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Kelsuki Kelsey Oseid

Kelsey Oseid is an amazing illustrator and artist from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I came across her work on Instagram and was completely hooked. So of course I had to ask if she wanted to share something here on visual strands. She did. And then some. Thanks so much, Kelsey!


Words and images by Kelsey Oseid, aka Kelzuki

I call myself a “wannabe naturalist” because I love, love, love natural history, but my credits consist primarily of watching and rewatching every nature documentary I can get my hands on and poring religiously over animal encyclopedias and children’s textbooks. I’m not a biologist, or a zoologist, or a scientist of any kind. I haven’t even seen most of the animals I paint in the wild. I just love the amateur study of the natural world, and luckily for me, between modern zoos, libraries, and the internet, I can actually pursue that study from my hometown.

I’m an illustrator, and I’ve found that a daily practice of drawing and painting for an hour or two is a good way for me to keep my skills honed and my interests piqued. So for 2016, I set the intention of painting a different animal species each day. I’ve divided the year into 12 groups of animals- one for each month. So my paintings have a theme day-to-day, and when I finish each group, I’m collecting the images into a poster (in a loose interpretation of pre-21st-century science and nature charts).


Kelzuki bird posters

Posters celebrating some moths and butterflies of the order Lepidoptera and the perching birds of the order Passeriformes


Sometimes I use my daily painting as a way to warm up for client work. Sometimes I let it take over, and become a marathon-length illustrating session. It’s difficult to put into words how much this project has taught me- not just about painting, and not just about the animals I’ve discovered and researched- but about human connection, too. I share each painting through social media, and the response has been so interesting and, honestly, rewarding. The emotional connections people feel to the animals I’ve painted have ranged from fascination, to joy, to nostalgia. People just love animals. And I feel beyond fortunate to get to bring a little of that love into the world each day, in this small way.



A few of the even-toed ungulates of the North American continent, from my month illustrating the order Artiodactyla


As 21st century humans, I think a lot of us struggle to feel at peace with the world around us. We’re wired to exist in nature, but we live life so separated from it. We crave connection with the natural world- and art/illustration is just one way we find that connection. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve seen David Attenborough’s “Life of Mammals” upwards of 10 times. And while I’m on the extreme end of nature-documentary-enthusiasts, I know I’m not alone.



A few of the even-toed ungulates of the Asian continent, from my month illustrating the order Artiodactyla


One unexpected thrill came when I learned that traditional taxonomic classification is currently undergoing a revolution. With DNA research, scientists are now able to determine far more accurately which animals are closely related to one another. Previously, naturalists depended mostly on the anatomy, feeding habits, and other more visible characteristics to classify animals into classes (and orders, families, and so on). DNA research blows many of these assumed groupings to pieces. For example, hawks and falcons have long belonged to the same order, Falconiformes. But we now that although these birds look and behave similarly, they are much more distantly related than we once thought- and that falcons might even be more closely related to parrots than to any of the raptors.



A few of the even-toed ungulates of the African continent, from my month illustrating the order Artiodactyla


I should emphasize the caveat that I’m not a scientist, not even close. I’m just a science admirer, and the language science has provided me with which to explore the animal kingdom has been tremendously helpful. No part of my daily animal species project would have been fathomable if not for the decades upon decades of research of countless naturalists and natural scientists working all over the world, not to mention the cinematographers and photographers and other creators who have worked to document the bounty of the kingdom Animalia.

I’ll continue this project for the rest of the year. I’ve nearly completed my third month- animals of the order Artiodactyla- and I have nine to go. The idea that there are species and stories out there that I have no idea about, and that I’ll get to discover in the coming months, is absolutely thrilling to me. And I know this project has sent me down a path that I will devotedly follow- one of creating my little slice of natural history art, standing very much on the shoulders of naturalist giants.

All images and text © Kelsey Oseid