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"The power of characters to engage people transcends media formats and industries alike. High time for character creators to think transmedia, as well as cross industry"
An interview with Lynn Gaines
Characters Engage Showcase: Kristin Noell
In this issue:
After more than 22 years as an illustrator and senior designer at American Greetings, Lynn Gaines has been called "The Queen Of Cute". Characters Engage spoke to Lynn about illustrating greeting cards, American Greetings and the concept of "Cutes".
CE: Could you tell us a little bit about how you started out. What did you study and what were your professional plans?
LG: I was always making art as a child. I loved to draw, write and illustrate my own books, do papier-mâché, make dolls and sew. I would build elaborate dollhouses and make doll clothes and once I even made a New Year’s Day parade, complete with floats! For me, the idea of being an artist full-time started on my 14th birthday. I was given a copy of the Society of Illustrators annual, and from that day on I decided to become an illustrator. I took art classes all through high school, and in my senior year I was taking drawing, painting, photography and silver-smithing. I went on to college at the Cleveland Institute of Art where I majored in illustration and had a dual minor in portrait painting and photography and after graduating their 5-year program, I freelanced for a couple of years. Not long afterward, I began my 22 plus year career at American Greetings.
CE: You have been working for American Greetings since 1989. How did you become involved with the company?
LG: I interviewed with both Hallmark and American Greetings right out of school, but in the end I choose American Greetings because it was right in my own backyard. I focused on Editorial Illustration in college, but decided on greeting cards because I loved making up characters and also because doing that would allow me to work in full color right off the bat, something that a “newbie” illustrator didn’t always get to do back in the day. I actually tried getting in several times and I revamped my portfolio 3 times before I got hired.
CE: What do you do at American Greetings?
JS: My official title is Senior Designer/Illustrator. In addition to illustration I kind of do what’s needed. I also make plush (like bears and Softies), do stitchery, and concept work. We basically do whatever styles are needed, that’s why my portfolio is so varied. But, primarily I do “Cutes”. To those outside the world of greeting cards, “Cutes” means a piece of art that has the "Awwww” factor (when you look at it, your gut reaction is to say "Awwww!”). It has the flavor of illustration for children’s books, but it is suitable for adults who will always be kids at heart and appreciate a storybook style of art.
CE: What would you consider to be the most important aspect of character design in the greeting card industry?
JS: Well, the styles change from year to year but the basics remain the same... characters need to be engaging, relatable, with a sense of sweetness about them. The person buying the card wants to convey a bit of information about themselves by what card they pick and they want to send a message to the person they are buying it for. The reason I am especially drawn to animal characters is that they don’t limit the sender by having a gender or race, everyone can relate to an animal!
CE: You have developed a variety of illustration styles, but regardless of the style or look of your work, it always exudes cuteness, charm and warmth. Is this just Lynn Gaines coming through or something you strive for in your work?
LG: Thank you for that! Actually it’s both... "Cute" is just how I see things and I want to put that into everything I create. I am drawn in by the “snapshot of another world”. I love that about vintage children’s books... almost every character lives in this little world all his own, complete with made-to-size furniture, clothes, food, and lots and lots of details that I think made the art special. I think the cutest illustrations look like a moment frozen in time... foxes decorating for a party, a bear eating ice-cream on the beach, a little mouse writing a note sitting on a mushroom... little snippets of their world. Interaction is also an important factor... anytime you can utilize a situation to convey warmth or bring back memories for the viewer; you’ve got a winner!
CE: What are you working on at the moment? Is there something our readers can look out for?
LG: We are sworn to secrecy on most of our work here at American Greetings until it’s printed, however, in my own personal work I am working in 2-D on a squirrel character that is living in his own tree town and in plush, I have been making SOfti3s characters, most recently dogs. I hope to start selling the Softi3s on Etsy soon, depending on how the Summer goes. I’ll keep you posted on my blog:
... or my Facebook fan page:
Lynn Gaines Design and Illustration
Kristin comes from the small town of Langhorne near Philadelphia, PA. Having been interested in art all her life, her original plan was to go to Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia for 2 years and then switch to a big-time animation school. When the time came to choose a major at Tyler, she found herself curious about jewelry, despite the fact that she had never worked with metals before. This art school experiments with 3-D printed jewelry and objects, and that aspect really interested her. Kristin found the endless possibilities of 3-D printing fascinating and ended up never switching schools.
When attempting to make jewelry the traditional way though, Kristin found herself struggling with the manual aspects of the process. She found that she just didn’t have the hand skills needed for such precise craftsmanship, so creating metal jewelry never really worked for her.
She soon stopped doing traditional jewelry or metalwork in favor of CAD and 3-D printing. Kirstin took a few classes on rapid prototyping, which focused more on objects than jewelry, and that spelled the end for all of her jewelry work. This was also the time she became fascinated with toy design and so, by the end of her Junior year, Kristin was making her own thesis-driven object/toy pieces.
At this point, Kristin had been very interested vinyl/designer toys for some time. The smooth forms and sharp character design always fascinated her, but she couldn’t just produce a 3-D print of a designer toy for her assignments. Her objects had to have or do something that made them more than “just a toy.”
And so, the idea to combine toys and objects was born. One such idea was her Yeti tea infuser which forms part of Kristin's toy-like tableware range. As you can probably guess though, most 3-D printed materials are not safe for food. The goal for the Yeti was to create a fully usable piece, from start to finish. So Kristin 3-D printed the mold and injected food-safe silicone, one syringe at a time, to end up with a safe, functioning object.
Kristin then combined her love for fairy tales with the idea of toy-like tableware and completed her unique concept with a certain disguise factor. At first glance Baba Yaga’s Teapot, for example, might look like a strange sculpture, until you realize that the chicken tail and the trunk growing through the window actually have a purpose. It turns out that the shape of a house with chicken legs lends itself... to being a teapot. What appears to be a designer toy at first glance, is actually designer tableware.
As a child of German speaking parents, Kristin was fascinated by "Grimm's Fairies Tales" at an early age. Folk religion was also something that always interested her.
In her pieces Kristin tries to capture the feeling of living with these fairy creatures in everyday life, and instead of relegating them to books, reinventing these archetypal characters in a fresh and functional way. There seems to be a revival of classic fairy tales in film and TV right now, and Kristin is convinced that the collective recollection of the characters that played a role in the lives of our forefathers ensures a place for them in our present and future.
At the moment Kristin is working on her first line of collectible designer 3-D printed toys, which will feature more of her Yeti characters. This is an avenue she feels she can explore with the technology at her disposal.
Kirstin tells us that she is also exploring ways of getting some of her work manufactured. Please check out the links of this highly original, innovative young artist for more information about her wonderful products: