We recently connected with Megan Hillman Donovan, the talented illustrator behind our recent series of current event focused illustrations. You may have seen these colorful graphics popping up on our website, emails and social feeds over the past few weeks. Megan was kind enough to share some interesting behind the scenes details on her process and background as a creative. We hope you enjoy. Stay well and don’t forget to support your local artists however you can!
Klean Kanteen: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us Megan! To get started, we’d love to hear a bit about your background and as an illustrator and artist in general. Take us though how you got started on this path and where you are now with your work.
There's something really satisfying in making something with your own two hands.
Megan Hillman Donovan: Looking back, I would say I noticed my creativity starting in middle and high school (although I'm sure it began much earlier.) While in college, I did a Specialization in Interior Architecture and did a few studio classes where I had to purchase a lot of very specific pens, markers and other rendering supplies. After graduation I wanted to use up these (very expensive) art supplies, so I started a 365 project on my blog where I started hand-lettering. Looking back at it makes me cringe, but we all have to start somewhere! Hand-lettering was something I noticed in college and I really gravitated toward that style inspirationally, so I wanted to give it a try. I had done a previous 365 project and thought there was no better way than forcing myself to practice every day to learn a new skill. All that practice finally paid off when I was able to bring hand-lettering into the magazine I had been working at. Those hand skills I learned from hand-lettering really helped inform the illustration style I have today.
KK: When we came to you with this project to make a series of illustrations speaking to human, interaction, togetherness and community in this time of social separation and tragedy, what were your thoughts? How did you find inspiration and direction to create these wonderful illustrations?
MHD: My inspiration for these illustrations came from personal interactions with family and friends. I looked to what I was doing to stay in touch and what I saw other people on social media doing as well. We were all communicating online. That insight sparked an initial sketch of people chatting online, which eventually led to the Happy Hour illustration we have today with people cheersing and enjoying drinks in their Klean Kanteens.
KK: Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of your process. We always find it interesting to get a behind the scenes look at how artists work. How do you do approach an illustration project like this in a technical sense?
A sketch helps you see what kind of space the shapes take up and how they interact with each other.
MHD: When it comes to illustrating or designing, I think it always has to start with some sort of rough pencil sketch to get that initial idea out of your head and onto paper (or in this case the iPad.) A sketch helps you see what kind of space the shapes take up and how they interact with each other. But most importantly, it helps you visualize if an idea will work on paper and not just in your head. Once an initial concept sketch is approved, I usually refine my pencil sketch a bit before I go to the computer. Once I am in Illustrator, it's just a lot of pen tooling until things are to my liking. In this case, I was able to draw on top of the pencil sketch I did on my iPad, so the final vector illustration didn't take much rethinking or restructuring.
KK: Let’s step back a bit. As an artist, how do you stay inspired and motivated and has the current state of affairs in the world affected that practice for you?
I don't feel like my inspiration has been stifled because I'm spending more time indoors. I actually think I've been able to kind of go back to my roots.
MHD: As a designer, I'm constantly finding inspiration everywhere: from magazine layouts to greeting cards at your local stationery shop to product packaging at the grocery store to illustrators on Instagram. I don't feel like my inspiration has been stifled because I'm spending more time indoors. I actually think I've been able to kind of "go back to my roots" and make things with my hands which has been quite nice. I've been practicing with watercolor and writing letters and I picked up my calligraphy pen and nib for the first time in a while. There's something really satisfying in making something with your own two hands—a satisfaction that a computer can never give you, in my opinion.
KK: Lastly, let’s shift topics a little bit. We are all spending a lot more time indoors these days. Do you have any media picks for us that are helping you pass the time? Books, Netflix shows, podcasts or the like?
I've been spending a lot of my time this month writing letters. By the time April is over I'll probably have written 50 letters or so.
MHD: I've been spending a lot of my time this month writing letters. I run a letter writing society here in Colorado called the Colorado Correspondence Coalition, and April happens to be National Letter Writing Month. So that has been keeping me plenty busy. By the time April is over I'll probably have written 50 letters or so. If you too want to write letters and find a letter writing society check out this directory. A lot of groups are meeting online these days, as is my group. You will also notice there's a snail mail reference in your "send love" illustration. I added a Klean Kanteen cancel stamp to that illustration.
The last book I finished was Little Fires Everywhere which I am now watching and definitely recommend both the book and the show. Other TV picks: I enjoyed the new season of Ozark and am currently looking forward to the new season of Killing Eve. And two podcasts I never get sick of are 99% Invisible and Criminal.