ALIEN/ATION: Interview with Featured Artist Kim Herbst

July 1, 2010

Together with Paper Hat Productions, Hyphen will be hosting its first-ever illustration show, ALIEN/ATION, on July 10th. In the days leading up to the show, I'll be conducting short interviews with some of our awesome featured artists. Today I had the pleasure of chatting with Kim Herbst.

KL: How's it going? How's your day been so far?

KH: I'm actually at work right now. I work for a game company that creates some of the most popular games on Facebook. So it's generally pretty busy. But right now it's pretty calm.

We're most famous for doing stuff like Farmville and Mafia Wars. Right now we're working on a much newer game called Treasure Isle. It's basically a full-time gig for me, where I get to sit and draw and animate things all day long. So it's pretty awesome.

Tell me about your art and illustration work outside of video games.

I originally went to college for traditional illustration. I used to do watercolor and things like that. I was actually very against digital illustration for a long time. But now all of my artwork is done digitally. It doesn't really look it, and I'm quite happy about that.

It wasn't until I was about to graduate from college that I kind of forced myself to use a Wacom tablet. I remember I taped over the touchpad on my laptop so that I couldn't use it as a mouse and had to use the tablet instead.

It was out of necessity. I just didn't have time. I used to draw everything out on paper, and then ink it, and then scan it into the computer, and then digitally color it. ... It was much faster to just do everything digitally.

It was also to save money on paper. I was unemployed for most of last year. Anything to save money! (laughs) In general, it just worked out better for me. Fewer frustrations.

You're a convert!

I've completely converted, and I feel terrible about the horrible things I used to say. I used to think it was cheating and things like that. But it's really not! From what I've seen from other digital artists, people who do designs for film, comics, and anything else -- their skills are absolutely incredible.

But I still really love the whole ink and brush look. I feel like a few things are lost when you go completely digital and abandon the brush. Sometimes I scan in textures or brushstrokes to overlay on top.

Do you mostly do illustrations, or do you spend more time on your own artwork?

Right now it's mostly my own personal stuff. But actually there have been few companies that have come across my site and they've asked to use my illustrations, which is great for me. It's already pre-made.

What's the difference between "illustration" and "artwork"? I'd expect that if you called something an "illustration," it means you were commissioned to do it for someone else.

That's right. But a lot of the artwork that I create just ends up being used as an illustration for someone else. It's really lucky. I definitely feel really lucky.

So I just call it "illustration" in general; I might as well leave it open-ended. (laughs) But I do get an email once in a while asking for an original illustration for an article.

Tell me about some of these commissioned pieces.

There's the one I did for Hyphen magazine, actually! I'm half Chinese. My mother is Chinese, and my dad is German-Irish. So it was really really interesting to stumble upon this magazine. And I noticed that there were illustrations in it, and I thought I'd give it a shot.

Which issue did you contribute to?

It was the issue with Margaret Cho on the cover. I contributed an illustration for a story called "Exodus." It's a really great story. I remember I couldn't stop reading it when I got started. It was my first time illustrating a fictional work.

Can you describe the illustration?

There is a girl sending out paper lanterns across the water in Vietnam. It's just a very sad image. It's very sad but very hopeful at the same time. Her head is kind of bowed down. There are all of these beautiful paper lanterns. Kind of a beautiful sadness, that's how I'd describe it.

What are you exhibiting in the show?

I was glad about the title ALIEN/ATION, because a bunch of my pieces already related to it, and since most of it is personal work that has never been published, I knew I could definitely use it in the show. It'll be six different illustrations total. There will be one piece that has yet to be shown.

How do your pieces relate to the title of the show?

I guess they relate to the idea of loneliness. There are two different forms: a person can turn themselves into a hermit on their own, or there is a forced alienation that's done by other people and not your own choice. I guess that's the way I focus on it. It's mostly about people. That's the way I relate to it.

I took the title ALIEN/ATION to refer to a nation of aliens, immigrants -- people not originally from here. I didn't want to go with anything specific, any specific nation, any specific people. It was just people in general. Though, I just looked at my pieces again last night, and the people in them are mostly female. (laughs)

ALIEN/ATION will be held on July 10th at Space Gallery in San Francisco. For more information about the event and more interviews with the featured artists, follow this link.