks like she could have stepped out of one of her favorite anime shows. But while her art may often depict that culture, her interests and influences are far more diverse.
“I listen to podcasts a lot,” Kehm says. “I’ve just been listening to this one podcast and hammering out stuff.”
Kehm is describing a part of her creative process. One of her favorite podcasts is Saw Bones, a medical history program. “It’s about all the stupid things we’ve done medically in the past…they talk about the Victorians a lot. They did a lot of weird things,” she says with a laugh.
Also, she adds, “If my room’s a mess, I can’t do anything. Which is unfortunate, because I’m not the cleanest person.” Regardless, she manages to get a substantial amount of creating done, including an entire comic book for her BFA program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. It’s something she’d been putting off because she says she wasn’t confident in her skills. But after many life-drawing classes, she finally thought, “Let’s just do it now.”
Having grown up watching animated shows such as Powerpuff Girls and Sailor Moon, it’s not surprising she became interested in drawing what she calls “fandom things,” such as characters from video games, comics, and television series. But what she really enjoys is making her own, original work, and a big part of that is telling a story. Besides working with digital mediums, watercolor, oil and acrylic paints, and experimenting with ink and marker drawings, she also creates short, four-panel comic strips. “I love writing,” she says. “I took a couple of creative writing classes before and I’m always writing comic strips.”
While pop culture clearly influences a lot of her current work, she does have an appreciation for the classics, such as Van Gogh. Her favorite work of his is “Almond Blossoms.” “His colors are gorgeous and I like to think I could pull some of those into my own work.”
Her pieces are definitely more contemporary, though. “A lot of the artists I really love right now are currently living,” she says with a smile, “and they are young female artists in the comic book industry.” She lists Babs Tarr, Fiona Staples, and Leslie Hung as her top three, but adds that there are countless others. “It’s just really inspiring.”
It’s unsurprising that Kehm admires these artists. She says that, while she didn’t really start considering herself a feminist until college, she has always believed equality is important, “across the board.” She credits those animated shows she grew up on with helping her develop that ideal. “A lot of animated shows directed at young girls [are] showing them in positions of power and being strong and independent. I think that just kind of sat in there…and it inspires a lot of what I want to do with my storytelling and my animation,” she says, before wryly adding, “And I’m a woman. I should care about that stuff, right?”
Kehm says she likes her creations to be fun, but also to have a message. “I like depicting different people in different ways. I like to show the vastness of the human race.” She pauses, then breaks into laughter. “Which sounds…a little lofty.”
She says she believes art in general has a hand in almost everything we do as a society. “You don’t realize how much art plays into everything you interact with on a day-to-day basis. Like your shoes. Someone designed that, someone drew that.” She gestures around the coffee shop as she speaks. “The layout of the building you’re in, the house you live in—an architect did that. They have artistry skills, and I think it gets overlooked a lot. But I think art is pretty integral to everything that we do. Be it political or day-to-day life.”
While she hopes her message of equality comes through in her work, Kehm says she’ll be happy if it just makes people smile. “That’s ultimately what I want to come out of it.”
This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter.