Meet The Illustrator: Kristen Willis

Name: Kristen Willis

Describe your illustration style in ten words or less.
Colourful, mixed mediums (traditional & digital), playful, and graphical.

What items are an essential part of your creative space?
I need music, always. For mark-making, I need a handy-sized sketchbook, my iPad Pro, and inspirational resources.

At the beginning of each project, I ‘nest’ and cultivate the ultimate creative environment. 
It is not uncommon for my home-studio walls to be covered in process pages, sketches, and design notes. This changes depending on what my project focus is.

Do you have a favourite artistic medium?
I love working across the two extremes of traditional and digital. Starting with a good quality rag paper (Fabriano Rosaspina), I work watercolours, inks, and pastels (often together) into the fibres. It’s all about layers and textures. When it comes to digital, I swear by Procreate and Adobe Illustrator.

Name three artists whose work inspires you.
I have a die-hard crush on late 19th Century and master eastern wood-cut artists. I live for a Henri Toulouse Lautrec and Pierre Bonnard lithograph and the incredible observational human studies of Katsushika Hokusai.


Which artistic period would you most like to visit and why?

Please take me back to the post-impressionist era when Japonisme started making waves in the early 1860s Paris, especially when print advertising became commercialised and the new exciting medium for mass communication. The early pioneers of printmaking and graphic design (without knowing it).
I have an amazing National Gallery of Australia publication called ‘Paris in the Late 19th Century’, it exhibits the dramatic social change and spectacular artistic production of this period-in-time. Published in 1996, it still teleports me to this day!

Who or what inspired you to become an illustrator?
I believe that it has been an evolutionary process over time. I tend to go through creative milestones that are enhanced by the previous and lead me to new growth opportunities. Although the creative journey can feel very lonesome, I was never really alone. To this day, I have incredible creative mentors, and for that I am eternally grateful.

My creative roots began in Ingham (rural North Queensland) as a child with my Nonna Lina. I would spend hours imagining and creating in her singer sewing shop on Lannercost Street. After high school, I was offered placement to study Visual Arts at University; it was here that my obsession with printmaking and art truly blossomed. Over the next five years, I veered away from traditional art, longing for a ‘career’. This was when I launched myself into the world of Graphic Design (2011).
I believe that my artistic and design learnings have guided me to this point in time, where I have finally reached a level of creative independence. In late 2019 I launched my own creative business, Tondo Creative which allows me to actively pursue unique collaborations and blend my two loves of art and design.

Can you share a photo of your creative workspace or part of the area where you work most often? Talk us through it.

Because I work from home, I like to move around. You’ll typically find me banging out graphic design work at the desk in front of two monitors and my iPad Pro by day.

By night you’ll find me sprawled across the family dining table or sitting on the lounge room floor with a lap table, surrounded by delicious reference materials and getting back into the practice of artmaking.

What is your favourite part of the illustration process?

Although I’ve been creating for a long time, I have only just recently thrown myself into the world of children’s book illustration. Becoming a mother had a lot to do with this, and I discovered that I now have the ability/desire to create stories.

I’m currently developing my very first illustrative children’s book and have fallen in love with every stage of the process (so far). Maybe because it’s so new and shiny? Or perhaps it’s because it’s a story close to my heart? Either way, watching the evolution from transcript to character development is intoxicating. And the inner design nerd is having the best time studying narrative-driven picture-making and understanding effective book-flow and layout structures.

What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator?

Give yourself permission to grow. Experiment with different mediums, try things that make you uncomfortable, and most of all, take a deep breath, be brave and share your journey.

Creativity takes courage – Henri Matisse.

Kristen is a multi-media artist based in Brisbane. She explores and indulges in all aspects of Illustration, Printmaking and Graphic Design by mixing traditional fine-art techniques with digital media. Kristen’s Australian-Italian heritage constantly inspires her to visually archive family stories and emotively respond to daily life.

For more information please visit Kristen’s website or follow her on instagram.

August 26, 2021 at 12:34AM Katrin Dreiling