The Cast Paper Art of Kevin Dyer

As an artist, there is one particular format which I have always found interesting, and that is Bas-Relief. Bas-relief is a form of art that isn’t fully 3-dimensional, but likewise is not flat. It is a sculptural relief which sets atop a flat base, thus conveying the illusion of a sculpture that has yet to fully emerge.
So I was naturally drawn to the cast paper bas-relief of Kevin Dyer.
I first discovered his work when searching for images to match the song title Wild Irish Rose. Indeed, I had seen Kevin’s depiction many times, but I had never known who created it. I’m so glad I followed the many internet links to finally stumble upon his website because there I discovered a wealth of Celtic and Fantasy art.
So in telling Kevin’s story, I will first relate the short bio he has published online. Then, I’ll ask a few questions, which Kevin was kind enough to answer.

Kevin Dyer – My Adventures as an Artist

I am self-instructed as an artist. I first got started as a street artist painting the occasional wall mural or anything else someone was foolish enough to let me put my brushes to. In 1976 I did my first outdoor street festival and knew that was my life to come. The first couple of shows were all drawings and watercolors, but I could see that doing multiples was the only way to make enough affordable original art to keep going. So I took up printmaking. Mostly etchings and mono prints. With original hand pulled prints I could put my best effort into a plate and still be able to sell them for a reasonable price. The same philosophy works with paper casting.
Over the 10 years I spent as a print maker I evolved into relief printing with embossing. I began to make paper to print and emboss on. Embossing involves making a plate, placing soaked paper on it and running it through a press. This was pretty easy but the detail and depth are limited. You can only stretch paper so far. I really wanted sculptural depth. Then one day I was looking through an art magazine and saw an example of cast paper. I thought “I can do that, and probably a lot better.” (Self doubt is not my problem). And sure enough after about 3 years of errors and trials I developed my techniques. In about 5 years I had enough molds to do paper casting exclusively.
Paper casting is to me the perfect medium. It allows me use almost every skill set. A typical piece begins as a drawing or two. Then I sculpt it in wax. This is a long refining process and often the image sculpted is far different that the drawing. Then I build a dam around the wax and pour a rubber mold directly off the surface. A casting is made by pressing wet cotton pulp into the mold and extracting the water. Then I finish the surface.
While every piece that emerges from the mold is about the same, no two are really painted the same. Maybe I would if I could, but the painting process is always in flux. I am always experimenting with ways of mixing colors or washes and hard edge or new pigments. I spend about 75% of my time with the painted finishes.
I am very excited now to be able to expand my designs into some other mediums. I have begun to offer digital prints of my designs. I have been experimenting with Giclees and traditional prints in addition to T-shirts, postcard and woven prints. I am very excited to now offer woven tapestries. The designs are 100% my own and woven on a digital loom by a small company in the USA.
When I see or dream a thing that moves me in that way, I try to distill the essence of it and add it to my bag of tricks. I am something of a student of ancient art and particularly interested in Celtic history, but I am not interested in reproducing artifacts or furthering a traditional technique. There was an original impulse for man to do art in the first place. Images and objects that take us out of our day to day consciousness. A magic icon or at least a feeling that allowed the viewer to step out of the ordinary world of words and survival and allow a more ancient wisdom to arise. I am looking for that magic. When I am working, it never really seems like I am alone. It’s a strange feeling like channeling a human need to create. Voices of the past seem to want pass along a vision or standard. But then again, perhaps I am alone too much. Anyway, I hope that some of these images speak to you and you can find your own magic

RD: So Kevin, your bio says that you have been painting professionally since 1976, but have you always dabbled in painting? Was that part of your early family life or high school/college education? Did you have encouragement? Were there any family members who truly inspired and guided you?
Kevin: I started drawing and painting as a young child, like most young children do. I really enjoyed it, so I kept working at it. I practiced and experimented as I grew.

RD: Were you always attracted to Celtic and Fantasy subjects? What I’ve noticed about other Celtic artists (like myself) is that the phrase, “You see things and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?” is something near and dear to our hearts.
Kevin: I have always enjoyed cultures of antiquity. My mother’s side of the family embraced their Irish heritage, and I considered that a part of my identity. I did my first Celtic piece in the 90’s and it did very well. I really connected with the style and soon found almost all my work having Celtic elements. I started researching the myths and legends for inspiration. It really grew from there. I really want to take the style and do new things with it and combine it with other styles.

RD: Did you study Celtic Art or were you self-taught? I learned Celtic Art from workbooks and from studying source material. Your Celtic art is so well executed, I would love to know more about your learning curve.
Kevin: I also learned a good bit from buying books (back when people still did that to research). I’m always learning and researching new myths and legends. I think the biggest learning curve was taking the concepts and the style and keeping them both true to style but also unique to my style.

RD: Your work ‘flows’. It has grace and motion. It’s dynamic, and yet gentle. Is that a reflection of your personality?
Kevin: I don’t know if I’m the best judge of my own personality. I certainly will take that as a compliment though. In artistic terms good composition should flow and be balanced and pleasing to the eye. At least that is my old school belief.

RD: Your work is so vivid. Your pieces “Re-Awakening” and “High Road” reflect this realism. Do you find that working in bas-relief allows you a depth that is difficult to achieve in a flat medium?
Kevin: Most of the time in each casting goes into the hand painting. The image from the casting allows me to make hand painted reproductions in a way I never could with a flat medium. The fact that the image is cast into the paper I can concentrate on just the painting techniques when I paint. Also, the fact that I paint the same image many times allows me to try different approaches and the evolution of style.

RD: Do you have any favorite pieces in your collection? If so, which ones and why?
Kevin: I’m very proud of “The Celtic Tree of Life”. The large version took a very long time, and a lot of work went into the planning and story. It’s my signature piece.

RD: I love “Flight of Fancy”. What inspired that?
Kevin: I wanted to do a cat piece. I wanted it to be playful and fanciful. I decided to do wings and started looking at different types of wings. I found some beautiful photos of eagles’ wings and decided to model the kitties’ wings based on those.

RD: Your “Green Man” looks like a sea creature. I’ve never seen a Green Man depicted like this. Why did you choose this styling?
Kevin: Huh, I hadn’t heard “sea creature” before. Like most of my pieces, once I got the idea I researched the story and looked at work of antiquity for inspiration. Then I made a sketch. Once I had the sketch, I sculpt over it with wax. I worked on it till I felt like it was finished. That is how it turned out.

RD: There is some beautiful imagery in “Yggdrasil”. Why the stag?
Kevin: Part of the myth of the Yggdrasil is that four stags live and eat among the tree, so in my version I incorporated one of these stags into the tree. I feel it gives it a masculine energy that pairs well with the feminine energy in my “Rowan Tree”.

RD: You are based in Florida. Do you have a chance to travel to some of the large Celtic shows around the country (once ‘the plague’ lifts) or do you prefer to stay closer to your studio?
Kevin: I actually live in Georgia. The shows and festivals started back up late summer 2021. I do shows all over. The furthest ones probably being North Texas Irish festival in Dallas, TX and Summer Arts festival in Ann Arbor, MI. I do a number of local shows too including the Stone Mountain Highland Games and Dragon Con.

RD: How long does it take to sculpt a wax original?
Kevin: That entirely depends on the size of the piece. I would say a small one takes 30-40 hours.

RD: How long does it take to cast the paper piece and paint it?
Kevin: The casting process takes about 90 minutes of hands-on time per load and a day to dry. A load can be several small pieces or one large piece.
How long a piece takes greatly depends on the size and the complexity. A small piece can take 3-4 hours and a large complex piece like “Re-Awakening” can take over 20. There are many layers, so they rarely get painted all at once.

RD: What are some of your upcoming projects?
Kevin: I’m currently working on a new piece that incorporates a Dolmen, megalithic stone structures found around the British Isles.

RD: Do you have any words of wisdom for artists who try to make a living from their work?
Kevin: Always be building inventory. Know your worth. Don’t be afraid to spend money and try new things. Accept that not everything you do is gonna sell well and never quit working. That is how you get better.

RD: Thank you so much for this interview. I truly appreciate it!
Kevin: My very best regards, Erin.