BORN IN LANCASTER, PENNSYLVANIA, Allison Kerek currently works as a freelance illustrator and animator in Kansas City. She earned a BFA in Graphic and Interactive Design from Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art. Her clients include: HOW Books, Print Magazine, The Wild Honey Pie, Hallmark Cards, Willamette Week and The Pitch among others.
WAS CREATIVITY A BIG PART OF GROWING UP? WAS ILLUSTRATION SOMETHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO DO?
I’ve wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember. I spent most of my childhood drawing little pictures in the attic of my dad’s restaurant, and daydreaming about making the next “Beavis and Butthead”. I never really wanted to do anything else, and luckily I had a very encouraging family. Everything became more real when I went to Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, PA. The combination of encouraging/tough/brilliant teachers, talented/crazy/inspiring classmates, and difficult/valuable/fun classes made me believe that I could actually do this.
SINCE MOVING HERE FROM PHILADELPHIA, WHAT SURPRISED YOU MOST ABOUT THE MIDWEST?
I spent my college years in Philly, but I’m actually from Lancaster, PA. Lancaster and Kansas City aren’t terribly different from one another. Lots of farms, city life, and friendly folk. Moving from Philly to Kansas City I was immediately shocked by how affordable everything is here. You can see a movie for four dollars, fill up your gas tank for under twenty, rent is next to nothing… I’ll take it. It’s easy to feel comfortable here.
YOU MIX A LOT OF ANIMATION IN WITH YOUR ILLUSTRATION. HOW DOES THE COMBINATION OF THESE SKILLS HELP YOUR OVERALL PRACTICE?
It’s been a tremendous help. We’re living in a world where people are looking at their little screens more often than newspapers and magazines. This calls for more animation, gifs, web illustrations than there used to be. There are thousands of fantastic illustrators out there, but not all of them can animate their own work. I feel like this has helped me stand out a little bit.
A LARGE AMOUNT OF YOUR WORK INCLUDES MUSICIANS AND POP CULTURE ICONS. IS THAT BY DESIGN?
I discovered MTV in Kindergarten and became addicted immediately. I’d wake up at around five AM every morning and watch two hours of music videos before school, and turn it back on as soon as I got home. I don’t really know why my mom allowed this at age six but thanks mom. Soon I began drawing my favorite bands, celebrities, etc. I’ve always been a pretty shy and quiet person, so when I saw that I could connect with some of my classmates through my drawings of celebrities something clicked. Pop culture is relatable and digestible, making it easy to bond over. I’m still shy, still quiet, and still drawing my weird little drawings, but now instead of getting attention from classmates I’m catching the eyes of art directors, and other artists hanging out on instagram and tumblr.
“I'D JUST GET LOST FOR DAYS ANIMATING PIZZA SKATING, KIMYE FLOATING AROUND THE SKY AND SNOOP DOGG HEADBANGING”
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING PROJECT YOU’VE WORKED ON THUS FAR?
Probably my music video for “Sign Me Up” by Minneapolis-based rapper Ecid. It was a massive project, but so much fun to work on. It didn’t even feel like work. After listening to the song three or four times I knew exactly how I wanted it to look. I had almost total control over Art Direction, which can be rare with client work. I’d just get lost for days animating pizza skating, Kimye floating around the sky, and Snoop Dogg headbanging.
I learned a lot as an animator through this video. Since a lot of what I know about animation is self taught sometimes it feels more like solving a puzzle than work. I’d never morphed objects, animated a mouth talking… let alone rapping, or built an entire world around a song before. It was awesome. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my illustrations move around the screen. I’m very proud of the video, and it’s already led to some more music video work. It’s pretty exciting.
Check out the video here.
ME HAPPIER THAN SEEING MY ILLUSTRATIONS MOVE AROUND
YOU HAVE A WONDERFUL MIX OF EDITORIAL WORK FOR CLIENTS AND PERSONAL PROJECTS. DO YOU APPROACH THESE PROJECTS DIFFERENTLY?
Personal projects are more open ended—no rules, no deadlines, no demands, all me. This allows for plenty of time to explore, play, and grow. I usually take what I learn from working on my personal projects and apply it to my client work. Personal projects can also lead to new client work. You never know who will see your stuff floating around the internet. For example: I made a silly, stupid gif I called “Kanye Nest” which involved little Kanye Wests hatching out of Kim Kardashian’s butt—and that’s what led to Ecid and I working together on his music video. Gotta love the internet.
IF YOU COULD TIME TRAVEL FIVE YEARS INTO THE PAST AND GIVE YOURSELF ADVICE, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
I’d probably say: “Don’t be afraid to take risks, as long as you work hard things usually fall into place.” I took a risk when I decided to spend an extra year in college so I could take some animation classes, if I didn’t take that chance I probably wouldn’t have half of the business that I have today. I took a risk when I accepted a job offer with Hallmark Cards, a company a thousand miles away from everything I’d ever known and loved. Everday at Hallmark I would draw, learn, collaborate, and letter. It was an awesome first job, with awesome people.
Now on my own full time, I’ve learned the freelance illustration world can be an intimidating place. Amazing projects will come along, your favorite concepts will get killed and jobs will come and go. I would tell myself to celebrate success, learn from your failures and just keep working hard, it’ll pay off.
DESCRIBE YOUR PROCESS AND HOW YOU CREATE ONE OF YOUR ILLUSTRATIONS? LOOKING AT YOUR WORK, TRADITIONAL DRAWING SEEMS VERY IMPORTANT.
Traditional drawing is absolutely important! I like to do as much work off of the computer as possible. I love when you can see an illustrator’s handmade marks, it really makes the piece feel personal and special. This is what my process is like:
It always starts with tons and tons of research. I love this step—I’ve discovered so many great bands, movies, books, etc. through project research. Usually while researching, an image will just pop into my head. Then it’s sketch, sketch, sketch, open up photoshop, create some weird and ugly looking mock-up with my Wacom tablet that only I can understand, print it out, take it over to my light board, make a quick sketch, refine it on tracing paper, then draw the real deal on some bristol board, scan it, add some color in photoshop, change the colors about eight times, print it out, make some textures for it using whatever I have around- pencil, paint, marker, whatever, scan that in, multiply a few textures, probably add some unnecessary squiggles, ask my studio mate “What on this looks stupid?,” fix the problems, take my eyes off of it for a little bit, eat a snack, come back, fix anything my refreshed eyes catch, and that’s that.
“I LOVE WHEN YOU CAN
SEE AN ILLUSTRATOR’S HANDMADE MARKS; IT MAKES THE PIECE FEEL PERSONAL & SPECIAL.”
WHAT ARE THREE THINGS YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT?
The internet to send and receive work/ stay connected with family/ check out what other artists are doing/ waste time on Netflix. My boyfriend/studio mate/Vahalla screen printer/ best friend Dustin Williams. A sketchbook with a pencil.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE BOARD GAME?
Definitely Scrabble. We take a lot of Scrabble breaks in our studio.
UNIQUE TO KANSAS CITY, WHAT IS ONE LOCAL RESTAURANT, STORE OR SPACE YOU LOVE?
I have two: El Camino Real for their Al Pastor tacos. Boulevard Bakery for their everything—I’m probably there two or three times a week.