I first met the bright and bubbly Karen Riedler at an artist forum for students at Ramona High School meant to inspire and show the possibilities of a career in the arts. Her presentation showed an impressive array of work, from her personal illustrations of imaginative landscapes to her professional designs in the apparel industry. I was also fascinated to learn that she currently works with a company designing unique temporary tattoos!
Karen grew up in Ramona, lived up north and recently returned to start a family. She is a self-described “illustrator, artist and maker of things”. Though early in her career, she already has two self-published children’s books under her belt.
“Darby is a story to help kids not feel bad when they aren’t fantastic at something right away. With time, we can improve at anything. Ordinary Monsters is a collection of silly house-hold monster poems,” says Riedler, “I am currently finalizing my third book, My Daddy Slays Dragons. This is a story written by Stephanie Kahle and illustrated by yours truly. We are currently submitting this book to publishers and hoping to see if we can go this route first before we decide to self-publish. The story is about a firefighter dad and draws on the comparisons between firefighters and knights of old! We hope to donate a portion of our sales to the Burn Institute. It's an important project for the both of us, and surely, a good deal of us in Ramona as well.”
One of the first things I noticed about Karen’s illustrations was the depth. With props, costumes and whimsical creatures, they easily become immersive miniature stories.
“I like to set up scenes that could convey a different story for anyone who might observe it! I don't really like to give away the moments entirely, and I don't want to tell anyone they are wrong for looking at an illustration of mine and seeing it as a different scene than I anticipated. I think that back and forth between viewer and artist is something to have a little fun with!”
When asked if she plans the stories ahead of time, she replies, “I plan out a general idea, set the stage with some mostly ambiguous things, and let the viewer fill in the blanks.”
Inspired by surrealism and “low brow art” as well as Mayan & Medieval designs, it is clear their whimsical and strange imagery inspire all aspects of her work. Karen has completed a number of murals around California, including that of a beautiful tree inside the San Diego Country Estates Rec Center. “Hopefully someone saves me a wall here in Ramona!” she laughs. During our presentation at the High School, Karen mentioned that she is a regular participant in Sketch Groups and actually was commissioned for a mural from one of these events!
While she has had a number of projects including murals and upcycled toys, Karen is also an accomplished graphic designer recently working in the licensed apparel industry. Working with designs from big name movies and video games, she created apparel for fans of Marvel, Disney & Nintendo to name a few. This also involved developing original ideas – her designs have been placed in stores like Urban Outfitters, Target, Hot Topic & more!
The industry requires working within limited brands, so I asked Karen if there was a particular game or movie she would love to design for.
“Right before I left, the company I worked for just expanded their Disney license to include some older classics like The Rescuers and Oliver and Company. When I heard about that, there was this little Karen in my head that squealed and jumped around for a bit! I would have loved to work on those, but alas I moved away! In the future, I'd like to help design more game merchandise, as the gaming industry has always been neat!”
With many traditional artists here in Ramona, I was intrigued to meet Karen as her work is primarily completed digitally. As it turns out though, the process isn’t too different – just the tools and the technique!
“As a professional, most of my work is at the computer. It involves a bit of research, a drawing tablet, and a whole mess of time. I use Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign primarily, and I design for all kinds of projects! I know this sounds silly, but my advice to all those in the creative community is to remember to stretch and try to focus on your posture! The computer desk wants us to turn into vulture-backs, but we can fight back!”
Not one to be afraid of color, she says “Everyone has a color default. My mom's is brown, a friend of mine's is black, but whenever I am deciding on my pallet, I tend to choose RAINBOW!”
As Ramona grows more creative, Karen notes that art is, “a reflection of culture, it is an expression of ourselves! It enriches our world and connects us to one another. What town wouldn’t want that?” She is proud of her hometown for putting a focus on expanding the art community, in which an active role she wishes to play in the future.
“I am always looking to make as big of an impact as I can. One day I'd like to do a fully immersive installation piece that takes people through a surreal world of color, creatures, and wonder. I know this is pretty far off in my career, as I spend most my day at a computer desk, but I think it would be neat to totally take over a space one day and let people really detach from normal earth-life. One day!”
Karen’s artwork can be found at her website www.KarenRiedler.com