Karen Ingram's Bittersweet Bones

Posted at 10 pm on November 9, 2010 by

Posted in: Digital Illustration, Mixed Media, Painting, Watercolour Illustration

Karen Ingram must be really busy. As well as creating illustrations and designs which have been featured in magazines and on clothing and products around the world, she also works with flash, takes part in live drawing demonstrations, creates and posts thousands of free limited edition postcards, and plenty more besides.

Mixing repeating patterns, human anatomy and birds with a feather-light touch, Karen creates lush images which, despite their occasionally grisly contents stay just on the right side of macabre. There is an unfinished edge to her work which, rather than making it look rough, keeps it airy and open.

Karen took time from her busy schedule to chat to Ape on the Moon about her techniques and motivation.

How would you describe your style and method of working?

Typically, I start with research – usually googling the subject matter that I am interested in portraying in my work. I have a few anatomy books that I use as guides too. I don’t do preliminary sketches because I feel that it doesn’t allow for the image to evolve.

After I am satisfied that I’ve gathered enough research materials, I sit down with colored pencils and magic markers and begin to draw the key elements I’d like to appear in my piece. A bird, an arm, a lion, or a skull… as I am working on the main elements, I think about what the backdrop could be, and I create a pattern by hand, folding tracing paper so as to create a repeat for the pattern. Sometimes I will trace the patterns in illustrator to keep them clean, but more often than not, I enjoy leaving the half finished repeated patterns as backdrops.

Incorporating hand-made, human elements are an important window into my process and I think it keeps things from looking static. I’ll compose the whole layout in photoshop, using vectors to create a balance between the texture of the hand drawn elements and the simplification of the flat shapes of the vector elements.

What got you started as an illustrator?

I can’t really say – I’ve always drawn. I don’t consider myself to exclusively be an illustrator, in the traditional sense. I seldom get commissions for print magazines, album covers, and the like. My illustrations are usually part of a cohesive interactive experience.

I get a kick out of making art for animations. I also really enjoy doing schematics and info graphics, though that doesn’t usually make it into my online portfolio because it’s concept work and not part of a finished product – maybe I should include that work!

To me, illustration in its purist sense is a way of translating an abstract idea – not necessarily a depiction of something to accompany a piece of content.

I ‘ve done some live interpretations of keynote presentations for South By Southwest for the past few years and I find that live drawing is a very different way of interpreting ideas.

Perhaps a better way to answer your question would be to explain how I got started doing visual work commercially – I was a painting student in NorthCarolina, and Cone Mills, a textile mill, was looking for students to do the graveyard shift in their CAD department. They were looking for someone with artistic sensibilities rather than a CAD designer, so they went to some visual arts professors, Marc Gottsegen and Robert Gerhart and asked for art student recommendations.

I went in, and took a color matching test – basically a color vision test where I had to pair up an array of color chips in pairs according to what chips were the closest matches, and apparently, I did well because I got the job. From there, I began making patterns for textiles on CAD systems and began my career.

What do you feel is your greatest achievement in your work so far?

Probably delving into Flash and creating animations from my bitmap images. That led to my current methods of working – pairing hand drawn images withvectors. I was also very tickled with the prospect of self-publishing on the internet, and that’s kept me engaged in the internet’s evolution.

I am also proud of my postcard project- I’ve created 11 postcards over the past few years, that are really limited editions of art in and of themselves – there’s no original. The editions of 500 are the works of art. They aren’t replicas of a larger piece. Anyone can send me an email and request one.

The SXSW keynote illustrations are also very interesting departure from how I usually work. I’s really fun to do live drawing, even if its stressful! I’ve accompanied some amazing people- Chris Anderson (editor of WIRED, author of several amazing books, and curator of TED Talks), James Powerly (founder of the Graffitti Research Lab and one of the creators of the Eyewriter), Evan Williams (CEO of Twitter)…

What inspires you?

People in general, the way they think, also science, animal behavior, technology, PopTech, TED Talks… People who inspire me are my friends and their work. Also Temple Grandin, Dan Ariely, David Quammin, the list goes on… Follow me on twitter to see!

What would your ideal project be, and what are you working on at the moment?

I am working on my 12th postcard at the moment, and crossing my fingers that a public works piece will happen… Don’t want to give too much away about this though! Don’t want to jinx it! I’ll undoubtedly tweet about it once it happens!


© Karen Ingram 2010