Updated: Oct 27, 2021
I’ve become a serial business card grabber at all of the arts events I go to in Philadelphia and Kara Schmidt is another awesome find from one of them! I found Schmidt’s work on a trip to Fireball Printing and I was immediately enticed by her whimsical illustration styles. Her work features bold lines and loose, flowing colors creating otherworldly imagery. A combination of humans, animals, and mystical features come together to create an entirely original mythology. Whether it’s just a single character or an entire scene surrounded by flowing foliage, shapes and colors, Schmidt’s work is really fun whether it’s on a print, a shirt, a sticker, or anything. I was excited to get to take a peek into her process and release this fun little interview. Give Schmidt’s work a look, a follow on Instagram (@_kschm), and enjoy the interview!
1. To begin, I always ask about background. What got you started in art? Any schooling? Why illustration/print? Anything that's shaped you into the artist that you are today!
I have been drawing my whole life and as a kid would try to emulate what I was seeing in media on paper. I was raised on sci-fi movies, comic books, and fantasy novels (all of which are strangely mainstream now) but was also grew up with a lot of religion so I think I used drawing as a way to synthesize all that. I think 80s and 90s animation is probably my biggest visual influence. My parents let me rent “Akira” from Blockbuster when I was 9 or 10 because it was animated, and I haven’t been the same since. I was also quite obsessed with staying up late watching MTV’s Liquid Television. 80s/90s animation was a very weird and lawless wasteland and I feel really sentimental about it! Despite drawing being a constant my whole life, I didn’t actually start to draw with intention until a few years ago. I never studied illustration or printmaking. In school I studied painting, but ultimately ended up getting a degree in film because I wanted to be a cinematographer. The reality of pursuing a career in the film industry was a rude awakening for me, and years later I went for an MFA in art where I focused mainly on installation, video, and performance. All of that strangely led me back to drawing and that has been my main focus the past 4 years.
2. Further, what inspires the imagery in your work? There seems to be this whimsical interaction between humans, animals, and nature in your work, sometimes even going as far as to merge those three elements into one character or entity, so what inspired this style initially? How has it progressed? How do you relate imagery that you're using piece to piece?
The imagery I work with is a weird lexicon of symbols that basically describes my own inner universe. Things from reality (animals, plants, people, weather, land formations, etc) generally refer to a specific emotion, memory, or set of experiences I’ve had. Then there more fantastical elements (ghosts, aliens, mythological creatures) typically have to do with my worst fears and anxieties. And lastly there are more abstract elements that usually resemble blobs, slime, liquid, noodles, chains, ribbon - basically “connective” things that sort of act as the glue that holds everything together. I usually start with 1-3 of these elements and keep adding things and connecting things as I go. My fear about climate change usually makes itself present in some way. Boundaries between things get broken down and everything is in a “soup” together, or things that seem like separate entities end up colliding and changing each other.
3. What is your process like? How does each piece start? Comparing some of your more straightforward character illustrations to your more elaborate scene drawings, do these all start similarly and develop organically? Or do you diligently lay everything out? Or does it vary?
The character illustrations I usually do just for fun usually to get myself out of a rut to try and see how quickly I can make something I like. It’s a fun creative exercise but sometimes results in messy work. The more elaborate drawings with many moving parts is where I get really hyper focused and work for days. When I start I never know how it will turn out visually but I always know what the end-point emotion will be, if that makes sense. I usually start with a few elements that feel the most significant to me and keep building as I go while also allowing space for it to change over time. I usually drastically change the color at the end from how I started.
4. I've noticed that the more recent work on your feed is a lot more digital, but it seems that you vary, so how much of your process is hand drawn vs. digital? Does it vary?
Everything I make starts out being drawn by hand and scanned in. How “digital” or “traditional” it looks at the end depends on what alterations I think the image needs to be its best version. But I also don’t personally feel it’s important to make a distinction between between “digital” and “traditional” since for me it’s really all tied up together (and most artists I think). I think if your artwork exists on the internet, then you’re a digital artist. But also all art is a product of mind/body coordination with other materials, which is rather traditional.
5. As a lot of illustrators do, you work heavily in the realm of print so I'm interested to know if your process changes when you're creating something strictly to be a print versus when designing a t-shirt or pin? Or do these pieces all start similarly and develop into a piece of merchandise later on?
It’s awkward with merchandise because you have to make something that will sell. Usually things I make that are for sale are just extracted elements from the more detailed drawings. With the pins, I usually go through 20 drafts of an idea until I get to the most boiled down essence of it. The drawing I based my skull pin on was and is the best skull I have ever drawn (same with the rabbit pin). I actually don’t plan to make more pins after this, so once they’re gone they’re gone. I do love printing my work, and obviously a major luxury of working at a print shop is to get extremely detail oriented with reproductions but also be adventurous and see what is actually going to work best for the work I’m doing.
6. Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find you? Any shows or events coming up? Anywhere people can find and see your work!
I have prints, t-shirts, and pins for sale at Fireball Printing in the kiosk, as well as on Etsy (https://www.etsy.com/shop/kjsillustration)!