“One day I fell asleep, and I never woke up…” Thus begins an animated short about a little girl’s dream that quickly turns into a nightmare featuring a ghoulish fairy with enormous teeth and an appetite for children. Written, illustrated, and animated by artist Katy Towell, “Never Woke Up” is one of many tales forged from the mind of this accomplished artist with a taste for the macabre.
As a child herself, Towell was fascinated with the work of late 19th and early 20th century illustrators like Harry Clarke and Kay Nielsen, whose elaborate renderings she had stumbled upon in old books. The artwork captured the artist’s imagination… and also gave her the creeps. Towell decided she wanted her own creations to have the same kind of effect on people, and that’s where she finds inspiration for each new piece she begins. “I think, ‘How can I make people feel slightly uncomfortable while giving them something pretty to look at?,’” says the artist.
Towell is mostly self-taught and says she has “never NOT been drawing.” She credits the magic of the internet with helping her to find an audience and getting eyes on her work. Included in that body of work are two illustrated novels: Charlie and the Grandmothers and Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrow. Written for elementary school-aged children but also loved by adults, both books can be found online and in bookstores. One reviewer described her stories as “a perfect mixture of whimsy and horror.”
The illustrator renders her drawings digitally with Illustrator, but also employs more traditional tools like pen and ink, which deliver a sharp, clean look that she loves. She has recently been experimenting with paint and gouache (an opaque watercolor). Regardless of the medium, she always begins by sketching a rough draft of the work in pencil. She then chooses a color palette and proceeds from there.
One of the artist’s pieces she is most proud of is the cover of her first novel, Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrow. “It put the ‘labor’ in ‘labor of love’ for sure”, she recalls. “I think I trashed it and painted it over again six times before I finally decided it was done!” Towell has heard from a number of fans who have gotten tattoos of her art. She says this is a huge compliment because it’s a permanent tribute to her skill and because those pieces had personal meaning to the collectors.
Towell is currently working on several new animated shorts. She is also painting a piano for the “Piano. Push. Play” program in the city of Portland, Oregon. “It’s crazy that I just have this huge piano in my apartment right now, but it’s been a lot of fun,” says Towell. The piano will go on display at the Portland Art Museum briefly near the end of June 2016. Next, it will be placed in an area park for the public to play, and finally it will be donated.
A resident of Portland, Oregon Towell lives with her boyfriend and their two cats, Merlin and Nozky. Most of her work can be found on her web site at www.skary.com and on youtube at www.youtube.com/katytowell. She can be followed on Facebook at www.facebook.com/childrinrskary and on Instagram at @officialkatytowell