Behind the Magic – Karen Avila
Welcome back to my “Behind the Magic” series on my blog. This is Season 2 and it’s going to be great as I interview bold and brilliant men and women of our generation, from different backgrounds and with different experiences.
My purpose for creating this series is to take you behind the scenes and shine a spotlight on the real people behind a business, movement, brand or idea. The goal is through their interview, you connect with them and become inspired to create the life you dream of and then live life boldly, passionately and authentically.
The first person I’m interviewing is the super talented and beautiful woman Karen Avila. She’s a textile designer, fashion illustrator, artist and educator. I met her on Instagram earlier this year during the last series when I interviewed Anita, the Jewelry Designer and Creative Director of Siammpatra in Season 1.
I hope you you enjoy reading this and be inspired in your own life and journey. Kindly leave any feedback, questions or ideas below. You can also drop some names on who you’d like me to interview here. Enjoy!
1. Who is Karen? Describe your personality and what you do?
Well, I’m a fashion illustrator and textile pattern designer, but I love all things art. I’m an unstoppable daydreamer, a cheerful friend, and sometimes mysterious kind of girl. If I’m not imagining + planning my goals and dreams, I’m designing or laughing + eating pizza (or tacos) with my husband.
2. Why and how did you become an Illustrator, Designer, Educator etc. What or who inspired you?
I’ve always loved creating things with my own hands. I was the little girl learning how to sew + crochet at 7 to create her dolls’ clothes, and drawing + painting everywhere. So, when it was time to go to college, it was a great bet to become a designer. I picked industrial design because I LOVE the feeling + joy + satisfaction that it is to have your creations in your own hands, and because fashion design wasn’t available where I was located.
I became an educator when my sister wanted to become a fashion designer too, and when she wasn’t prepared to do all the practical tests (drawings + illustrations) to be accepted in college. I began teaching her, and at this point I realized there was a need of step-by-step training for aspiring fashion designers and illustrators.
I think my biggest inspiration to do what I do has been my mom because she’s always been super crafty, and she used to design + create my siblings’ and my clothing. I loved every time she created a new dress or coat for me, and it was everything to see her eyes full of joy when I told her I loved what she made for me.
3. What is your mission/vision? Which is more important, Passion or Purpose?
I think both passion and purpose have their place within our goals/dreams pursuing. I think we all must follow our passion and do what we truly love, but I also believe that we must have purpose in order to follow through no matter what until we accomplish what we want.
I don’t really have a mission and vision, I feel those terms are too corporate + complicated for me but, as an artist and educator what I really want is to do what I love, enjoy life fully, experiment as much as I can, and help others do the same.
4. Share some info of your education and background? Do you have any specific formal college degrees, certificates etc.
Yes, I studied industrial design in college, and soon I’ll start a master in Europe.
5. What were the biggest challenges you faced in your career and how did you handle it?
Every new project + day is a new challenge because it offers new lessons to be learned, especially at the beginning – I’m still learning and facing new things every day. But the biggest challenge I’ve faced so far is being too naive in business.
My husband (then boyfriend) and I were working together, creating samples for client’s projects, networking, and building our team. A couple of years after we started, a potential client with a huge project asked us to help her out to create a kid’s wear line – without contracts, without nothing, just her word. I really wanted to be part of this project, so I convinced my husband to put all our savings into this only to realize the client would take advantage of us. We end up with no money (with debt, actually), with angry suppliers + mad manufacturers, and feeling really hopeless.
It was a real nightmare, but having each other’s support helped us get through this tough moment. Another thing we did was to contact as many past + potential clients as possible so we could pay our debts soon. After that, I’ve always sent a contract and requested half-payment before starting to work.
6. What advice will you give to your younger self knowing what you know now and what advice will you give to younger people who look up to you or want to follow in your path?
Wow, a bunch of things!
The first would be to grow your skills. Even if you only have an hour a day, please dedicate it to grow your skills because you’ll want to start sooner.
Then, as you grow your skills develop your authentic style, make sure it has something that you feel identified with.
Also, show up and share your work as much as you can because you probably aren’t sharing it enough. When I first started working it was easy to get clients because I used to use a couple of job boards sites, but when I decided to get out of those sites and promote my work through my blog and social media channels it got difficult. So, start sharing who you are and what you do from now.
And, once you start working with clients, find a great organizing + planning system – I use my own printable planners and a bit of Trello for this. Send a contract to all your clients. Whenever possible, ask for upfront payment (half is usual). And make your client process as smooth as possible for you and your clients.
7. Who are your mentors or who has been the most influential in your personal and professional life?
I’ve never had any mentors, it has been only me figuring things out on my own. But, the most influential persons in my life are my husband and mom.
8. What’s your favorite thing to do and how do you relax and take care of yourself?
I love going to the beach to relax after a long project. Also, roller-skating or a session of Insanity are a couple of my favorite things to do when days are tough. And I love taking care of myself with natural beauty recipes – the simpler the better, like honey as a cleanser + baking soda as a scrub + apple cider vinegar as a toner.
9. Do you believe women can have it all and how do you maintain a good work life balance?
Yes, I think we can if we work for it!
I believe it’s all about being intentional and setting boundaries. If I really want to take care of my health and my personal life I have to set an alarm at 6 pm to stop working, and I need to stick to my guns and really stop working. Otherwise, I’d end up working until 9-10 pm + having no exercise + having whatever for dinner or nothing + feeling grumpy.
10. What does creativity mean to you and what’s your creative process?
For me, creativity is a skill that can be grown. Of course, there are people who are more prone to be creative, but when you push yourself to come up with bigger and better ideas you’ll be nurturing and growing your creativity.
My creative process starts with ideas + inspiring images + brainstorming what I want to create, whether it’s for one of my clients’ projects, or for my own print collections or printable planners. Then, I create a mood board + color palette that goes with the inspiration. After that, I start sketching, then I paint whatever needs to be painted, and finally, I edit the illustrations and prints on Photoshop + Procreate (iPad pro). And if I’m creating a planner, then I create all the layout and pages on Adobe Illustrator.
11. Share what a typical day looks like. What’s the most fun part of your day?
My days start at 6am, the first thing I do is to shake a little + take some water + maybe some tea or coffee (depending on how sluggish I feel). Then, I check my email and respond to client’s emails.
Once that’s done, I tackle client work during all the morning until around 10am. And from 10am to noon I take some free time to take breakfast and hang out with my husband (who also works from home) and puppies.
Then, from noon to 5pm I work on my personal projects, my blog, social media, Etsy shop, or anything related to that. If I have a big client project, then this time would be devoted to that.
From 5pm to 9pm hubby and I prepare dinner + we get dinner, then some days we exercise at home and other times we take our dogs out and we exercise with them in the park.
Finally, after 9pm I take a little time for myself to take a bath or a shower, do my night beauty routine, and wind down with a book (non-business) or some Netflix. And I go to bed at around 11pm or midnight.
The best parts of my days are those where I hang out with my husband and dogs. When I get to paint and get creative. And also at the end of the day when I see all the things that I’ve done that day – especially when I have to do more admin/boring stuff.
12. Tell us something about yourself that nobody knows about.
Sometimes I dance + sing out loud when I’m painting my illustrations and patterns, and those have been my best times at the studio.
13. What are your deepest fears and how do you deal with them?
My biggest fear is to let my loved ones down and realize my business is not going anywhere. The cure to that is to always give my best in everything I do, and give myself some grace when I’m not in my best moments.
14. Who’s your favorite artist, designer and/or author?
Bon Jovi is my favorite band of all times, my love for it started even before I was born – when my dad took my mom to one of Bon Jovi’s concerts when she was expecting me. And I have tons of favorite authors and designers, I can’t even decide. One of my favorite authors is J.K Rowling, and designers is Maria Grazia Chiuri.
15. What song best describes your personality and is a great sound track of your life
I love ‘Love’s the only rule’ from Bon Jovi because it reminds me to have love as the only rule in all areas of my life. And lately, I’ve loved ‘Rebel Hearts’ from Hilary Duff because I’m a rebel at heart and you’ll always find me following my dreams.
16. What’s your favorite types of books, movies and/or TV shows and why?
I love all Harry Potter books, magic + witchery is one of my favorite things to see in books + movies + TV – I can’t help it!
Also, Sci-Fi shows like Fringe, Travelers, Grimm, Stranger Things, among others. I love how they tell incredible stories that seem impossible, but that would be great to be part of.
17. Can you describe your personal style in 3 words and what’s your favorite Fall trend?
Casual + minimal + sometimes DIYed. I love this fall’s bomber + suede jackets.
18. If you could raid someone’s closet or go shopping with someone, who would it be?
Olivia Palermo, please!
19. Share something new you’re working on? Are there any upcoming events? Future goals?
A couple of months ago, I just started working again in my Etsy shop and for the rest of the year, it’ll be my main focus.
I started selling printable planners for creatives, and now I’m working on my Christmas stationery collection, which will launch pretty soon. And I’d LOVE to have my upcoming stationery line in stores across the globe.
20. Who will you like to work with?
Hallmark, Target, Macy’s, Fashionary, Anthropologie
21. What does success in life mean to you? What does It look like?
For me, success means being able to do beautiful + fulfilling + meaningful work that feeds my soul and my bank account.
22. Who or what makes you laugh?
My husband is always making me laugh, he takes care of me like no one, and one of his greatest gifts is his sense of humor. Also, I love how my pups are always making fun things – my husband taught them to do tricks for treats, and Terry + Ike (our dogs) are hilarious when they do their tricks.
23. What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve done?
Jump into freelancing and becoming a business owner before graduating college, and having no secure net like a full-time job or savings.
24. Person you’d like to have a drink with?
All the creative women around – maybe have a local meet up with them.
25. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned within the last year? Any regrets?
Sometimes you can control things and how everything turns out, and sometimes you don’t. It’s not a matter of how hard you work or how much you worry, some things just have their own plans, and all you can do is do your best + keep calm + expect the best.
I learned it the hard way after I ended up in the E.R. room because I was having a stress breakdown. My only regret would be that I pushed myself + my body to the limit, but doing that made me learn a wonderful lesson + appreciate more my time here, so I’m not regretting anything so far.
26. How do you give back in your community and how do you want to be remembered?
Every month I separate 10-15% of my earnings and I donate it to indigenous tribes here in Mexico, so they can bring water + food to their homes.
27. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Doing more of what I love part time because my husband and I will start having kids (maybe in 8-10 years) – but more than anything spreading joy + encouragement + support everywhere I go.
28. How can people contact and follow you?
You can find me at www.imkarenavila.com, which is where I post all of my latest work + some products news, it’s like my portfolio website.
Also, I blog at www.fashionstepbystep.com, where I share free resources + I teach everything I know about fashion design, fashion illustration, and textile pattern design. And, I also talk about my own journey as a fashion creative.
On my Etsy shop imkarenavila.etsy.com, you can find all my products: my printable planners for creatives (goal, weekly, business, productivity planners and more), my stationery products, art prints, and upcoming stickers.
And on Pinterest and Instagram you can find me as @imkarenavila.