She’s a YouTuber, vlogging about race, sexuality, gender, feminism, and every intersection you can imagine within those categories. She’s an artist, drawing and animating original characters and commissions on her Tumblr blog. But more than anything Kat Blaque is herself, determinedly and unapologetically.
The blogger, whose full name is Kathryn Wilkins, is best known for her stands against hate on social media platforms. In September 2015, she wrote a piece on the Huffington Post about an insurance agent who made racist and transphobic comments on her Facebook page, then threatened to assault her. She reported his behavior to his employer, and he was fired.
Kat Blaque spoke to The Tempest about her artwork, her YouTube channel, and her plans to merge the two in the future.
The Tempest: You define yourself as a children’s illustrator. What attracted you to drawing for children’s works, and what do you hope to accomplish by it?
Kat Blaque: If I’m being completely honest, I don’t think I ever set out to do children’s work. I went to school for animation and that was my dream for a really long time. Honestly there are so many things that happened while I was in school that kind of deterred me from pursuing animation in a professional sense at this point in my life. I consistently heard that I had an eye for children illustration, so children’s illustration is something that I kind of ended up doing, not because I wanted to necessarily but because it was what I was most suited for.
I have had limited work mostly because illustration is a very complicated job. You have situations where people love your work, but don’t necessarily want to pay for it. The books that I’ve worked on have not been published and that’s been entirely frustrating to me. However, I think that my power as an illustrator is to curve representation for children. So I would love to, down the line, be able to do some work that would broaden a child’s understanding of this world and the diversity within it – specifically for people who are trans and people of color.
How would you describe your artistic style?
If I have to describe my style, I would probably say that it is somewhat Mary Blair-inspired and is very fantasy inspired. I always really loved old children’s illustrations and vintage advertisements. I do most of my work digitally and I have a habit of trying to make things look like they were done not digitally. I’ve always loved the aesthetic of wash, but I very rarely painted an actual wash. I’ve always really enjoyed watercolor, but watercolor is a little bit more challenging to manage, not to mention super expensive.
Where do you get your ideas, and what are some visual influences that make their way into your work?
I would honestly say that I get a lot of my visual influences from things that I remember as a child. I was very inspired by The Pastoral Symphony from Fantasia and that has really influenced a lot of the way that I view my artwork in the kind of work that I do. I’ve always really love mythology and I always try to do something that’s connected to mythology in my work and that’s a very common theme across all of it.
If you could illustrate any writer or musician’s work, who would it be?
What’s your advice to young women of color looking to get recognition for their art?
To be honest, this is kind of a hard question for me to answer because a lot of my artwork has become more popular because of my YouTube platform, so I really don’t have the best advice in terms of popularizing your work as a young artist. I will say though that the Internet is an amazing thing and there are so many opportunities for artists to be able to get their work out there online.
One of the ways that I really started to get my work seen is to do a free gift card for a certain blogger that I liked. Most of the time, giving people free artwork will slaughter them and they’ll post it. I’ve got a lot of commission work from doing free work for people that I appreciated.
What projects are you working on right now?
Honestly, because of YouTube I don’t really do a lot of freelance work. I found that the world of illustration when you’re freelancing can be very frustrating. A lot of people want a lot for very little and unfortunately I’m the kind of person who puts a lot of their heart into the work that they do. So I’ve decided to kind of put a lot of my energy into the things that are going to help me the most at the end of the day, and right now, that’s YouTube. So I will say that I really want to be able to infuse more illustration and animation into my YouTube channel, because I’ve done that a few times and it worked out really well.
You do a lot of social and racial commentary on YouTube. How does that link to your work as an artist?
I’ll say that I think the way in which it impacts my artwork is that I recognize how often my default would be to draw white characters. So I do believe that it influences my artwork, and I try now to have my default be a black person. One of the things that I would really like to do when I get the chance is to work on a bunch of beautiful black fashion illustrations. I love the aesthetic of a lot of fashion illustration but very little of it celebrates blackness or celebrates black fashion. So I would love to do a series where I just have a bunch of really beautiful black women in different fashions in different formats.
Honestly, my work is usually not very political but I have realized that by putting a black face on my art, it allows for many people, children and adults alike, to see themselves reflected. I think that’s really important to me as an artist because that is our responsibility, especially as people who are part of marginalized minorities.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.