Instagram: @by__karina, @karina.tiller

1. What’s your story? Where are you from?

I’m from a rather small town in Missouri and currently reside in St. Louis. I attended private Catholic school for my entire education through high school, which was largely focused more on academics and less on the arts. But I’ve always been creative and found ways to exercise that part of me while also focusing on achieving high honors in more classic academia. My parents have always supported my creative side as well, allowing me to take extracurricular art classes outside of the standard school day. I used to take these art classes at the convent across the street from my grade school. There was this older nun that would teach a variety of arts in a trailer behind the convent to a handful of kids on Tuesday evenings. I remember I loved learning all the different areas of art she taught us that weren’t offered at my school…drawing with charcoal, proper use of watercolors (though we were never allowed to use black because it was “too lifeless and evil”), ceramics (we could only make religious objects like crosses or bibles). The one caveat was that I had to cross the street to go to classes right when school was letting out, so the buses from the nearby public schools would be driving by at that time. Public school kids always mocked private school kids for wearing uniforms and I was quite embarrassed by it so I would run across the crosswalk as fast as I could when no buses were coming so that I wouldn’t hear any taunts from the windows as they drove by. Sounds silly now. If I could talk to 10-year-old Karina now I’d tell her to double-knot those platform corduroy Vans and rock the sh*t out of that plaid skirt. 

2. Tell us about your aesthetic.

I’d say my core aesthetic is very minimal and editorial with a strong emphasis on typography. That being said, I don’t feel as if I have one definable aesthetic especially when it comes to illustration. I love to play around with different ways to utilize the foundational elements of color, line and texture. That’s kind of what you see on my Instagram. I use that platform as a place to show all types of experiments I’m playing with or if I have an idea for a series of illustrations I want to do. Sometimes I’ll just get this idea manifesting in my head and I obsess over it until I get it all out. Whether it’s simple icon drawings of Marcel Duchamp’s sculptures or cool chicks wearing high-end sneakers in space, I just think of these little concepts in my head and can’t stop thinking about them. It’s sort of a problem sometimes honestly. I’ll find myself skipping dinner or staying up until 1am on a Wednesday just drawing on my iPad because I just HAVE to get out what’s in my head. And then at some point, it stops. I’ve created what my brain needed me to create and the obsession fades away until the next random idea pops in my head. It’s some weird version of artistic mania I think.

3. What is your favourite medium and why?

I sketch with pencil and paper quite often, but I’m never fully satisfied with something until it’s digital. That’s where I feel that I can make it come alive. But it certainly hasn’t always been that way. In college, I was adamantly against needing to use the computer for my work to the point where it would frustrate my design teachers. I wanted it to be optional (even in graphic design classes haha) because it felt more important for the work to define the medium first and foremost. The connection you have with your work when it’s handwritten or rolled through a printing press is certainly unmatched by a digitized process, but personally, I do greatly enjoy creating digitally as well.

4. What is your artistic process like?

My process either goes one of two ways on opposite ends of the spectrum. Either the idea/solution hits me immediately and I start obsessively creating right away – OR – I sit in this paralyzed white space for days on end while my brain churns over and over as it slowly creates the idea. It’s a very bipolar situation. If I don’t have a clever or exciting hint of an idea, then it’s just blank. I’ll maybe start to sketch a little bit but mostly I’ll find myself writing words as opposed to illustrating any ideas until it comes together. I’ll have pages and pages of scribbles of the same word(s) over and over again like a madwoman. I sometimes laugh about the idea of someone going through my things after I’ve passed and seeing the endless collections of sketchbooks and notebooks filled with these repetitive words scribbled over and over and over. But I think it’s how I create the concept without relying on already created visuals and inspiration. I do, of course, find inspiration in the work of others but the beginning of my process is typically centered around words and language. I always begin by reading, not by skimming through images. 

5. Who and/or what inspires your work? 

Well, as I said earlier, I like to experiment with different approaches depending on what I’m working on. Typically for my illustrations, there’s a bit of humor or playful wit that inspires them, I think that’s my dry, sarcastic sense of humor coming through. I tend to gravitate towards things that are a little weird, a little off ever-so-slightly. That’s my style in all aspects of my life honestly. Simple and/or common with a little extra something that stands out. A good example is my space ladies illustrations. An illustration of a female astronaut is not anything groundbreaking. But a moonwalking female astronaut wearing $600 Yves Saint Laurent sneakers, now that’s a little different. It’s those little things that get me excited and bring satisfaction when I’m working on something. 

6. What role does art play in your life? How does it change the way you view the world?

At the risk of sounding painfully cliche, art and design are everything in my life. Truly. It affects the way I dress, what I read, where I live, what car I buy, what my bedsheets look like, etc. I have a preference and an opinion on every single visual thing, whether I fully realize it or not. I’m critical of everything I see, I think that’s something that most designers can certainly relate to. And it’s sort of this chicken and egg situation, right? Do I notice all these things in the world because I am a designer or am I that way by default and that’s what has drawn me to live a creative lifestyle? Either way, it’s a lifestyle. It’s who I am to my core, there’s really no way of seeing the world any other way but through the eyes of a creative.

7. Where did you study?

I studied at Webster University which is a liberal arts school in St. Louis. As I said before, my earlier education was largely focused on academia. When I got to Webster, it was like a complete reset for my brain. It was like all of a sudden I was in this mix of people and situations that countered all the ways my brain previously functioned. It may sound dramatic but honestly, it was like cracking open a part of me that I didn’t know was there. I grew up in a Catholic family and went to Catholic school where I trusted my elders and superiors and worked hard to achieve everything that I was told was important without question. And I enjoyed it. It wasn’t until Webster that it was like someone gave me permission to start questioning things. Not in a rebellious or anarchist type of way, just looking at life through a different lens. Once that part of me opened up I was ravenous for knowledge and inspiration and conversation in this new world. It was definitely a turning point in my life. I was able to combine the hard-working and disciplined part of myself with this new thirst for creating and questioning the world around me. 

8. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Hell, it’s 2020. No one knows what five years from now is going to look like. But for myself, as long as I am continuing to grow, learn, create and overall enjoy my life then I am happy. It’s important to me never to fall behind in the ever-growing world of design and technology. But it’s also important to me not to lose touch with the simple joys in life and the earth around me. I can be quite hard on myself to always keep pushing harder and being better and I also suffer from anxiety, so I’ve learned in the past few years to keep personal happiness and peace just as high on the list of things to accomplish. 

9. What about in ten?

Ten years is a long time away, but I know it will fly by just as previous years have. I see my path in design leading to becoming a Creative Director at an agency. But I also have this drive to create something on my own, apart from my day job. I currently am the designer and Creative Director of a small city guide publication that is distributed locally in the Midwest and that experience has been so much fun and incredibly fulfilling the past few years and it’s something I do on the side. That passion to be involved in or create something new and unique is always there for me. So who knows what that could be in ten years, but as long as that passion is still alive and I never stop chasing it then I know I’ll be in a happy place. Or perhaps humanity as we know it will have plummeted to its demise by then and in that case, you can find me living in a minimal black and white barn in the middle of nowhere with a smattering of stray dogs and learning to farm my own crops.

10. What do you hope to achieve with your art?

Provoke something in someone. If it’s one laugh, pause, thought, anything…it’s succeeded. 

11. Now, tell us a little more about you as a person: what is your favourite food?

Sometimes my favorite food is Thai chicken, sometimes it’s bananas, sometimes it’s sour cream & onion chips. Just depends on the day, the time, or the weather 🙂

12. Favourite book?

Hands down my favorite book is The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd. It was recommended to me by my printmaking professor (and overall legend and almighty godfather) Tom Lang, and it captivated me from the beginning. I take something different away from it every time I read it, there’s just nothing like it that I’ve ever come across. My second favorite book is Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. I’m a bit of a closet sci-fi/time travel/ufo conspiracy theorist, and it’s one of the few storylines that revolves around time travel that isn’t completely absurd or incomprehensible which I see as a huge success. That’s all I’ll say about that because if I open the door to sci-fi discussions then pretty soon it’ll be 2am and I’ll have described in detail why I think X-Files is one of the greatest television series of all time or knee-deep in my personal interpretation of what really happened to all the passengers on Oceanic Flight 815.

13. Favourite genre of music? 

This is comparable to the food question, it depends on the time of day, the time of the month, or the time of the year. Anything that makes me feel some type of way at that moment. But one ‘genre’ that is usually a safe bet with me… sad men singing slowly. 

14. What are your hobbies? 

My life outside of art and design mostly revolves around my beagle, Penelope. She’s the real queen of my household. I also like to ride my bike, propagate my plants, create unnecessary and never-ending projects around the house, listen to true crime podcasts, watch soccer. My newest hobby is daydreaming about a pandemic-free world and hanging out with my friends again.

15. If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?

You should know that I sat in complete silence staring into the abyss for roughly two minutes straight thinking about this question. I honestly don’t know, my original path straight out of high school was going to be abnormal psychology. I’ve also fostered dogs and spent time volunteering at local animal shelters, so perhaps something in that area as well. Who knows!