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- Today's Inspiration
- UPPERCASE Magazine
My name is Kathy Weller. I'm an illustrator, a graphic designer, and pet portrait artist. I have one 'day job' and three 'the rest of the time' jobs. By day, I am Senior Graphic Designer + Illustrator, Sales + Marketing, at Boston.com. I've been there over 9 years. I've done online ad packages for clients tiny and huge (Cingular, Coors, Macy's), and tons of marketing promotions and contest branding - fun stuff! But 'the rest of the time' stuff, I dare say, is even bigger fun: I am an independent illustrator, graphic designer, and pet portrait artist. My illustration work is focused in the children's market and gift/stationery markets. I just completed my first children's book (illustrator), "The Months: Fun With Friends All Year 'Round", which is on store shelves and at your local Amazon now! I do freelance design, too - usually web design, and logos for local companies. Last but not least, I began doing pet portraiture in 2004. It's so much fun, and very gratifying work! My pet portrait work has garnered positive notices from The Boston Globe, The National Post, PamperedPuppy.com, Life magazine, and has appeared in Modern Dog magazine. I am a member of SCBWI and GAG. I live in Cambridge, MA and am happily married with two pugs.
illustration work: www.wellerwishes.com
pet portraiture: www.petartgirl.com
design work: www.kathywellerdesigns.com
pet portraiture: www.petportraitblog.com
my day job design work: www.whatidoatworkallday.blogspot.com
When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
When it comes to drawing, there was not a pivotal moment at all. I just always drew. I always identified with drawing so viscerally, it has always just been an innate part of me. There were other things that I wanted to do throughout the course of my childhood (actress, fashion designer, chef, opera singer) but it was never an “art vs. another goal” type of a situation. My drawing as a regular function of my being was as omnipresent as a body part. That sounds a little gross, but it’s true. But I always felt that I was really lucky, because while I would witness others search for something to connect with in life, something to do that was theirs, I always had my drawing. I never felt that sense of longing that was so palpable in others who were searching to find ‘it’, because, for me, ’it’ was always there.
Regarding graphic design, it is amazing that I even became a designer and carved out a career as one. I was a late-bloomer. Growing up, I related to it on an aesthetic level, but I wasn't sure that I would ever have the capacity to do it. I loved to look at design books and I identified with the creative aspects. But design was kind of like this fascinating, mathematical, exotic world with a different language and customs. I admired design, but held it at a distance instead of aspiring to do it. Ultimately, early on, I had rejected the idea of becoming a designer for three reasons. First was my inability to wrap my brain around the fundamental technical aspects, which, in retrospect, I think had more to do with a lack of confidence than anything else. Second, I rejected it on the basis that I noticed that so many illustrators seemed to do graphic design 'to pay the bills', as if practicing design was an afterthought, not a main goal. I didn't understand the symbiotic relationship between the two back then. Thirdly, my dad was a very successful graphic designer and illustrator (Don Weller), and following behind someone so decorated in a particular field is a hard thing to wrap one's mind around, especially when you are so young and unsure. My dad and my step-mom, who is also a great designer, ran their own art and design studio out of their home when I was growing up. When my sisters and I would stay with them in the summer, we were immersed in commercial art and design as a lifestyle. So I had a lot of early exposure for sure.
In the end, if my creative brain was a jigsaw puzzle, graphic design turned out to be an integral piece of the puzzle that I never noticed was missing, until the day I finally found it. Now, my design brain informs just about everything creative that I do.
Who or what inspires you?
Ack!! Loaded question!! It’s hard to pinpoint specific things without sounding contrived. It’s also hard to put into words the process of inspiration. (That would take a book!) I could rattle off some names of artists who I definitely find inspiring, but then I think that sort of pigeon-holes the whole idea and question of what is inspiring. Let's see: Things that I don’t know the answer to really inspire me, because I love to go hunt down the answers to my own questions. Some random things: Foreign (to me) cultures and far away places. Dogs, cats and animals, and insects. Kids. Plant life - flowers, cactus, palm trees are favorites. Sea life. Patterns. Colors. Space, stars and planets. Mexican art, folk art, outsider art. Street art. Photography (looking at it, not doing it myself). Hello Kitty, Sanrio, cute stuff in general! Beautiful architecture and beautiful cities. Symbols of all kinds - I'm a nut for symbols. My husband and my dogs, of course. Other people's dogs and cats!! There is much, much more, but this is going long!
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
I went to school at the Art Institute of Boston and then at the Massachusetts College of Art. I majored in 2D Fine Arts, because all really wanted to do was just focus on my artwork 24/7, and it was easier for me to do that as a painting major than if I was an illustration major. I've always been pretty obsessive about doing my artwork. I am much more well- balanced these days. I've now learned that the trick is to obsess productively, and to compartmentalize it well! I do feel more like a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks, though, than of anything else. When it came to art specifically, I was always an excellent student. In terms of being well-rounded, I was never a very good student. I don't think being an uneven student means anything except just that. Some people have a talent for learning better in some formats than others, and if you are not so good at learning in a given format, it doesn't mean you're any less intelligent, or have any less to offer. In the end, I have a huge respect for school, but school gives you some of the tools, not all of them. You are the ultimate craftsperson. I have a huge respect for people who forge their own paths, follow through on their goals they set for themselves, and who share their hard-won knowledge with others.
How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?
I read a lot of magazines and books. I network with other artists and talk with them! I view other artists’ and designers’ work all the time, as a fan and a supporter. In my day-to-day life, I pay attention and am aware of art and design around me in daily life. It's really just a part of my lifestyle, to go around analyzing things visually. ;)
What are some of your current projects?
I just completed doing some greeting card illustrations which will be sold at a major mass-market retailer. I am really excited about them. As illustrators, a lot of the time, we ride that fine line between doing work that we love the end result of, and of doing work that pleases the AD. To that end, I am really proud of the illustrations! To top off the experience, the AD I worked with was great. He really knows his market well, and was a pleasure to work with.
My brand new book! It’s just out now (Fall 2007) - my first children’s book as illustrator! I am so proud! You only have one first book, and I am definitely making the most of this ‘first’. It’s called “The Months: Fun With Friends All Year ‘Round”. The text is a classic poem written by Sara Coleridge. Since my author is deceased, the promotional duties are left to the publisher’s marketing department, and - ta-da! - me. I’ve been doing everything I can to get the word out about the book: built the web site, blogging, promotional mailings. I'm now even toting my book around and walking into bookstores to chat with children's book buyers! I plan to do some book signings and would love to do some promotional activity-based events as well. The book is available at Amazon, BN, the rest of the usual (online) suspects. The book has good distribution channels, so it is available for bookstores to order, and I hope they do, but that's up to the individual buyers. So if you are interested in flipping through the book, please ask for it by name at your local bookstore. I am hoping lots of libraries pick it up as well and am doing what I can do in that respect, too.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
Let's see...I can digest this better in terms of accomplishments I'm proud of, instead of individual projects:
I started my own greeting card business about 12 years ago. I didn’t know the first thing about the greeting card business, or anything about business in general, for that matter. It was just something I was driven to do. So I let the drive take over and just learned on the fly, the entire time. The cards didn’t make us rich (laugh), but I gained so much from the entire experience of doing everything myself. Interacting with potential buyers in the role of a salesperson, ordering supplies, doing all of the production work and bookkeeping - it was trial by fire. By the time my next full-time job came along, I had my cards in nine specialty stores in the Boston area. That experience marked a major turning point for me, in a self-discovery kind of way. Something else lasting came out of the cards, too: my Funny Bunnies characters were born, and so was the name of my business (Wellerwishes).
More recently, I am really proud of my new book “The Months". I promise, there will be many more proud projects to come, though!! :)
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
I absolutely plan to write and illustrate children's books in the future. I love writing, and I love words!
As for illustration and traditional art mediums, I've tried a lot of them, both 2D and 3D, so I can't say that I'm really burning to try any mediums that I haven't tried already (although I'm certainly always open to trying new things!). Many of the mediums I've tried were on a whim, and I ended up really enjoying them! It's fun to see how your creative style comes out in different mediums. My mainstay, though, has always been 2D art. I used to use a lot of acrylics and pastels, way back when, but my 'signature' traditional medium for a long time now has been Rapidograph pen and watercolor. It's a medium that kind of picked me. I tried to get away from it a little bit, but I gave up, because it really kept after me! :)
Regarding digital illustration, I've been doing illustrative design for some time now, but I didn't have an actual digital illustration 'alternate' to my traditional illustration working style until pretty recently, and I am really loving it. It's sort of a mix between gouache and pastel, but not as messy. I have a Wacom Cintiq, which is a big drawing tablet/monitor combo, in which you draw directly on the monitor screen, which sits up like a canvas on an easel. It is heaven!!
In terms of doing sales & marketing web design, I started using Adobe Flash again this year after a four year lay-off. Previously, me and Flash had a really dysfunctional relationship, and we broke up. (It was an ugly break-up). But now, amazingly, we are back together again, frolicking in a field of daisies, flying a kite together, having picnics. It's been good so far!
Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?
Do not be afraid to ask questions. People do not expect you to know everything off the bat. They just expect you to make your best effort.
Be honest on your resume. If it needs help, give yourself some projects which you can use on it and in your portfolio, and do volunteer work in your field. Both will only help your resume/portfolio, and your profile.
Be as flexible as you can with people and their requests. You're in the customer-service business.
Learn the business side of things. It's for your own good!
Strive to build foundations for long-term relationships with people.
Keep up with trends within different segments of the illustration marketplace, even if it's not in your particular niche. Trends simultaneously bleed into many segments of the industry with regularity.
Attend conferences, IF AT ALL possible.
Put out the best work you can, and on the timeline you promise.
Be nice! :)
What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?
Keeping the main purpose of the piece in mind is paramount. Then, everything else builds off of that. Once those parameters are set, you can go have your crazy fun within them. Aesthetic and design decisions all grow out of the purpose so I won’t go into that, but suffice it to say that the composition should be elegant, the palette should be stunning, the line work exceptional, and the entire thing should be sprinkled with lavender-scented fairy dust!!
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
All I have to do is think about what my main goals are. What do I want to accomplish and what is the time-frame in which I want to accomplish it in. In that way, motivation is really not a big problem for me.( I do have a lack-of-sleep problem, however!) Having a full-time day job really forces me to maximize my time. My main problem at the moment is not having enough of it.
I am always working on something, whether it be an illustration project, a promotional mailer, updating one of my sites, working on pet portraits, or freelance design work. I am an avid list-maker (and list- checker-offer). Those odd times when I am not keeping a to-do list usually end up being my most unproductive periods.
I sketch a lot. I always have my sketchbook with me. It’s kind of like carrying around a little extra brain. It’s really where all of my illustrations begin (and a lot of other ideas). When I’m stuck, there are times that I make myself draw something, even when it’s really the last thing I feel like doing. Sometimes, I just need to break through that little 'empty' block, and come out of it the other side. That really doesn’t happen very often though, thankfully. I think because I make sure to draw regularly. (I think the blocks occur more for me when I don’t draw enough.)
My workflow is a bit different too. Since I have three concentrations, I get to jump around, and that's a mentally refreshing way to work.
Finish this sentence. "If I weren't a designer/illustrator I would have been a..."
Ack! I never had a plan B. I don't know what I would do, and I don't really want to think about it! ;)
And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
I love Survivor, but I’m a Survivor geek and I am aware of the fact that everybody doesn't share this, so I would not subject anyone to the idea that I think it’s the most original thing on TV right now. For the masses, Lost. I loved Arrested Development, and still mourn its demise.(Good thing for DVD!) I also love Dexter, Project Runway, The Office, Top Chef, The Amazing Race, No Reservations, and last but not least, Dr. G, Medical Examiner. I love TV!!
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