Recently we were able to interview artist Karen Hallion about her work and her career.
For those that aren’t familiar with her, she has done licensed work for Marvel, Lucasfilm, Cartoon Network, DreamWorks Studios, Cryptozoic, TOPPS, Her Universe, and Disney among other companies, as well as had t-shirt designs featured on Threadless, TeeFury, TeeTurtle, teeVillain, RIPT, and Qwertee.
The Nerd Element: What artists inspire you?
Karen Hallion: My favorite artists are Glen Keane and James Baxter from Disney, Alphonse Mucha, Charles Dana Gibson, and Audrey Kawasaki.
TNE: We know you love doing mash ups of fandoms, how did it feel when it started becoming popular?
KH: It was surreal and weird; it still is. When my work began to make its rounds on t-shirt sites and Tumblr, it wasn’t until I was complimented at my local Whole Foods while wearing one of my shirts that I fully understood the reach of my artwork’s success. When I said that I had designed it, not only did they know who I was, but the cashier jumped in too to say they knew me as well. It is an odd feeling, but that was the first time I thought ‘I am doing okay!’
TNE: Tell us your greatest fan girl moment.
KH: In 2013, I won DreamWorks Studios’ “How to Train Your Dragon” t-shirt design contest and so they flew me out to the studio to meet the filmmakers, have lunch and get a tour. Gary Trousdale, who directed Beauty and the Beast, was working at Dreamworks and apparently is a fan of my Belle and Dr. Who mashup. He showed up for lunch wearing that design on a t-shirt and I just still can’t wipe the smile of my face when I think about it. I am a huge fan of his so it was definitely a “try not to freak out” fan girl kind of moment!
TNE: How did you get into art?
KH: It wasn’t until I was 16 and saw the movie “The Little Mermaid” that I became interested in being an artist. I walked out of the theatre and thought “I want to do that.” I had always loved Disney movies, and had dabbled in drawing, but for some reason, this one really just jumped out at me. I wanted to try to capture the movement, flow, and beauty that I had just seen. I went home and started drawing, and twenty plus years later, I am still going.
TNE: Being in an artistic field can be scary to jump into full time – how did you make that transition? How did you decide when to transition to full time?
KH: About five years ago, I lost my job as an elementary art school teacher. Up until that point, I had been doing a lot of mermaids, geisha, and art nouveau work in my spare time, when I wasn’t teaching, and had already started to think about trying a freelance career in art. When I lost my job, I looked around at some of my favorite artists and I thought I am going to focus all of my efforts to make this work as a successful career. I started doing some pop culture designs and ended up subbing some work to Tee Fury, which was my introduction into t-shirt design, and it kind of took off from there.
TNE: Who is your favorite villain (any fandom)?
KH:Definitely Maleficent, from Sleeping Beauty.
TNE: Favorite fandom?
KH:Disney, hands down.
TNE: Favorite things to do at SDCC?
KH: Unfortunately I don’t get much fun time while at the show but it’s always nice to grab dinner with fellow artists after the show and reconnect while talking about our crazy lives.
TNE: Where do you draw (coffee shop, home office, on the road)
KH: I primarily draw at home since most of my work is digital these days. I use Photoshop CC and a Wacom Cintiq 21UX. When I work traditionally, I will usually set myself up in the living room, put on a movie, have a giant cup of coffee and use Copic markers and ink pens. It’s harder for me to sketch on the road, but I will draw traditionally while on planes on the way to conventions and recently purchased a tablet so I can try to get more freelance work done on the road as well.
TNE: Have you had any neat fan moments of people meeting you?
KH: I have had people show up with sculptures of my art that they have made for me and this one woman made an amazing quilt with all of my shirts that she gave me. It’s always touching to see how my work inspires others to get creative.
TNE: Can you tell us about any hidden talents you may have and something most people don’t know about you as well?
KH: I make a fantastic chocolate chip cookie (according to my sister). It’s all about the balance of the white and brown sugar.
You can see more of Karen’s work, and find out more about her on her website http://www.karenhallion.com as well as on her Etsy shop (https://www.etsy.com/shop/khallion) and her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/KarenHallion
I want to give thanks to Tori for the questions and Amy (Karen’s Business Manager) for helping arrange the interview and getting me the pictures above.