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Rock Chalk: Kansas artist Megh Knappenberger finds success painting abstract Jayhawks

Painter Megh Knappenberger is an officially licensed artist for the University of Kansas.
Painter Megh Knappenberger is an officially licensed artist for the University of Kansas.

After a neck injury resulted in months off work and a limited range of motion, graphic designer Megh Knappenberger went back to the drawing board and saw a new calling clearly sketched in front of her.

Today she creates colorful and abstract paintings using a palette knife, acrylic paint and large canvases — and is an officially licensed artist for the University of Kansas.

Kansas City Spaces: What made you realize painting was your true calling?

Megh Knappenberger: I worked as a graphic designer for 12 years, but since I was a teenager, I have always painted on the side and would sneak hand-drawn or hand-painted stuff into my work whenever I could. I had reached this point in my career where I was doing what I had thought I had always wanted, but it didn’t feel that way. I hadn’t painted in a while, so during this time, and because the injury required me to either lay or stand, I started painting again. I quickly realized how much I missed and loved it. As (my work return) date approached, I started getting cool new projects and clients — ones I normally would’ve jumped at the chance to work on, but I wasn’t excited about them. This was when I knew it was time to close the book on my design career. I decided life is too short for me to not at least try to make painting as a career.

KCS: How does your time at KU tie into your career?

MK: Every part of my background has made this weird soup of where my career is today. The big thing about the design program at KU is that they teach you how to build a design on a concept. This little image needs to evoke the emotion of a whole story, so you need to have a reason with everything you do. I have brought this with me in every job I’ve had, and in each direction my career has turned. It makes my work purposeful.

KCS: You were granted licensing by the University of Kansas for your Original Six Jayhawks. What was that process like, and where are the paintings now?

MN: I put together an entire marketing deck and went to the licensing director at KU. I had 28 cents in my business bank account, so this had to work. You can’t receive licensing unless you show the work completely done. I presented the Original Six Jayhawk paintings, and they were very impressed that I could include “Rock Chalk” in the work because it was something they’ve never seen. I’m proud to say I’m one of the only artists to ever to be granted licensing. I sold (all six) to a private collector for $150,000, making one of the of the biggest art sales in Kansas that year.

KCS: What was the inspiration behind your Coming Home Collection, which includes the featured bison piece?

MK: I lived in Chicago for 10 years, and then my husband and I decided to settle in Kansas City and start a family. Bison are the official state animal of Kansas. There was something about this idea of coming home to a place and planting my roots down deep, and the first thing I was curious about was the bison. So I went out to the Maxwell Wildlife Refuge (in central Kansas) and took a bison tour for photographers. It allowed me to take pictures and get really close to the animals. They’re so big and so powerful. When I came back from that trip, I lined up canvases in my studio. (I sat) in front of these canvases waiting for the work to come to me. One day, it just happened.

KCS: You’re really active on social media. Has that helped your career?

MK: Absolutely. Most of the work has been sold via Instagram. Instagram is a huge tool for artists. When an original painting is done, I put it up on Instagram and Facebook and often, it sells very quickly. This allows the entire world to see it, buy it, and watch a video about it, and that’s very different from how this industry used to be. By selling my work directly, I’m able to have a personal relationship with my collectors. They know what’s going on and what I’m working on before anyone else.

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