Interview | 30. Apr, 2018 - 12 min read

Whitney Pollett

“All of my characters are my friends and family”

Whitney is an artist who you’ll fall in love with at first sight. She has a full time job in toys and animation, creates art in her spare time, loves the unpredictable, and enjoys the shade of the Californian woods. Her family and friends inspire her work and are the driving force that keeps her bubbly personality afloat. She worked with big names such as Disney and Nickelodeon and on top of her busy schedule she finds ways to escape the everyday, like visiting spirit conventions or Coachella. The lessons she has learned and her undeniable passion for what she does will inspire you to follow your dreams.

Whitney’s art pack is available on Lake.

What are some of your earliest creative memories and who inspired you the most to become a better artist?

My mom is an artist, inventor, and the hardest working lady I know! She worked day and night to provide for my brother and me, and even though it was tough growing up, she proved that with passion and hard work, you can make miracles happen. I’m forever grateful for that. No gimmicks or tricks, perseverance and love for what you do is the ultimate key to success. Thanks, mom. ;)

Besides working as a full-time VP of a toy company, you visit conventions, galleries, post on your social media, sell coloring books, prints, postcards, stickers, pins, original paintings, and more. It seems like your days are super busy. How invested must an artist be to be successful?

I’m always creating. It keeps me sharp! It also calms me down when life feels unpredictable. I do it because I love it and it just so happens that others do too (thank goodness). For me, it’s less about success and more about inspiring others to follow their hearts and dreams. I live not only for expressing myself but encouraging others to do the same! If I can do that, then I’m happy. In terms of creating a big body of work consistently, it’s kind of a lifestyle. I work from 8:30am to 5pm at Just Play and then I go home and spend a few hours creating something for myself that I can usually sell at conventions or online, answer emails, exercise if I can, but it’s honestly all for the love of art. It’s also A LOT of work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Invest in yourself and success will follow whatever you do.

“It’s less about success and more about inspiring others to follow their hearts and dreams. I live not only for expressing myself but encouraging others to do the same!"

Based on your Instagram profile and posts you sound like a funny and silly person (in the best possible way). Seeing how much work you do, I am amazed by how you manage to enjoy and live life to the fullest. Where does this bubbly personality come from?

Hahaha, I love that! My friends and family are my driving force. If I didn’t have them, I’d have nothing to paint about and I would be far less bubbly. Just a flat, warm soda all day long. They’re my biggest inspiration and I’m so grateful for them and the experiences we’ve shared together. It’s easy to get wrapped up in projects and forget about the world, but it’s the times when you’re out there really experiencing life, loving, and laughing together that you get the best ideas.

When I’m sad or stressed, my work reflects it, so I make a conscious effort to pull myself away for a little while just to decompress and take in those crazy moments. Karaoke, Coachella, sunny beach days, tasty meals at dingy taco trucks, all with my weirdo friends (LOL I mean that with so much love) are what inspires my work. Never deny yourself those pleasures because your designs will suffer and so will you! P.S. All of my characters are my friends and family. Inspired-by or straight up. You know who you are so thank you … and please don’t sue! Lol!! Xxxoooo

Working in toys and the animation industry with Disney and Nickelodeon sounds inspiring. What did you learn and experience in your time working for such giants?

Oh my gosh, so much! Just off the top of my head I’d say this:

  1. If you want to make your ideas a successful reality, think about your concept as a brand. Is it marketable to the masses? Does it lend itself well to other lines of business aside from animation/content? From a toy perspective, does this story have lovable and relatable characters? Pets? A cool core location? A sweet vehicle? Awesome accessories? If so, then you’ve got yourself a marketable concept! Aspirational characters can be turned into dolls or figures. Ask yourself, would a child want to carry your characters around with them in their daily life as if they’re exploring the world with their friends? If yes, then you can make some rad toys! Story is #1 though. Personal note: Never compromise your story for the opportunity to make some tchotch. It’ll take your viewers out of the story and just feel sorta slimy. If the story is strong, then the toys and merch will come naturally. Playsets, dress-up, games, apparel; all of that can be pulled from your story if it’s great and really speaks to today’s folks. I know that I wanted EVERYTHING Sailor Moon when I was young (and even now), because I related to those characters and that amazing love story so much as a kid. Build a big beautiful world and the rest will follow.

  2. Is this idea unique and ownable? What makes it different from everything else that’s out there? Do some research and see if there’s a gap in the marketplace. What is the world missing that you can provide?

  3. Unrelated to art but so important: be a good person. There are tons of talented people out there, who can probably do your job, but are they reliable and cool to work with? Be nice, be humble, and be hungry. Ask yourself how you can do better, how you can improve a concept or situation and if you can empower others along the way. Teamwork makes the dreamwork! Be grateful but also know your worth.

  4. Again, do your research. Know what you’re talking about so you can feel confident sharing your ideas. Confidence is key! Create mood boards. Pull inspiration from life and trending topics, so you can prove that your concept is worth investing in when pitching to the people who believe in you.

  5. Lastly (and most importantly), BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! You can do anything when you really put your mind to it. Work on projects you relate to and the concept will feel genuine. My grandma would always say, “don’t go into the hat business when you know nothing about hats,” (why she chose hats, I don’t know, lol). She’s right though. If you can, choose projects that speak to you. Tell stories that are real to you and your passion will shine through. Nothing is more infectious than passion. Believe in yourself and what you’re working on, and the world will believe it too.

“Be nice, be humble, and be hungry. Ask yourself how you can do better and if you can empower others along the way."

I saw you had fun visiting the Conscious Life Expo. How strongly do you believe in spiritual experiences or do you just enjoy spending the day in an out of the ordinary way?

I grew up on Ghostbusters and X-Files, so I LOVE checking out real life events that make me feel like I’m in my favorite shows and movies, haha! As crazy as it sounds, I thrive in abnormal environments. I’m in front of a computer so often that I kind of love walking around in totally foreign places, being surrounded by different types of people. The Conscious Life Expo is definitely one of those venues. It’s like Comic-Con for spiritual, extraterrestrial and ethereal things. You’ll meet psychics, crystal healers, tarot card readers, and even some people who can speak to your departed loved ones. Most of it feels like an elaborate magic trick. I’m always trying to figure out “how did they do that”? But that’s what I love about it! The people-watching there is pretty great too FYI. Definitely good inspiration for character design.

As for how strongly I believe in it, I’d say moderately so. I’ve always felt a connection to people on a subconscious level, so whether you’d call me an empath or just a keenly observant person (when I want to be) is up to you, but I do find the whole thing really interesting. Having said that, I can only take it in small doses. It’s really overwhelming and sometimes mind-blowing but check it out! PS. My aunt runs the show so she’s super into it and gives me free passes (THANKS Auntie Trinaaaa)!

“The toy and animation industry helped me mold what I already had into something viable and clean, but the emotional infusion came long before I started working."

The intro on your webpage is very cool: “I strive to create emotional characters who connect deeply with today’s kids and adults alike!” Working in toys and animation industry must have given you the tools and the mindset to make that happen. What is your approach to creating a specific piece that embodies what you strive for?

Before the industry, before I graduated high school even, I’d always draw and design characters who felt free and spirited. I’d listen to Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, Michael and Janet Jackson … Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James, and Billie Holiday. Music really inspired me to experience the sensibility within myself from an early age. I’d also study Da Vinci’s drawings a lot and just copy copy copy. He had not only a technical skill, but also an inquisitive approach to everything he did, along with a pure love for it all. From high concept down to his sepia lines, you can see that passion through and through. I’d apply that to my own concepts and though I’ll never be the genius Da Vinci was, I’d like to create something that’s emotionally moving, thought-provoking, and inventive. Gustav Klimt had it too!

I still listen to music and study the greats along with photography and real life to get something that feels real to me in my work. The toy and animation industry helped me mold what I already had into something more focused, sellable, and clean but the emotional infusion, I guess you could call it, came long before I started working. But you know, I’m still learning and working on it. It’s a process. :)

What (hobby or place or even a person) brings out your passion the most besides drawing?

My husband! I married the love of my life (cheesy, yeah yeah, whatever whatever) almost a year ago to this day (April 22nd, my grandparent’s anniversary) and he’s just the most creative, kindest, inspirational person I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. We met in art school; he was kind of a hermit crab, but so talented, hilarious, and handsome - like a Roman sculpture, Ha! He’s always encouraging and a great sounding board. Thanks, Behb.

As for places, I love being in nature. A bubbly bath is nice but ideally, the California Redwood forest (Armstrong Woods) is my favorite place in the world to just be quiet and meditative. My hobbies, aside from drawing, are singing in my car and spending time with the people I love. My friends and family keep me grounded. The food I eat and make is not always great but I enjoy it nonetheless. It’s the little things, you know?

You held a job as a creative director for toys. I wonder what your work looked like. What did you have to do and how did that translate into seeing a toy on the market?

There are loads of layers to this type of work. Concept designs, design approvals from the factories and show creators, sculpts, overlays, prototypes, revisions, focus groups with real kids and parents, and then the launch (with running changes sometimes). It’s a process but it’s so much fun to see the evolution. At the end of the day, there’s nothing more rewarding than going to a place like Target and seeing kids flock to the shelves, reaching for the toys you and so many other talented people slaved over for 6 months to 2 years even, begging their sweet parents to take it all home. Their parents will usually ask why, or are you sure, and they’ll exclaim: “This is my favorite show and these are my favorite characters!” It’s just so cool! They have no idea that it is real people and not elves who actually make these things.

Funny story; one time I was talking to my colleague’s daughter around Christmas time and she asked me about Santa’s Elves and I told her that her mom and I must be elves because we make the toys she gets under the tree and she looked mind-blown. She comes to work all the time in El Segundo, California … not the North Pole. She started putting the pieces together and, you know, I may have accidentally, um, are there any kids reading this? Well, you get the point. Hahaha, in the end I just told her that our boss is Santa and that we run his little satellite office in LA. That should hold her over for a few years. Lol!

How have Instagram and other social media affected your business?

Social media, as a visual platform, is the new portfolio. Websites and physically bound portfolios are almost extinct. Instagram, Facebook, and even Twitter have become absolutely crucial in reminding people that you’re a creative asset. It’s been incredibly helpful and I highly recommend every artist use it for their own creative growth.

We are very happy you became a part of Lake. What convinced you to join us?

I love lineart and I’ve had a coloring book in the works for a few years now, so when I saw @Jijidraws post her amazing art with you guys, I was so excited for the opportunity to work with you too! I love collaborating with artists and innovators, so I jumped at the opportunity to work with you at Lake. Thank you so much for welcoming me into your prestigious family of talented people. And congrats on the Apple Design Award!

“Never be afraid to share your unique view on life with the world. Your passion will inspire the rest of us."

Any final thoughts for those who are also making their way as artists?

Practice, practice, practice and be true to yourself. Never be afraid to share your unique view on life with the world. Your passion will inspire the rest of us and build a more glorious tomorrow. Thank you for just being beautiful you!

Do you like Whitney’s art? Download Lake and color her illustrations.

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