Ever wonder how people become so successful with their artwork in the geek world? The talented illustrator, Karen Hallion, reveals how she made it big as a freelance artist in this interview.
About Karen Hallion
Karen Hallion is a full-time freelance artist from Nahant Massachusetts, who has worked with Marvel, Hank Green, Disney, and more. She graduated with a BFA in Illustration from the Ringling School of Art and Design in 1997. A lot of her work centers around geeky fandoms and strong female characters. Hallion has been a guest panelist for Threadless, Tee Fury, Nerd for a Living, and NerdCon. She has also been a featured artist at the Star Wars Celebration Art Shows. Some the projects she has worked on include:
- Her ‘Mash Up’ series, which are illustrations combining ideas from more than one geeky fandom
- One of the artists for the book Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy
- Illustrated the covers for the “Star Wars Celebration” edition of Star Wars Insider Magazine
- Designed the Wizard School card game created by DFTBA Games and Hank Green
I was lucky enough to get in touch with Hallion and ask her some questions about her work. Read the interview below to learn more!
Q&A with Karen Hallion
Why did you decide to go into an illustration career?
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 theater 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 went home and started drawing, and twenty plus years later, I am still going.
I went to Ringling School of Art and Design and ended up teaching elementary school art for many years. About six years ago, I lost my teaching job. 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, I had already started to think about trying a freelance career in art. After 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. That was my introduction into t-shirt design, and it’s kind of took off from there.
How did you become so successful with your artwork and work with clients such as Hank Green, Disney and Marvel?
Honestly it was a mix of continuously putting my work out there on social media, travelling to conventions, subbing to companies over and over despite rejections, hard work, and a little bit of luck!
What inspired you to create your newest children’s book, Never, Never Quit?
At first when I created my character, Celera, it was to show off my love of being a ‘fangirl.’ But with this book, which is her origin story, I wanted to take that one step further. I wanted to try to encourage children not to quit when things get too hard. I also wanted to share what inspires me and what keeps me from giving up when pursuing my dreams gets hard.
I hope kids will take away from Celara’s story that it’s OK to like things, to be passionate about things, to celebrate that and get excited about it. It’s OK to be a geek or a fangirl and to showcase that. And when you are chasing your dreams, it is important to believe in yourself and know that everyone experiences doubt, fear, and frustration, but to still take risks and know that it won’t come all at once. Be patient with yourself. Practice, practice, practice, and never, never, EVER quit.
What does your artwork mean to you, and are you trying to convey important messages through any of your illustrations?
Well, I am very much inspired by strong female characters and try to express that in what I do. I get excited by the beauty and strength of these characters, particularly female, and just have to try and capture them myself in a particular way.
When I started freelancing 10 years ago and subbing work to companies, I got a lot of rejections that were “This is too girly, too feminine, no one will buy this, geek girl doesn’t sell”. They were wrong and I am pretty sure that’s been proven now. Geek girls have been starving for more representation and it seems like it’s getting better every day, in TV and movies, and also in merchandise to help us fly our geek flags proudly. I have a Star Wars Rebellion mini backpack that my 16-year-old self would have killed for back in the day. I love that I can contribute in a small way to providing more representation than I had growing up.
What advice would you give to young aspiring artists?
It’s been more than 15 years since I graduated from art school, and it has taken a lot of work for me to be able to make a living freelancing. Some of the things that have helped me, other than hard work and not giving up, are joining an artist’s group and learning from other talented people. Sub work to companies you want to work with, and when it gets rejected, do more work and sub it. Just keep moving forward (advice from Walt Disney). Find artists you love, and study what they do, and learn from them. Take advice and critiques, ignore the haters. Draw what you love, not necessarily what you think will sell. Help out other artists when you can.
From your experience, what are some good ways for artists to start exposing their work?
Use social media. Learn the best way to use it, and use it. It’s free advertising, and it works.
Which geek/nerd fandoms do you love?
Disney and Star Wars are my absolute favorites. I also am a huge Buffy fan, love Gilmore Girls, and Harry Potter.
What shows are you currently watching?
I am making my way through Schitt’s Creek and loving it!
What other upcoming projects are you working on?
Right now I am mainly focused on finishing the children’s book! Between that, trying to do some more variant cover work, as well as some freelance work I am doing, that’s enough to keep me busy for a while.
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Featured image credit: Karen Hallion