Perseverance Pays Off: Kelsey Dake

ADC Young Guns 12 winner tries, tries again


The final stretch is on! The regular ADC Young Guns 13  deadline has now passed, and we have entered the final ten days for entering — albeit with a $25 late fee your entry. And to keep the energy high among you procrastinating types (which probably amounts to last least half of creatives the world over) we are continuing ADC Young Guns Month right up until the April 10 deadline. You’ll the the wide scope of winners from last year’s competition, their thoughts about why they entered and what winning has done for them — as well as words from the very judges who accepted them into the exclusive class of Young Guns.

Some people are fortunate enough to win Young Guns on their first attempt. Others return after a first failed attempt and are successful the following year. And some only get one chance because they wait until they turn 30 before entering. Today’s Young Guns 12 winner is an illustrator who entered at a young age — and didn’t get in. So she entered again — and didn’t get in. Again and again she entered, getting better, getting more self-critical — until finally she struck gold, not only finally being named a Young Gun, but also being one of only two YG12 winners to win the Levine/Leavitt Artist in Residency Award. The lesson for today: perseverance pays.


Phoenix, AZ, USA



When did you first hear about Young Guns? 

I first heard about Young Guns when I was like 18 or 19 years old. I was definitely in art school when I heard about it for the first time. I think the first time I entered, I was 20. So that means I entered five times before actually getting in.

What were your impressions of the competition before entering?

My impression of Young Guns was that it really was the only competition that could sniff out true talent. that its previous recipients all had gone on to do great things. And that winning Young Guns could be a major boost to your career.

There are lots of big names among the list of past Young Guns winners. Did you ever think that maybe you weren’t good enough to join them? How did you overcome that feeling?

I think everybody feels that. But at some point you realize that they too were young once and just starting out, and there’s only one way to find out if you’re good enough, and that’s to enter. *shrug*

How did you decide which pieces to submit? Was it a no-brainer or did you have to really think about your entry?

Since I’ve entered more than a few times, I tried out a bunch of different ways. One of my earlier entries included greeting cards I had made as well as my website (which was terribly coded and designed by me) in an attempt to show breadth. But this last time, I finally just elected to only submit the work I liked the best. Some small part of me hopes that the work I like the best is the same work that others like the best.

“My impression of Young Guns was that it really was the only competition that could sniff out true talent.”

Tell us what it was like when you found out you won.

I was told at ICON by one of the judges, and I legitimately started crying. I thought he was lying at first. I mean come on! I’ve entered more than five friggin times! But then I lost my shit when I realized it was the truth.

Which Young Guns winners do you admire most?

Ah, this is a terribly hard question to answer. There are past Young Guns that I have become friends with, that I’ve worked for and with, and that have even been teachers. To pick just one would be insanely difficult!

What have you been up to since winning? Has Young Guns opened up any new doors for you since winning last fall?

Well, I was so lucky to snag the Artist in Residence Award through Young Guns and get paired up with Levine/Leavitt. It’s been so incredible working with them and taking my career to the next level. I spent the first five years by myself working up to this point, and it’s been great getting this huge push with the Young Guns 12 win and then maintaining the momentum.

What would you tell someone who was deciding whether or not to enter Young Guns 13?

Think of it as an investment, and why the hell not?



PabloMedinaCircle“The two words that come mind when contemplating Kelsey Dake’s work are purity and subversion. It’s as if with every line that she draws, she is revealing a truth that we did not yet know. It is this honesty that dictates both the aesthetic qualities of her work and its content, whether it be her portrait of Woody Allen cowering in the face of a blackbird or Steve Jobs awkwardly sipping a mojito. By employing these dramatic and nuanced story lines, her work goes beyond the medium of mere illustration and becomes a form of two-dimensional theater.

While I was sifting through hundreds of Young Guns submissions, Kelsey’s work exploded out of my browser. I hadn’t seen an illustrator with this much guts since Raymond Pettibon and Emory Douglas, two artists who are also quite familiar with this same power of honesty and drama.

There were times when making the yay or nay decision on a Young Guns submission was difficult, sometimes even torturous. This was not one of those times.”

Pablo Medina
BuddyBojorquezKelsey Dake’s style of work is exceptionally beautiful on so many levels – it’s raw, gritty, candid, and uniquely charming. Each piece in some way seems to cast a spell that visually challenges the reader in ways that seem unrefined yet refined, where just enough awkward meets just enough cool, and created somewhere in the middle of this clash are these candid worlds that we want to get lost in or be mesmerized in thought of “what’s going to happen next.” In a way, her works are like short stories carrying with it a voice that is unmistakably her own, and that’s hard to do.”

Buddy Bojorquez


JonathanBatrlettcircle“Kelsey Dake deserves this award for a few important reasons. Her work hits you in the face and immediately leaves a lasting impression — it feels personal, but is clearly unselfish when it comes to serving the project or client’s needs. I respect the hell out of the energy and raw honesty of her personality, which is reflected in her meticulously crafted drawings and typography, forcing them to stand out amongst her many peers. Really happy to see her part of this class! ”

Jonathan Bartlett





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