Ella Kennin, who’s not just a high school student but a proud Memphis artist, is a living example that age shouldn’t stop you from your dreams. One graphite portraiture changed everything for her from earning a full ride to college, to getting paid to do what she loves, and expanding her network in Memphis.
Kennin grew up in an artistic family and knew that she was bound to possess those same qualities. “I’ve just been dabbling in art since I was in elementary school by just looking up to my two idols, my grandma and sister,” Kennin said. “Since they do mostly painting, I tried that for a while but soon found out it just wasn’t my niche.”
This new journey all started when she was thinking of a style for her AP art portfolio in high school. Last year, Kennin discovered portraiture, and she took to it quickly. Later, she tried graphite and found out she was talented and rolled with it. She incorporated a new style of graphite portraiture with her love of flowers to create a new, unique signature. At first, she planned on drawing the flowers, but she went through her grandma’s books one day and laid eyes on a pressed flower that sparked an idea. She found that the colorless graphite left the piece open to interpretation, and the delicate pressed flowers allow a pop of color.
Kennin has always seen Memphis as home, so she wanted to continue that love in college by applying to the University of Memphis. Though she has a passion for art, majoring in it was never the plan. She decided on becoming a business major to get the skills needed to open her own store one day. Like many, opportunities arise that you would have never thought was imaginable. Kennin’s artwork was displayed during the Scholastic Art Show at the Brooks Museum where it caught the U of M’s eye. They granted Kennin a full, four-year scholarship to the art department, so naturally, she did what anybody in her situation would’ve done and changed her major to art with a focus in sculpture.
Kennin is a jack of all trades and builds furniture on the side. She wants to incorporate furniture, art, and sculpture to open her own business in either the downtown or Midtown area in the future. She already has connections with local artists and businesses, so she would like to stay here to continue to cultivate and grow.
“I want to open my own business, that’s the end goal,” said Kennin. “I want to be in Memphis, have my own small business in Memphis, focused in Memphis, and focusing on Memphis artists and creatives to give them a platform to show what they got, ya know? That’s the dream.”
In December, she was inspired by doing art for the city as a way to celebrate Memphis. She knew Memphis locals would appreciate it, and it would bring out the proud Memphian inside of them. Her Bluff City series feature celebrities like Isaac Hayes, Penny Hardaway, Elvis Presley, Justin Timberlake, and plot twist, Morgan Freeman. I don’t know if I am living under a rock but y’all… THE Morgan Freeman is from Memphis.
Click to view the gallery. All art ©Ella Kennin.
“I like seeing people light up when they see someone they love and respect up on the wall, especially in the form of art,” Kennin said. She is still not giving up hope on the chance that these celebrities might support her work, so Penny if you are reading this, hit up my girl Ella.
People have retail and even puppy therapy, but Kennin’s is art; it is a way to pour out her emotions. Some of her pieces aren’t meant to be a metaphor, but they are to her. She often associates her drawings with what is happening at the time. While she was creating her Penny Hardaway piece for the Bluff City series, she was approached by a man at a local coffee shop. They sat and talked for about four hours and quickly became best friends.
“I associate the Penny Hardaway piece, although it is just a photo of Penny Hardaway, to me, it is so much deeper,” Kennin said. “It is me making this intimate connection with this man who was so unique and so cool, and I haven’t seen him since.”
When asked what advice she’d give aspiring artists, she shared the following:
“Don’t lose sight of what you love doing. Don’t change your art because other people say to change it. You want it to be yours and criticism is always a good thing. Don’t get discouraged when you have negative criticism. You can take that and roll with it, but you can never take you out of your own art… It becomes way more beautiful when you use it to release your own emotions and use it as therapy rather than a way to pay the bills.”
Kennin’s Bluff City series is currently hung at Belltower Artisans for the next couple of months. Be sure to keep an eye out for her unique work, because it might be at a coffee shop near you.
Follow her on Instagram @ellakennin or take a look at her portfolio and buy her pieces at her website.