Profile: Carly Rae Studio
Meet Carly Robinson, the artist behind Carly Rae Studio, founded in 2013. Carly paints beautiful and whimsical watercolor art, with subjects ranging from plants and animals, to cities and sports. Her signature style is to make up each object with tiny watercolor flowers, creating a lovely and distinct aesthetic.
How did you learn to paint?
I have been painting since I was young and started taking art classes in and out of school. One of my elementary art teachers told my mom I have an “eye for color” and she saw my attention to detail; my parents were always encouraging me to use my creativity, as well as creating fun craft projects with me.
When I was in high school, art class was the only class I would look forward to. I remember pulling my first all-nighter to stay up and finish a painting because I felt so passionate about it.
I decided I wanted to be a high school art teacher, so I took lots of painting classes throughout college. Painting classes are interesting, because they are really about showing up and doing the work. They are about putting in the hours and practicing, while giving you a deadline to work towards.
I started painting with watercolors outside of my art classes as a creative outlet at home. I consider myself somewhat self-taught in watercolor illustration, but my painting skills were honed through many years of practice.
Where do you find inspiration?
Color and pattern have always fueled my creativity, being drawn to bright colors and playful patterns. When I started painting in my floral style, I was inspired by animals and the ocean. We lived in California at the time, so that was more present in my surroundings. When I moved to Kansas City, nature still inspired me, but I also began to find inspiration from our city and the pride that people have for it. I have always loved cities and the energy that comes from the community.
Where are you from? What are your favorite things about calling Kansas City home?
This is always a challenging question for me. We moved around quite a bit when I was young, but I spent a majority of my life in Scotts Valley, California, near Santa Cruz. However, I was born in Dallas, then moved to California, Alabama, Illinois, back to California, Italy, Southern California, then finally to Kansas City. Moving around has its challenges but taught me that I could always adapt to new people and places. I eventually learned to be happy wherever I was planted.
I gave my husband a hard time about moving to Kansas City, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the sense of community and how supportive everyone is. People really show up to shop small and shop local, and that makes a huge difference to us makers. I love the pride people have for their city, and I now understand and share the same sense of pride.
How did you develop your signature watercolor style?
In college I was preparing to be an art teacher, but I actually discovered my style the semester that I didn't have any art classes. I was just playing around with watercolors at my house while watching TV and began filling in an outline with tiny flowers. I posted a quick photo of it on Instagram and a few people commented that it looked cool and one person even said she would buy it. From there, I kept going with other animals and shapes that people were interested in and found the process fun and relaxing. I figured out how to list the paintings on Etsy and I was officially in business.
What is your process for creating a painting with such tiny details?
I begin by drawing or tracing a light pencil outline onto watercolor paper. Then, I use a tiny brush to paint flowers within the shape, which takes anywhere from two to five hours depending on the size and complexity. I erase the pencil lines and am finished!
What were the first products you sold? How has your product line evolved since you started out?
For the first year or so, I was selling original paintings for $20 - $40 on Etsy. When I realized that would mean I was getting paid about $5 an hour, I started to look into getting prints made. I outsourced the printing for the first year, then a big leap for me was printing my own prints.
Over the next 5+ years, it grew to prints, apparel, glassware, tote bags, and even a coloring book.
How did you make the transition to doing art full time?
When my husband and I moved here in 2014 from California, we moved in with my in-laws for a bit and I thought it could be a good year to try selling my artwork full-time since we didn’t have as much financial pressure. Instead of renewing my teaching credential for our state, I kept painting and started signing up for local craft fairs, as well as continuing to sell online. I also had a part-time job assisting in the kids art classrooms at the Nelson-Atkins, which helped to feel a bit more secure as the business was growing.
Tell me about the workshops you lead. What do you enjoy about teaching?
I have been teaching creative workshops for the past few years now and I love it. I originally went to school to be an art teacher because I love helping others find the same joy, expression and relaxation that I find in creating. My favorite parts of the workshops are when it gets totally quiet and everyone in focused in the process.
I began with floral watercolor workshops, but have also branched out to other watercolor subjects, holiday workshops (painting Easter eggs, pumpkins and ornaments) and henna. I teach those around the Kansas City area, and you can find them on my website anytime.
How do you make your work space an enriching and inspiring place to be?
I love having a studio in my home and I never have an excuse not to “go to work.” I try to have my painting materials out on my desk at all times. I keep a lot of the decor neutral in my studio, with lots of colorful art on the walls. Natural light is also crucial to creating, so I always paint by the window.
What do you listen to while you work?
A bit of everything. Podcasts are my go-to—all things NPR, all things by Wondery, a bit of true crime (Serial, Someone Knows Something, Up and Vanished), The Tim Ferriss Show, This American Life and quite a few others. I also listen to Friends (the TV show) and laugh to myself constantly; it never gets old.
When I need to focus a bit more, I like calming music in the background and my current favorite is Bon Iver. Since I work at home on my own, I usually need something in the background to keep me sane.
Is there a time of day you feel most creative?
Usually mornings, when I feel freshest and most relaxed. I am definitely a morning person IF I can get to bed on time the night before.
Who are artists and creatives that inspire you?
It is amazing how accessible creatives are through social media now, so there are lots of people in my feed that inspire me daily. A few on Instagram are @anavictoriana, @jennarainey, @sarahwalshmakesthings and @laurablythman, but there are hundreds more. Museums have always been an inspiring place for me as well, especially if they have a work by Kandinsky or Van Gogh.
As much as I am inspired by things that I see, the process of painting is really what keeps me going. Painting small patterns and details is so relaxing for me and getting in that flow state is my favorite part of the process.
What do you think makes Kansas City’s maker community special?
This community of makers has been so encouraging and welcoming. They really love our city and their gratitude for everyone’s support shows in what they are creating. The creatives fuel KC and KC fuels its creatives.
Keep an eye out on Carly Rae’s website for workshops and events, and shop her collection of prints and goods at Made in KC shops.