Kay’s Faceless Lookalikes
Writer, Karin Venema, chats to Kay Thompson, talented creator of Cards by Kay and the popular faceless family lookalikes.
When I came across a Facebook post with a drawing of a faceless family, I instantly recognised my friend Sally with her husband and two boys. Yes, even without faces! Cards made by Kay Thompson have a simple yet unique style that perfectly captures the subjects’ essence – but without drawing a face at all. I am intrigued: how does she do it?
‘Why I Love Babywearing’
Kay works as a teacher but has always loved drawing. When she was preparing for her maternity leave with her second daughter, she entered a drawing competition on Facebook on ‘Why I love babywearing’. Competing with many photographs, her simple line drawing showed a number of faceless parents demonstrating the many ways that babywearing allows you to have your hands free and get on with opening doors, carrying shopping, holding hands, etc. Kay did not win a prize, but her drawing got a special mention. People were able to relate to it, and it had over 25,000 views not only in the UK but also from the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Germany, Mexico and America. Her inbox exploded with messages from enthusiastic babywearers who wanted to order a print of her picture.
Faceless Family Lookalikes
Kay started doing commission drawings for families, and her little business ‘Cards by Kay’ took off. “I guess the concept started when I was doodling little pictures of people and could never quite get the face right,” Kay pondered. “I started focussing on other details: clothes, hairstyle, accessories… just the things that you recognise about people. Maybe a specific style of glasses, or really curly hair. Or the standard legging and baggy jumper outfit that she always wears. Of course, I also look at shapes and postures, the proportions of people and size in relation to each other. I depict people in clothes they would usually wear, with accessories that are significant to them. What are their jobs, hobbies, favourite toys? I have drawn paintbrushes in pockets, footballs under feet, all sorts. I put lots of little clues in there, any detail that I can grab, but not in an obvious way”.
Her drawings are used as presents, invitations for baby showers, weddings, Christmas cards and more. Another popular option is the gift card, allowing others to get acquainted with Kay’s cards.
By the time Kay decided to take a break because of her due date looming ever closer, she had drawn 59 family portraits, including 26 pets (mostly cats, but not forgetting two poodles), numerous cuddly toys, cars, trucks, a Hello Kitty doll and a Buzz Lightyear, a couple of footballs and a few scooters. At least two cameras, a glass or two of champagne, a paint palette, a spade, the Red Arrows, someone’s new house, a cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, three Christmas trees, a boy as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, a picnic scene, a forest scene, one surfboard and one canoe, some Chinese lanterns, and a motorbike.
“My first drawings were for family and friends,” smiled Kay. “I would secretly study their details and put them together in my drawings. I spent a lot of time lurking about people’s Facebook profiles, looking at their photos and habits. And I would practise on celebrities. If I do a commission for someone who doesn’t have a profile full of photos, I ask them to send me a few and tell me a little bit about the family members to get an impression. I would then sketch a first draft in pencil and offer the chance to comment and adjust anything that is not quite right. Finally, I draw it up with ink pens with different thicknesses”.
Of course, art is subjective. You will either love Kay’s drawings, or not. Kay’s oldest daughter was not quite sure about Kay’s work, said Kay: “One time I came back downstairs and found one of my drawings, and my daughter Josephine had drawn faces in all the open spaces!”.
I personally love the way that Kay manages to capture the core of the people that she draws, using so few lines and no faces. And when you know the family she has drawn, you can appreciate the care that has gone into all the details even more. Most of all I love how she managed to turn a weakness into a niche, creating a unique and recognisable style.
“The personal drawing process creates a connection,” Kay said. “I get to know the family in their small ways that are so typical of them. Maybe the biggest compliment is the family that I have drawn three times now, following their maturing process and new additions. It is lovely to draw up their development and contribute to the documentation of their family history”.
Written by Karin Venema
Images provided by Kay Thompson