We walked in and the wall to our immediate left was was amassed with a dozen painted pin up girls. “Wow,” I turned to her and said. “Right,” my friend said. Then I turned to the red head and said “Beautiful.” She smiled and said “Thank you.” We then talked about her inspiration, looked through her portfolio, I snagged a card, sent an email, and got an interview with Kristen Birdsey, an artist with many talents and inspirations, but recently discovered her thing for painting pin ups.Phreedum: Who are you in 5 words?
KB: A stubborn, ambitious, and determined individual.
Phreedum: When did you first become acquainted with art?
KB: I have been making art all my life. My parents have always encouraged me to pursue whatever made me happy, and at a young age I found that my talent in visual art was something that not only made me happy, but it was a talent made me stand out from the crowd. My mom is an artist as well, although just as a hobby. Growing up watching her with her watercolors and being given beautifully illustrated books to read sparked my interest in art. I still remember a few of the books that made me want to be an illustrator; “I’m as Quick as a Cricket” illustrated by Don Wood, “Tattercoats” illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain, and still some of my favorite illustrations from the “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” series, illustrated by Stephen Gammell.
Phreedum: What piece or collection have you created that you are most proud of?
KB: There are a few pieces I’m quite proud of, but I think at the moment I’m most proud of my pin-up series that I created for my senior thesis at Moore College of Art. I didn’t think I was going to be able to get all 12 pieces done, but somehow I did it. I’m mostly proud of it because it is a good log of my progression in skill level even through just a few months. I can see where I’ve improved and where I still need improvement, and that is what I need to see to become successful in my work.Phreedum: Where do you find inspiration and motivation?
KB: Looking at other artists’ work is always a great way for me to get motivated. The Spectrum Fantastic Art books that come out annually are a great resource for me for inspiration. Although most of the work in there isn’t my style or subject matter that I typically use, there is always something in there that gives me some crazy idea to work into my own piece of work.
Phreedum: Talk to me about what has been a highlight for you so far as an artist?
KB: My senior year of high school was generally an artistic highlight for me. I won regionals for the Doodle 4 Google competition and was flown out to the Googleplex in California. I also won the NJ Congressional Art Competition and had my piece hanging in the capitol building in Washington D.C. for a year. Of course my most recent artistic highlight has been graduating from Moore College of Art & Design with a BFA in Illustration.
Phreedum: What has been one of the biggest lessons you have learned as an artist?
KB: I think the biggest lesson I have learned as an artist is to never stop making art that you, as an artist, love. No matter if I’m drawing pin-up girls or customizing vinyl Munny figures, I can’t stop making my own art or I will get severe artist’s block. It’s very important for me, especially when I have commissions to work on, to continue to do my own thing, even if it distracts me from the other work that I have. If I’m only working on things for clients and not for myself, I find that my work in general suffers.
Phreedum: How does your work change the lives of others?
KB: I honestly don’t expect my work to change anyone’s life. The pin-up work that I do isn’t just to display naked women, it’s to inspire women to feel good about themselves and stop being afraid to hide their sexuality. I really don’t know whether or not it accomplishes that, but it’s interesting to think about.
Phreedum: What are some of the sacrifices artists make?
KB: I’ve found myself sacrificing a lot of time- social time, me time, family time, all kinds of time. No matter what you do, if you have art that needs to be done or if you get a sudden burst of inspiration, you have to sacrifice time to make art. Yes, friends will get irritated when you can’t spend time with them, you’ll get irritated with yourself for not being able to give yourself the time to relax, and your family will often wonder why they haven’t heard much from you. You will lose sleep, you will get stressed out, but that’s all part of being an artist.
Money is another sacrifice. Art supplies cost a ton of money, and most of the time you won’t know if the money you spend on the supplies will pay off. I have two retail jobs along with my art career, but I still find myself short on money because I’m always spending money to make art that may or may not make money.
Phreedum: What would you consider your greatest resource?
KB: My greatest resources are still my teachers and professors from all stages of my education. Most of them I still keep in contact with, so if I ever have any questions or need some motivation, they are always glad to talk to me and help me out. I am very grateful to have such amazing and knowledgeable people to talk to even after I’m no longer their student.
Phreedum: How have family and friends shown their support?
KB: My family has always supported me. I had almost every member of my extended family show up to my senior show at Moore to support me and celebrate my graduation with me. I am lucky enough to have a very supportive boyfriend, who is also an artist and works with me as not only a support but as inspiration as well. My best friend and her family are also very supportive of me; they come to my events, re-post my Facebook links regarding my artwork.
Phreedum: What one piece of advice do you hold on to as you continue to pursue your work as an illustrator/artist?
KB: I’d have to say the best piece of advice that I’ve gotten is that networking is one of the most important things in your success as an illustrator. If no one knows about you, that’s it. You have to put yourself out there and talk to as many people as you can, even if you initially think there’s no chance you’ll ever work for them. You never know who might hook you up with a great job.
Phreedum: What do you think people just don't get about the work you do?
KB: I don’t know if people really understand why my pin-up girls are usually, if not always, topless. I don’t even really know why I draw them that way. Maybe it’s because clothes are generally a pain to draw and I’d rather draw the figure as is.
Phreedum: Are there any other art forms you enjoy (i.e. graphic design, abstract painting, interior design, sewing, etc.)? If so what are they? And why illustration out of all the various art forms?
KB: I enjoy all forms of art, but as for art that I actually enjoy making, I’ve been getting into some sculpture lately. My boyfriend introduced me to kid robot’s Munny World DIY vinyl toys, so I’ve been customizing a bunch of them. I do however, incorporate illustration into my customizations with the sketching process and then the final painting process of the figures.
I was drawn to illustration more than anything else because I enjoy showing the story that I, or someone else, is trying to tell. I was never very interested in the interpretive part of art. I’d much rather put everything out there for the viewer to see and immediately know what is happening.
Phreedum: What advice would you give to other artists?
KB: Network as much as you can with EVERYONE, always use references, and never block out good critique because you don’t want to change “your style”.