During the IDAL convention, I went by to see my friend Ed Mattingly’s class during a break. A nearby set of boards immediately caught my eye, my heart sped up and I said, “Incredible! Who is the artist?” and he replied, “Ali Kay”. I knew she was a talent to watch. I would also admire her artistry while she was working on the convention’s philanthropic mural. I saw a few more of her projects and thought ,”That’s it. I’m contacting her – she’s phenomenal!” I hope you feel the same way. Without further ado, Ali Kay of Houston’s Positive Space Art.
Ali Kay has been an artist from day one. She started painting murals for friends and family in high school and went on to study fine art at the University of Milwaukee Wisconsin. After her graduation, she spent time in Rome and Florence to not only study but also absorb art history. She officially started her decorative painting company Positive Space at the age of 19 in 2003 and in 2010, she and her husband moved from Milwaukee, WI to Houston, TX. The new environment proved to be a valuable change for her company and she has had the opportunity to work with many talented designers and artists in the growing city. In fact, Positive Space is an active industry partner with ASID and one of Ali’s murals was recently recognized at the Gulf Coast Chapter’s annual awards banquet under the category of Best Wall Treatment. While her work has always focused mainly on mural painting and fine art, she is now branching out into the world of faux finishes and decorative plasters.
What are some great products you’ve come across lately?
My favorite new product is the artist paint by Proceed. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve been using cheap quarts of wall paint for my murals for years and now that I’ve been introduced to this new paint line, I will never go back. It obviously costs more but the results are worth it. It dries so slow it’s almost like oil paint and it blends beautifully to create easy shading. It also stretches so you don’t need to use a lot of it to cover a large space.
What have been some of the most fulfilling projects you’ve been involved with?
About a year ago, I was asked by a designer I work with if I would be interested in doing a pro bono mural for a local family. The mother had lost her arms and legs due to a devastating complication from giving birth to her daughter. A foundation had been created and the community had helped to purchase a house for the family. After meeting them and doing the mural for her daughter’s nursery, I couldn’t help but do murals for their other two children as well. The family was so appreciative and kept thanking me. I felt like it was very little what I had actually done. It was so rewarding to be able to do anything to bring joy to someone who had been through so much. It was a much better payment than I could have received from any client.
What’s the best piece of professional advice you have received?
I think that the best piece of profession advice I have received has to do with my greatest struggle: pricing out work.
I was told not to focus so much on “How long is this going to take me?” but rather to ask myself “What is this project going to be worth when it’s completed?”.
Often times a project might not take a great deal of time, but may bring an incredible amount of value to the home or business and you should be compensated for that. On the opposite end, there are projects that seem to take forever and the end product does not show it. Those are ones that I might decide to pass on.
In your travels, what have been some of the most inspiring spaces you’ve seen that had decorative painting?
In college, I took a short art history course in Italy and we visited Pompeii. I was so amazed at the technical level of the art. It’s incredible me that these ancient people were using atmospheric perspective beautifully. When I think about the work of the middle ages and how primitive it was, it seems unbelievable that these people thousands of years earlier were so much more skilled at representation.
What photograph or image really moves you?
I little over a year ago I came across photos on Facebook of orphaned children in Haiti. The images were so powerful that I asked the woman who posted them if I could have permission to paint them. She happened to be the director of a mission in Aquin Haiti, Haitian Helping Haitian, and knew these children very well. These paintings turned into my “God’s Children” series. These are some of my favorite paintings I‘ve ever done, because the photos I used were so heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. I think what drew me in most was the look of the children’s eyes as they stared at the camera. About 6 months after I made the paintings, I went to Haiti and got to meet the same children I had been painting.
What is the first work of art you remember creating?
There are so many it’s hard to nail down just one as the first. My mom kept everything I did and I think by the time I was in high school she had filled a refrigerator box in our basement. One that sticks out in my mind though was a drawing I did of my grandparents when I was probably about 6. I had them pose for me at the kitchen table.
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Her pro bono project must have been so satisfying — imagine helping bring so much joy to a family that desperately needed it! I’m also glad she was able to travel to Haiti to visit with the children she had been painting. What an incredible experience that must have been! A big thank you to Ali for working with me to put this profile together. Please do stop by her website, Positive Space Art, to see more of her beautiful work. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s profile and found it inspiring. Have a wonderful weekend!
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