1. Where are you from and how long have you been illustrating?
I'm from Glen Ellyn, a tiny suburb outside of Chicago, but moved to go to school at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. I've been freelancing for a little over 2 years now.
2. What’s the art scene like in Baltimore? Do you participate in gallery shows often?
Baltimore has a nice art vibe. There are definitely fewer galleries/venues than a place like New York, but a lot of the artists living here came from MICA so there's a shared community feeling. I don't often participate in gallery shows. I try to participate when asked, but in general I focus more on my editorial work.
3. I love how much fun your pieces are. Could you walk me through on how you come up with your fresh ideas for a piece of art for a client?
Thank you! Hmm, oftentimes I'll get an image popping into my head right away, but when the subject matter is tougher I try brainstorming a list of words or symbols. Usually then I'll start quickly rough-sketching in Photoshop to get things moving, and pick a few favorites to refine into sketches for the client.
4. In your portfolio you have things that are flatly colored and other things that have alittle bit of a rendering. Do clients ever say, do this style, or do you just turn in whatever feels right for the piece?
Both! The majority of the time I don't get a specific directive & run wild, but sometimes they'll say "Hey, I like the style/color/texture on this piece, can you do something similar here?" Sometimes the specific pieces they mention are a surprise to me, so it's interesting utilizing a style or color palette that I might have otherwise not thought about.
5. What kind of music/movies do you watch or listen to when you work?
Oh man, all sorts! Movies, tv shows, audiobooks, podcasts, music, there's always something playing in the background in my apartment. I downgraded my cable to local channels so Netflix Instantwatch has been an awesome substitution. Here's a list of some favorites in all categories!
Audiobooks: Harry Potter series, best audiobook series hands-down.
Music: Wildly varies, but lately it's been Kanye and Big Boi's latest albums.
TV Shows: 30 Rock, the Simpsons, SNL, and Arrested Development are often on heavy rotation, supplemented by True Blood, Dexter, and Project Runway when they're on. I love Mad Men, but it is impossible to work with it in the background!
Podcasts: "Stuff You Missed in History Class" and "Stuff You Should Know" are fantastic podcasts that will quench your learning thirst.
Movies: Hot Fuzz is an all-time working-movie all-star. Actually, all the special features on all 3 Lord of the Rings movies also make great working material. (Showing the painstaking years-long work that went into these movies is really inspiring and puts you in your place!)
6. Could you talk alittle bit about what you illustrate for Picture Book Report and how you got involved in the side project?
Yeah! The Picture Book Report is a group of people (really talented people I'm lucky to be a part of! check out picturebookreport.com) who decided to make an illustration a month for one of their favorite books. Most of the books are favorite childhood/youth books. I decided to do illustrations for "Sabriel" by Garth Nix. It has a darker, more adventurous fantasy feel than most of the regular work that I do, so it's nice to be able to switch things up and do more textural narrative work. I've really enjoyed having it as a personal project, but I've only been able to complete 3 illustrations so far. Unfortunately it has to take a backseat to paid professional projects!
7. How did you get into doing Roller Girls Posters?
When I was a junior at MICA my character development teacher, Brian Ralph, gave the class an assignment to create a roller girl character based on one of the individual names from the Baltimore team (they all have really fun names like Rosie the Rioter, Blind Banshee, Grand Theft Autumn, etc.) Brian was later asked to create a poster illustration for one of the team bouts, but when he wasn't able to spare the time he ended up recommending me. The team liked my work, and after that I was able to use my jr. illustration final project to create 4 more poster illustrations. The roller derby community is relatively small but very enthusiastic, so my work spread around and I've since done some posters for other teams around the USA.
8. So I heard you're teaching an illustration class at MICA. Could you share alittle bit about that?
Last year I was asked to teach a "Digital as Illustration" class for freshman, and this year I taught an illustration class in MICA's 4 week long precollege summer program and an "Intro to Illustration" class for freshmen. It's been really interesting being on the other side of the coin. It seems like I often come home after class in "teacher-critique mode". I was incredibly nervous when I first started, but it's been great working with young students and pushing them to become better artists. The freshmen I've had are generally very open to critique and are already interested in learning as much as they can. I've found that the more I expect from them, the more they rise to the challenge.
9. What are you loving about illustration and/or not in love with?
I love the illustration community. I think every illustrator I've talked to, in person or online, has shown a great amount of support and geniality. Despite contending in the same field, I rarely feel any sense of competition or malice. However, I am in not in love with the shrinking opportunities for paid/well-paid illustration. (go figure!) It seems like in times past it was much easier to make a real living on editorial illustration alone--illustrations populated magazines, book covers, and advertisements. Of course times change and there's a whole world of new media open to us, but no one seems to have figured out how to make money off illustrations on the internet. (yet!) Also, art directors, maybe switching tactics (interesting illustrated covers instead of generic celebrity photo?) could help boost magazine sales, just sayin'… :)
10. Thoughts on the iPad – illustration talk?
We'll see what happens. It would be lovely if the iPad led to a new paid outlet for illustration or existing editorial work, but at the moment it's hard to tell how much impact it will have.
11. Dream Client(s)?
I would actually like to do more narrative, historical, or fantasy work. I looove reading sci-fi and fantasy novels, and I really enjoy researching historical details! A lot of the personal work I do in free time, like the "Sabriel" illustrations, tends to have a more fantastical or fictional origin. Some of my favorite editorial assignments have employed an art deco, film noir, or fantasy style.
12. What sort of things do you do when your not making art work?
For me, there's almost nothing better than curling up in a cozy spot with a good book (especially if there are cookies involved as well). I spend a lot of time working at home, and with the freedom that affords I've gotten really into cooking as well. The process of cooking isn't therapeutic for me like it is for some people, but when things work out in the end it feels GREAT to eat delicious food.
13. Any advice for the young illustrators just starting?
Keep motivated! Surround yourself with inspirational and supportive friends. The people who succeed in illustration are the people who keep challenging and improving themselves and who keep pursuing illustration opportunities. It's easy to get discouraged and overwhelmed, but you have to be patient and keep at it!
14. Any advice for the older ones?
No sir! I'm still learning the ropes!
15. Anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for interviewing me!
All images © Kali Ciesemier - Find more of her work at ciesemier.com/
No, Thank you Kali!