In Conversation with Visual Artist and Big Day BBQ Illustrator, Kristen Gardner

Born and raised in Kamloops, visual artist Kristen Gardner has since made quite an impression on the Vancouver food scene as the illustrator for Big Day BBQ.

We recently connected with Gardner and she was kind enough to fill us in on – among some other things – her delicious collaborations past, present and future…

What was your relationship to art growing up? I loved art from a very young age. I became obsessed with perfecting realism. I wanted to be able to recreate reality on paper, and embarked on a long arduous journey of learning this skill. As I matured I maintained an interest in naturalism but definitely fell in love with surrealism. I found it so freeing to take my figurative drawings and place them in otherworldly settings or make odd pairings, unexpected colour palettes creating a new world with pieces from reality. In high school I spent an exceptional amount of time in the art room, filling any spare blocks with extra art class time. My art teacher had a significant impact on me. She inspired me to think that art could be more than a hobby and made becoming an artist feel tangible and exciting.

What is your educational background and how does it inform your current work? I originally studied and practiced fine arts, with a particular passion for print making processes. I then studied digital art and design and now combine both these practices to create my digital work. Most recently my work has been focused on digital illustration, though I always maintain traditional practices as well. Even my digital pieces are conceived in my sketchbook.

What is your current obsession and how has it made its way into your artwork? I’ve become obsessed with lines. Not only those that are visible in my illustration, which are generally clean and simplified, achieving detail with one line width. I also use line to create grids on which I build my illustrations. Though it may not be noticeable, my pieces are extremely planned and purposeful in the placement of objects and alignment of elements.

Also, colour. I always obsess over colours and go through definite phases in my palettes throughout series. Shifting from bright to soft pastels, and most recently I’m loving a saturated primary colour scheme, reminiscent of American traditional tattoo colours (the symbolism in my recent pieces also reference this culture).

What I’ve seen of your personal work seems very narrative. What’s the story behind your most recent series of drawings? I almost always create work in series, usually 3 or 5, as I love odd numbered things (visually, not superstitiously). My most recent series, which is a work in progress (completed 2 of 3) is self portraiture, as much of my work tends to be. This particular series was created out of a serious bout of introspection with a dash of self-doubt and anxiety, of which I think we all suffer or face at times. For me, expressing these things in my work is a form of self therapy. Feeling a little unsure and lost at times can be refreshing in a way, and for me turning these typically negative feelings into something people want to look at is kind of lovely, I think.

The Blossom series is actually my way of representing different kinds of human connection; human to human, human to nature, and human interactions with the built world.

Lately I have been playing with repetition to create an animation-like feel within a piece. Though this directs viewers to see it as a narrative, I still like to leave the pieces with a lot of room for personal interpretation.

Tell me about your relationship with Big Day BBQ. First of all, how did it start? I actually met the fine men of Big Day while I was working part time at Campagnolo Roma, which sadly has since shut down. Rhys was the head chef at the time and we built a great friendship and appreciation of one another’s passions. I watched their ideas come to fruition through a lot of hard work and was quick to jump on board when they asked me to design a poster for them. Pleased with the outcome of this first collab, they then asked me to design the infamous pig logo and, from then on, my illustrative style kind of became a part of their brand.

Why do you think it’s such a great fit? I think it is a great fit because the guys are so fun and playful with their designs. They come up with crazy ideas and I truly enjoy translating them into an illustration. I think that these illustrations give insight into the huge amount of personality their team has. They take what they do very seriously but never take themselves too seriously, which is great. I also think that my illustrative style has a unique quality that isn’t really that common in posters or promotional pieces. It’s generally more cohesive to stand alone prints or screenprinting, but it’s worked really well for this series and I think it’s added a recognizability and cohesiveness to their branding.

What other sorts of Vancouver collaborations would you like to add to your portfolio? I would love to collaborate with one of the many amazing craft breweries in Vancouver and design a can or bottle. Since design school it’s been an interest of mine. I think that packaging and art have a really unique relationship. I think what Collective Arts Brewing is doing is really fantastic, and really expands viewership or audience for artists. Unique art and original beer – what a great match.

What can we look forward to seeing from you in the next few months? I am currently finishing a new series of digital illustrations of which prints will be for sale. I am also working on a couple of illustrations commissioned by Nelson Brewing Company which are really fun and has been a great collaboration. Another exciting collab, is with Rajen Toor of Ursa Major wines. Very excited to have my art on one of his bottles of wine this coming vintage! Always keep an eye out for fresh Big Day posters and swag. I am also focusing on honing my skills in screen printing, and hope to print my next series of illustrations on tactile goods (tote bags, shirts etc.).

Imagine a century into the future, someone is discovering your artwork for the first time. Without any previous knowledge about you, what do you think that it would tell them about yourself and Vancouver? I think that the Big Day series in particular would act as great cultural reference, a sort of personalized pop art archive, as many of the posters directly reference movies, tv shows etc. As for my personal work I think that they would see someone who was dedicated to telling tiny stories through detailed colourful oddities.

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