by Lorie Lewis Ham
Drusilla Kehl is well known in rat circles for her art work of rats, mice and other animals. Here at KRL we have used several of her pieces to illustrate rat related stories/articles. But I knew very little about her and thought it would be fun to find out how. Hope all you rat and/or art lovers out there enjoy getting to know this talented artist a little bit more. The art throughout this article is all Drusilla’s.
Lorie: What type of art do you do? As in is it painting, chalk, etc?
Drusilla: At the moment I have been painting. I grew up drawing and have a background in commercial art where I drew storyboards and comps for advertising. But I always liked watercolors and pretty much taught myself or at least developed a system that works for me. So I’ve been painting. Recently I’ve started trying acrylics.
Lorie: How did you first get into art and when did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Drusilla: I actually never “wanted to be an artist.” It’s just what I did (and do). My mother was a small time fashion illustrator, and when she saw I had some affinity to drawing, she taught me and pushed me.
After graduating college I spent some time away from art, and gradually returned to it when I saw it had commercial potential. After many years of doing advertising work, I finally began to go beyond that into more “fine” art.
Lorie: How and why did you get into drawing rats and mice?
Drusilla: My late husband Matt was also an artist, though his work is different from mine. Back in the early eighties, we were collaborating on a short horror comic book stories, similar to the old EC Comics. He thought it would be fun to have a rat in order to be able to learn to draw it for these stories. That was the beginning of our pet rat owning days. He drew wonderful rats, and some time later I tried my hand at it. After doing a few portraits for friends, I realized not that many people were catering to the rat lovers out there. Both Matt and I drew rat art, and I started The Illustrated Rat website to showcase our work.
Lorie: Where are some of the places your art has been shown/used?
Drusilla: Well I have a Zazzle and an Etsy shop where I sell cards and various items from my art. Up until now I have not been in galleries or part of the fine art “scene.” Here in Hudson I joined the Columbia Council of the Arts, which has a gallery in town. I have shown work there (not rats). Some of the Illustrated Rat’s artwork recently was used on the TV show The Protector.
Lorie: How fun! How did it come about with the TV show?
Drusilla: I was contacted by a writer on the show (The Protector). The episode involved a lab with rats, and they wanted rat art in the lab and the home of one of the researchers. She did not tell me how she got my name, but I have a pretty wide presence on the web now (website, blog, Facebook, on-line shops) so it would come up pretty quickly in a Google search for rat art. They used a few items. I was not paid but it was a nice ego boost.
Lorie: Do you still have a “day job”?
Drusilla: Not any more.
Lorie: What area of the country do you live in?
Drusilla: I live in Hudson, NY, which is in the beautiful Hudson Valley across from the Catskill Mountains. It is two hours north of New York City and about 30 miles south of Albany.
Lorie: Do you have a special art studio or place you love best for creating?
Drusilla: My apartment is two levels so I have a nice size studio on the top floor with big windows where I can see a lot of sky and the mountains beyond the buildings.
Lorie: Sounds nice. What is your creative process? How do you decide what to paint?
Drusilla: Much of what I do is commissioned portraits so I work from photographs. One thing that has stayed with me from my commercial work is that it is always good to have reference, so I will look for photos that will work with an idea I have, even if they are not exactly right. My work is realistic, so reference helps.
Lorie: Tell me about your website and what you offer, such as portraits of pets, etc?
Drusilla: My website is called The Illustrated Rat. I have all my work posted there, portraits of pets and people, work for fun or other purposes, and work from the three children’s books I illustrated. I have The Illustrated Rat Shop and Holiday Shop. I offer custom portraits in several sizes, a large range of greeting cards, sticker sheets, prints, custom address labels and calendars. The Illustrated Rat is much more than just rat art but I’ve kept the name.
Lorie: Can you tell me a little more about the children’s books?
Drusilla:The children’s books are tied into a line of dolls called the Gali Girls. They were the brainchild of a woman, part of the orthodox Jewish community, who felt that the doll offerings for kids teach the wrong values. They are modeled after The American Girl line, but with conservative dress and emphasis on Jewish traditions and values.
Like American Girl, she brought out three historical dolls and published novels to go with them. These are the books I illustrated. She found me through a friend of a friend. The dolls and books can be purchased through her website and at various Judaica stores. The first is Miriam’s Journey: Discovering a New World, about Russian immigrants landing in NYC is 1914, then Reyna and the Jade Star about the Jewish community in 12th century China and the Silk Road, and Shoshona and the Native Rose, about the Jews in early New Amsterdam (17th century). They were a lot of fun to do, and I am a history buff.
Lorie: What is your goal with your art?
Drusilla: I actually don’t think of it in those terms. It pleases me to make people happy, say with a portrait of a pet. Some things are more fun to do than others. And I’m afraid my attitude is more mercenary that sensitive, as this remains one way I support myself.
Lorie: What are your future goals and hopes for your art?
Drusilla: More exposure and more commercial success.
Lorie: Other hobbies?
Drusilla: Taking care of my pet rats and cat, hiking and walking and learning about the history and architecture of the area.
Thanks so much to Drusilla for chatting with us. Be sure and check out Drusilla’s art, and watch for more of it to show up in future issues of KRL. You can see where it has already appeared by checking out our Rodent Ramblings section.