Meet Karen Alejandra Ibarra: A Full-time Illustrator

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Oct 25, 2021 •  Interviews

Karen Alejandra Ibarra is an illustrator from Guadalajara, Mexico. She studied animation, digital arts, and concept art and her illustrations have been published in magazines such as Liverpool, Vogue Mx, Harper’s Bazaar Mx and Glamour.

“… Perseverance, creativity, curiosity, and a love for life …”

Artwork by Karen A. Ibarra

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Can you please tell us a bit about your background? Please add at least one random interesting fact about you.

I am a Mexican illustrator based in Guadalajara, México.

I have a Bachelor in Animation and Digital Arts and a Master in Concept Art from Vancouver Film School.

After college, I worked as a graphic designer for advertising agencies, but I wanted to be an illustrator, so I started my Instagram account and started posting my work there. It started getting noticed and I started making collaborations with magazines.

I have always been influenced by fashion and all types of art, including dance and cinema.

What inspired you to make art?

I was always an artistically inclined person, but I think it started with books, reading, and writing.

I wanted to tell stories, the medium has changed over the years, but whether it is writing, drawing, dancing, fashion, art, it is always about telling a story and expressing myself.

Did you study at art school(s) or are you self-taught?

I was initially studying International Relations, but I was helping my brother with an art assignment and it kind of clicked that that’s what I needed to do.

So I switched careers and went into Animation and Digital Arts, and then Concept Art. I feel that at art school you really learn that you have to keep studying and learning by yourself. There is always room for growth as an artist. 

Artwork by Karen A. Ibarra

How did you develop your own art style?

I feel your own style is very much related to your own growth and journey as a person.

I can see myself reflected in my art, my anxiety and my ADHD are very much part of myself and my artwork.

So, when I draw, it is a very introspective experience, getting inspired by my own life and reality. I also love being connected to nature, so when I lack creativity I go to the park or for a hike. My best inspiration comes from real life. 

How did you start making a living as an artist? What was your first paid art job?

I started doing art as a side gig while working in advertising.

My first paid job was a Glamour Mx. magazine horoscope spread. I was so excited to show my mom that I could make a living from it.

Still, it took like 5 years since I started my Instagram to live from my illustration work. 

What do you live from as an artist now? What are your main income streams and what is the approximate % split of each?

I have various income streams:

  1. I am working as an illustrator full-time at a studio in México and that makes about 60% of my income.
  2. Freelance designer for social media – 15% of income
  3. Freelance work from my illustration agency – 20% of my income
  4. Other small freelance work – 5% of my income

What are you currently working on?

I just finished an illustration for a book that will come out in May next year and I´m currently working on a very exciting project at my full-time job that I can’t talk much about yet.

What do you think are the most important characteristics of an artist?

Perseverance, creativity, curiosity, and a love for life. 

Artwork by Karen A. Ibarra

What are the art tools and other products and services you can’t live without?

Sketchbook and pencils (2B, but really anything works), laptop, my tablet, and my pen

What are your favorite art and other books (fiction, non-fiction)?

I love Tokio Blues, and anything Murakami does. As for art, I love books about impressionism and modern art.

What advice would you give yourself as a beginner artist? Or alternatively please include your favorite quote and the author.

My advice would be, be patient, every artist has their own path and journey. Enjoy it and cherish your own timing.

Get in touch with Karen

Thank you, Karen, for joining us today!

All artworks by Karen Alejandra Ibarra, used with permission.

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Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.