From paint to pixels: Artist shows off her ‘dreamlike’ illustrations

kschwers@kcstar.comApril 21, 2017 

With her hands together, looking off in the distance, Dee Kuse thought her young granddaughter, America, looked as if she was in a “dreamlike” state.

The photo of the 8-year-old started off just as that: a photo.

Inspired by the photo (and adding a touch of fantasy), Kuse created one of her specialties: a digital illustration.

Kuse, a graphic designer in Lee’s Summit, considers most of her work to be nontraditional, though she sometimes puts out more traditional art as well, including pencil art, watercolor paintings and scratch art.

But, more often than not, a touchpad and monitor serve as Kuse’s canvas.

Kuse points to the illustration of her granddaughter as one of her favorite pieces. Like most of her artwork currently hanging on the walls at the Gamber Community Center in Lee’s Summit, the illustration was made with Adobe Photoshop. Kuse paints what she knows best, and that includes her family and her dog, Smokey. She describes a deep love for children and animals.

Kuse says her love for art comes from her father, the late Carl Merrifield, who was an artist, working mostly in photography. But he could also paint and do cartoons well. Merrifield passed away at the age of 77 in 2007.

Her recent exhibit at the Gamber Center was made possible thanks to the Lee’s Summit Arts Council. The exhibit runs until April 28.

“I was so thrilled to get into an exhibit because I always thought this was for more of the fine arts,” Kuse said.

“Most of the things I’ve been doing over the years have been logos. I’ve done postcard design, poster designs and that kind of stuff all through the years as a freelancer. But lately, when I started teaching myself Photoshop and Illustrator, I really got into illustration, and that’s what I love the most.”

Kuse relies on Photoshop often for her work. She uses the software to manipulate photos, nearly all of which are provided by her sister, photographer Debra Breitenstein.

Kuse also says she paints a lot of her work on Photoshop, completely from scratch. It normally takes her at least eight hours to complete an illustration on her Wacom tablet.

But it wasn’t always that way. About nine years ago, Kuse said she made the switch from “old-fashioned graphic design” to designing on computers. At the time, Kuse was stay-at-home mom with a 9-year-old daughter. She freelanced, but decided she wanted to advance her skill set and build on the degree in commercial art she’d gotten several years back.

It was difficult. At the same time Kuse was learning Adobe software in class, she was also learning about computers. In the end, Kuse says it was worth it. The illustrator embraces new techniques as well as new technology, such as her Wacom tablet.

“Everything had gone to the computers, so I literally had to get my bottom in gear and learn as much as I could,” Kuse said.

She took a class at Longview, learned Illustrator, and taught herself several skills. She recently attended Johnson County Community College to learn other programs.

Now Kuse has been stepping out into the public with her exhibit at the Gamber Center. Her work has also been presented at the Colbern Library in Lee’s Summit. Her goal is to build up her portfolio and pursue more opportunities to showcase her work.

Kuse also loves to teach. She currently holds private art lessons in her south Lee’s Summit home for four students. The students, she says, are talented, curious and fun.

“It’s just amazing to watch some of these kids,” Kuse said, adding that she thrives on teaching.

At her full-time job, Kuse gets to work with students on a daily basis. Kuse is a paraprofessional and a substitute teacher for the Lee’s Summit School District. She says she enjoys her job — especially when working with the art teachers.

Professionally and personally, Kuse feels a connection to her work, and she’s working to continue her passion.

“ Some nights, on Friday nights, I’ll start working about 6 o’clock and it’s nothing for me to all of a sudden hear birds singing and I’ll look out and it’s bright outside because it’s 5 o’clock in the morning, and I’m not tired at all,” Kuse said with a laugh.

“You get fascinated with the way it turns out and you have something in your imagination, and when you start seeing it come to life, you don’t want to stop.”

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