Kelly Heaton is one of those people you just don’t forget- even if you only meet them once. She’s model tall with long blond hair and a sweet, pretty face. But it’s not just the aesthetics that make her unforgettable; it’s the comically witty, at times even biting, words that flow out of her mouth just as easy as her hair flows down her back.
She’s perpetually busy. She is a professional makeup artist, costume designer, and jewelry maker. She’s also an integral member of Be The Change, a group dedicated to helping the community in various charitable ways based at Kean University and overseen by beloved professor and popular author Dr. Norma Bowe.
Full disclosure: I’m clearly a fan, as I have been for over a deacade when I first met her mentoring incoming students at Kean.
I sat down for coffee with her last month, and our time was limited because she had to get to a meeting. Pressed for time, she still was engaging, warm and very much interested in Zoe, who ate up the attention. Before she left, I told her I wanted to feature her as part of “Creatives Space” (yeah, I know it’s been forever… my bad). She was down, and following is our e-exchange Q&A.
Told you she’s a cutie.
EOE: Tell me about your childhood. Were you into art back then? If yes, what type? Drawing? Painting?
KH: I’ve always enjoyed many forms of art. I remember my aunts and uncles taking me to museums, musicals, the opera, and the ballet when I was younger. My godmother would give all her nieces and nephews the option of going shopping for toys or to a Broadway musical. I almost always opted for the musical. Another aunt of mine always bought me a present that had to do with art in some way – either a sketchpad and pencil set, charcoals, bead making kit, oil pastels…which did not go well with a brand new beige carpet.
EOE: You attended Kean University as an undergrad- first for Theatre, then English/Education. Why did you switch majors? How did your classes influence your art (if they did)?
KH: I started off as an Early Childhood Education Major with English, then switched to Secondary Education with English and added on Theatre. I love kids, but I really enjoyed discussing ideas and literature with teenagers. The same semester that Kean University cut the women’s swim team, I was taking a costuming elective and decided to become more involved with the department as well. I also graduated from The American Academy McAllister Institute with a degree in Mortuary Science and Funeral Service.
EOE: What did you learn there that has stuck with you since?
KH: I’ve learned a lot from some great professors I’ve had there. Dr. Susanna Rich has me still on my toes when I edit my work, reading things over and working hard to keep the cliché out of anything I write. Ms. Karen Hart and Dr. Stephen Kubow both are great examples of how to work with students and student workers, and Dr. Norma Bowe is one of the most inspirational people one could ever hope to meet.
Rock and rawhide set
EOE: What is your company’s name? Why did you choose it?
KH: Kelleesee Designs is my name. There is already a Kelly Heaton that has been established as an artist, and she is also a professor of engineering at MIT, so I decided that I needed to brand myself under something else. The one time I was correcting an address over the phone and told the representative for the company my name was “Kelly C. Heaton” to match the name on my credit card and in the mail I received a letter from them addressed to Kelleesee Heaton. I thought it was funny and decided to use it.
EOE: Are you dating? (Don’t feel obligated to answer if you don’t want to.
KH: I am not; it’s not really an important factor in my life. I’ve always had the mind frame that if I were, it would have to be someone to compliment my life, not complicate my life.
Mermaid’s jewelry box
EOE: Which relationships (family, friends, romantic) have influenced your art?
KH: I think all of them. I have friends that send me pictures stating “It would be really cool if you paint this”, or I’ll see a type of stone or crystal and think or be inspired by someone who I know would like it and try to make it into something that will suit their style.
EOE: Besides designing jewelry, drawing and painting, creating costumes, you also do makeup professionally (whew!). You’ve even worked NY Fashion Week. How did that come about?
KH: I have friends in the beauty and fashion industry and someone I knew had an assistant that never showed and I was called that morning asking if I was available. I was lucky enough to have that day off, so I went. I had to execute her/the company’s design, not my own, but it was a great experience.
EOE: Do you practice a religion? If so, which? And does it play a part in your art?
KH: I was raised Catholic, but I’m not sure I’d be considered “a good one” if you look at the rule book. I’m more spiritual than religious and I just try to be kind and respectful to everyone. I’m not sure about it being a foundation of anything in my art.
Urban princess cluster
EOE: What music are you feeling right now?
KH: I listen to everything! I was going to the opera at age four and my first concert was The Beach Boys. When I was in the first grade, my homework got sent back with question marks because next to “What is your favorite band?” I wrote in “Fleetwood Mac and Tina Turner.” There’s no way I could list everything, I mean, I could but people would stop reading. My “go to” most days is Matt Nathanson or Brand New.
EOE: Where do you see yourself in seven years?
KH: I’m not sure I see myself anywhere but I have the hope to be published (I’m currently working on two realistic fiction novels and a journalistic piece with the working title of “Not Anonymous”. My goal with “Not Anonymous” is to have its theme of removing the social stigma of addiction and recovery, especially with young people. I will probably always be writing and designing and time will tell what happens with those.
EOE: As we all know, the economy is a hot mess, and things are pretty rough for us Millennials. Do you have any advice for other young, entrepreneurs?
KH: Never turn something down. If you can work, and it’s beneficial for you, do it, just not at the risk of burning yourself out. Never think you are too good or talented to work for or with someone else. My father always told me that wherever you work – whether it’s a coffee shop, a hospital, retail, anywhere – treat the business like it’s your business. Go to work wanting to make it a successful day. Networking can play a huge part and be proud of your work, but stay humble.
Wrapped around my…
EOE: Tell me something random about you.
KH: I designed the logo for a dancewear company (Cheeky Devil Dancewear) and that company was an official sponsor of The Miss Texas Pole Dancing Competition of 2013. 13.)
EOE: Where can we find, like, follow, love or stalk you online?
KH: Instagram – @kelleeseedesigns
Twitter – @kelleesee
Facebook (where I post a lot of jewelry I sell) – kel lee
And every now and then I post to my blog. It’s very few and far between I have inspiration, but lately I’ve decided I’m going to try a little harder to post in it – Wrong Girl Next Door