The Artist Series rolls on, this month featuring illustrator Kara Mitchell. We were lucky enough to catch up and pick her brain. Our Q&A covered a range of topics, including her start as an artist, her styles and influences, and even touching briefly on the nurturing of creativity. Ladies and gentlemen, Kara Mitchell:
TL: Kara, thanks for doing this!
KM: Thanks for asking! I'm pumped!
TL: I follow you on Instagram, and you put out a lot of content. Your work has a great storybook quality, featuring a lot of soft colors and textures. How would you describe your style and subject matter, and how did you develop it?
KM: Describing my work is tough. I'm a landscape designer, and the graphic nature of architectural drafting has definitely influenced my style. I've always wanted to illustrate children's books and, being the mom of two boys, I've read more than my share. Looking at all of those stories over the years has definitely given my work a particular slant. Subject matter is up for grabs. Anything goes, really.
TL: You've actually illustrated a couple of books, and I want to get to that, but tell me a little bit about your inspiration – where does it come from? Who are some of your favorite artists and illustrators?
KM: Inspiration comes from anything and everything. I try not to wait for it to hit me. Over the years, I've made either mental or physical notes about things that interest me or make me laugh. Connecting all of those things together in different ways is where ideas come from. I don't believe in talent. I believe in skill and practice. Practice being inspired, practice being creative and you'll get better at it. It will start to become natural, and then it can't be turned off.
My favorites? I mean, who doesn't love Maurice Sendak or William Joyce?! Also, I really respond to David Shannon and the detailed simplicity of his work. I'm really inspired by people who have a great process. People who are always working on their craft. I look at people like Paul Simon, Stephen King, David Sedaris, and Picasso. They can't turn it off. They make mistakes and keep on. They turn mistakes into something wonderful. They copy from other people and make it theirs.
TL: When did you become interested in art, and was there a moment when you began to take it more seriously?
KM: Being the youngest of three girls, I was always being dragged from one event to another. My mom always had pencils and paper handy, and I guess I took advantage. I graduated from OSU with a studio art degree and taught high school art for two years. Not really liking the teaching part, I went back to school to study landscape architecture. I've been practicing for 14 years now. About two and a half years ago, my business slowed as family life heated up. Having lost one role, I found myself looking for another. Drawing has always centered me. So, I started hitting it pretty hard. My dream of illustrating children's books hadn't gone anywhere, and so I figured I better get at it.
TL: When you think cultural capitals, OKC probably isn't at the top of the list. But what are some of the advantages of being an Oklahoma City-based artist? And let’s get real, what are some of the disadvantages, or some of the things you’d like to see change?
KM: Hands down, the people are the advantage. Everyone has been so supportive and helpful. It's been easy to plug in pretty quickly. Being small is our secret super power. I can't think of any major disadvantages. The internet has leveled the field. Social media has definitely gotten me out there, even though I'm a mom and don't get out much.
TL: Switching gears, tell me a little bit about your upcoming show – what can people expect?
KM: I tried to include my most recent work since it's evolved so quickly over the last two years. I think people will use the word "cute" initially. But hopefully, as they look more closely, they'll start to shake their heads and laugh. Humor and telling stories with images is the way I approach most of the things I make. The subject matter runs the gamut but might let people see inside my head a little bit.
TL: Plug time – are you working on anything right now? Where can people find more of your work? And don't forget the books!
KM: I have illustrated two picture books. The first is called, "The Little Old Man, the Little Old Woman, and the Little Red Hen." It was written by David L. Roper of Midwest City. It really is a classic story and was wonderful to work on. I just finished the illustrations for, "Camping with Bigfoot" written by Matt Judkins. Matt and I are great friends and are both a little obsessed with the big guy, so it was an ideal project. It will be out in the fall. Both are published by a local house called Doodle and Peck that sells books through its website. They are also available through Amazon. On the horizon, I have several stories I need to get out there. I'm going to throw them at the publishing world and see what happens. It's a scary, risky step. But, what the hell. Right?