Karen Hallion, Illustrator
When I was sixteen, I went to the movies to see Disney's "The Little Mermaid". Up until that point, I had not even considered a career as an artist. I was not one of those kids that was constantly drawing. I liked to draw, but that was as far as it went. When I walked out of the movie theatre, I knew that I needed to get a piece of paper and a pencil, and I needed to draw. I also knew that I wanted to be an animator; specifically, a Disney animator. For some reason, that movie really moved me, the magic of it, the music, the colors and the characters. It was so real, but it was better than real. I have no explanation for it. That was thirteen years ago.
After high school, I decided to go to the University of Vermont. I didn't quite trust my skills, and I decided to actually take some art classes and put together a portfolio to get into an art school. I wrote to Disney and asked for a list of schools to apply to. I ended up going to Ringling School of Art and Design, in Sarasota, Florida. I loved it. I met incredibly talented people, and I got very involved with campus life, like becoming an R.A. and acting in a theatre group. One of my favorite play, "Walkin' on Sunshine", was written by a friend of mine, Marc Hart. Unfortunately, I spent TOO much time doing things other than art, and while I don't regret anything I did at school, when Disney came to recruit, I was very unprepared. A representative from the animation studios came to look at portfolios, and mine was so bad! The look he gave me was pure pity. I kicked myself in the butt for the next few months, ignoring the senior thesis I was supposed to be working on, and when Disney came back, I got myself an interview. I was one of seven, out of thirty or thirty-five portfolios. Unfortunately, I was not hired and moved back to Massachusetts.
For the next few years, I continued to apply to Disney (as well as Dreamworks, Warner Brothers, and Fox) every six months. I waitressed to pay bills, and drew, from life and from figure books, six to eight hours a day. I got very close to working as an animator, and I even got to take an "in-betweener" test from Fox studios, but I was never hired. During these few years, I was also working on expanding my illustration portfolio. I never really took that seriously, as I was so focused on Disney, but I turned out a few paintings and got myself a website. I also became a member of Elfwood. My illustrations were mostly done in acrylic paint on canvas, and I was never very happy with them. I was usually happy with the drawing, but was lost when it came to painting. Someone pointed out to me that I should work in watercolors so that my drawing would show through, since that was my strong point. I took their advice, and my work improved dramatically.
After about two years and four or five new animation portfolios, I decided to put my dream on hold for a bit. The animation industry was not doing very well, and they were not hiring. The job stability was not-existent. I began to work on more illustrations and to attempt to market myself more. I sent out mailers, using the "Artist's and Graphic Designer's Market" to get addresses. I was targeting both the fantasy and the children's illustration market. I didn't get many responses, though there were several "no thank-yous". It was pretty frustrating, and I felt like I wasn't getting anywhere. I started working as a special-ed paraprofessional at a middle school and really enjoyed it. I still sent out mailers, but I was starting to feel a little bit like a failure.
A little over a year ago, after sending out another round of mailers, I got an e-mail from a company called "Windstorm Creative" offering me a job illustrating a children's book. The title was "Yen Shei and the American Bonsai" and the author, Jennifer Anna. I didn't actually believe it at first, and it wasn't until I actually had the contract in my hand that it began to dawn on me that it was actually happening.
And then the fear set in.
I had a major panic attack. My deadline was August thirtieth, which was about four and a half months away. The book required ninety-six illustrations. I needed to develop characters, find references, generate thumbnails and tight sketches, and then, of course, the finals. Because there was not very much time, I decided to simplify my style a little bit. I spent that summer pretty much chained to my desk, and although I had serious bouts of self-doubt, I had a great time. I managed to finish on time, two weeks early in fact. And after all that work, I still didn't believe that I was going to have a book published. It seemed so very unreal. And then, of course, came the anxious feeling of "What if I don't ever get another book!?"
Currently, I am working on another project for Windstorm Creative, an Art Noveau Tarot Deck, due in November. Another overwhelmingly large project, but one where I get to draw women in long flowing dresses with long flowing hair, which is very cool. I am also about to take my teacher's test to try to get my certification to become an art teacher. And, I am still sending out mailers. Lots of mailers.
||Karen Hallion (right) lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts with her husband Matt (left), her dog, Tolkien, and her cat, Newman.She graduated from Ringling School of Art and Design, in Sarasota, Florida and now works at the Clarke Elementary School in Swampscott, Massachusetts as a special education aide. She has just illustrated her first children's book, titled "Yen Shei and the American Bonsai" by Jennifer Anna.
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