How An N.C. Artist Turned Grief Into Beauty By Embracing Nature


Woman sitting in front of artwork with dog

Raleigh artist Kayla Plosz Antiel’s pandemic year proved prolific, resulting in hundreds of floral paintings produced alongside her aptly-named studio companion, Daisy the mini goldendoodle.

Many of us know how to make the most of our downtime, but Raleigh artist Kayla Plosz Antiel gives the concept new meaning. When the lull of 2020 thrust her into an introverted world at home, she simply picked up the pace: producing a fresh body of work—hypercolorful watercolor florals—that quickly blossomed to nearly 200 pieces. “I started painting flowers as a way to cope with the anxiety and uncertainty everyone was feeling when the pandemic began,” explains Antiel, who moved to the North Carolina capital from Washington, D.C., with her family in 2017. “I realized how much of life is fleeting, and I felt the need to make joyful work.”

Floral painting with butterfly against a black background

Sometimes the greatest creativity comes from isolation. Antiel's paintings took a joyous turn even as the world around her quieted.

Blobs of watercolor paint on paper

Watercolor is the artist's medium of choice, but she also loves to work with oil paints and has been known to reach for pigment sticks, colored pencils and gouache.

A tray of gouache paints

A tray of gouache paints adds to the artist's in-studio arsenal.

Colored pencil swatches in a notebook

When concepting new paintings, the color palette is king; here, the artist tests new combinations of hues.

Corner of an artist studio with a pink drafting table and shelf

Though her drafting table gets considerable use, “you’ll often find me painting on the floor!” the artist reveals.

Born in Saskatchewan but reared in western Michigan, Antiel cemented her passion for abstraction during graduate studies at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Large-scale, gestural oils-on-canvas led the way to her own lens on Expressionism. Antiel’s later work continued to emphasize color relationships, but evolved to combine the visceral, such as spontaneous mark-making, with the calculated, like precise pattern and line work. By 2017, she was mixing geometric motifs with botanical ones, resulting in a series that, through NYC gallery Uprise Art, was reproduced as prints by Design Within Reach in April.

Lately, Antiel has been most influenced by turn-of the-century French painters—a romanticism that carries over to her fluid florals, currently represented through popular Southeastern sources Art and Light Gallery in Greenville, South Carolina, and Atlanta’s Anne Irwin Fine Art. “Flowers are universal and cover the range of our experiences. From celebrations of life and weddings, to mourning a profound loss, they can comfort and inspire. They’re stunningly beautiful but also fragile and ephemeral—a lot like life itself,” muses Antiel, who works from a white, bright, minimalist home studio that allows her colorful works to pop.

The artist favors watercolors and oils but has been known to reach for pigment sticks, colored pencils and gouache. Her latest forays, which mix embroidery elements with abstracted flora and fauna, have hints of folk or craft- based art—two traditions keenly celebrated in the Carolinas. Still, the watercolors persist. It’s a fickle medium. “You have less control,” she admits. “But I think that leads to more exciting outcomes and surprises.”