As Brooklyn-based Karlotta Freier describes her approach to illustration, it soon becomes clear that drawing is an emotional act for the artist, rather than a technical one. For example, while discussing her portfolio to date, Karlotta notes how she strives “more for atmosphere than cleverness,” aiming to narrow in on mundane elements to create cohesive, relatable scenes. In turn, pouring emotion into her work is the self-drawn red thread across Karlotta’s portfolio, utilising illustrative techniques like “intentional line work” or “careful colour combinations and a courageous composition” to create her pieces.
Such an approach has developed from Karlotta’s lifelong passion for illustration – although it is a passion that used to hide in the background of her interests. Fascinated by elements of craftsmanship from a young age, after school she tried plenty of jobs which sat adjacent to solely drawing; like working at a tattoo studio, for a fashion designer and in a theatre’s costume department. In fact, her first choice for a university course was illustration’s (sometimes) more sensible sibling graphic design, but she thankfully switched after a semester. “Somehow I had dreamt of being an illustrator since childhood, without really understanding that it was a profession,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I remember saving the wrapping paper of a chocolate that had beautiful drawings on it and thinking: ‘Damn, must be great to make drawings for chocolate.’”
But a profession now it is. Steadily working as an illustrator in the editorial field, Karlotta’s emotional craftsmanship is the perfect accompaniment to a variety of articles, from the pages of LA Times to The New Yorker. Digging deep into the articles she is assigned, Karlotta’s first task is to “search them for tension,” she explains. “The emotional world is narrative enough for me so I often just concentrate on that. Hope, sadness, longing, anger, solitude, fear, surprise, annoyance… it’s fun to inhabit drawings with figures who just feel stuff.” A favourite drawing which demonstrates this seamlessly is Karlotta’s illustration for an article by Ruby Tandoh, A Good-Natured Pastry For Bad-Tempered Cooks. Opening with the writer detailing a recent habit of heading out for a walk “with a small apple pie tucked in my anorak pocket”, Karlotta’s image describes exactly this. At first this might seem straightforward, but Karlotta’s drawing grows in meaning as you read on, from the tightness of the character’s grip on the round pie featured, to her depiction of a powerful stride making its way through the foliage.
Providing such purposeful detail is one of Karlotta’s creative strengths as an illustrator, a technique she’s developed by consistently drawing from everyday life. This process of detailing the present “gives me the confidence to believe that I can draw anything in a way that is beautiful and interesting to me,” explains the illustrator. “If I am willing to invest some patience, at least.” It’s also a process that has led to the illustrator’s key advice for any other budding artist: “I would recommend keeping a sketchbook to anyone who likes to draw,” she adds. “Don’t make it a precious place for great ideas and finished work. Make it a place for exploration. While you wait in a diner for a friend, try to draw the ketchup in a way that is interesting to you.”
Excitingly, this thoughtful approach to her craft is soon to be explored in a larger narrative format, via a comic book Karlotta is currently developing with her husband. We look forward to seeing how she may expand her illustrative dialogues away from spot illustrations and as always, she’ll be taking her time and encouraging developments to happen naturally. As she says: “I believe that the best work is done when I give myself space to fail and discover something new. Somewhere in between who I am unavoidably am, and the movement towards these things, must be what my work look like.”
Karlotta Freier: The New Yorker (Copyright © Karlotta Freier, 2022)
About the Author
Lucy (she/her) joined It’s Nice That as a staff writer in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In January 2019 she was made deputy editor and in November 2021, became a senior editor predominantly working on It’s Nice That's partnerships. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about creative projects for the site or potential partnerships.