Kendall Hale: the path of the illustrator

Kendall Hale is an American digital illustrator whose work I found not long ago while surfing the internet. I immediately fell in love with his unique style. It is magical watching an artist give life to an illustration from pixels on a computer screen. I contacted Kendall and he was kind enough to take a little time to answer our interview questions where he shares some interesting things from his life, explains what it’s like to be an illustrator, and offers some advice for beginners.

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Sacrifice your time for your work, to learn, to practice, or you won’t get any better. Good art comes from sacrifice. Humility comes from sacrifice. Never think that you’re too good to keep working hard and improving.

–Kendall Hale

Q: Tell us a short bio. Did you study art school or you self-taught? How long you have been in the industry?

A: I was born on the east coast of the United States and I moved around a lot as a kid, about every 2-4 years or so, so I don’t really feel like I have a home anywhere. I’m the second of six kids and my parents didn’t always have much money so they found really inexpensive ways to keep us busy. When we’d go to church, they always brought paper and pencils and crayons for us to draw with so we’d be quiet, so I guess that’s kind of where my exposure to art started. I loved drawing dinosaurs and monsters as a kid, which is probably why I still like designing them so much as an adult. After high school I tried to decide between careers in acting, film, and art… and art was the only one that made sense after I tried them all out. I took a break for two years to be a missionary for my church in South America which really helped to humble me and get a better perspective on life. When I came back to school, I just put everything I had into my art and took whatever jobs I could to pay for my expenses. I’ve been drawing since I was a kid, doodling in my notes and taking the occasional art class throughout public education, but when I decided to major in it and make it my career I had to realize just how terrible I was and how much I had to learn.

I would say that I’ve only been in the industry for the last 3 years or so, trying to get an online presence and make a name for myself and getting actual paid art jobs, though many of them have been pretty shoddy.

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Q: Describe your typical day as an illustrator.

A: Typical day? Usually I wake up pretty late, spend a chunk of time on social networking, then work for the rest of the day on whatever projects I have. If I don’t have work or projects, I usually draw or paint something fun and share it online. When I have bigger projects, I like to grab energy drinks and get as much done all in one sitting. I hate getting into a groove and having to stop, so all-nighters are fairly frequent for me when I have a lot of work. And I usually like to stay busy.

Q: Are you freelance illustrator or you employed?

A: Well, I have two jobs right now actually, but I’m always freelancing on the side and I think that’s important, and not just for the extra money, but to expose yourself to different types of projects and to work with a variety of people. It helps get your name out there and forces you to try things you aren’t necessarily comfortable with. Freelancing can be really scary when you don’t get a steady stream of work (which is why I prefer to be employed) but it also allows you to be more in-control of your time and can sometimes let you earn much more than you normally would.

Right now, one of my jobs is teaching an college class called “Drawing for Animation” where I cover the basic principles of drawing and draftsmanship as they relate to the animation industry, stuff like line, shape, proportion, etc. The other job I have is helping to design an educational video game that helps kids learn math. I’m lucky enough to work on a very small team with people that I get along well with, but this is the third time I’ve worked on a video game and not all of the teams have been successful or easy to work with. There’s a surprising amount of compromise and artistic direction you have to be willing to concede to, and that can feel aggravating at times.

Between employment and freelancing, I don’t really feel like one gives you more or less freedom than the other. In either case, you’re still almost always doing what someone else wants, even if they give you some measure of artistic freedom. The thing about freelancing is when you’re just starting out you tend to get really desperate work from people who have no understanding of aesthetic and will try to tell you what to do, and that tends to be the worst type of project. It is absolutely aggravating to try and explain to someone why their idea is stupid when they have this vision in their head and they refuse to listen to your artistic sense. But once you make it past those clients and get better ones, things tend to get much easier.

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Q: Can you tell us a funny story of your experience with clients?

A: So one of the freelancing services I offer is caricaturing (drawing cartoon portraits) at parties and events. Lately, there’s been a local pizzeria that pays me to draw caricatures of their long-term employees to put on their wall. I was drawing one of their cooks named Ramon, an immigrant from El Salvador, who seemed pretty quiet but was very appreciative of my work. I asked him if he did anything artsy and he said he used to draw when he was a kid but not anymore. When I asked him why he stopped, he told me – he used to draw all the time, and he would hang up all his drawings up on his bedroom wall. He would keep the good drawings up there for inspiration in the future. Apparently, one day while he was out, they ran out of toilet paper at his house and his mom really needed to use the bathroom, so she went into Ramon’s room and used all the drawings he had made, all of his inspiration. He said after that point, he never drew again.

It was the funniest sad story I’ve ever heard.

Q: Is your work more conceptual or decorative?

A: I would say my work goes both ways. I like to make stuff pretty, but I also like inserting stories into my work when I can. I like leaving in details or hints of history of the characters or settings in my finished pieces.

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Q: Please, describe your working environment

A: For the past couple of years, I’d been working on a Dell Inspiron with Photoshop CS1 and a $60 Wacom Bamboo Tablet. I think that’s the bare minimum anyone could need to make decent digital work. Just a few months ago, my laptop started dying and I had enough funds to buy a mac-mini and fit it out with Photoshop CS6 and a Wacom Cintiq monitor. I keep it on a desk in my room and just slave it out there for hours, usually with headphones in and blasting high-energy music.

Q: Have you ever tried to teach people how to draw? 

A: I like teaching, as long as its the right subject. I love the feeling of imparting useful knowledge to other people that will put it to good use, especially when I get to share something that made a big difference to me. And I think I prefer the classroom environment where I get to pick the lesson and the format; I’m not really fond of the scenario where someone just goes up to you and berates you with “Why are you so good? Teach me how to be good like you!” It pisses me off when people think that art in general is just a quick tutorial you could give in a few minutes.

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Q: What is the philosophy and main inspiration for your work? 

A: I like to do work that tells a story, that the average person can appreciate and that doesn’t cause viewers to feel like their on the outside of some secret meaning. There’s a lot of bizarre art out there that people can’t relate to because they don’t know how, and I never want that to be a problem with the work I create.

If I can create art that leaves people with some kind of positive emotion, whether its laughter or peace or exhilaration, I’ve accomplished my goal. I want to inspire people either to feel better or to be better, and I think that’s a worthy endeavor.

Q: Do you have some favorite illustrators?

A: Some of my favorites artists right now: Bill Watterson, Jamie Hewlett, Joe Mad, Glen Keane, Cory Loftis, Mike Mignola, Brian Oakes, Hayao Miyazaki, Chris Sanders, Joe Olsen, Sam Didier, Don Bluth, Frank Frazetta, Ian McCaig, Norman Rockwell, Katsuhiro Otomo, Moebius, Jake Wyatt

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Q: What advice would you give to a beginner?

A: Two things:

1. Learn to sacrifice. Sacrifice your time for your work, to learn, to practice, or you won’t get any better. Good art comes from sacrifice. Humility comes from sacrifice. Never think that you’re too good to keep working hard and improving.

2. This is a personal belief, but I strongly attribute any financial success that I have to it: give a small portion of what you earn to charity – whether or not you earned it from art. There are countless people out there less fortunate than you, even when you’re a starving artist. I try to donate around 10% of everything I earn to charity, and whether its been nature, or karma, or God, or whatever greater force out there paying it forward, I’ve always been able to make it out okay financially. I don’t live in extravagance or glamour, but I do live comfortably enough and I always manage to keep finding work somehow. It’s crazy, but I really do believe that its because I give up that 10%. Find a good cause that you trust, it could be a church or an organization or a fundraiser, but whatever it is, pay it forward and things will work out.

Q: Tell us your future plans and goals?

A: Right now, my plan is to work my way into bigger-name studios, whether its in video games or animation. I’ve also got a little list of personal projects I’d like to do sometime, but we’ll see when that happens. Ultimately, I’d like to crowd-fund some of the more complex projects I want to do in the future, but I feel like I need a stronger fan-base first, so I’ll be constantly working on that too.

Contact  | Illustrator


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