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Self-portrait. Photo: Kaylie Seaver.

Interview: Musician and tattoo artist Kaylie Seaver on a life of creating

By Jamie MacPherson on August 19, 2020

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“There was a lot of knocking on doors, being told flat-out ‘no’, or being led on just to be ghosted. Being in school and working three jobs all throughout that was a bit of a sleepless and stressful time, but all totally worth it,” is how Kaylie Seaver, local tattooer, artist, and musician, describes her start. Her extensive portfolio, two websites, and music projects are proof we can all create a stunning life. This is her story.

Career Day in elementary school. Photo: Gisele Grignon.

On lines

Life is constant change, but how that change resonates depends on our outlook. Before COVID-19, Kaylie had four tattoo conventions and one guest spot lined up, and all of them had to be cancelled. Three months of appointments were gone in hours.

But we draw our own lives. Kaylie began with a single positive line, and soon a new road emerged. “Over the lockdown, I made about 20 paintings (acrylic and digital), 10 ballpoint drawings, 20 small sculptures, 13 paintings on bones, got new shirts made and new prints,” she says. Instead of going “into a hole of unproductive misery,” Kaylie created. Lines bring us to new places, experiences, and realizations. When external forces distort the picture, Kaylie believes we should simply keep drawing.

Completed painting. Photo: Kaylie Seaver.

From house parties to Fall Down Gallery and beyond

Kaylie has always drawn and created, thanks to encouraging parents. When she moved to Ottawa in 2006 she brought her creativity with her, starting with house parties in Chinatown. “I’d make 15 to 25-ish paintings, put them up around the house, and my roommates and I would have a party. The paintings were not great (I can’t look at any of the photos I have of them now), and the parties were just a shitshow, but those were some good memories,” she says. She persevered, and secured a solo art show at the now-closed Fall Down Gallery where she got noticed. Kaylie says she owes a lot to that gallery’s owner, Robbie Larivière.

Babylon Nightclub, Ottawa Showbox show. Photo: David Kawai.

Beauty follows from hard work. Kaylie is now selling art online “to offer some artwork to people who weren’t into getting tattooed,” with a professional website created by Melissa Athina.

That website retains some of the coziness of those old house parties. Kaylie explains that she “never shook loose that original root of it being a personal page… so I still post unnecessary non-art things frequently, like my dog or plates of curly fries. It feels weird separating myself entirely from my work life, because it’s all so wrapped up together.”

Kaylie adds that one of her favourite parts of what she does is packaging. “I love organizing the orders and adding little thank-you notes or personalized detail.”

Fall Down Gallery solo show. Photo: Dean Morris.

“Unsettling artwork”

“Most of my art is just me finding interesting garbage on the side of the street, lugging it home, and painting on it. I really love rescuing found objects and turning them into something weird and new,” Kaylie says. She’s drawn to “creepy things” which are then built into her works. Stories with symbolism and motifs, especially European folklore, are also brought in. “I think I’m drawn to these themes because they’re aesthetically pleasing, but the nitty-gritty details are often disturbing and uncomfortable and that’s the line I like to ride.” Whether it’s painting, sewing, sculpting, or drawing, Kaylie loves tangible things to build her occult-inspired art. She’s always pushing boundaries to usher her audience outside of their comfort zone into new, beautiful discoveries.

Tattooing at The Ink Spot. Photo: Dean Morris.

Tattoos

We all end up in unexpected places. “I didn’t really think tattooing would ever be a possibility for me,” Kaylie says, “but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I ended up annoying the tattooer who was working on my half-sleeve at the time into hiring me as a counter person, and I’m so unbelievably grateful he gave me a shot because that’s what got my foot in the door. I started taking classes at the Ottawa School of Art, and then worked the counter at another studio, and eventually got an apprenticeship at the Ink Spot. I’ve been, officially, a Real TattooerTM (post apprenticeship) for almost five years now. I apprenticed for two and a half years at Ink Spot, and I just recently moved to a private studio, Cosmic Debris, at the beginning of 2020!”

House show. Photo: Keturah Johnson.

Making sounds

Kaylie fell in love with singing and the guitar and piano in childhood. Her passion for music is even stronger today. Her band Grandmother, in which she plays guitar with other musicians for the first time (which she says is terrifying), is safely practising in her basement until they can play live. Kaylie describes their sound as “heavy and soft, ringing, melancholic dirges filled with vocal harmonies and dense instrumentation. Somewhere between post-rock, post-doom, and folk gloom.”

Cosette at Cafe Dekcuf. Photo: Loukia Merdanos.

When Kaylie has time, which is “almost never,” she works on a solo side project called Cosette. Slow-moving things are still wonderful, though. Here, Kaylie plays all the instruments. Multi-layered short songs with an array of quiet and loud sounds, and sometimes haunting vocals that leave an impression on you, making you want more. And there will be more, because music and creating are things Kaylie can’t live without.

New lines

Having new things to look forward to keeps us creating. Things on Kaylie’s wish list are volunteering for CHEO, LGBTQ2IA+ and sexual assault victim support, and more fundraisers through art sales and tattoo flash days to continue giving back to Ottawa. With her positive outlook and immense drive, it’s clear she’ll do these things and more.


Kaylie Seaver is a tattooer and musician living in unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe Nation (Ottawa). She tattoos at Cosmic Debris Studio and you can find her work at kaylieseaver.com or @kaylieseaver on instagram. Her music can be found at cosettecosette.bandcamp.com or @grandmother613. 

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