To Top

Daily Inspiration: Meet Kelly Eden

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kelly Eden.

Hi Kelly, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I grew up in a small mountain town called Evergreen, Colorado. From a very young age, I had a deep love for drawing and painting; it was all I ever wanted to do and the only thing I felt confident in. In high school, I auditioned for a spot at the Denver School of the Arts (a magnet art school for 6-12 grade). It’s a prestigious school as it is, and they rarely accept new students after 10th grade, but I wanted to at least give it a try. I was shocked when I got my acceptance letter; honestly, I never felt worthy of that position. Attending DSA was always my dream but my skills were so far behind all the other students; most of which had been in the program since the 6th grade. I worked hard to catch up and really struggled to get better, I felt like I came in too late. I ended up learning a lot by watching the other students paint. One student, in particular, was a protege-type classically trained artist named Karl. I looked up to Karl A LOT. This kid was an incredible artist, I mean, at age 17 he was painting like a 30-year veteran. I guess you could say I was a Karl-fangirl, hahaha. I was constantly asking him questions, watching him paint, asking for tips and tricks. He taught me how to paint with oils, how to stretch a canvas, how to varnish. I think I annoyed the shit out of him but he was always so kind to me! He would often take my brush and show me on my canvas how to correct my work. I think he had a soft spot for me because he saw how much I loved painting. I wouldn’t be an artist today if it wasn’t for that kid taking the time to show me how to fuck it up in classical painting. Karl, if you’re reading this, you made a huge difference in my life, thank you for everything!

I won a few awards like a Scholastic Gold Key, second place in the Congressional Art show, and a scholarship for Rocky Mountain college of art and design. Once, Karl and I painted a portrait of Gerard Way and took it to an MCR show. We got backstage and met the band (I literally DIED I was so excited!). They all signed the painting. It’s one of my favorite memories with Karl and that painting still hangs in my bedroom in my family home!

So I continued my art education by pursuing my bachelor’s in fine arts at RMCAD….. It was cool, I guess? …Frankly, I want my money back. Having graduated from DSA, my standards were pretty high as far as art education went… (ok come to think of it, I owe that standard to Karl. cuz those teachers didn’t teach me anything lol) As I mentioned, my family really struggled with money so an $80k tuition was…well.. Honestly, I don’t know what the fuck we were thinking??? The scholarship I won wasn’t even enough to pay for a semester. This wasn’t something my parents discussed with me; the debt that would grow bigger each month and what it would take to pay it off. I kind of blindly trusted them and signed on the dotted line of the loan when they said, “Go to college so you can find a good job!”

12 years later and I’m still payin’ that shit off like a clown!.. But hey, remember how we like to find beauty in desperation? ahahah there’s none of that here! college was terrible!

Ok I kid I kid. Here’s something cool! During college, I started modeling just for fun.

First, we need to take a detour to the past. Okay, so here’s another childhood confession. I was a really, really, REALLY ugly kid. I know that sounds harsh but yeah… I was just hella ugly. I desperately wanted to be pretty, because I saw how people were always kind to beautiful women in the movies. I had a mean brother who really liked to pick on me for being so ugly… so I suppose I felt like if I finally became beautiful, would be spared from suffering. As if that was all I had to do to be treated as if I had value. At eight years old, I thought it was the only value I could hope to have as a woman. Sad right? But then it happened. poof! I got through puberty and suddenly, seemingly overnight, “got pretty”.

Now, I’d love to get into a deep breakdown about how the patriarchy destroys the self-worth of girls before they even understand the system that oppresses them… But that’s not what we’re here to talk about. (tho if you wanna fuck it up, you can find me on Twitter @kellyeden let’s smash the system, am I riiiiiite?)

I modeled for some fellow artists at my school, which gave me a new perspective on being on the other side of the painting. I learned how to find the light, and how to pose, contort, and evoke emotion. The relationship between the artist and their model/muse is an interesting dynamic. It’s a collaborative effort with very different skills. Having been a model for over a decade really helps me know how to direct the models that I use for my paintings. It also helped me meet some great artists I admire since I got to pose for them. I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to meet them, view their studio, or watch them work otherwise since my painting skills weren’t refined enough to be invited as a painter.

From there, I developed a bigger name as an alternative model. In 2012, I was on the cover of several tattoos and cosplay magazines in production. I was even published in Vogue a few times!

Notable mention: One of my biggest issues was a double cover feature in “Bound by Ink magazine”, where they portrayed all my art and modeling. It got me a lot of attention as an artist and I ended up selling my self-portrait to Dave Navarro (from Jane’s Addiction)……. And let’s be honest, that guy never would have bought my painting if I wasn’t a pretty girl in a tattoo magazine. Don’t quote me on that. That one between you and me 😉 but the point is, this was fucking cool for me. More than I could have ever hoped for myself.

It was strange… for a moment in time, My picture was in all the teen magazines, and beauty advertisements. I could go to any grocery store, pick out a magazine and find an advertisement with my picture in it. T-shirts, posters, album covers. Some of the world’s most famous artists painted my portrait. (and guess what… I was still poor!! ahahahah!!! I did all that shit for free! can you believe it???) It felt like I was a mini-celebrity for a while. And suddenly, dozens and dozens of people started getting my image tattooed on them (seriously I have hundreds of pictures if you wanna see them. It’s fucking crazy.) (Also I’m just gonna add for context, I don’t think any of these people got tattoos of me because they liked ME as a person but rather my modeling work.)

So, none of this is to say “getting pretty” was an accomplishment… But I have the experience of how it was sometimes the only way I could be “seen” or valued… and that fact was always something that caused me great suffering and exacerbated my dysmorphic self-image. This is a major aspect of my conceptual work. The horrifyingly beautiful journey of living life as a female character. This dynamic is something I embrace with aggressively feminine imagery. I want my paintings to make an impact upon eye contact with the subject. I want my female-identifying viewers to see themselves in my work; an unspoken connection that tells them we have walked the same egg-shell littered path.

To desire is to suffer. I have known what it is to suffer but have never encountered anything as devastatingly fleeting, insignificant yet desperately sought after; as physically beauty… and the role it plays in the life of women and girls.

Anyways… After four long years, I graduated college and then, suddenly, my dad was gone. I painted a self-portrait with some of his ashes mixed into the paint. (Photo of pink-haired woman with bandaged ear, in reference to Van Gough’s famous portrait of the injured ear) Grieving the death of an alcoholic parent brings up a lot of very complicated emotions. On one hand, there is relief; Our suffering, and his as well, had come to an end. The abusive cycle was over and we were free from the burden of his sickness. But that was still my dad… That person taught me how to read and wright. Carried me on his shoulders so I could be taller than everyone in the grocery store. I think what I miss most of all is the father he could have been… Because I saw glimpses of that man in my memories from healthier days and I really wish I could have known that person better.

A few months later I packed up my life and moved to LA with no plan and barely any money to my name (in hindsight, this was probably a symptom of grief lol cuz ya girl did NOT think this one through). It was rough. There were many days when I nearly gave up and drove back to Colorado. I was homeless for a month before I found the place where I would settle: a two bedroom apartment in Hollywood.

When I first moved in, I had nothing but my clothes and makeup. I slept on a foam mat in the kitchen until I could afford a mattress. I had a vision of what I wanted this place to be and an insatiable appetite for self-expression, so I started painting EVERYTHING. I started with the walls. Lilac, pink, mint… Then I started collecting donated furniture and painted those. Over the years, I kept building, painting, and creating. Ten years later, my home had been featured on Netflix, NHK Japan, VOGUE, TLC, and others!

We have now reached the youtube story arch. This is my least favorite season, folks. So I’ll keep it brief.

All my time and energy to getting established in LA and years went by without painting. it took years of living in survival mode and scraping to get by. I became chronically exhausted and burnt out. I still feel as if I’ve never fully recovered from this time. Later, The prospect of youtube was introduced to me as a career and I gave it a shot when everything else failed. Oddly enough, it stuck. I had a natural knack for it. when I first started, I had a lot of fun!

I had a pack of creative friends who were down to clown. We could do anything together and make it entertaining. We were a group of young, creative women with an insatiable appetite for all life had to offer. We supported each other in a way I had never experienced in friendship before. It was intoxicating.

youtube gave me my first sense of financial freedom and, after a lifelong struggle with finances, relationships, and hardship; I felt like my life was finally starting… and that was heaven to me. Knowing that I could buy food for myself anytime I needed was a major victory for me…

My job was just “having fun” on the internet and people actually LIKED me! The attention was intoxicating! It felt like a dream come true, my numbers were ever-growing and I had built a community of followers who felt like friends. The euphoria of being liked on the internet didn’t last long, as I discovered the insatiable appetite for conflict consumption that exists on youtube. I never understood why drama channels existed until I found myself in my first “scandal” when I was in Japan. I had to return a lolita dress when I mistook a price tag 15000 yen ($1,500.00) for 1500 yen ($150.00). My dyslexia foreign ass got the numbers wrong lol! I shared this funny accident on my youtube and suddenly I had my first death threat in my inbox. To this day I cannot understand the level of hatred I received for returning a dress to the original retailer… What’s more disturbing is this was when I made the most money from youtube. That video was flooded with hate and my bank was flooded in kind. I finally understood the appeal of creators who monetize on drama… It’s good business. There is A LOT of money in shame, even if it’s all just speculation. From that day on my relationship with my viewers changed. People were no longer watching me for fun hangs, but in anticipation, for the next time I would fuck up. Everything I did was interpreted to be sinister. Everything.

I remember in one video, I was painting the walls of my studio, and a friend came by and offered to help, so I gave her a spare roller. The comments were flooded with the narrative that I was a mean friend because I had the larger paint roller while my friend worked with the smaller one. With no exaggeration, these types of gaslighting narratives were created in every. Single. Video… My viewers were always outraged no matter what I did. It was as if they were dedicated to misunderstanding me and forcing this narrative that I was somehow “bad”.

My life became the focus of speculation. I realized it didn’t matter how good I was because my viewers had made the choice to see me as bad and there was nothing I could do to change that. The more reasons I made to give me chances, the more I gave them the power to knock me down.

Youtube became volatile. I fought to keep it. I had nothing to fall back on and had never known financial security like this before. But it was ripping me apart and I could not cope with the bouts of bipolar episodes every time I discovered an insane rumor about me. My closest friends and family were very worried about me.

The breaking point was the summer of 2019. My cousin who had been living with my mom and sister for half a decade took his life. “Horrifying” does not begin to explain what we went through. It shattered us and we are still hurting from losing him.

My sister set up a gofundme to fund his funeral costs: embalming, casket, burial plot, and headstone. The invoice from the funeral home was 10k. Thanks to the help of our friends, family, and online community; we were able to meet our goal.

During my hiatus (grieving), a rumor spread that I scammed my family and used the money for myself. I don’t know what reasoning led to this rumor but some people chose to accept it as fact. I was dogpiled in the midst of my grieving. I was doxxed. Several hate accounts were created to spread my private information, including my mom’s home address where I had been staying at the time.

Then they switched their argument to “kelly profits off suicide”. I had made a video where I read an essay my cousin wrote (he was a very talented writer), shared resources to prevent suicide, and made a call to action to tell someone if you’re struggling with thoughts of ending your life. This video was monetized and a girl on Twitter started rallying people to shame me for having the video monetized. “It’s worse than Jake Paul in Japan” (referring to a youtube creator who had filmed a corpse found in the suicide forest). I was dog piled. They fabricated more accusations to escalate their hate campaign;

“You explained how he killed himself”
Not true.
“You showed where he killed himself”
Also not true.
“You’re making people want to commit suicide for attention.”

The goal was to escalate and humiliate. There was no logic or reasoning. And there was no empathy that I was grieving the death of a child and needed support, not a public call-out.

It didn’t matter what I did. My reputation was permanently ruined.

My closest friends all abandoned me shortly after I had been canceled. Association with the ostracized is bad business, you know.

Cruelty to others is nothing new. I’ve seen some very dark days in my life. I never thought those days would be rejoiced by people I had never met.

I have experienced firsthand the culture of humiliation and unrelenting public shame. I watched the fans who had lovingly followed me for years, turn me into a pariah overnight; rejoicing in my suffering. They saw my pain and loved it. What’s more disturbing is, that the more I became the topic of gossip and hatred, the more money I made from their clicks. This is the economic system of youtube; a saturation of viewers who watch with resentment, rooting for you to fail… And it’s why I left.

“At some point, when you create yourself to make it. you’re going to have to either let that creation go and take a chance on people loving or hating who really are or, you’re going to have to kill who you really are and fall into your grave grasping onto a character that you never were.” – Jim Carrey

So I gave it all up. The money, the shame, the popularity, the dedicated hate-watchers, and all my dreams of what this career could have been. Because when I was at my lowest, all I had left was my art… And I had neglected it for so many years, chasing something that was destroying me. So, I figured I owed it to myself to give everything back to my art.

Through the pandemic, I painted as much as possible. I invested in masterclasses with my favorite artists. It was hard to grieve the end of my youtube era… But I felt true peace when I deleted all my videos. I said “goodbye” out loud when I deleted hundreds of videos documenting the last six years of my life, and finally, I felt peace… (and I could have just let those videos sit there to continue collecting money… But I couldn’t stand the thought of people having access to my heart like that any longer)

I think painting is what I was always meant to do… And I’m glad that’s where I ended up after a really, really long detour.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
As a child, I grew up in and out of poverty. Because there was a lot of financial and emotional instability in my household, there was always a sense of dread and unease. My Father struggled with addiction and my mother was a realtor who couldn’t sell a house if her life depended on it (sorry mom, I know you try)… Sometimes, we didn’t have enough money to buy essentials like tampons, toilet paper, or pay our bills. Once in a blue moon, fortune would favor us and my parents would get a big paycheck; tons of groceries, new clothing, art supply shopping sprees, and expensive haircuts…. Those times never lasted for more than 3 weeks. Any money we got was blown in 60 seconds and we were back in desperation. It was a vicious cycle that tore my family up emotionally.

Food was always an issue and I would often go to school without anything to eat. I used to be very secretive about this aspect of my upbringing and never really considered it to be an important aspect of who I am… And frankly, I felt great shame until now.

In the past, I openly joked about being a “poor kid”, never detailing that there was more than one occasion where I was desperate enough to eat out of the trash. I suppose I felt that maybe I needed to appear to be of a higher economic status to be accepted. Because, as I’m sure you can imagine, it was embarrassing. I was often jealous of the safety and security I found in my friend’s households.

I’m proud to say that I no longer feel any shame for this. I recognize that this hardship has given me the perspective and experience of what it means to grow up hungry in the land of the free. I’ve developed a deep sense of unity with those who have struggled as I have. I’m starting to learn how I can take action to help and that gives me fulfillment beyond measure.

And you know… you can always find beauty in desperation. I met my best friend in the whole world because she always shared her lunch with me at school. We’ve been friends for 22 years and one of the greatest blessings in my life. Seriously, Sam is who I have to thank for giving me a great childhood in spite of my tough living conditions. We never would have had that bond had one poor kid not looked out for a slightly poor-er friend in middle school. And that’s rad as hell.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I’m an American contemporary Artist What do you specialize in oil painting/ realism/portraiture/still life.

What are you most proud of returning to painting after nearly being swallowed by the internet personality I created for entertainment consumption. Because I worked insanely hard to still be standing after all that

I have never been religious, so all the art master’s paintings of Christ, the virgin mary, all the apostles, and angels never meant anything profound to me.

In a way, I felt like I was always missing out on some type of meaningful connection to art history because I didn’t give a shit about god. But god and all his homies make regular appearances in art, so surely It was important for me to understand, right?

So I tried painting what is god to me.

What is god? Salvation? I suppose I’ve felt that before. Yeah, when they put me on lithium I felt salvation. I had no idea how much my bipolar disorder was causing me to suffer until I got medicated and experienced what it was like to have a healthy mind for the first time in my life. To me, THAT is a miracle. That is god.

So, I painted her (10 pointed star painting) “Sancto Litio” Sacred lithium.

But god isn’t always salvation. God is also suffering. Damnation. Cruelty. And quite frankly, a punk-ass bitch. So what is god in that sense? What has ultimate power over my life? A few things came to mind… Debt. The patriarchy. And fleeting Beauty.

I painted “primordial debt” (woman in lace cloak, holding a crucifix staff.”

Debt is the foundation of our economic society. Our economy relies on the working class to put themselves into debt for commodities: education, housing, and healthcare. At the same time, religion also puts us into a type of spiritual debt. From the moment you’re born, you already owe your life to god. Nothing is ever yours. You pay by selling hours of your life for a wage to survive. Working is the condition in which we are allowed to live..

….. Surprise! Ya girls a communist!

Ahahaha… *finger guns* down with the enemies of the working glass people, am I rite boys?!

anyway, my dream is to have Monica Lewinsky pose for a painting. She’s a legendary woman and I have a great deal of respect for her and all that she went through. She was patient zero of cancel culture and online humiliation. Can you imagine being slut shamed and demonized on a global scale, the likes of which had never been seen before?
Monica’s Documentary “15 minutes of shame” and TED talk “The price of shame” were incredibly instrumental for my survival when I was publicly shamed. She was the only person who could understand the uniquely horrible experience I went through- and- obviously, on a much grander scale. But she inspired me to keep going, and I’d love nothing more than to honor her by painting her portrait.

Can you share something surprising about yourself?
I absolutely love LARPING. I have a game I play once a month with 300 other people and it’s what I look forward to the most every month. I play a magic-wielding Elf girl named Layola.

One time there was this huge battle in the middle of the night. Demons had slipped into town and were dropping us like flies. They took out the magic wielders pretty early and I was like “Shit, we gonn’ die out here.”

Ok so I know you’re imagining a bunch of nerds swinging swords in the forest but that’s not the case (….. we swing our swords by a river in corona lololol jk jk). This is a fully immersive experience. We play in a ren fair park for three days. We camp on-site in in-genre tents and buildings. Our costumes are immaculate and the game is filled with rich lore and storytelling…

So I need you to keep that in mind as I tell you this next part because it was fucking awesome.

Ok, so like I said, they were killin us out there. If you downed them and didn’t death blow them fast enough, they would regenerate with full health! It was a real pickle beating these guys. So all this fighting is going on around me- we’re finally winning but can’t finish off the strongest demon.

He goes down- and I DIVE IN for that big death blow attack. Everyone sees it and cheers as I cry out in Victory! The other warriors lift me up for a hip-hip hoorah and cheer my name. It’s honestly the coolest I have ever felt in my whole damn life.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Main photo: Bobby Vu photos of me painting: Stefan Anderson, J. mci and.. idk probably my nana (the pic of me as a kid) Larp photos by TWIN MASK

Suggest a Story: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

More in local stories