The Q&A: Kiersten Essenpries

By Peggy Roalf   Monday December 11, 2017

Q: Originally from [where?] what are some of your favorite things about living and working in [your current locale]?

A: I grew up in the Northern suburbs of Chicago, but later moved to Brooklyn to attend Pratt Institute. I lived there for about 11 years, but then moved back to Chicago to be closer to my family and to have a little more space (and a dishwasher!) for the money. I’m currently living in the Logan Square neighborhood with my husband and two kids. I love the accessibility of a city, but having more of a community feel here. There are a lot of great coffee shops, restaurants, and families around here, and it’s nice to have a little more breathing space, as well as a small yard.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper [or other analog medium] versus in the computer?

A: For as long as I can remember, I’ve carried around some sort of notebook, usually a small spiral-bound one, with lined paper. I use it to doodle ideas, or small thumbnail initial sketches that look illegible to almost everyone else. And I’ll be honest, more often than not, it becomes a place I keep my never-ending To-Do list as well.  I wish I were one of those people who kept a beautiful sketchbook, but it’s never been the case.

Left: Pot not alcohol / Buzzfeed

I used to do a lot more drawing and painting, but since having kids (and staying home with them while they’re little) I made the decision to focus mainly on my illustration for the time being. And since most of my deadlines are very quick, I’ve moved almost completely to the computer for my work. If you would have told me 10 years ago I would be using a computer at all for my work, I would have laughed and said you were joking. In the next year or two I’d like to get back to more painting, but for now I’ve found this works best.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: My Cintiq!! It was a big purchase for me a few years back, but now I have no idea what I’d do without it. It’s been a complete game changer for me.

Q: How do you know when the art is finished?

A: These days, it’s mostly when my hourly deadline is up or when I realize I only have a couple of hours to sleep before one of my kids wake up. Seriously though, I could mess with something forever if I didn’t have an outside source telling me to stop!

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: Anything and everything by Roald Dahl. My 2nd grade teacher spent 20-25min of every day (for the entire year) reading us his books and it had such an impact on me. If I had to choose, probably Witches.

Gender Roles in Movies / NY Times

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: Bit of a nerd here, I’ve been trying to read through The Secret History of Twin Peaks for months now, before passing out each night. I haven’t gotten very far. Ask me again when my kids are finally in school!

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: Most likely I’d choose to work on my Cintiq for the sake of simplicity. But if  I had more free time, I’d choose to work in my all-time favorite medium, the vinyl-based Flashe paint.

Q: What elements of daily life exert the most influence on your work practice?

A: Currently it’s been the daily news cycle, which has been fast and nonstop for the past couple of years. There’s just no avoiding what’s been going on politically, socially, and environmentally, and most of my work has touched on these elements in one way or another.

Single at kids party / NY Times

Q: What was the [Thunderbolt] painting or drawing or film or otherwise that most affected your approach to art? 

A: When I was in grade school, we had an art teacher come into our classroom once a week with a cart filled with laminated posters, books, and slides, and she would teach us a little about art history. One day she was talking about Surrealism and brought in posters of de Chirico’s “The Song of Love” and Magritte's “Time Transfixed.” I was hooked. These are still two of my favorite artworks of all time.

Right: Women not in charge

Q: What was the strangest/most interesting assignment you've taken that has an important impact on your practice, and what changed through the process?

A: Years back I did an event with Coach Handbags, where I personalized customer’s handbags with simple drawings and paintings while they waited and watched. It was completely OUT of my comfort zone (it forced me to work fast, spontaneous, freehand, all while being social) and I was terrified I would mess up someone’s bag. But as it turns out, it completely opened up a new door to my business as a freelance artist, and I have been lucky enough to continue doing events within the fashion industry since. I feel a bit more confident working in front of people and learned to trust myself. It’s even befitted my work as an editorial illustrator with so many same-day deadlines.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Anything I don’t have to cook myself!

Kiersten Essenpries is a freelance artist and illustrator living/working in Chicago. Some of her clients include: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Buzzfeed, GQ, New Republic, Variety, Coach, and Nicholas Kirkwood.
Instagram: @kierstenessenpreis
Twitter: @k_essenpreis

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