Southern artist Kayce Hughes made her foray into the arts industry as a studio arts major in college, but upon graduation, her career began in an unexpected field. “Right after college, I ended up working for Ralph Lauren in women’s design,” she explains. “And I sort of went from that straight to having kids, then I ended up with a children’s clothing line, which led to a women’s clothing line that ended up being three stores.” The stores were in Nashville, Atlanta and Chattanooga, with the eponymous name, Kayce Hughes.
Kayce’s rise in the fashion world came right around the time Instagram was gaining in popularity; it was her social media presence that would eventually lead her to a new career path. “I would paint things to put up on the walls just to make the store look pretty,” she says. “And I would paint things for my own home — and really, with the popularity of Instagram, people started being super interested in my art.”
Bunny Williams Home in New York would eventually be the first place — outside of Kayce’s own home and retail stores — to have her artwork up on display. “An old friend was running Bunny Williams, and she saw my stuff and wanted it for in there,” she recalls. “Before I knew it, my art was sort of taking off, and the clothing had become a little arduous. So, I ended up selling my stores to two of my employees and doing full-time painting.”
Kayce swapped apparel for acrylic, watercolor, and ink on paper, as well as oil and acrylic on canvas, drawing much of her inspiration from writing and calligraphy. A fan of vintage drawings, she says she loves line quality. “A lot of the techniques that I now often do have come from making a giant mistake and sort of trying to wipe the paint off the canvas,” she adds. “But then I’d discover that something pretty was going on and like it so much that I’d do that on purpose the next time, which I think is sort of an interesting metaphor for life.”
When it comes to inspiration, she has a deep love for antiques and vintage furniture, but she doesn’t want her home to look like her grandmother’s. This approach led to what she says was an obvious decision to mix artwork that feels modern and fresh with old furniture, describing her pieces as “modern abstract work that plays nicely with a room that might also be full of antiques.”
Kayce clarifies, however, that her art works well in completely modern spaces — it’s just that when she creates, she is thinking from the perspective of someone who enjoys having older, more traditional elements integrated into their space. Her goal is to paint pieces that would work in those types of spaces, but still feel different enough to make the room feel fresh.
Her final creations range in size, with the smallest ones being part of her everyday routine. On a typical day, after she drops her youngest child off at school and takes a few minutes to savor her morning cappuccino, Kayce heads to her studio to get to work on these pieces. “I have an Instagram where I do three paintings every day that are smaller and discounted,” she explains. “Sometimes, I might have a little stash of those but more often than not, I’m starting the day by painting those three that I’ll end up putting on Instagram.”
Kayce’s day continues with more painting and working with her studio manager, who works with clients on requests for commissioned art. After a run at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park, she picks her kids up from school, gets dinner going, then pops back into the studio to get one more layer on a canvas. Though her days are often very busy and quite long, Kayce says being a full-time artist has been much easier than working in the fashion industry. It also allows her to spend more time exercising her creativity.
“I love both fashion and art,” Kayce explains. “I think art has just been easier because I’m dealing with a lot fewer stores than when I sold clothing, and I don’t ever have to put any art on sale — no one cares about the seasons. There’s no ‘spring painting’ or ‘fall painting.’ It’s less complex, so it’s just sort of a more pared-down way to be creative. It is a lot less complicated. I had a pretty big line; a lot of SKUs. Shipping one painting out the door feels a lot easier.”
Though shipping is always an option, Nashville residents can find Kayce’s work at Patina & Co. and Providence Interiors. Her pieces are also available in various boutiques across the country. The works that are currently in all these stores fall under her modern abstract aesthetic, but she plans to offer something new in the coming weeks.
“I’m about to create some very loose botanical paintings that are very much about line quality,” Kayce says. “I’m in the process of working with Grand Palace to silkscreen. I’m excited because I’ve never done prints of my other modern work. But I feel like this will be a nice way to do something that I can do multiples of, but they’ll still have the silkscreen quality, which makes them feel very handmade — because they literally are handmade.”
Between the pieces she paints daily and her new venture with botanical hand-silkscreened prints, Kayce has a lot going on. Still, she insists that being a full-time artist is well worth all the hard work. “After doing clothing where you have to sort of put things on sale and deal with huge amounts of inventory and factories and all that,” she says, “painting has felt really nice and simplified — and I feel really lucky that that’s what I get to do every day.”
Learn more about Kayce and explore her work at kaycehughes.com. All photos courtesy of Kayce Hughes.
*Interview edited to condense and for clarity.
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