Maybe nowadays it’s good for different people to come together, set aside their differences, and have fun making some stuff together.
By Noelle Mering
Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman are joining forces again to produce and host a new competition series celebrating creativity and craftsmanship. I sat down to talk to Billy Kheel, one of the eight talented contestants on the show, ‘Making It’. Kheel lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two kids, and is an artist known for his innovative use of felt.
Mering: When and how did you first realize that you were an artist?
Kheel: When I was four years old I made a drawing of a lion holding a mouse with a quizzical look on his face. My mom and grandmother went bananas and framed it. Pretty much from then on I told people I would be an artist.
Mering: I can see why they went bananas over that! How did you get interested in felt as a medium?
Kheel: I love sports and was inspired by old school pennants to use felt in my artwork. I love making stuff like sports portraits, trophy fish, or the Los Angeles River in a soft, inviting material that people usually associate with flower headbands and little dolls.
Mering: Can you describe how you got involved in the show ‘Making It’ and did you have any reservations?
Kheel: A woodworking friend of mine sent me the application and I filled it out and forgot about it. Then all of sudden I was in a crafting barn with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman. It was surreal. Of course I had reservations, I was worried that they would pit us all against each other and make some Hell's Kitchen show (Hell Craft Barn?) where we are attacking each other with glueguns. Or maybe that would have been fun. Either way, everyone was super sweet and we still keep in touch.
Mering: What was most surprising to you about your experience on the show?
Kheel: I'm actually most surprised they didn't turn it into Hell Craft Barn. I think it’s amazing that they kept true to the original idea of having a funny, friendly competition show that inspires people to do arts and crafts. Its kind of like maybe nowadays it’s good for different people to come together, set aside their differences, and have fun making some stuff together.
Mering: What do you consider to be the distinction between art and craft?
Kheel: I think they go hand in hand but for me art is the inspiration and craft is how you execute it. Ideally I think the craft of what you make should add to the original idea and make it interesting to different people.
Mering: How do you, if at all, incorporate what you do into life with kids?
Kheel: I moved my studio to my garage behind my house and love to have art jam sessions with them. They are still a little small to work for me yet, but I did pay them to take a bunch of pins out of a pile of stuffed pills recently. It sure beats hauling cooking lard like we used to do back in Essex growing up.
Mering: What’s next for you?
Kheel: I’m organizing a group show with my friend Aimee Lubin for the fall called "Sew Fresh" where I want to feature artists that work with fabric and thread. It will be in a sewing shop down by the LA River, using the river as a metaphor for a thread that stitches the city of LA together. I've also started a series of large mandala pennants that I am going to show downtown Los Angeles later this year. Stay tuned at bkheel.com!
'Making It' premiers July 31st on NBC.