Kat: Ha ha…. We use a lot of photo reference for the show and a lot of the clothes the characters wear are very specific, so it’s my job to find army uniforms and combat boots or leisure suits and plaid pants for the models to wear.
Ana: You actually find physical outfits for models who wear them while posing for photos that the animators use?
Kat: Yep! Adam Reed, the creator of the show, is very specific in the style he wants. We keep most of the characters in a very late 60s/early 70s style, very classic JAMES BOND era.
Ana: And classic GET SMART, too…heh heh.
Kat: Oh, yeah, same kind of style for sure. So the silhouette is very important.
Ana: Well, silhouettes are always important.
Kat: Yes!! The more defined your characters silhouette, the better.
Ana: Now, you also make clothes and costumes yourself, right?
Kat: Yeah! I am actually pinning a zipper as we speak right now. We were given these shirts for the show, and i got an extra large so i could make it into a dress.
Ana: The shirt you made into a dress…was that for the show?
Kat: No, just for me, ha ha.
Ana: But do you ever make clothes for the show?
Kat: I have not had the opportunity just yet, but I have definitely done some last minute pinning and fitting so that the clothes fit the best they can. Like I said, Adam is very specific on silhouette and style, so it’s important that the clothes look good on the models.
Ana: Where do you go looking for your finds? Have you ever raided your own closet? Maybe a friend’s?
Kat: I’ve used the vintage shops over in little five points (an artsy community in Atlanta) A lot. They have so many great clothes there, and some of the items are actually from the time period we’re looking for.
Ana: Stores like The Junkman’s Daughter?
Kat: Yep! And a few other places, like Rag-O-Rama and Clothing Warehouse are also great. And I’ve used my own clothes. We had a character that was supposed to be a bit on the punk side, so I just took a few things from my own closet. And I got a pair of boots out of it, too.
Ana: So, do you have any other responsibilities on the show?
Kat: Oh, yes! Costuming is actually only a very small part of what I do. I work over fifty hours a week as an illustrator.
Kat: Haha. It’s fun work! The entire studio is a great crew of people, so that makes it a lot easier.
Ana: Do you like being able to combine your interests in fashion and drawing? That sounds pretty sweet to me, and VERY appropriate for you, Kitty.
Kat: I am amazed every day that I found a job that allows me to combine my two passions. I realize how lucky I truly am to be able to do what I am doing. I can still remember making the switch from a Fashion major to Sequential Art and having people look at me like I was insane.
Ana: You were originally a Fashion major?
Kat: I started out as one. I grew up in a really small town where all I knew is that I wanted to create…anything! But since my pre-college art education was…non existent, I really only knew that artists painted and drew. And when i went to college, I learned about all these different outlets, like Digital Art, Jewelry, and Fashion.
Ana: Let me get this straight…you didn’t also major in Animation?
Kat: No, the only major I actually completed was Sequential Art.
Ana: Come to think of it, there are quite a few Sequential Art grads working on ARCHER, right? I know Sam Ellis worked on the show as one of the Head Illustrators for some time.
Kat: Yeah, Sam was here. And we had a few Illustration majors as well, like Rod Ben and Katie Stockton.
Ana: So, what made you want to major in Sequential Art? Did you grow up reading comic books?
Kat: I actually never read a comic book until maybe my sophomore year at college. But when I started getting into comics, I realized how much I love the concept of storytelling through words and pictures. I also realized that all through childhood, I wrote books constantly. My mother has drawers full of them to this day.
Ana: That is so very, very cool.
Kat: I would write and illustrate books all the time. She’s sent a lot of them to me; they’re so funny. They were always either about me having a pet dinosaur or a unicorn, and usually there was a rainbow involved that I had to climb up to discover some fantastical land.
There used to be an example of one on my website! It was called THE BAD FOX and I vaguely remember writing it because I wrote it before I knew how to spell, so I dictated it to my brother who then spelled it out on our old chalkboard. I couldn’t have been more than three years old at the time.
Ana: That was pretty cool of your brother to help you out with your picture books.
Kat: Yeah. Of course, he could barely spell, since he was only seven years old himself.
Ana: Ha ha, well, he still sounds nice…
Kat: Oh, he is! No question on that!
Ana: What kinds of books were these? Did your mom help bind them together for you?
Kat: I would usually staple them together. And sometimes I’d just tie strings through holes.
Ana: Heh-heh. Me, too. I don’t know if any of mine still exist though. Mine were comic books and to me, unless they were stapled, it just wasn’t right. You know, maybe we should do a whole separate SUGAR NINJAS: LITTLE MISS volume, featuring stories and art drawn by the sugar ninjas when they were little girls.
Kat: Oh, that would be adorable! Ha ha. Yay!
Ana: I remember you, of course, from my children’s picture book class. You totally ruled.
Kat: Yes! And I am still very into children’s picture books. When I have my hiatus from work, I have a few projects that I would like to do. Most involve various children’s picture books that I would like to self publish.
Ana: You were already self-publishing during my class, remember?
Kat: I do! With the help of one of my favorite professors, the late and wonderful Jeremy Mullins! He really encouraged me to put my work out there.
Ana: Yeah. Jeremy encouraged a lot of people to put their work out there.
Kat: Definitely! And my work was…different from a lot of the other Sequential Art majors.
Ana: When he died last summer, everyone was stunned that he was gone because he was so young, but also because he was such a mentor to everyone. And he was always just so darned happy to be teaching comics. I don’t think I ever saw him without a smile on his face.
Kat: I still have trouble believing it some days. I am so glad he had the opportunity to teach and inspire so many of us though. And I have found myself realizing that i know how to do things, like my website and self publishing and managing freelance work…because of Jeremy. And your own class was awesome because it was the first time I felt like I truly fit into the Sequential Art department.
Kat: Since I didn’t grow up reading comics, I always felt like I was planning a massive game of catch up in many of my classes.
Ana: Well, you weren’t as alone as you might have imagined. Lots of girls (and some boys) had similar stories.
Kat: Like I said earlier, I just always wanted to create anything. Whether it be a dress or a cartoon or a book…just anything. And I loved how comics encompassed so many creative aspects. I never understood why it had to be such an elitist club. Like, if you didn’t like manga or superheroes, you could be made to feel out of place. When I wanted to do children’s picture books and storyboards, I was a bit of an outcast.
Ana: To be fair, you’re generalizing just a bit. I mean, you weren’t truly ostracized or anything, ha ha. I know you had other fans there besides me.
Kat: It was really just a slight feeling of “I don’t know if I actually belong here.”
Kat: Yeah. I don’t want to make it sound bad in any way! I love the education I received. I was just trying to say that I’m glad I took my own path with my major. I just turned 24 and I have an amazing job now. No regrets!
Ana: Well, I just wish everyone would approach it that way. No matter what your major or where you go to school, you will ultimately get out of it what you put into it. Now, you said you felt a little like an outcast sometimes, but it clearly didn’t keep you from having a good time and learning lots of neat stuff.
Kat: Not at all. I think I worked way too hard to even be in school, there was no way I was going to let anything ruin it for me.
Ana: In the end, I believe your optimistic, passionate work ethic saw you through the four years of school.
Kat: Aww, thank you, Ana.
Ana: It’s true. You just plain radiate good vibes, Kitty. And when it’s time for employers to decide who to hire, they pay attention to that sort of thing, trust me.
Kat: I try to! Staying positive is usually the best way to get through anything. I wish I could say that’s how I’ve always dealt with life, but I’ve learned over the years.
Ana: Now that you’re on the ARCHER show, I’ll bet you appreciate all the cool people you get to work with.
Kat: I really, really do! Everyone is so fun and amazing. It makes the long hours so much easier.
Kat: We always photobomb each other in reference photos or send funny links or pictures to each other. It’s a lot of work, but we make it fun when we can.
Ana: And I would assume you don’t have to put up with some of the None of that “I’m an artist” behavior that you sometimes get in art classes. In real life, that nonsense can get you fired.
Kat: Oh, yeah. You really have to learn how to take a critique and just..take it. That’s actually what helped me get hired in the first place. Part of the process is that you have to do a test file in Illustrator.
I worked really hard on mine and my friend, TJ Buford, was the one to critique it. By the time he was done giving his notes, I was kind of left wondering if I had done anything right But I took it all in, did the fixes the best I could, and my attitude for the whole thing was really taken into account. I figured TJ had worked there for a few years and that he knew better than I did about how the file needed to be, you know? But, a lot of people would just turn in the same file with NO FIXES and try to pass it off as if they had.
Ana: Ha ha! That sometimes happened in your classes, remember?
Kat: Yeah, I really think that during art classes, one real important thing that needs to happen is that you should have a chance to fix your work after the critique.
Ana: I agree.
Kat: It’s a whole different story when you have to actually take your work and redo parts. I think it’s one of those things that is crucial to emphasize, but you may not realize its importance until you are out in the world doing art for a living.
Ana: And you should be able to show that you’ve learned from the critique. That you can now make adjustments based on a better understanding of the needs of the assignment, not just parrot what your employer/teacher/fellow student says.
Kat: Yeah. Every day I show Chad (the head illustrator) my files and he’s like “that hand looks funny” or something, and I just retake a reference photo and redraw. Simple as that.
Ana: Really? You mean that you don’t get all defensively huffy and pout about your personal artistic integrity?
Kat: Sometimes it’s not even that it’s a bad hand, only that it just didn’t work in the background or sometimes what’s real from the photo doesn’t translate well in our style so it’s easier to cheat it and redo it. I think it helps that I work as part of a team. And we are all there to produce ARCHER, not our next great masterpiece.
Ana: Clearly, you need to be open to sudden changes, not because YOU screwed anything up, just that they need to be changed for the good of the show.
Kat: Even though it’s my hand and my drawing, I understand that if it doesn’t fit the style or just doesn’t work, than I need to be okay with that. It’s never a matter of my talent being in question, it’s just a team effort. Or sometimes it’s just a fresh pair of eyes, as you don’t always notice your own mistakes.
Ana: It’s interesting, since you also do your own self-published books where you are your own editor. It must be a little tricky to shift in and out of the team/individual mindset.
Kat: Yeah, but I always have other people look at my work. They let me know what they think, which helps a lot. And that was the beauty of going to art school. I got to meet other artists with completely different views and styles. It was just the environment i craved in high school.
For me, it wasn’t really much of a transition. It is nice doing art for myself, don’t get me wrong. I am looking forward to having a couple months of down time to do my own thing, but it’s also really cool seeing your name on television.
Ana: Ahhh… It sounds like you were even more of an outcast in high school.
Kat: Ha ha. The only other artist i knew, my best friend Heidi, went to a different school an hour away. Yeah, I didn’t really fit in at all. Looking back, I think I was a pretty cool kid, though. I always did my own thing and never really let other people’s opinions get to me.
Ana: Well, anyone who knows you now pretty much instantly adores you…and with good reason.
Kat: Oh, I hope not. My ego would explode! I do understand that I live in a bubble, and I am in love with my bubble. I’ve been in such an artsy, dorky, amazing community for about six years now, and I don’t really want to leave. It’s weird when I talk to people who think animated movies are just for kids or have never heard of a Tribble. It’s just a world that I don’t understand, nor want to.
Ana: Kitty, if given a choice, would you like to continue working in animation or on your own picture books?
Kat: Oh man, I really, really don’t know. I think I just want to be able to do art and not starve.
Ana: Oooh, me too!!!
Kat: I love what I do now, and I am excited about my future, no matter where it takes me.
Ana: And, like many other sugar ninjas, you also make plushies…
Kat: I do! I sold stegosaurus plushies at the 2009 Anime Weekend Atlanta. They went pretty quickly, too.
Ana: I got mine! I’m looking at it right now. He says hello by the way.
Kat: Aww…They were so much fun to make, to. I really like the mixture of sculpture and textiles.
Ana: See, that’s just one of the great things about teaching girls. They appreciate cute things! Cute clothes, cute shoes, cute drawings…cute! Mind you not all girls, of course…and there were some boys in our classes that liked cute stuff, too.
Kat: Yes! Cute knows no gender!
Ana: But overall, teaching girls is just such a refreshing change of pace from the traditional fan boys who mainly wants to be a penciler for Marvel or DC or whatever.
Kat: I think if that’s your thing, that’s awesome! But I just think more people, both guys and girls, need to see the broad spectrum that Sequential Art covers. It’s not a gender specific thing at all!
Ana: Which is one reason why the SUGAR NINJAS exists.
Ana: I mean, I know that you were probably bored looking at certain students’ work, but you never acted like it in a class, which served you well when looking for work. It’s a good attitude to foster.
Kat: Like I said earlier, in high school, I just wanted to meet other artists, so I was actually pretty interested in everyone’s work. Sometimes just to see how they interpreted an assignment so differently than I had imagined or how they drew in such a unique style.
Ana: Then you didn’t mind looking at all the the umpteenth versions of Batman or Spider-Man pages?
Kat: Yeah, because I don’t draw that way myself. So, I think it’s cool to see someone who does.
Ana: Very good, very good.
Kat: I am inspired by many things! A lot of things in nature just fascinate me. I check the NASA web page all the time to see all their photos of the day.
Ana: Oooh…neat! Let’s talk about your techniques. Like, how do you create your picture books?
Kat: Usually an idea strikes me, mostly when I am doing something where I cannot write it down or when I am about to fall asleep or I’m driving. From there, I usually sketch out how I want the style and characters to look. I like sketching with a brush and ink a lot, as it forces me to go quickly and not care about mistakes, only getting it down on paper.
Ana: I do thumbnails the same way, usually with a pen or some sort. Pens make you think fast.
Kat: And from there I do my rough pencils. I like to work small, usually on letter paper size, and then I go to Kinkos and blow it up to bigger than I’d want to produce and I clean up my pencil work. Or, if i am digitally colouring, I just scan in the roughs and clean them up in Photoshop.
I do comics the same way. I always draw really small and then blow it up to bigger. I think working at a smaller size helps me see how it will look when produced and helps me concentrate on the composition of the entire page rather than just panel to panel.
Ana: Okay, which part of the process do you enjoy the most?
Kat: I really like setting up perspective lines. I am aware that I am considered odd for that, but I love figuring out angles and how we visually interpret our 3-D world onto a 2-D surface. That never gets old to me.
Ana: Do you appreciate the Zen-like quality of just making those lines for the perspective grid?
Kat: No, it’s more that I just love how those lines will define my space.
Kat: And where I put those lines will determine the mood or feel of the entire composition, like if I use a low or high horizon line or Dutch angles.
Ana: Speaking of determining moods and such, how do you feel about the “inking” phase?
Kat: It’s probably my least favorite.
Ana: Do you like to wait until inking to create the final “feel” of the work? Or do you map that out in pencil, too?
Kat: I always love seeing artists’ pencils. I feel like they have so much more life to them. So, when I ink, I’m always scared of losing the lively quality of my pencils. For me, it just feels very tedious. I try different ways to make the inks a part of the work, with really ornate textures or really flowy brush strokes.
Ana: Yes, you certainly do. That was something that I really loved about your work for my classes. You were often very decorative for the sake of decoration…without screwing up the storytelling, of course.
Kat: Well, I never want my inks to be there just to trace over the pencils.
Ana: And you wouldn’t want to wind up just an inker in the comics industry? I know some people who would rather ink over pencils and leave the storytelling to faster hands.
Kat: I don’t know! I know that I could make it into something fun.
Ana: Maybe you would like it more if they allowed you free reign over the finished piece?
Kat: I think it would depend on who I was working for and what they wanted as far as style.
Ana: Got yaz.
Kat: I don’t want to say “never” to anything, ha ha.
Ana: We’ve covered a fair bit of ground here. How do you think the interview went?
Kat: I feel like it went well! But it is my bedtime!
Ana: Oops! Sorry. Well, I’ll let you go get ready for bed, girl.
Kat: Okay, awesome! I hope I said good things!
Ana: You were great, Kitty…as always.
Kat: Okay! Have a good night, Ana!