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An Interview with Kimi Tallant

I recently discovered Kimi Tallant, or KWT Designs, at one of the many art sales I’ve attended recently. Tallant’s pop culture illustrations were so fun and simple while still being able to tell the story of their subject that I got sucked right in. Tallant’s illustrations are minimal in that they don’t feature a lot of shading, they just allow the bold lines and colors to speak for themselves. When I first found her work, I was particularly drawn to a series of image collections that tell the stories of popular TV shows, I snagged myself an It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia page. These posters are brilliant representations of the storytelling ability of Tallant’s work, her stylized illustrations of popular references from certain shows give the die-hard and casual fans alike an awesome piece of memorabilia.

But Tallant’s work isn’t limited to just the page, her art is applied to a whole slew of products! She actually got her start in making enamel pins, which is super interesting because I can’t think of many artists who got their start in enamel pins, and she’s since expanded to shirts, stickers, postcards, beanies, and anything else you can think of! Her illustrations lend marvelously to the products they’re a part of. This stuff is just so cool, so it’s no surprise that she’s built a pretty solid following with her work! I could ramble on and on about the facets of Tallant’s work, but fortunately I don’t have to! I got to have a chat with her about her work, process, products and so much more. She gave a really great interview that I think will make you fall in love with the bad-assery that is her work! Enjoy!

1. I always like to begin by asking about background, so what got you started in art? Any schooling? Big inspirations? What shaped you into the artist that you are today?

I have always considered myself an artist in some capacity, but didn't get serious about illustrating until I was in graduate school. I have an MFA in Museum Exhibition Planning and Design, which is where I was lucky enough to learn the bulk of my digital design and technical digital skills I needed to start KWT. Prior to focusing on illustration I cycled through a whole mess of things including poetry zines, home made body butters, wood burning and cross stitches before gaining a little traction with enamel pins and patches.

2. You've got a bold, unique illustration style. What helped form your illustrative styles? Were there any specific artistic inspirations that you built your style around?

One of my biggest sources of inspiration for many years is the documentary Beautiful Losers and basically all the artists highlighted within it including Steven 'Espo' Powers, Margaret Kilgallen, Ed Templeton and Barry McGee (amongst so many others). I first watched that movie in undergrad and I think it was my first realization that you don't need to be a highly skilled, realistic artist to be able to be a successful artist. I've also always been inspired by graffiti and street artists and a whole mess of traditional tattoo artists, basically a whole mess of outsider and non traditional artists who are out there being persistent and doing the damn thing.

3. Your work is heavily driven by pop-culture, what first got you into utilizing pop-culture imagery in your work? Is it all just stuff you enjoy watching yourself?

I say all the time that I just really love media, whether that be television shows, movies, books, music - I just eat all of it up. I'm really lucky to have a platform where I can create work that includes a mess of pop culture that I just love and get the chance to share that love with an audience who loves all of it too.

4. You've got a lot of work that's built around collections of images that come together to imply a narrative. How did these image collections come about? How do you decide the important factors of something (i.e. a show) that are included?

When I put together my pop culture sheets it really is about a blend of surface level and obscure references so it could be a bit fun for the novice and hardcore fans alike. Generally when I'm starting one of my pop culture sheets I'll just start running through everything I can think of about a particular piece of pop culture and often end up watching through whatever I'm working on to try to think of more and more to add. It almost feels like a scavenger hunt and is always a ton of fun.

5. So building off of that, tell us about your general design process. How do your pieces start? Are your pieces rigorously planned out or do you allow things to organically come about? How much of your process is hand done vs. digital?

Almost all of my pieces usually start with the smallest fragment of an idea or a dumb pun I thought was funny. I usually have the fraction of a visual idea rattling around my head when I think of a pun, but don't plan out too far until I actually sit down to start working on them which could be days or weeks later. The entire process is done digitally and often in one sitting when I finally give an idea some attention. I do have a couple projects I keep around that are a little less planned out such as my monthly subscription post card and skate deck designs. These projects I like to sit down and launch into without any forethought just to see where they take me which has been it's own fun and interesting challenge.

6. Your site says that one of the beginning factors of KWT was your work in enamel pin design and I find this very interesting as most artists land on enamel pins later in their creative ventures. So what were your beginnings in enamel pin design like? How did this play a factor in/develop into further creative ventures such as sticker making and screen printing?

I generally count the start of KWT as when I released my first enamel pin, though the business was floating around in a lesser form for about two years prior to making them. My first success I found was making sassy cross stitches and selling them at local craft events. The more time I spent at these events the more I realized 'hey the artists in the scene I admire are making pins and patches, why can't I do that?' so I did. Starting to make pins was my first real dip into the world of product design and I definitely started seeing the art I was making in a totally different perspective trying to consider if someone would actually wear it. To my astonishment people started filling up backpacks and cork boards with dozens of my pin designs and I know without any of this validation and success I never would have had the confidence to start being more serious about what I was creating. Tee shirts were so daunting to me for many years because I never felt like I had quite enough to say to make them interesting, but after years of making teeny tiny pins it's been super refreshing to spread out a little bit and feel like I'm finding my voice as an artist.

7. As well as your many enamel pins, you've got an array of products, a lot of which are hand printed. Do you find that product design is a big part of your creative practice? Does your design process differ when making one product as opposed to another (ex. a sticker vs. a shirt)? If so how?

I actually usually try not to consider what something may become before I start drawing it. I have general ideas of 'oh this might make a cool shirt', but I try not to let the medium that the finished product will appear on affect how I work on a piece. I've been finding it sort of fun to just get started and see where something takes me instead of trying to force it to fit into a format that I'm comfortable with working with.

8. A few pieces in your catalogue feature amazing illustrations over top of and interacting with real life, is this something that you plan on doing more of? Further, any new projects in the work that you're excited about?

I had so much fun creating those pieces and using the city I love as inspiration for my work and I love running a business where I can divert to something radically different and still have it fit into my general catalog. I'm not sure I'll keep working in that style, but it's always fun to get the chance to do something new and exciting to get my enthusiasm stirred up for my work again. I'm lucky that I tend to feel equally excited about all new projects and ideas as they roll through and I have so much good stuff cooking behind the scenes constantly.

9. You're very active in the art market scene, that's how I found your work after all. How important has this local art scene been to the development of your art career? How important has it been in the growth of your rather large following?

I truly would not be here without my local art scene. It never gets old being able to have a face to face interaction with my customers (and it also never gets old meeting online followers in the real world!) and I know I would not have found half the success I did if it weren't for the connections I made with other artists in the community at these events. The Philly art scene is so wonderful and I'm really happy to have the chance to get out into the real world and put a real face on the work and business I'm building. The exposure and audience I've gained from it all is just an added bonus!

10. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows/events coming up? Anything and everything you'd like to share and everywhere people can find your work, fire away!

You can find me mainly over on my Instagram @kwtallantdesigns which is where I post any and all updates, along with my website I'm always out and about vending, this spring you can find me at the Trenton, Asbury Park + Philly Punk Rock Flea Markets, along with a bunch of others that will be announced as they pop up. I also recently started expanding my biz to include a whole range of custom commission work including pins, shirts, illustrations, logos, album covers, etc! More info about that can be found on my website.


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