Get to know Kristen Barnhart, one of our favorite artists, illustrators, and helmet wearers. Kristen's "deceptively simple" drawings vividly capture her personality and emotions. We love her work because it's personal, authentic, and expressive.
Read our interview with Kristen to learn more about her artistic journey, her creative inspirations, and the qualities that make her unique. Want to win the custom helmet pictured above?
Thousand: How did you get started in illustration and design? How did your experiences lead you to where you are today?
Kristen Barnhart: In middle school, I thought I wanted to be an interior designer. I always rearranged my room and I had magazine cut-outs of interiors on my walls (along with the classic Zac Efron posters). That dream passed, along with my love for Zac Efron. After high school, I went to community college for a couple years and had no idea what I was doing. I randomly came across a graphic design program at a local college and went all in with it! I've always been a "back of the test sheet doodler" and had a lot of 2 hour long lecture classes, so I would doodle in notebooks to pass the time. I never really thought of myself as an illustrator, but over the 4 years of college lecture doodling, my style developed and I started leaning towards illustration based projects in my graphic design courses. I kept drawing and refining my style and eventually opened up an Etsy shop. After exploring that for a couple years, I closed the Etsy shop and opened my own online shop, KB Illustration, where I sold hand screen-printed shirts, stickers, greetings cards, and other fun paper products. Now, my online shop is temporarily closed and I work as a full-time contract art director for Frito-Lay during the day, and a freelance illustrator at night! I never really saw myself getting a "normal" job, but I love it.
T: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to pursue a career in art and illustration?
KB: Keep drawing, keep practicing, keep exploring! Even if what you're making looks ugly, keep doing it! Stay curious and get your hands into different mediums. You never know what might spark a new idea. Also, build a good community of creative people around you. Bounce ideas back and forth and reach out to them for help. I would be so lonely and lost without the help and support of my friends.
T: What are 3 unique qualities that make you, Y.O.U.?
KB: I wouldn't describe these qualities as ~unique~ per se, but I do think my empathy and humor play a big part in who I am and the kind of work I create. My career path is slowly starting to make its way into the world of children's book illustration, which has been a dream of mine since forever. A few years ago, when I was just starting to explore illustration, I would draw about life or feelings, kind of like a diary. I'm a very sensitive person who feels a lot of emotions and I would try to funnel those feelings into the artwork I was making. Now that my career is heading into the children's book illustration world, it helps that I can easily access those playful and colorful childlike moments and even the sad and dark moments of being a child and an adult. I guess I'd say that's my third unique quality!
T: How would you describe your personal style? How do you express your unique P.O.V. in your everyday life??
KB: Someone described my art style as "deceptively simple" and I love that because yes, it does look simple, but there's so much expression within the colors and line quality. I think that also translates to my everyday life, and even fashion style. I'm a major homebody and I love the simple, mundane things in life, but there's so much joy and happiness to be found in those moments if you actually look. I love observing those moments and finding something funny or special about it. I try to share those moments and feelings in my illustrations.
T: What inspires you? How do you find creative inspiration?
KB: Like I said before, I love observing the "mundane" moments in life and finding the hidden gems in them that some people might overlook. It might be something about not shaving your legs, not brushing your hair, or forgetting if you left the oven on when you go out. I like those funny life moments that connect all of us. I'm also a very moody person haha. It's gotten better the older and more comfortable I get with my brain and body, but up until a couple years ago I had a really difficult time explaining and talking to others about what I was feeling...which seems ironic for someone who feels so much. Keeping a sketchbook and drawing loose and letting those feelings come out in weird drawings helped me a lot by processing. I'm also really inspired by childhood things I loved like wooden letters I had hanging on my childhood door, books I loved to read growing up like Amelia's Notebook, the advent chocolate calendars my Oma and Opa would bring us for Christmas, TV shows like Wallace & Gromit...all of those things float around in my brain at all times and I think they inspire me to make work that feels cozy like the memories I had watching or reading those things.
Inspired by Kristen's creative style, we partnered up to give away a customized helmet with an original hand-drawn design that celebrates the special qualities that make you unique.