Born and raised in Chicago, Kirby Salvador is a New York-based illustrator and a contributing artist for AWT. Specializing in fictional cities and the human figure, she drew early inspiration from Archie comics and later from artists such David Shrigley and Ellen Gallagher. Well-versed in all areas of lettering and illustration, Kirby creates illustrations for writers, small businesses, and friends. Her work reflects her desire for excitement and continual learning. We sat down with Kirby to find out more about her process and to discover some of the things that inspire her work.
How did you learn lettering and illustration?
Before attending school, I remember spending a lot of time alone, just drawing all the time and watching TV. I was into drawing on blank printer paper, receipts, and yellow legal pads—whatever my parents would bring home from work. When I was young, I just drew everything that I saw: on TV, at home, at school. In grade school art class, it was fun to draw around other kids, but I mostly learned that I prefer drawing by myself. College drawing was more about art history and had more objectives. Drawing as an adult is a bit more calculating and messaging can be a bigger concern, which I don’t really like. I learned about drawing from all these stages of life but the spark of being a little kid who couldn’t not do it is what keeps me at it today.
The “Town Crier” illustration you did was the cover image for our first issue. Can you tell us more about the background and meaning of it?
I was at a point after college where I had moved to another city and moved back home in a relatively short period of time and I wasn’t drawing as much—I was more intent on having security in a steady nine-to-five, non-arts job. It made sense at the time. How can I make a living doing something I actually like? That was never a possibility to me and I wasn’t raised to believe it. I was in a situation where I wasn’t drawing anything because I wasn’t that happy, and I made “Town Crier” in an attempt to get back into it. I worked on it outside while sitting on patio furniture at my sister’s house. I didn’t make it for anyone, but I gave it to a friend.
Your style is feminine and very refined, almost as if you were born to be a letterer. Does your perfect hand ever get in the way of what you want to express in your illustrations?
I’ve always liked gestural and more actionable large-scale drawing, which is tougher when I spend a lot of time writing small street names and drawing tiny lines. But switching gears is good; I don’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over again.
Not everything you put out is going to be perfect. Like anything, it takes practice and it’s not always going to be the way you want it the first time. I think sometimes when people try to draw, and don’t like the first or second results, they’re quick to give up. Sometimes the best things come out of marks made accidentally, or after several tries, and you won’t really know until you get to those tries.
Your recent work involves a lot of map making. What’s the process like and what are some challenges of laying out maps?
A lot of travel and food bloggers like to use illustrated maps so I usually start with different locations, lay it out on Google and think about color and the general shape the locations form (sort of like a constellation) and general outline of the area. I like to look at photos of the area and include local trees and architecture, as well as the people that live there. It can be challenging to allow myself to break from adhering to accuracy—it’s more important to capture a certain movement or the energy of a particular place than it is to put every little location at the exact right intersection. No one should be using these maps to drive anywhere!
What role does humor play in your work?
Humor is important to me. If something I make causes someone to laugh, then I’m ok with it, but I understand it’s not always going to happen so it’s not a top priority. Maps, stationery, and portraits are things that can be made fun or funny if they need to be and I think it’s important to share information, like travel and food tips, and enjoy it. I know I respond to other people’s work when I find it really funny, but it’s not the only thing I seek out.
When it comes to picking colors, how is the process different when working in a digital medium as opposed to working offline with watercolors?
Digital color is great for covering space quickly and looks vibrant when printed. Digital coloring can also replicate a lot of the results of watercolors if you load special brushes into your program. Real watercolor to paper, or paint to canvas, is definitely a more peaceful experience. Watching the water move around the surface of a thick piece of paper and getting the paint all over your hands is certainly a different (maybe more personal) activity, but I wouldn’t say one is better than the other.