Q&A with the Artist: Kristin Erdman

Kristin Erdman

“I make art that's big on color, texture and happy.” – Kristin Erdman

Kristin Erdman is one of the few people I trusted with my dream of starting Popinjay Press several years ago. She’s also the talented illustrator of My Pet Alien and This Book Is Terrible. Kristin’s genuine warmth and zany personality come through in all her artwork – from colorful prints and  dimensional paintings to stylized portraits and adorable wearables.

But the work that speaks most to me is the illustrations she created for Popinjay Press. If you want to see a brilliant brain and tender heart at work, you can find them within the pages of My Pet Alien and This Book Is Terrible. Kristin took my words and made them sing, delivering illustrations that are beyond beautiful. I love them almost as much as I love her. Check out this Q&A, and you’ll begin to see why!

Where did you find inspiration for the artwork in My Pet Alien and This Book Is Terrible?  

I really had to dig deep to find the bravery to create the artwork for My Pet Alien! I had drawn some very simple portraits in the past but wasn't confident in drawing people at all, and I'd certainly never drawn full bodies. I wasn't sure it was something I could do, and I had no idea where to even start.

As I was procrastinating one afternoon, I decided to clean my daughter's room, which of course meant reorganizing her books. I pulled every book off the shelf and sat down to sort them, and she sat next to me to flip through her favorites. As I watched her, I noticed that her most well-loved books weren't the ones with the most lifelike drawings. She loved illustrations with bright colors and textures. She also loved illustrations of kids who reminded her of herself and her friends.

I realized that no two books had the same type of illustration, and many of the illustration styles weren't perfect renditions of people at all! Once it dawned on me that I could use my style to represent all sorts of kids, the illustrations for My Pet Alien became exciting to draw.

The artwork for This Book Is Terrible was much more in my comfort zone! I had already been playing with digital watercolor textures and hand-lettering, so it was super fun to put those together. My kids loved reading books that had a page for each color when they were young, so I decided to do that for each spread.

What techniques and resources did you use to illustrate My Pet Alien and This Book Is Terrible?

Both books were illustrated using the app ProCreate on an iPad with an Apple pencil.

Has your illustration style changed over time? How?

Deep-toned girl looking out of a space ship window. Text says: Mercury was small, lumpy, and gray. Just like my heart. When I was I going to find an alien?

Yes, absolutely! I am constantly trying new things and pulling inspiration from weird places, trying stuff out and seeing what sticks. Sometimes I even loop back to where I started and layer new techniques on top of my old ones! For example, I started illustrating with pencils, pens and watercolor. It was slow and tedious to draw things out in pencil, then paint, then outline again with black pen (and it often destroyed my pens).

When I started drawing digitally, everything was so much faster! I could draw, erase, tweak and finalize illustrations in a fraction of the time it took before. But I couldn't get the depth of texture that I wanted. So I began drawing digitally, printing that out, tracing it onto watercolor paper and using actual watercolors to paint again. This process is still faster, and I still get to drop colors into water and watch them swirl on the page, which will always be my favorite part of painting.

How do you overcome a creative block?

Stylized text on a yellow  background that says:  Well, as long as you’re reading this terrible book, I may as well explain why it’s so terrible. First of all, there's no beginning, middle or end. You can't have a book without a beginning, middle and end!

I am an inspiration gatherer, so if I'm stuck, I like to start with photos I've taken. I often take pictures of color combinations I like, patterns I've never tried or prints that speak to me. I have lots and lots of photos of leaves and flowers I find on walks.

I follow other artists, photographers, comedians and inspirational people on Instagram. I learn more from that social media feed than I do from all my other feeds combined, and it's where I spend most of my time online. Only good vibes allowed on that feed! I block anything that pulls me out of the flow. When I'm in a creative rut, watching other artists do their thing online usually creates enough FOMO in me that I'm ready to try again, even if it's just painting circles or doodling with a Sharpie.

How important are diversity and inclusion to your artwork?

Diversity and inclusion are values that are hardwired into my DNA. My mom used to joke that as a kid, I wasn't having fun unless everyone was having fun – I always wanted everyone to feel included and welcome in whatever we were doing. 

As I've gotten older, I've been more intentional in learning more about our diverse history and best practices in inclusion. Popinjay Press books do such important work in sharing stories where kids can see families just like theirs in print, and I'm proud that my artwork can help build the confidence and pride kids need as they grow.

What was your favorite book when you were a kid?

As a wee one, I loved finding the little spiders and mice hiding in My Little Critter books, and I read Where The Wild Things Are until the pages fell apart. When I got older, I loved fantasies like A Wrinkle in Time and Bunnicula. I devoured the Baby-Sitters Club series and read Shel Silverstein poems every night until I could recite them from memory.

But maybe my favorite books ever were the Sideways Stories from Wayside School series -- they were so absurd and silly but also filled with friendship and clever quips. I still love to read them!

You can find more of Kristin’s artwork on her Instagram account (@kristin.erdman.studio).