Kelli Hall has become one of minted’s most successful and popular designers. I recently had the chance to learn a little more about her and how she came to be such a great designer and artist.
minted: How did you get your start in graphic design?
Kelli: It was love at first Mac. A first generation blueberry iMac to be exact. I wish I could say that I’ve always known I would be a graphic designer but, in all honesty, I thought I would make a career out of being an oil painter. With my solid history of pet portraits, how could I have failed? : ) But a few people close to me encouraged me to consider graphic design, so I got a computer, taught myself the programs and, even though I never fully abandoned my pursuit of a fine art degree, I added in several graphic design courses for a bit of a foundation.
minted: Did you go to school for art or design or are you a self-taught designer?
Kelli: I guess you could say I’m a little bit of both. I went to school for studio art and I was also lucky enough to have a full time job as a graphic designer while in school. I would go to fine art classes for part of the week, and then I would spend the other part of the week, literally knee-deep in pompoms, working as a graphic designer for a small toy company. It was a great experience and I was fortunate enough to work with some talented designers who shared their ‘real-world’ design wisdom.
minted: Did designing for kids affect your design aesthetic or was it something you were naturally adept at?
Kelli: That’s a great question — I think in the case of the kids design, it’s something I’ve become more adept at over time. In the beginning, like any new project you approach as a designer, I did a lot of research and had to learn to tailor my thinking to communicate with that audience…but now, I think maybe there’s some residual playfulness that stays with my designs.
minted: Where did you go to school? Who was your most influential professor/mentor there?
Kelli: I went to Georgia State University in Atlanta. I’ve had a lot of great professors, but one of my favorites would have to be Malcom Mobutu Smith. As my secondary drawing professor, he showed me the importance of personal accountability for my every mark. Malcom’s unique teaching method emphasized the pursuit of creativity alongside his teaching of traditional technique. His teachings sparked the idea of detaching myself from just making things that are aesthetically pleasing and focusing on how I can use design principles to communicate an idea. I guess it sounds really simple to most people but at the time it was a big shift in my thinking. Its a concept I still struggle with.
minted: Who is your favorite designer (or design company)?
Kelli: I’m not sure I could pick just one favorite designer. Right now, I’m really inspired by Yulia Brodskaya’s Paper Graphics. Her pieces have so much visual energy, it seems they could just unfurl right off of the page. There’s something so nostalgic about the detailed forms in her paper structures, but also something very fresh. I also love Joy Deangdeelert Cho’s work. I’m always inspired by her playful use of color, handmade influences, and unique approach to all aspects of design. Plus, she’s managed to create a whole assortment of designs for so many different disciplines, and I can’t help but admire that! I’m especially in love with her print and surface designs she’s created for urban outfitters.
minted: Your work is both illustrative and graphic. The unique balance between type and illustration has become the hallmark of your style. Tell me what goes into striking that balance.
Kelli: I’m happy to hear that it comes across that way. In all honesty, my approach to design is probably more of a painterly approach than a graphic design approach. In the first stages, my design is all sorts of crazy. I tend to begin by blocking out colors and shapes and then I slowly simplify the composition — almost carving away and making way too many variations of the same file. Since I have a natural inclination to lose myself in the details of an illustration, I really have reign myself in, and repeatedly ask myself whether my illustrations add to or detract from the idea/message. Sometimes it’s successful, sometimes, not so much.
minted: I also believe that iteration is the key to uncovering what works, how many versions do you create for a design and how do figure out which one is best?
Kelli: It’s a little embarrassing to say. I’ve worked with some designers who can consistently nail it on the first go. I take a little longer. For most any design, I create, on average, between 10 and 20 variations. After that, I whittle them down to 2 or 3 — then I print them out and walk away for a while. Usually, what speaks to me when I come back is the version I choose.
minted: We just got a bunch of samples in, and Glass Ribbons was in our latest shipment. I have to say it looks great in person. What was the inspiration for the wave motif?
Kelli: As part of the bride’s Chihuly themed event, I referred to Dale Chihuly’s glass works and installations. I sought to create a piece that was both elegant and emulated the repetition of like forms in Chihuly’s work. The color variation in the lines was intended create interest and reinforce the repetitive nature of the lines.
minted: The Pop of pink birth announcement is also a great design. The simplicity of the design makes any photo look great. How do you know when something is simply beautiful or just too simple?
Kelli: The final ‘Pop of Pink’ design is just a result of creating something I’d like to send myself. I knew at the beginning I wanted the text placement and color to emphasize the name and the photo. I think this challenge was fun because I had to push myself to question the purpose of my design. I think in this case, the difference between too simple and ‘simply beautiful’ hinges on the simple detail of the color in the name. Too much color would have overwhelmed the photo, and neutral typography would have left it uninteresting.
minted: How often are you making things just for fun? How often do you make things for yourself vs. for work, and how often do those things overlap if at all?
Kelli: It all kind of overlaps for me. I always get excited at the prospect of creating something new, whether it’s toying around with something on my own or creating something for a client that has a specific set of rules. I guess it’s the process i find enjoyable.
minted: In your recent win, Bellaphant, you’ve created an iconic turquoise elephant. It is very reminiscent of Pueblo Zuni fetishes, where did you find the inspiration for this illustration?
Kelli: I’m flattered that you’ve drawn such a generous comparison to my illustration. Bellaphant progressed over a course of multiple iterations from a little pink elephant hiding in the grass, to the inflated blue version on the final invite. I was inspired by some simple children’s flash cards and the cover of the familiar “pat the bunny” children’s book. I also have a tendency to create pudgy illustrated characters that are distinctly rounded or have exaggerated proportions–Using a fat elephant that fills the composition just seemed to be a natural extension of that tendency.
minted: And finally, what tips or advice do you have for artists who have just started entering the challenges?
Kelli: Hmm…This is a tough one. I’ve seen so many great designers in these challenge, I’m sure I can learn more pointers than I can provide. But if I had to contribute one thing, I guess I would suggest seeking out inspiration in unexpected places. My creativity hits the wall more times that I like to admit, so I’m always looking for ideas in the environment, old books and color palettes. One of my best sources for inspiration is Adobe Kuler — It’s my go-to for kick starting my creativity.