Welcome to Faces & Places – my brand new interview series that explores the amazing, interesting and inspiring faces of Chicago and eventually the world, the places that define them in their element of creativity and how travel affects their lives.
To kick things off, I’d like to introduce you to Kelli DePaolis – artist and creator of the Haute Mod brand. Haute Mod is a creative brand that lets Kelli express her love of the arts that features a modern aesthetic, vibrant colors and bold lines. Her designs turn blank spaces into statement spaces.
Funny story – Kelli and I actually go way, way back – all the way to grade school! We also went to high school and college together – and we were in the same sorority. I sat down for an interview with Kelli and got to know a little bit about her brand, what inspires her, her creative process and how travel fits into the mix.
MZ: Tell me a little bit about yourself as it relates to being an artist.
KD: I’ve been blessed that my parents have always let me be my true self. They never really pushed me into a certain career path. In the real world you have to be very mature – I work in corporate America right now, and I have to go to work and be professional and buttoned up – so art has always allowed me to come home and be in my own world. And I just mentally let myself be free.
And it’s allowed me to express my feelings on the inside – sometimes I’ll come home and be in a bad mood, and art has been my therapy. If I’m in a bad mood, art allows me to express it – I’ll do lots of colors and raw edges. Or if I’m in a good mood, art will allow me to draw something beautiful. And I look at things differently, I see art in different things maybe other people wouldn’t see art in. That’s who I am as an artist – expressing my emotions.
MZ: How long have you lived in Chicago? Does it make you feel more creative?
KD: I’ve lived in the city since 2013 – so 4 years. I definitely feel more creative. I love Chicago because there’s so many different neighborhoods, and every neighborhood has a certain vibe and style that I’m inspired by – and the people who have inspired me from different neighborhoods – their different styles and personalities – I’ve even been inspired by the attitude of a neighborhood. And it comes through in my art.
For example I’ll go to Lincoln Park and everything will be florals and beautiful and bright and crisp but clean and classic. So I’ll do classic pieces. But then I’ll go to Ukrainian Village and it’s more punk over there so I’ll do dark – black hearts, roses, leather – I feel like I absorb all of that. Sometimes I feel like I have a hard time identifying myself because I feel like I absorb so many different personalities and I can just take on something in a moment and let it change myself – and I love always changing myself.
MZ: Tell me about Haute Mod.
KD: The inspiration for my brand Haute Mod came to me from a friend – she saw another girl drawing designs and posting them online and she had great success from it – and she knew I was really into art but wasn’t utilizing it in any way. So she said I should try it, and post them on Instagram, and see what happens. And it was as simple as that.
So then I knew I had to come up with a name – and I’ve actually been really inspired by different artists I see on Instagram like Blair Breitenstein and Travel Write Draw (Meagan Morrison) and also the whole 60s feel. Brigitte Bardot – I love her style – I love the old actresses like Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly – all that stuff. So Haute Mod came from a play on words. Fashion, haute couture, high end – so haute, and mod as in the 60s vibe. Basically a mesh of different things that I like.
MZ: Tell me a little bit about your creative process.
KD: So a lot of it has to do with my mood. And music – I’m addicted to music. All sorts – I don’t really have a preference. Anything from classical to sometimes country, anything rock and roll – old school rock and roll, rap, acoustic studio sessions – things that inspire me and get my creative juices flowing. And I’m Italian, so I love a good glass of red wine. (I try to keep it to Thursday & Friday during the week!).
So I’ll come home from work and work out, shower, eat, pour myself a glass of red, and put on some music depending on my mood (sometimes it’s Adele, sometimes it’s Drake). If I’m not feeling inspired I’ll scroll through Instagram and find something – maybe a print, or maybe a model is looking a certain direction – and I’ll put all those aspects together. Or sometimes I won’t even look at my phone and I’ll just feel like painting something freestyle. And you can’t think about it – I’ve been in that position where I’ve just stared at a piece of paper for so long… and you just have to go for it.
MZ: Is there a certain place in Chicago that you find inspiration from? Is there a place that’s special to you?
KD: A huge part of my daily routine is exercise. I love to run – running outdoors, particularly, because it’s like freestyle painting, Basically I just set my mind free. And the lakefront path – you can just kind of run along it and you don’t have to think about where you’re going. You don’t have to worry about traffic lights or anything – that’s where I draw a lot of inspiration. I’ll think about art, or about shapes or fashion or colors and pictures that I can draw in my mind. It’s this combination of music with exercise – your blood is flowing – you’re kind of just letting your mind be free and a lot of times it takes it to a place it’s never been before.
There’s a hill on the west side if you’re facing north down by Soldier Field – there’s a hill I love to sprint up and look at the city. And on my way back – that curve along the Shedd Aquarium, especially during sunset.
MZ: Where’s the last place you’ve traveled, or favorite place you’ve traveled?
KD: One of my favorite spots that I’ve been to is Toronto. It was fall weather – wasn’t really sunny – my friend had to shoot a wedding so I tagged along with her and I had a day and a half to explore by myself. We stayed in a kind of hipster area – King West – it was amazing. I walked through the city; it’s super close and easy to navigate – it’s like a mini Chicago and that’s why I loved it. Of all the places I’ve been to, that’s my favorite.
MZ: How do you find inspiration from travel?
KD: Sometimes when I’m traveling I’ll take pictures – when I was in Miami, we were taking a boat through a canal and there were all these beautiful orange and magenta floral trees – I took a bunch of pictures and knew I could somehow use the shapes and colors in my work. OR street art, or wall art – I take a lot of pictures – I’ll incorporate elements of their style into my work.
That’s another challenge I’m trying to figure out as an artist – I need my own signature style. I think I’m getting there, but it’s not something you can think about, it just has to come to you. The other thing is the attitude of whatever place I’m in – if it’s more rocker, hipster, punk, as opposed to an upscale, cleaner, high-end area. The lines, colors, detail – it’s just different art.
MZ: Anything else you want to share with our interview readers?
KD: I recently saw a quote (I’m not sure who said it) that said, “eventually, everything connects.” And that can be translated into to so many things. It’s definitely a life quote; I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason – your life is already written out for you, you just have to live it and figure it out and roll with the punches. And eventually everything will connect.
And that’s the same for art. You’ll start with a blank canvas and the outside inspiration you find is in your art, and your art continues on. It’s all a process. Inspiration from music, or travel, taking pictures – it’s all part of the process. Even if I can’t see the end result of an action (like taking a picture of something inspirational) but eventually it will all connect to my art. Life is all about those connections.