The Keeper of the Art

by Nola Kelsey

Some artist’s stories simply cannot be separated from one another or the canvas would be blank. I am not an overly emotional being. Not self-analytical, nor prone to spontaneous outbreaks of poetry, as many creative spirits appear to be. That was my mother,  artist/poet/teacher, Avonelle Kelsey (1931-2009), a diverse, unstoppable force in the San Diego area art scene for nearly three decades. Born to create, Mom lived life in full color. Much to her dismay, I was born fully dressed in dull beige Zoo Keeper garb – all Zoology, all the time. Life science was my true passion. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed great art, galleries, etc. After all, I was raised in her studios. But my life was 95% wildlife, 4.5% art and everything else (if there was anything else) blurred inconsequentially off to the sides. Such it was for 44 years. And then it happened.

Upon Avonelle’s death, I became responsible for an astronomical amount of artwork. I also had a significantly pesky oath. In her final years, Mom repeatedly made me swear to protect her creations. Along with that responsibility, I had inadvertently become the keeper of her creative legacy. Shit! This was not zoology. Yet, it was evolution. She finally got me.

My transformation from science fanatic to artist obsessive was startlingly was fast. A  year long art sale began with a growing intimacy to each of Mom’s paintings during multiple photo sessions.  Sculpture were matched to her written works and/or paintings. Questions were researched for collectors. So much packing and shipping. Lastly there was the book. That sneaky, buggery book. I was already an author. Years earlier my inability to play well with others had taken me from working with animals to writing about them, mostly in the form of educating travelers about animals within the pages of detail-heavy travel guides focused on global volunteer programs. But then came Mom’s book.

Working with all those images of paintings it hit me like a ton of clay. The formatting, creating of marketing materials, cover design–that was what I loved about writing books. I produced travel guides so efficiently because I was anticipating getting to the next cover design. Good news, I actually hated writing! Bam! I was back in college studying Graphic Design within a month. Three years later, I can’t imagine not creating every day. As an artist I admittedly am a fledgling,  still learning,  still growing. I am also still 4.5% zoologist,  communicating messages about nature and animals, care and conservation, but I have evolved to do so visually – much to my own dismay.

Deprived is a surreal artwork by Nola Lee Kelsey created as an editorial protest against the practice of depriving millions of girls and women around the world an education, for no other reason than they are female.


The surreal digital artwork entitled, Colorist, was created by artist Nola Lee Kelsey as part of her series of abstract portraits. Accoring to the good peole at Wikipedia: "In comics, a colorist is responsible for adding color to black-and-white line art. For most of the 20th century this was done using brushes and dyes which were then used as guides to produce the printing plates." While the Urabn Dictionary say: "A colorist is anyone who partakes in the activity of coloring (digitally or traditionally) drawings, inked or penciled, which are typically rendered by other artists. Colorists can either work as professionals or amateurs, and utilize styles that are either very generic or very unique. Colorists work either for recreational or professional purposes. Recreational colorists usually color for one of two reasons: personal enjoyment, or popularity. Coloring gives those who struggle with rendering opportunities to shine in special art communities without doing what they lack in. Consequently, this is often seen as a shortcoming by critics, especially if the original artists of drawings or linearts do not specifically need the assistance of colorists." In any event, for the artist, Nola Lee Kelsey, this work was all about color!


Naturalist is part of a series of surreal portraits I originally began creating as part of a digital artistry course. After my first artwork, 'Deprived' for the class, the muse just took hold of me. More portraits poured out of me. Naturalist is the fifth work in the series. No doubt, more will follow in 2016. As a zoologist who evolved toward art in mid-life, this is the portrait I think of most as being me. It is not a self portrait, but nature is always on my mind and part of my life.


'Honey' is one of several in an ongoing series of surreal women I have been creating over the last few months and I have no doubt there will be more to come.


Songwriter is a digital artwork filled with many musical symbols. Thank you to Faestock ( for use of the underlying model photo.


Birder is a digital artwork by aritst Nola Lee Kelsey. Birder is the 6th in my series of surreal digital portraits. All animals fascinate me, but this particular portrait comes with a special little story. The week I worked on 'Birder' I, as with most my artwork, became so engrossed in the art that I skipped my morning bike rides. Meanwhile, three feet away from my desk, through the outside wall, something ironic, yet charming, was happening. As I walked into my carport one morning I noticed a bird nest in the basket on my long-ignored mountain bike. Had I found it, picking it up to take a photo then forgotten? Why had I just spent a day working on the nest in the art work when I had this one? Did a bird actually build it here among the dogs and motorcycles? The answers became obvious when two days later I found two small eggs in the nest inside my bicycle basket. As I write this description, mamma bird is sitting on them just outside my window. Life is funny sometimes.


'Ocean' was created by digital artist Nola Lee Kelsey. It is the 8th piece in her surreal portrait series. This artwork is an editorial statement against the polluting of our seas and ongoing drilling for oil, despite the fact that in the end we will still need to harness renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Why not just do it now? We need healthy seas to exist - not oil spills. No amount of cleaning and technology can repair the balance of life it took nature billions of years to perfect. Oil and water do not mix.


Flora and Fauna is a surrealistic artwork by artist Nola Lee Kelsey. Flora and Fauna is considered part of Kelsey's surreal poortrait series.

Flora and Fauna

"Crested Gibbon" by artist Nola Lee Kelsey capture in Cambosia

Crested Gibbon

“A single occurrence, no matter how small, can change the course of the universe forever.” is what the text across the image reads. An old Chinese proverb states that a butterfly's gently flapping wings in China has the power to dramatically affect weather on the other side of the world. The butterfly effect metaphor encapsulates the concept of sensitive dependence on initial conditions in chaos theory; namely a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere.

Contemplating the Butterfly Effect





About the Ostrich

About the Ostrich

Kanji Zen with Enso

Kanji Zen with Enso

Live Art

Live Your Art

Nola Lee Kelsey is an American-born Digital Artist living in Southern Thailand. In addition to creating and selling prints from her own artwork, Nola also has a wide range of online shops where her digital images, and her late mother’s fine art paintings, are used to create a wide variety of uniquely artistic merchandise.

Nola Lee Kelsey Gallery:




Avonelle Kelsey Gallery:

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Categories: Art


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10 Comments on “The Keeper of the Art”

  1. March 24, 2016 at 11:07 pm #

    Thank you for for putting my work and story on the Creative Thresholds site. It mean a lot to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Aysha Estes
    March 29, 2016 at 8:48 pm #

    I love these!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. March 30, 2016 at 2:59 am #

    Zoologist you may be but artist you are for certain, your mum would be proud. These works are brilliant…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. March 30, 2016 at 8:16 am #

    Super COOL!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. March 30, 2016 at 11:32 am #

    That’s so cool! My favourite one is the colorist! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. March 31, 2016 at 1:47 am #

    Extravagant work!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. March 31, 2016 at 2:27 am #

    Wow! Thank you so much for your kind words everyone. I am having a 2 day art show here in Thailand with Mom’s fine art paintings starting today. Now I definitely feel re-inspired and ready to get back to doing my own thing by the weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. April 7, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    Love these! Very intriguing images

    Liked by 1 person

  9. January 27, 2023 at 6:13 am #

    Gratefuul for sharing this


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