For Christina Kelly, art is a way to draw connections. “Making art was and still is a social and bonding activity for me,” says Christina, a Production Artist at FableVision Studios. She’s one of the newest additions to our team – not that it shows.

“As opposed to animation and fine art, illustration relies on a key image to clearly communicate a story contained in that single moment,” Christina explains. Her job of conveying a good story by creating captivating illustrations and bringing them to life is what drew her to FableVision.

Before coming to FableVision, Christina had stints at Cloudkid and Soup2Nuts. Her work can be seen on the Sprout show Astroblast!, along with the PBS series WordGirl and SciGirls.

Christina’s flavor of art and design comes from a variety of places but most notably from a deep-rooted appreciation of Japanese anime and culture and an endearing affection for cats. This month, we sat down with Christina to chat about her art, the furry felines who inspire her, and a brand new comic book that’s currently in the works.

                   Christina with the Soup2Nuts crew

                   Christina with the Soup2Nuts crew

Christina, welcome! Tell us about your journey to FableVision.   My path to FableVision is a tale of suspense and mystery. Just kidding! Before my time at the studio, I spent a few years as a concept and background designer at Soup2Nuts and Cloudkid. After both places closed down, I started working here as a freelancer in January 2016. I was fortunate enough to work on multiple projects for the next several months until FableVision became my permanent home.

So you’ve been here for a little while now – what’s a typical day in the life of an artist at FableVision?
I like to get here at least a half hour early and just spend some time doing some loose doodles in my sketchbook. I’ve found that it helps me wake up and it feels a little bit like stretching before sports. The rest of the day is a combination of juggling a couple of project needs, a possible meeting, and getting feedback on designs.

                                   Christina and her sister

                                   Christina and her sister

You were raised in San Diego. Do you find that where you live has had any effect on your art?
I think it influenced what I like to draw and a fondness for my childhood. I have a lot of good memories of drawing outside with chalk for hours and finding lots of wild animals to study. It also helped a lot that my sister would sit down and make games and comics by drawing with me.

What first drew you to art? Do you have any early sketches from when you were little that you’re comfortable sharing?
I first got into art when my parents gave me a “magna doodle” toy when I was very little. It let me create hundreds of drawings that would ultimately get wiped away in seconds so I could draw “better” doodles. Sometimes I would be so proud of them that I would ask my Mom to snap a picture so I could remember it. A lot of my art endeavors weren’t so contained though, and I have a lot of messy drawings below to prove it.

You’re a graduate of Massachusetts College of Art and Design. How much of what you learned there have you found indispensable to your work?
As an Illustration major, I learned a lot about storytelling and composition. Learning how to simplify my art into narrative symbols is one of those fun challenges that trained me to consider every part of an illustration and decide what was relevant to the story.  

Internships also played an important role in my education. During my time as a student I interned at the animation studio, Hero4Hire Creative, under Lindsay Small-Butera, where I learned how to translate my illustration skills into multimedia form. Since I help tell stories every day, I think I never stop using those art muscles I learned at school and in the studio.  

Look at your desk at work and list three items from it. Then, take a sentence or two to describe what those items say about you.

  1. I have a Bee and Puppycat figurine that came out of a “blind box” toy. I’m a huge fan of the series, and I would love to make something similar someday.
  2. This is my new marimo plant! I got her as a gift from my Mom. I decided to name her after my great grandmother Florence. I love the weird marimo culture (people treat them like real animal pets!) and wanted one of my own.
  3. Here is a possibly fake space phone I got as a special gift. I can’t make any calls on it but it makes some funny sounds. It makes me smile so I like having it on my desk. I think sometimes objects remind me of fun memories better than photos. (Photos are important to me too though!)

Can you walk us through your creative process? What are some of your challenges? What do you find rewarding?
Concepting and brainstorming is still always a deceptively time consuming part of my process. The one important thing I’ve tried to learn over time is to spend more time brainstorming through sketches and less time in my head. Even bad ideas are still ideas. I have found that I work very well with a traditional pad of paper and pencil to get very quick ideas out.

 Though I definitely always love seeing the final polished product of any project, one of the most rewarding moments is when someone peeks over your shoulder and sees a concept after lots of brainstorming and thinks it’s clever. The best idea always seems to be the one that comes after a lot of early concepts, so I always stick to that system instead of going with the first idea that pops in my head.

You’ve created art for shows like Astroblast!, WordGirl, SciGirls, and the Annecy Film Festival featured piece, "Rhino Named Paul." Do you have a favorite memory from that time?
It’s hard to pick just one! Everyone at Soup2Nuts that worked on “Astroblast!” had a very good sense of humor, so when a challenge came up we always found a way to have fun while fixing the problem. One of my favorite memories is when we had a series premiere party and made themed snacks for the show. I made pistachio pudding cups and won a very stylish beanie hat that I treasure to this day.  

I also really enjoyed getting to draw a LOT of cute animals for Cloudkid’s “Rhino Named Paul.” I always get really excited when I get to work on character design projects, an area where you really get to play with shapes and expressions. In particular, there’s one scene in the series where there’s 10+ different colored sleeping cats in a house that I got the esteemed task of designing. Talk about a dream come true!

Rumor has it that you’re working on a comic book. Tell us more!
I am! I spent a year working on a 30-page comic book called “The Terror on Tashirojima Island.” The book is about an island off the coast of Japan that is inhabited by lots of cats. It’s also about demons, but I promise it’s not that scary! I’m going to be premiering it at the local independent comics expo MICE in October.

You have a really wide range of experience from animation to concept designs. Where does one start if they want to be an animation maven?
I am very fortunate because even though I did not study in an animation program at school, I’m working in animation today. I would say that it definitely helps to do some combination of applying for internships at places that you think you’d like to do work for, going to networking events in your field of interest, and posting your work online. Meeting people and getting feedback on your work helps a lot.

Is there a particular personal project that you’re fond of?
I’m very fond of my college thesis illustration series I did on cats in mythology. I had an excuse for a whole year to research any weird lore or cultural myths surrounding cats. It was everything that I was very passionate about learning, so it was a lot of fun to work on. I think it also helped me find my identity as an illustrator.

What’s kawaii?
Kawaii is a Japanese word for “cute.” For example, on my desk I have a “kawaii stickers” set, which perfectly describes the adorable kitten and puppy stickers inside.

Does your slight obsession with cats influence your work?
Whoops, what tipped you off? Cats definitely influence my work and life. I grew up with a few cats and my mother went to school to be a veterinarian, so my fondness for animals may as well be in my genes. Whenever I get stuck trying to doodle or sketch, I still draw cats as my go-to muse.

More About Christina!

Favorite Harry Potter book: The first one!
Least favorite word: Flubber
Best cartoon ever: Steven Universe!
Lifetime supply of one food: Sour dough bread
Favorite graphic novelist: Emily Carroll
Name of debut album: Happy Cat Sounds Volume 1
If you weren’t making your living as an artist, what would you want to have as a career? I’m always in between animal rescue and librarian. I love books but I also love being able to be around pets. I think working at a Cat Cafe would be the perfect job!

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