Kai Carpenter

Kai Carpenter

Anderson Design Group has always been into early-to-mid 20th Century design and illustration. Founder Joel Anderson enjoys exploring flea markets, antique shops, and vintage book stores wherever classic book and magazine covers, advertising art, posters, and packaging can be found. When Joel creates, he gravitates toward hand-lettering and illustrated art that looks and feels like it was produced in the 1920s, 30s or 40s—in the days when illustration was king. Part of his creative process is collaborating with other talented artists who specialize in particular disciplines. 

It's not easy to find like-minded artists who love the early 20th Century aesthetic, and it's even harder to find illustrators who can paint in the style of the Great Masters from the Golden Age of Illustration! So when Joel met Kai Carpenter, it was like a dream came true. Not only did Joel find Kai to be amazingly talented, he also found Kai to be a wonderful collaborator. These guys can finish each other's sentences when it comes to planning a series of posters about National Parks or Vintage Travel Poster Art.


Joel raves about Kai: "When I first saw Kai's work, it immediately stood out as timeless, passionate, authentic, and masterful. It was like Kai must have walked out of a time machine from the 1920s—even his hair style and clothing are classic Americana! His studio is decorated with Art Deco-era furniture and everything about him exudes classic craftsmanship and American style. Working with Kai is so much fun—he takes an idea and adds his own flair to it, receiving art direction like a pro, polishing the concept to make it shine, and telling a visual story in oil paint that goes beyond being beautiful—his work speaks on an emotional level. It is so satisfying to work with a guy who I truly admire as a person, respect as a colleague and enjoy as a friend. My wife and I love hanging out with Kai whenever he comes to Nashville or when we can visit Seattle. Even though our work looks like it's from the days before television, we communicate almost daily via texting, e-mails, and digital file sharing. I usually forget that he is not just down the street from my studio, but all the way across the USA!"

Since so much of Kai's work is featured in our books, poster collections, and on our site, we thought you should get to know him a little better. Here is a recent interview we had with Kai...

ADG: Talk about your background. Where did you grow up? When did you realize you were an artist? Where did you go to art school? How did you become a professional illustrator?

KC: I grew up in Seattle, off the north end of Broadway. There really wasn't ever a time I decided I wanted to do art - I can't remember ever starting!  I grew up drawing with my brothers, and so that's just always how it was. I attended the Rhode Island School of Design, after which I moved to San Francisco with plans of working for an animation studio.  The studio plan fell through, and as a result I decided to go to San Diego comic con, where I got my first freelance work.  Before I knew it, I'd forgotten I wanted to work in a studio at all!

ADG: Who were your major influences?

KC: My major influences have been the Golden Age illustrators: NC Wyeth, Dean Cornwell, JC Leyendecker.  Also, the Pre-Raphaelites and their crew: John William Waterhouse, Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, William Morris, Lord Leighton.



ADG: How did you start working with Anderson Design group? Talk about your collaboration with Joel Anderson so far. What do you look forward to in the future with your collaboration?

KC: After working in fantasy art for awhile I decided I needed to look around for someone who might be doing the kind of work I really wanted to do. I was developing a taste for doing more art in the subject matter of the 1920s-1950s, and I was getting much more serious about painting with oils in Golden Age techniques. I wanted to find someone who was interested in keeping alive the Golden Age tradition like I was. So I did some research and found Anderson Design group, and, about 2 years ago, almost to the day, we started working together!  

It has been such a great journey so far.  Joel is a one of a kind Art Director in many ways, but one thing that makes working with him great is that he really cares about the excitement of the artist. He knows that if your heart's in it, it'll be the best image it can be - and also, that the artist will be happy! I'm so excited to continue to explore this rich vein of art we've begun to mine.

ADG: Which are a few of your favorite creations?

KC: In my time working with Joel, it's really hard to say which pieces I enjoyed the most, but a few stick out - I really enjoyed making our "Los Angeles Dreams" poster, as Joel was in town for that and shot the whole process of photographing the model, drawing her, and painting the finish. I also had a great time on our "Summer Love" painting - the models were so comfortable with one another, I really liked the composition, and I think there's a special satisfaction to be found in depicting figures at ease. I believe it turned out looking kind of how summer love actually feels.

ADG: Talk about your process from start to finish on an illustration.

KC: I start with a round of loose sketches. Once I decide which I'm most interested in pursuing, I send a few to Joel, and we settle on the best one to go forward with. From there, I get in touch with a model (or models) about the piece, and set up a time to take reference shots.  Once I have those, I pick the strongest elements from several photos and work them together into a finished drawing - usually the best pose is a combination from several photographs - maybe a hand from one, face from another and body pose from yet another shot. Once that's finished and approved by Joel, I work up a very rough value (light and dark) study as a guide for myself, and also to give Joel a clear idea of the image structure. 


Almost time to paint! I work on loose, pre-primed canvas, because it's easy to store and ship, and much more time- and cost-efficient than painting on stretched canvas. Since it's on a roll, sometimes I need to go over the piece of canvas with an iron first to get any wrinkles out. Using a digital projector, I then blow up and trace the finished drawing onto the canvas, and tone it with a thin layer of acrylic wash, usually a mix of yellow ochre and burnt sienna, about 2:1.  Once that's dry, the painting starts, and takes anywhere from 2-6 days, depending on the complexity of the image. It then gets photographed, I varnish it, and ship it off to Nashville! 


ADG: What are some tips you would give to aspiring young artists?

KC: Get serious about tracing your inspirations. Strive to go as far back into art history as you can - don't stop at modern artists you love! Who inspired them - and them? The further back you go, and the more you practice determining what really excites you artistically, the better your work will be, and the better you'll be at figuring out where your work fits in the art world.  And your work will become more and more authentically you, which is what we all strive for!

ADG: Anything else you want to share with our fans and followers?

KC: Thanks so much for taking part in this, and supporting our art! I'm so fortunate to have been given this opportunity to create this work, and it, of course, isn't possible without your enthusiasm and support. Thank you!


Just in time for the National Park Service's 100th Anniversary, Kai painted a softer and more romantic series of Park posters to go alongside ours. Branching off of the Parks collection, he's also added more artwork to our From the Heart, Coastal, American Cities, and World Travel series. He's the first collaborator to have his own category on our website.

You can find Kai's work in our store and on our website in the Kai Carpenter Collection.

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