Artist Helen Kennedy is all about design for weirdos. Her intergalactic terrapins (well, they're terrapins to us), skateboarding grasshoppers, and skeletons living their very best (after)lifes made us smile, smile, smile and we're certain her designs for Dave's Picks will too. Learn more about her early influences and her choices for desert island Dead in this edition of All In The Family.
“Design For Weirdos” – a perfect fit for all of the free spirits in our community. Where did your free-spirited start come from?
I was born that way! I was always that little kid in soccer practice that would rather stare at the clouds than pay attention to the game. Luckily my parents are very kind and saw this as a positive and have always encouraged my creative activities .
How does your motto “a nod to past with a third eye on the future” guide your art?
My earliest memories of art and aesthetic are Schoolhouse Rock and that crazy pinball number sequence in Sesame Street. I just remember being so enamored with them. Later in life, after discovering the music and art of the counterculture, something just connected and fell into place for me. Since I work primarily digitally, I noticed that work can have a very cold, smooth feel to it. I try to bring in the imperfections into my work to get rid of that digital feeling and bring warmth and texture into the project.
Your illustrations have a wonderful warmth, we can almost see your sense of humor. Who are some of your influences In the art world?
Right off the rip, I have to say the Big 5 Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse, and Wes Wilson. They inspired a lot of my design and approach to composition. Also, I have to throw Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton in there as well. I really love their work.
On a deeper dive my love of cartoons, comics, and video games are what has given me a love of narrative art and bringing a story into an image. I remember watching Princess Monokoke on 35 MM, I just kept thinking I was watching art come alive on screen. I thought Akira and Ghost in the Shell was the coolest looking, edgiest thing I have ever watched, and how weird (in a good way) I felt after watching it. I felt a sense of adventure taking Cloud through Midgar or Link through Hyrule. These things, among many others, alway spark my imagination and inspire me to tell a story through my work.
How has the Dead’s iconography influenced your work over the years?
Back in high school, I was visiting a friend’s house and their older sibling had some of the Grateful Dead Comix they shared with me. I didn’t fully understand what I was looking at the time, I just thought it was the epitome of cool. I remember borrowing them, and drawing a bunch of characters from different issues. They were so inspiring it made me just want to drop everything I was doing and draw!
What is neat is one of my favorite issues is #3. It has the Timothy Truman cover and the "Sugaree" story on the inside. Coming full circle, Timothy Truman illustrated Dave Pick’s Vol 5 - 8 so it is surreal for me to be included in this list of illustrious illustrators that have inspired me over the years.
When designing for the 2021 Dave’s Picks series, what elements will you take into consideration for inspiration?
The best part of designing the 2021 Dave’s Picks is the research! I like to listen to the show a few times and brainstorm concepts before diving into the drawing. I try and go on a long hike with my husband and my pup to listen to the show - hiking, chatting, and hanging helps get the creative stimuli going. For the design, I try to take the era, and venue into account, but also the set list and what was happening in the culture at that time. For Dave’s Pick 37, one of the posters hidden in the art was from Space Invaders that came out that year. The more easter eggs I can throw in, the better.
What else is in store for you in 2021?
Man 2020 was a tough blow creatively. My favorite thing to draw is concert posters, and my favorite activity is to go to concerts so that being taken away was a bit of a struggle. I deeply miss being able to connect, hangout, or just shoot the breeze with tour friends. I am ready to put 2020 in the rear view, and so far 2021 is looking cool. I have some exciting projects in the works. When touring happens again, I would really love to work with a band to create some work for video backdrops. I think that is a really neat intersection of art and music. Dead and Company used some of my imagery on tour for "U.S. Blues" and it was cool to be part of the process and see it come alive!
HELEN KENNEDY'S GRATEFUL DEAD
First exposure to the Dead/first show:
Jerry Garcia passed away when I was 9 years old so I missed the boat on seeing the Grateful Dead. I had always liked the Dead and the community but none of my friends really went to Dead shows. Luckily, I was dating my then boyfriend now husband, and he surprised me by taking me to my first Further show on 11/10/2011 at Madison Square Garden. Man, what a show it was. No, seriously, I listened to it the other day, so good. I was blown away. I have never seen or experienced such electricity, everyone was going wild that night. What really struck me though, was a few rows away from us someone was signing the music to a fellow concert goer. That was something I had never seen at a concert before, and I realized this was more than just a show, this was a community. Needless to say I was hooked.
Favorite Dead Song/Songs:
I am a "Help>Slip> Franklin" kind of girl. I really like the San Bernardino 2/26/77 version, but that is always rotating. If you happen to catch me during a "Help>Slip> Franklin" live, watch out, I have this wild arm swaying dance move that is deadly to any surrounding beverages lol.
Favorite Dead Era/Years:
So I could list a ton, but really my favorite Dead is the Dead show that is on. I love early Dead, I love 70’s Dead, I love some 80’s Dead, I love 90’s Dead, hell man, I just love the Dead.
Desert Island Dead:
To Terrapin 5/28/1977 Hartford! As a Hartford native I had to throw that in, and also Bring Back the Whale!
Being A Dead Head Means…
One dollar grilled cheeses, adventure, chaos, and bumping into strangers only to have them turn into your best friends.