Women in Fantasy Illustration: Kristina Carroll

Women in Fantasy Illustration: Kristina Carroll

Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing a selection of women whose work have made an impact in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.

Today’s interview is with Kristina Carroll. I first became familiar with Kristina through her Month of Love blog, a blog where a group of professional artists post new illustrations every day throughout February.

Recently I was looking through the proof of the ArtOrder’s Inspiration art book and was mind blown when I came across the stunning work of Kristina. I asked her for an interview and here you go! I hope you will enjoy it.

Elevation © Kristina Carroll

Elevation © Kristina Carroll

1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work.
My name is Kristina Carroll. I currently live in Boston but grew up in Billings, MT and lived in NYC for 10 years in between. I grew up on Tolkien, Froud and Gaiman and as a kid, tried to convince my friends I was actually a fairy changeling.

I grew up on Tolkien, Froud and Gaiman and as a kid, tried to convince my friends I was actually a fairy changeling.
Photo of Kristina Carroll

Kristina Carroll: Fairy Changeling? © Photo by Scott Bakal

So it isn’t much of a stretch to see how I ended up drawing fantasy to make a living. However, my career has been sort of a roller coaster. I actually started off doing theater in NYC but quickly discovered it wasn’t for me and after some twists, made my way back to art. I’m drawn to mythology, folk-tales, archetypes and pretty much any story with a well-done fantastic element.

I’m drawn to mythology, folk-tales, archetypes and pretty much any story with a well-done fantastic element.

2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of illustrating?
Probably the moment I realized that it was possible. Even though I grew up with comics and D&D – which rely on illustration and even though I drew all the time; art as a career always seemed abstract to me.

(...) Art as a career always seemed abstract to me. In high school, the only professional artists I knew were my art teachers and I didn't want to be them.

In high school, the only professional artists I knew were my art teachers and I didn’t want to be them. Then, as I was becoming disenchanted with the theater world in NYC, I started getting back to my roots: D&D, comics, fantasy.

I began volunteering at MoCCa and actually met working artists. I met wonderful professionals and it switched on a light-bulb in my head. They were always so kind and encouraging; they made beautiful things and got paid for them.

3.What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional illustrator?
Money and fear. Money isn’t everything, it isn’t the road to happiness, but when you have debt and are constantly living hand to mouth It is really hard to get ahead. Especially trying to live in any big city.

Money isn't everything, it isn't the road to happiness, but when you have debt and are constantly living hand to mouth It is really hard to get ahead.
Dreamheart Artefact © Kristina Carroll

Dreamheart Artifact © Wizards of the Coast

Sometimes it’s a motivator and other times it adds a weight that is very hard to get out from. You can get so wrapped up in thinking about next month’s bills that the really important things like portfolio development and long-term business plans get pushed aside for the current “crisis”. The good news is: all those problems become smaller when you are making art. The moment you realize life is stopping you from making art, that’s when something needs to change. It’s important to do everything in your power to just keep making art. Good art, bad art. It doesn’t matter. Just keep making.

Sometimes it’s a motivator and other times it adds a weight that is very hard to get out from. You can get so wrapped up in thinking about next month’s bills that the really important things like portfolio development and long-term business plans get pushed aside for the current “crisis”. The good news is: all those problems become smaller when you are making art. The moment you realize life is stopping you from making art, that’s when something needs to change. It’s important to do everything in your power to just keep making art. Good art, bad art. It doesn’t matter. Just keep making.

It’s important to do everything in your power to just keep making art. Good art, bad art. It doesn't matter. Just keep making.
The Bavrogar © Kristina Carroll

The Bavrogar © Kristina Carroll

4. What do you like the most about illustrating?
I love storytelling in all forms and art is the language I am most fluent in so that is what I use. Although someday I plan to have published writing as well. I also love collaboration. Whether it’s a very simple set of directions or making art for a specific story, I love the act of being able to contribute something new to an idea and that feeling of “rightness” when it really works. Storytelling is sharing and it is meaningless if the story you are trying to tell doesn’t resonate with anyone. That’s partly why I like myths and archetypes- they are all stories that have been told over and over for thousands of years in thousands of cultures and yet there is still something we respond to. I love channeling those ideas in my work.

I love storytelling in all forms and art is the language I am most fluent in so that is what I use.
Echo © Kristina Carroll

Echo © Kristina Carroll

5. What do you like the least about it?
The hustle. All those things you have to do to run a business and get noticed that aren’t making art. Especially when you are still trying to “get there”, it takes up a lot more of your time that should be spent on getting better. It often feels like shooting arrows in the dark.

Maiden, Mother and Crone © Kristina Carroll

Maiden, Mother and Crone © Kristina Carroll

6. You attended the School of Visual Arts. What was your Art School experience like? Would you recommend it?
I have few regrets. I squeezed so much out of my SVA experience that I really felt I was getting my money’s worth. I researched teachers so I knew who I would learn the most from (some of who gave me jobs after school). I connected with so many amazing artists who I still keep in touch with. The NYC art student experience was one of a kind and I absolutely loved it.

I’m the sort of person that needs a community and needs to be surrounded by people who challenge me so I think that, with my knowledge of my options at the time, I made a good choice. At the same time, I would be hard pressed to recommend it to someone else without a real, hard look at reality. The debt that comes from an art school education in an expensive city can stop you before you even get started, especially if you aren’t smart about where that money is coming from.

I try to make time to do studies from the reference so I can avoid using the photographs as much as possible, this helps to take away some of the stiffness that comes of over-referencing.

I made a few bad decisions about how to pay for art school because I had stars in my eyes but I still did my best. I worked on my portfolio for a year before applying so I would have a better chance at getting scholarships and used my 401k that came from an office job in those “in between” years to help pay for it.

Vernal © Kristina Carroll

Vernal © Kristina Carroll


Vernal in process © Kristina Caroll

Vernal – Work in process © Kristina Caroll

7. Please tell a little about your process and your choice of medium.
There are a couple mediums I work in for different types of jobs. I prefer oils for color and charcoal for black and white work. The quicker the deadline, the more process I do and because I work realistically, it’s much more time consuming. I do lots of thumbnails. The most exciting thumbnails get fleshed out a bit more with stronger lighting choices and then the 3 best from there get sent to the client.

After the decision, I will either start color studies or shoot reference. Sometimes I will do the studies first because they may inform decisions I make when shooting reference. For instance, if there’s a strong color or light decision that hasn’t been figured out yet or I want to run it by the client first. Then I get reference.

I shoot as much of it myself as possible to control light and perspective. Sometimes I also make Marquette and light them. I try to make time to do studies from the reference so I can avoid using the photographs as much as possible, this helps to take away some of the stiffness that comes of over-referencing.

The debt that comes from an art school education in an expensive city can stop you before you even get started, especially if you aren't smart about where that money is coming from.

Then I do the final drawing either in charcoal (if atmosphere and value play a stronger role in the image) Or line drawing with shading (if details play a stronger role). If it’s a black and white piece, I can stop here. With color, I prefer to do all oil paint but if the deadline is fast I mix in some acrylic at the beginning and/or digital at the end.

Minotaur © Kristina Caroll

Minotaur © Kristina Caroll

8. What is your favourite genre/or subjects to paint and why?
I love figures. Specifically I love figures that are somehow a bit unfamiliar or transformative. Whether it’s some sort of animal/plant element or a strange shape of the face or hair, I want to put in something unexpected. I love characters inspired by mythology and folk-lore, especially if I can do something in the visual storytelling that makes you see a familiar story from a different angle.

9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
Several people have said a different version of the same thing to me: Finding who you are as an artist is being able to say no. I think one of my biggest obstacles is one a lot of young artists share: We want to do anything and everything. But that is deadly to progress. Whether it’s recognizing that the things you love aren’t necessarily the things you should do, or saying no to most paths in order to follow just one.

Several people have said a different version of the same thing to me: Finding who you are as an artist is being able to say no.

The sooner you focus on that one thing, the sooner you will start building the sort of career that will give you the freedom to branch out to some of those other avenues. That being said, even though I understand the truth of this advice and have seen the proof, it’s still sometimes very hard to follow.

The Frog Queen © Kristina Carroll

The Frog Queen © Kristina Carroll

10. Where do you hope to take your artwork in the future?
I hope my artwork takes me places! I want to keep discovering and getting better so I can translate my ideas with more clarity and they resonate with more people. I want to create my own stories eventually too, whether that means picture books, illustrated short stories or graphic novels. On a practical level, I see so many artists take extraordinary leaps (both artistically and professionally) when they are do something entirely their own. But mostly it’s because I love stories and want to make some of my own.

Rivendell © Kristina Caroll

Rivendell © Kristina Caroll

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Kristina Carroll, if you did please share it with your friends!

Stay tuned for next week where I will be interviewing Cynthia Sheppard.

Links:
Kristina Carroll’s Website
Kristina Carroll’s Blog
Kristina Caroll on Facebook
Month of Love
Scott Bakal’s Website

Kiri Østergaard Leonard
kiri@kirileonard.com

Kiri Østergaard Leonard is an award winning illustrator and artist from Denmark, currently living in Austin, Texas. She enjoys working on projects within the fantasy and children's illustration genre.

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