As an illustrator and character designer, Katherine Budak often re-imagines pop culture classics and troupes into her own punchy, original work. Here we dissect some of her boldest pieces, getting into the heart of who she is as an artist and storyteller...
Q: Let's first talk about your style of art. How would you describe it?
A: I would describe it as vibrant, narrative-driven characters with a slightly graphic sensibility. My inspirations often include comic books, 1960s aesthetic, Eastern European folklore, Ghibli films, and female youth.
Q: Some of your work involves re-imagining pop culture characters. How do you go through that process of envisioning icons in a new way?
A: For me, redesigning characters involves taking their most recognized characteristics and imagining how they could be reinterpreted in a new context. I think specifically about character development and how the environments and relationships of [the characters'] new world might lead them to develop the traits we're all familiar with.
For example, in my teen Batman series, I took an iconic character like Poison Ivy and thought about what she might have been like before she was a femme fatale and how that version of her would fit into a high school setting. I found the idea of "a wallflower personality type coming into her own" very interesting. I imagined her learning how to embrace the things that make her different, like growing from [someone who is] insecure to empowered and how the emotions that define the character could be reflected in the design. You have to understand a character's core motivations and inner world before you begin to design their physical appearance. Ask yourself what they desire, what they fear, and how they would react differently from other characters in certain situations. How can you translate that using shape language, color, posing, and expression?
Q: You created a children's book in college called Runaway Girl. Can you tell us about this book and how you got the inspiration to write and illustrate the story?
A: Runaway Girl revolves around a loyal dog's search for his lost owner. The owner is a girl who runs away from home to seek adventure in the nearby woods. I based this story on the many fantasies I had as a child of exploring a vast, primordial woodland that was nothing like the urban metropolis of Los Angeles where I grew up. The dialogue between the dog and the woodland creatures was inspired by the Russian storybooks my mother read to me as a child, and the setting was inspired by the forest near her hometown in Belarus.
Q: And your graduation project involved a conceptualization of The Sound of Music as animation. How did you dive into that process?
A: My process began with researching and compiling reference image boards of the actors, the period attire, props, Austrian environment, and character design inspirations (thank god for Pinterest!). I came up with a story chart after that, listing the major moments or beats of the film. Then came the ideation phase of playing with the characters and sketching out emotional scenes, expressions, poses, and different versions of the characters. Next, I chose the sketches that seemed to work the best and refined them and cleaned them up. Then, I placed the characters side by side in a line-up, at first in monochrome and then in color. Eventually, I realized my first pass [could be improved], and utilizing notes from a mentor, I redesigned the main cast and background characters into their current state.
Q: You've also interned at FriendsWithYou, another arts collective based in Los Angeles. What was that like?
A: Interning at FriendsWithYou over the summer has been a fun experience filled with challenges and growth. It's a relatively small studio helmed by two passionate artists who have been collaborating together for years. They do quite a few different things but are known primarily for their large-scale installation art and animated Netflix series True and the Rainbow Kingdom. I've learned an array of new skills on the job and gained a lot of insight into the variety of avenues artists can take with their work.
We hope to hear more about your craft and journey in the future, Katherine! It was great learning from you! ◆
You can find more of Katherine's work on her website. Follow her on Instagram @kate_budak.