Illustrator Charlot Kristensen on comics, social media and getting creative with hashtags
Growing up with a love of comics, Dublin-based illustrator Charlot Kristensen always knew that she wanted to do something creative. After studying for a diploma in art and design, Charlot graduated from Middlesex University in 2015, leaving with a degree in illustration and a handful of connections that led to her first paid jobs. But looking back, it was social media that proved to have the biggest impact on her career. Through contributing to hashtags such as #portfolioday, Charlot was able to grow her audience, attracting clients like Penguin Random House, Google and AARP. Recently, she even published her very own graphic novel, What We Don’t Talk About. Here, Charlot discusses her inspirations, finding your audience and why it’s okay to take on part-time work.
Penguin Random House, Google, Irish Times
Place of Study
BA Illustration, Middlesex University (2012-2015)
What I do
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a comic artist, illustrator and author. All my work is done digitally using a software called Procreate, which you can purchase on an iPad. I love drawing stylised characters, especially underrepresented ones. The clients I’ve worked with range from magazines like AARP, HuffPost and The New York Times, to book publishers such as Penguin Random House, Macmillan and Puffin Books.
What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
Definitely Japanese media such as manga and anime, but also Disney movies like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Hercules; they served as big inspirations for my art style. I love the writing of manga artists and authors Rumiko Takahashi, Ai Yazawa and Yōko Kamio. It made me want to do comics, but I’m also a huge fan of cartoonist Brian Lee O’Malley and Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki’s visual minds.
You recently published your graphic novel, What We Don’t Talk About; can you tell us more about the inspiration behind it?
It was based on my personal experience with subtle racism within my own family. I always wanted to tell a story that delved into how complicated relationships can become when race is a factor. My own relationship with my dad’s family was strained because of that, but we never discussed it, hence the title What We Don’t Talk About. Obviously all the characters in my book are purely fictional.
If you’re looking to publish your own work, write that book or comic and pitch it to publishers. Publishers have a guideline on when they take pitches and how to submit, so it’s important to familiarise yourself with their process. Alternatively you can self-publish using platforms like Kickstarter to fund the project. For this, it’s important that you build up some kind of audience beforehand, for example you could start a webcomic that you run on WEBTOON or Tapas. Both platforms are free to use and thousands of people read comics there daily.
“If you’re looking to publish your own work, write that book or comic and pitch it to publishers.”
Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
Absolutely not; it’s not essential to study art in universities or as a diploma, and there are so many resources available online such as Schoolism. Schoolism is an online art school and they have instructors, workshops and SkillShare videos. You can access all of that on a yearly subscription. But there are also free resources on Youtube and SkillShare, and a lot of artists also share their process on social media. A great example is Devin Elle Kurtz – she shares the process behind her work every Friday on her Instagram.
If you could sum up your job in a meme, what would it be and why?
I think this one (below) explains itself.
How I got here
What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
I always knew I wanted to do something creative. When I was 12 I discovered my love for comics, but since that wasn’t exactly something you could study in school, I ended up doing a diploma in art and design. The course didn’t specialise in one art form so you got a chance to try different things out, but it was there that I learned about illustration and how comics fall into that field.
When I finished my illustration degree in London, it did take some time to get work. The connections I made in uni helped land some first gigs, but it wasn’t until three years later that my work started getting noticed by clients on social media.
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
The Dirty Old Ladies podcast by Amanda Lafrenais, C. Spike Trotman and Kel McDonald taught me a lot about publishing, how to pitch work and make connections. I should say listener discretion is advised, preferably using headphones.
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud – It’s a comprehensive book for any comic lovers or for someone getting into comics.
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli – I keep going back to this masterpiece of a graphic novel.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
Earning enough to survive, ha. It’s a skill in itself that I’m finally getting the hang of, but you really have to be firm and say no to work that doesn’t value your skills. It’s no easy feat to stick to your fees.
How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
All my art commissions have come from connections I’ve made on both Twitter and Instagram. My first recurring client found me on Instagram and reached out to see if I wanted to work together. So it’s been vital for me to keep a social media presence. It’s really about getting yourself involved through hashtags like #portfolioday, #visiblewomen and #artvsartist; people post selective work on the days they run and I’ve found that has helped grow my network.
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
My first year as a full-time freelancer was the hardest; I wasn’t making enough and I did end up finding part-time work. It’s important to have time to create but also be in a position to look after yourself financially. I often see artists burn themselves out because they take whatever they can get. Having that income on the side allows me to be more selective.
How did you go about landing your first clients?
Again, through social media, but also knowing how to target your audience. Since my work focuses on Black empowerment I definitely noticed a bigger interest from the US. So I ended up connecting with a lot of Black illustrators and writers from there. The hashtag that really helped my work be seen was #drawingwhileblack, created by Abelle Hayford back in 2018.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
For me it was figuring out what my passions were. It’s easy to draw pretty pictures, but it’s harder to combine that with a passion or calling. When I realised I wanted to use my art to amplify and empower Black people, my art suddenly took on a deeper meaning. Potential clients also started noticing my work.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
Draw what you like, work on skills that will enable you to capture the images you see and get involved with your local art community. You learn a lot from others; if it wasn’t for the people I’ve met in the art industry, I wouldn’t have found work or opportunities. Check what art conventions and fairs are happening and get yourself a table to sell your art – it’s the best way to meet like-minded people.
Mention Charlot Kristensen
Interview by Lyla Johnston