Kelly Abeln
BFA in Illustration
Freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

What is your favorite thing about your work?

How natural it feels. I love that what I want to do aligns with how I support myself. I also love seeing people's reactions to my work and that I get to see things I create out in the world. The variety of working from home, working on a contract assignment, and personal projects keeps things interesting.

Why did you choose to major in illustration? What were your classes like?

I chose illustration because I wanted to draw and paint but was more interested in commercial than fine arts as a career. Illustration classes were pretty open and let you experiment and find your style. I also liked the formality of graphic design classes; learning grids and rules was a good balance to the openness of illustration. 

Favorite place on campus? Off campus?

On campus would be MCAD DesignWorks or the Art Cellar. Off campus would be the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden.

How did MCAD prepare you for life after graduation?

MCAD prepared me to work hard and be professional. The standard of work expected by teachers prepared me for the work environment. I also knew how to present my work in a confident way and not lead with excuses. 

Best thing you ever got on the free shelf?

Clothes! I got a lot of clothes during my time at MCAD that I altered to my liking.

What was your experience with MCAD's facilities? Did you have a personal studio? How was that? 

My favorite studio was in MCAD DesignWorks my senior year. I was surrounded by friends and we would all be in there working late. We would help each other with projects and also distract each other with fun diversions. It was a great balance of having your personal space and also having friends nearby.

How do you find inspiration when you are feeling stuck?

Inspiration comes from working. Just keep making stuff and ideas will come.

Where did you intern?

I was a graphic design intern at MASS MoCA, a large contemporary art museum in rural Massachusetts. I designed marketing materials for events and designed and installed gallery didactics and signage. It was a great environment to work in. I got to learn from senior designers and have lots of independence and autonomy over my work. Being able to walk around the galleries, attend openings, and meet artists made the experience richer.

What advice do you have for art and design students?

I think you can learn a lot while at MCAD, but don't expect to have everything figured out when you graduate. I took time after graduating to do more internships and work experiences. I kept learning and trying different things (I still am!). Figure out how to make stuff without a teacher or employer giving you assignments. Stay connected to creative people and continue to create. Don't put all your hope into finding one dream job. A lot of successful creatives create their own jobs and opportunities. 

Name your one biggest takeaway from MCAD?

My biggest takeaway was how to lead a creative life. I saw students, staff, and faculty all doing it in different ways. People with arts administration day jobs getting grants and making fine art, people teaching and making art, people working commercially and on personal projects. I learned that there are a million different ways to lead a creative life, and how to combine that with making a living.