Member News October 5, 2016
by Lauren Festa
Katherine Killeffer is a freelance illustrator working in-house for agencies concepting on social and digital campaigns, and illustrating for VICE’s Broadly when their schedules sync. She’s created over 30 editorial illustrations for the content channel focused on women and their experiences on a wide variety of wacky, wild and fun topics – from a gynecologist analyzing whether or not rap lyrics reference female anatomy correctly, to revisiting the late 1990s middle school rumor that Mountain Dew lowers your sperm count. In our Q&A, we touch on drawing the line, dream collaborations and #femvertising.
Freelance Illustrator/Art Director
New York, NY
When Broadly/VICE approached you for this project, what was the ask and how did you go about it?
Broadly found me on Dribbble around the time that they were about to launch – they were looking for illustrations to mix into their overall brand vibe. The first illustration I created was for an article about Münchausen by Internet syndrome (which I’d never heard of before, much like most of the articles they send me!). The basic premise was that there are people who lie about their health/life story in drastically exaggerated ways online to garner sympathy and support from others. It was a very unique topic, which made for a really unusual challenge and a blast to create something that piqued readers’ interest and spoke to the issue. That piece remains one of my favorite illustrations – simple and cute but slightly unsettling. That was over a year ago, today I’ve worked with Broadly on over 30 articles!
Your illustrations are really colorful, witty and fun. With the content having serious tones, did you want to sort of juxtapose it with your bold, colorful style?
Yes, absolutely. I think that’s a combination of working within Broadly’s larger brand identity (which features poppy, fun colors) and the fact that my style naturally leans being quirky and feminine. I really enjoy the challenge of creating work that’s representative of very atypical, sometimes NSFW or disturbing subjects in a way that intrigues viewers to click without giving too much away. It’s also a fine line to create the juxtaposition to draw people in while not making light of the subject, which is I constantly keep in mind.
What are some of your favorites from this series and why?
Like all things VICE, the Broadly team writes about anything and everything, no holds barred. My favorite illustrations have definitely been the more lighthearted illustrations that seem really out there or totally bizarre – just like the articles themselves. From illustrating Lil Wayne as a gynecologist (for an article about the anatomical correctness of lady parts mentioned in rap lyrics), to a woman’s sexy legs posed up in the air with crutches (for an article about sprained ankle fetishists on Twitter) to a middle school boy chugging Mountain Dew (for an article about the late 90s rumor that Mountain Dew lowered sperm count), I love creating pieces that cause people to stop mid-scroll and think ‘WTF?’
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve also been really honored to use my illustration to highlight more serious topics – specifically to create imagery that brings light to issues women face that may not be represented in mainstream media. My favorite that comes to mind was a piece where I recreated the iconic photo of Elizabeth Eckford entering Little Rock’s Central High School the day it integrated in 1957 – it was really special to be able to bring such an important piece of history to life once again.
Where were you and what were you doing before landing your current gig?
I’m a freelance illustrator and art director, so I work for Broadly on a project basis on and off when our schedules both line up. I freelance in-house at different agencies concepting on social and digital advertising campaigns, and work with a variety of other publications and brands creating illustrations for everything from digital sticker packs to key frames for animations to a published children’s book. Before going freelance, I was an art director at mcgarrybowen.
Do you get the stories and then draw from that? Or is it like a soundbite or headline?
It varies widely, and honestly depends where they are in the process and how quickly they need it. Sometimes I only get a line or two (“we’re doing a piece on people’s 4th of July sexual experiences”), sometimes I get a very rough draft, and sometimes I get a mostly complete article. The more information I receive the better because little details help to trigger other ideas, but it’s also fun to have a wide open playground when I only receive a sound byte.
We think Broadly is a great initiative from Vice, in that it focuses on women-centric issues, stories and things that matter or at least should matter to their wider audience. How does it feel to have so many eyes on your work and also to be a part of a great team?
I’m really proud to contribute to Vice, particularly to Broadly. They cover a lot of stories about women, particularly women of color, that are often overlooked and need to be told, along with shining a light on misogynism of all kinds. If my illustrations help to draw more people in to read about those kind of issues, that would make me very happy! And it certainly helps that everyone I’ve worked with at Broadly is smart, creative and easy going – they are a great team to collaborate with.
With such a vast amount of stories being published and tight turnarounds, how has that effected your work, if at all? Do you work well under the pressure?
It sounds crazy, but I love the tight turnarounds required for editorial work. Coming from the world of advertising, where you can spend months on a project with endless rounds of feedback from countless stakeholders, it’s incredibly refreshing to have a very straightforward ask with minimal feedback and a quick turnaround. Luckily, having to get the work done in 48 hours or less doesn’t allow for a lot of overthinking or procrastination. And the article usually goes live the day after I finish – immediate gratification!
What is your creative process?
Normally, Broadly sends me whatever they have, and I create three “roughs” for them to choose from. I start by doing extremely loose brainstorming sketches in a notebook, jotting down things that stick out to me in the article. Next, I gather reference material online (to get the right angle, a good idea of what weed trimming scissors or the World of Warcraft interface looks like etc.) or sometimes take photos of myself (or recruit my boyfriend) in the particular pose I need. Then I create three loose line sketches with rough color placement in Photoshop using a Wacom tablet, and send them along.
Once Broadly picks the one they want to move ahead with, I create final art in Illustrator. I use the pen tool to draw main lines and adjust thicks and thins, and then go back in to add what I call “sketchies” – tiny squiggles with the pencil tool to add depth, shadow etc. so it doesn’t feel completely flat. I pull all of my line art into Photoshop and fill it with color (for whatever reason I prefer adding color this way), save it out and send to the team to post.
Did you study formally?
While I’ve always been obsessed with art, I opted to go to a liberal arts school (UVA) instead of art school with some minor influencing from my parents. I took some art classes at UVA, and in the past few years I’ve taken a number of Continuing Ed. classes at SVA to expand my skill set or further develop particular areas, but otherwise I’ve just been creating a lot of work for a lot of years trying to constantly improve. A long time ago I watched this video of Ira Glass talking about the whole idea of realizing you won’t be very good in the beginning but continuing to create anyways and not giving up as the thing that ultimately separates people who create good work from people who don’t. So for me, that’s been a driving mantra as a mostly self-taught creator in terms of constantly innovating on my skill set and abilities to reach the next level of work I’m imagining in my head.
What are some other people or projects you’d like to collaborate on?
There are so many! I love the editorial look Bon Appetit, Nylon and New York Magazine – would be awesome to create fun illustrations for any of their features. Also Lenny Letter – they feature amazing illustrations week in and week out. It’s been really inspiring to see illustration become more popular and mainstream in advertising, and it would be a dream come true to work with brands I admire like Sephora, Ikea, Target or Kate Spade.
Who in your orbit is making work you are loving right now?
I am consistently in awe of the endless amount of talented people right now. In terms of illustrators – Sally Nixon, Malika Favre, Laura Callaghan, Carson Ellis, Ben Wiseman, MaryLou Faure and Tuesday Bassen are my ongoing favorites. The work Pablo Declan is doing for the NYTimes continues to blow me away.
In advertising, I hate to admit it but I’ve really enjoyed the variety of election related work – from the huge amount of celebs creating work to get out the vote to the Doritos’ “No Vote, No Choice” flavorless chip stunts on college campuses.
I’m also a big fan of the (authentic) femvertising movement in advertising that’s happening right now, and love that brands everywhere are contributing to the expanded definition of what it means to be a woman – like H&M’s recent “She’s a Lady” commercial, Kenzo’s amazingly out-there frangrance debut and Badger & Winters #womennotobjects campaign.
What’s coming up next?
I just wrapped up a digital sticker project for the LadyGang – a weekly celebrity podcast run by Becca Tobin, Jac Vanek and Keltie Knight – that’s live for download on iOS 10 and was a total blast, so check that out if you need some snarky stickers. And if you’re a fan of Dolly Parton, you can follow my ongoing Dolly Drawings project to illustrate her entire discography. Other than that, I’m available for hire!