Featured Artists

Artist Spotlight: Kayla Allen

Kayla Allen is a plein air artist who is currently on a road trip with the goal of painting every National Park in the United States. She spoke to us about what inspired her trip and how her journey has transformed her skill set and style as an artist. Her love for nature and passion for painting landscapes has helped influence the style of her art. Read on to learn more about Kayla and her inspiring travels.

Where are you from and can you tell us a bit about the current road trip you are on?

    I grew up in a small town called Cambridge on the Eastern Shore of Maryland– this is where my dream to become an artist started. Growing up nearly on the Chesapeake Bay and so close to unique marshland, I had a firm appreciation for the natural beauty of the world from an early age. I don’t think it surprised my family much when I first hatched the idea of taking a road trip in an attempt to paint every National Park in the United States… all 63, en plein air. I have now been on and off the road for over a year and have successfully painted in 34 National Parks as of this interview date (hopefully I’ll be adding one more in a week’s time.) In 2022 I traveled for seven straight months living in my 26-foot travel trailer and now I am in month three of 2023.     

    Acadia National Park

    What drew you to become an artist and what do you like about painting landscapes?  

    I cannot exactly remember when I started thinking of myself as an artist or even when I picked up a pencil or paintbrush for the first time. In my memories, I have always been an artist. I can, however, distinctly remember parts of Kindergarten–more specifically–the time of day when all Kindergarteners were encouraged to pick a “center” or activity for a portion of the class. I can recall the feeling of pure excitement and joy if I noticed the painting center was still open when it was my turn to choose my center. I loved the feeling and idea of being able to express and create on a blank surface. There is an element of magic in turning nothing into something from one’s mind. 

    In a later memory, I can recall drawing figures from the designs on my notebooks and folders from school– I remember one day noting that I had successfully recreated the scene on my notebook without tracing. This accomplished feeling is not far from what I would have imagined magic to be. 

    What draws me to art today is a combination of the feelings from these two memories: an excitement to create something from nothing and the feeling of magic when my eye, hand, and imagination are able to work together in a way that is perfect for the creation of something recognizable but new. 

    My current love of plein air landscape painting is heavily drawn from my love of nature, imagination, and recording. When painting landscapes on site I often describe the experience as “journaling.” While a photo of a location is a split second of a day, my paintings take hours to record. Painting in this way is like writing a story as it happens. The best part is the story is not just mine, it’s the story of the location, and consequently the story of any viewer’s experience with the location. 


    Saguaro National Park

    How would you describe your style?  

    I would describe my style as being a little on the impressionist side in the way of mark making. I like to use large marks to describe an area and turn more to hue and tone to bring the subjects of the painting back or forward in a semi-realistic way. Although this decision is made subconsciously in most cases, my focus on the color and hue relationship in nature helps bring a “fuzzy” or soft dream-like quality to most of my work. I like to think this effect also aids in bringing viewers into the painting. My goal is to allow the viewer (myself included) to feel a familiar sense of belonging when they look at my work– as if maybe, just maybe, they had been to the location before, whether it be in this life or a dream.

    Guadalupe Mountains National Park

    What has kept you engaged and committed to your craft over the years?

    I really think my original love for creating is what keeps me committed to my craft. There is still the little kindergartner in me who is just excited to have an open easel and a blank canvas at her disposal. 

    Joshua Tree
    Photo by: Taylor Neal @nzzltea on Instagram

    How have you grown as an artist in the past five years and what are the major contributing factors to your growth? 

    In the past five years, my art has changed dramatically. Five years ago I was in my sophomore year of college as an English Secondary Education Major. I spent my weekends playing matches with my college tennis team and evenings after class practicing tennis. Painting and creating art was still a part of my life– I spent my free time following Bob Ross tutorials and learning how to screen print tee shirts on YouTube. My art was mainly an exploration of the magic of creating. It was around this time that I started posting my work on an art Instagram account I had started. Back then I would have never thought that an Instagram account would carry me into pursuing an art minor two years later. Posting my creations to the account gave me an outlet and accountability toward my creation journey. I started creating in some way every day– practicing and working towards getting better. By the time graduation (and COVID) rolled around, I knew I could keep going. I took out a loan and started working towards adding an art minor to my degree. In December of 2020, I graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Education and a minor in Art. Receiving an education in art and taking myself seriously as an artist is what has given me the confidence to pursue my National Park journey. This newfound confidence paired with countless hours of practice (I have now painted over 100 plein air National Park based paintings in the past year) has transformed my skill set and allowed me to develop my own style.   


    What materials do you most commonly use? 

    When painting I use acrylic paint: crimson, ultramarine blue, cadmium yellow, burnt umber, titanium white, and the occasional burnt sienna for my underpaintings. I also tend to use a slow-drying medium when working in dry or hot climates to allow for more workability on canvas. I have mostly used a canvas panel to help save space and store safely on the road–living in a 26-foot camper has its perks but it also makes for a small studio space! I sometimes use small stretched canvases as well, but I keep these to a minimum if possible. I hike into my locations so I use a box easel, and pack-in a jar of water, and three square-tipped acrylic brushes (although I have a habit of using one brush for an entire painting.) Lastly, I use a cloth or napkin for my underpainting sketches. I use a subtractive method to block my shapes and values into the underpainting so my focus can remain on hue during the mid-layer of the painting.   

    Can you describe some of your favorite pieces you’ve worked on?

    My favorite pieces to work on tend to be the most difficult pieces. My painting of Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon, Arches, and White Sands are good examples of these types of works. All of these locations offer a multitude of textures, colors, and values– all of which are constantly changing as I paint and the sun moves across the sky. My mind tends to enter a flow state during these types of paintings. I go into autopilot and start making creative and calculated decisions in the subconscious mind. This is where that magic I talked about really happens. I end up “waking up” from these pieces unable to explain even to myself how I achieved any effect or where and why I made certain creative decisions. These paintings look slightly different in style from my others (or at least they do to me!)  

    Yosemite National Park
    Photo by: Jana @sunshinegypsea on Instagram

    Do you have any advice for up-and-coming artists? Are there any tips or techniques you can offer? 

    My biggest tip to any artist would be to take yourself seriously. Big things start happening when you stop waiting for others to give you that validation and you start giving yourself permission to be successful. 

    What are your website and social media links? 


    Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok: @thecolorfulkayak 

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