Today I have the great pleasure of introducing you to illustrator, artist, feminist, mom — Fia Kilbourn. Fia was one of the very first friends I made when my husband and I moved to California just over three and a half years ago. She has inspired me with her courage to always speak her heart, and through her work with her ability to see and create life and beauty out of everyday things. Fia is also a fellow artist-momma and truly understands the juggling act required to be a full-time mother while maintaining time and space to be creative so we can be filled up and have the ability to give back to those who need us.
Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got started working as an illustrator:
I was a freelance graphic designer before I had my first child. I took a few years off from work after my daughter was born and when I decided I might want to start looking for work again, I didn’t really love the idea of doing graphic design. Around the same time, my daughter was really interested in drawing, or rather, asking me to draw things for her. It had been so long since I had sketched anything and it felt so good. I started checking out children’s drawing books whenever I took my daughter to the library. The first book I borrowed was Draw 50 Dinosaurs by Lee J. Ames because my daughter was in a huge dinosaur phase. The more I drew, the more right it felt. It felt like coming home after a long journey.
Do you consider yourself an artist? Why or why not and how does it make you feel to think of yourself as one?
I was always drawing and creating as early as I can remember, so I think that other than a time when I lost my way, I’ve always considered myself an artist. Almost everything I’ve been passionate about (drawing, dance, fashion) has been because creating things is my language. It’s how I respond to the world.
What is it about illustrating that excites you?
I love working with my hands. There is an intimacy with hand-drawn or hand-painted art that I missed when I was doing graphic design. I also love when I feel like I conveyed an idea the way I wanted to, when I feel like what was in my head is on paper.
What are your favorite subjects to illustrate and why? (Tell me about your current projects!)
I’m inspired by flowers, animals, fruit, fashion, hairstyles. Right now, I’m working on a project featuring 100 great women. Another artist I follow on Instagram (Nieves Waleska, @nwpb) recommended the 100 Day Project to me. I was inspired by the Women on 20s campaign and decided I wanted to illustrate great women in history for my project. I had recently started doing these hair portraits where I left a lot of white space on the face and the portraits for this project were just a natural extension of that. Highlighting the great things women have done is also a nice intersection of my art and my feminism. I’m trying to be as inclusive as I can be in my project, because it’s important for me to feature overlooked women and communities. That’s why I’m still looking for any suggestions on women to feature. I’m about halfway through the project and I still have room to add more women to my list.
Do you enjoy working in any other forms of art?
Very much. Sometimes I feel like I make even mundane things about artistic expression. Makeup, outfits. I do nail art. I even have a blog for my nail art. I used to dance. In fact, that is the art form I miss the most. I used to be in classes 5 days a week and I wish I could still be dancing that often, but I don’t have time in my life for it right now.
What is one of your biggest struggles as an artist and are there any struggles that you’ve overcome?
Right now my biggest struggles are time and space. I’m still a full-time caregiver for my children. My youngest son is with me all day and my daughter is with me for a half day. Some days I barely put anything in my sketchbook because I’m too exhausted or my kids are too clingy. My goal is to draw in my sketchbook once a day and I can usually accomplish that but sometimes I take up to a week off.
Space is another issue. I have a designated space on the bar in our family room, but it’s in the middle of everything. It’s sometimes hard to tune out what the rest of the family is doing.
In high school I had a destructive art teacher. She wrote some hurtful personal comments on the back of my paintings when she graded them. I was also in a senior art class with three other students and she gave the other students graduation cards glowing about their future in art, but my was just a generic congratulations. The omission was obvious. I still don’t know why she singled me out. She’s the reason I pursued graphic design instead of other forms of art. It took me awhile to get over it. I’m very grateful for my daughter encouraging me to draw again. I think overcoming that gave me confidence in myself as an artist. It helps to have the perspective of an adult now and realize what that teacher did was wrong.
As a fellow artist-momma how do you balance making time for art?
Ha! This question is so timely, because I recently took a break from my 100 Day Project to focus on my son and our upcoming move a little more. I think that is good and healthy, but that hasn’t stopped me from feeling a little bit guilty. And of course, when I’m working on my art, it’s hard not to feel selfish. I think the thing about life is that you never arrive and then stay there. Sometimes you can balance things and then sometimes you veer one way or the other and then you course correct. Life is always going to fall out of balance and we have to be comfortable with that and learn to make gradual changes back to center.
When it comes to your art, what do you consider to be one of your biggest successes or victories and what are you most proud of?
I’m proud of myself for “getting back on the horse” after so many years. Also, putting my work up on Instagram, learning to silence my inner critic and just share my work. It’s funny because some of the pieces I’m the most disappointed in my ability to translate from my head to paper are the pieces that connect with people.
Do you have any advice for other creatives or budding illustrators?
I attended ICON8 last summer even though I wasn’t a student and I wasn’t working as an illustrator. It was a bit intimidating. I learned a lot but the two things I have been applying to my journey this past year are to try to draw something every day. Don’t get hung up on the what to draw, just draw. Hone your skill and style so when you have more time to focus on concept, you have the tools to accomplish it.
The other thing is to say yes. I have been approached a few times this year to work on things that I wasn’t sure if I had the time or I was intimidated by the scope, but I said yes anyway. It’s easy to get paralyzed by the what ifs so just make it a habit to say yes and then figure it out as you go along. All that being said, advice is so personal. It often assumes a common starting point, so if something doesn’t seem to fit your life, ignore my advice.