Katty Huertas on her maximalist style, why she likes to explore double standards, and how freelance careers evolve

Katty Huertas is in demand. Having collaborated with Adobe, HBO Max, Disney+ and The New Yorker, to name but a few of the impressive clients in her portfolio, it seems the creative industry can't get enough of her maximalist art style that straddles digital and analogue mediums.

Originally hailing from Colombia but now based in Washington D.C., Katty is a multi-disciplined artist, designer and illustrator. Besides freelancing for The Washington Post, Nickelodeon, Buzzfeed News and the Women's March, she also works as an editorial designer at NBC News for TODAY digital. And on top of these, she also makes time for personal projects.

"In my more personal work, I like to explore identity and double standards," Katty tells Creative Boom. "My work is mostly figurative and very detailed as I believe in 'more is more'. I also like combining analogue and digital mediums such as painting, sculpture, fibre work, book arts, digital drawing, and animation."

We caught up with the multi-talented Katty to learn more about how she selects who to work with, the benefits of experimenting with different mediums, and how she finds the hours in the day to create so much stunning work.

You've collaborated with an array of absolutely incredible clients. How do you choose whom to work with?

When I first started, I was saying yes to everything that came my way. Now, it's slightly different as I try to be more conscious of my time. Lately, I've been saying "no" more often to projects that don't align as much with my interests, even if I like the client's name. That's not an easy thing to do. But if you're working on something you don't enjoy as much and with tight deadlines, that could take a toll on your mental health.

Something I always say to students is that you get the work you put out there, so I've also been lucky in the sense that more often than not, clients approach me for my style to work in areas that they know I'm passionate about since they can see some of that on my portfolio, and that's always a pleasure!

Is it important that freelancers are discerning when it comes to choosing which clients to work with?

I think so. Maybe not so much at the beginning when you're trying to figure out what you want to do, what your style is, or if you have urgent bills to pay. But as you move on and you get more requests, there are some things that you have to take into account. One, of course, is budget, another is the deadline, and the other is how excited you are to work on it. I like to ask myself whether any potential stress of a project might be greater than the reward, and if it is, then I'll probably say no. Another good measure is that if I can feel myself getting bored, even before starting and even if the budget is good, then I'd probably pass on those requests.

For freelancers, I would say it's a good idea to think about what type of work you would like to see in your portfolio and work towards pursuing those opportunities. Having a curated portfolio can make a huge difference regarding who approaches you in future.

Does the life of a freelance artist change and evolve throughout their career? And if so, how?

It does, and I feel I'm experiencing one of those evolutions currently. For one thing, your style changes, and that can be scary since your clients are used to a certain look, but that's all part of the process, and I wouldn't have it any other way; it means you're growing as an artist. Another big change that happens is how busy you get.

Think about what type of work you would like to see in your portfolio and work towards pursuing those opportunities.

When I started out, and I wasn't getting clients frequently; so every opportunity felt like it could be the last. Even though that's an irrational fear, it's a hard one to get over, which can lead an artist to take on more than they can chew once work becomes more frequent. I think another one of the shifts occurs when you realise you're good enough and that you should be more careful with how you spend your time.

What advice would you give to creators who balance full-time work with freelancing?

This answer is different depending on what your full-time job is, meaning if you have a creative job that you also enjoy doing, like in my case, or if you're working on something that you don't really love but have to take on, while your career grows.

I say doing freelance after a day of work is possible, but only if you truly love what you do. I work many hours in the day, but I'm still motivated to keep going. If you're managing both a job and freelance and your projects feel like a chore, then it might be time to reconsider things. I think it's also important to know why you're doing what you're doing and keep that goal in mind. Are you doing both because you want more income and recognition, or is it about having more creative freedom? Once you answer these questions and establish your priorities, finding a balance will become easier. Taking breaks also helps, so you don't get burnt out.

As a multidisciplinary artist, you're comfortable working across analogue and digital mediums. How do you think this has strengthened your work?

Different mediums inform each other. I often find myself taking things I found while painting on canvas to my digital work and vice versa. It also helps in that it keeps you curious, which can only enhance your creative practice. Digital mediums can also give a new life to analogue work. I often like to animate on top of my paintings, and with the aid of AR, it can feel like the painting is moving in front of you. It is like giving an old piece some new life.

Would you recommend merging these mediums for artists who only work with one or the other?

I would recommend artists explore out of their preferred medium. Maybe if you do digital work, try ceramics or analogue painting! This doesn't have to become part of your business as you don't have to monetise all of your creative endeavours, but working outside your comfort zone can open up your mind to new possibilities and can also give you a break from your everyday work, so you don't get tired of doing the same over and over and eventually burn out.

How would you define your style and creative approach?

I would say my style is maximalist, rendered, and with hints of magic. I'm a figurative artist, and my favourite part is when I get lost in the detail, so after the idea is locked, I can spend hours and hours working on making the sketch come to life. I want to make unusual scenarios somewhat believable and play with proportions depending on the piece.

Regarding my creative approach, I like to always have multiple thumbnail sketches. Those are not very refined but serve to capture the idea before I forget it. I fully believe that for a piece to be successful, other than looking nice, it must also have a concept behind it to support it, which is something I really like about editorial illustration as the stories serve as the backbone for the visual work.

Folklore and double standards are often explored in your work. Why do these subjects appeal to you?

I was born and raised in Colombia and moved to the US just before turning 19. As an immigrant and a woman, I became aware of double standards early on, being subject to them. I think art is a great way to raise attention to those issues while keeping them approachable, highlighting some of the absurdities of what people are expected to do to conform to certain societal rules.

I became more interested in the folklore I grew up with when I noticed it was often disregarded compared to how celebrated the folk tales from other cultures are. I decided I wanted to celebrate and highlight Colombian folklore and incorporate some elements into my practice.

What project are you working on right now?

Right now, I'm working on a couple of editorial illustrations, some advocacy posters and personal painting, and a Skillshare class about editorial illustration that I hope I can share with the world soon.

What has been your proudest creative achievement so far?

It's hard to pick a single one, as I'm grateful for every opportunity and still feel proud and lucky with every new one. One that stands out is the key art I illustrated for Diary of a Future President for Disney+ in collaboration with MOCEAN. I've always wanted to do posters for movies and TV, so this one felt like a dream come true, especially since I also love the story and wish I had a series like that growing up.

Besides that, I love when I get to see my work out in the world as I often share those moments with family, so seeing some of my paintings on the Google building in New York is still one of my proudest moments.


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