Kelly Abeln: An illustrator for teenage girls

Get to know Kelly Abeln, a local artist, designer and illustrator whose playful, pro-girl work can be found all over the Internet.

Illustrator and graphic designer Kelly Abeln holds her cat, Pebbles, on Friday in her home studio in south Minneapolis, where she creates pieces by hand and by computer for the online magazine Rookie.

Marisa Wojcik

Illustrator and graphic designer Kelly Abeln holds her cat, Pebbles, on Friday in her home studio in south Minneapolis, where she creates pieces by hand and by computer for the online magazine Rookie.

Sarah Harper

 

Name: Kelly Abeln (pronounced Abe-Lin)

Age: 25

Occupation: Freelance illustrator and graphic designer

Hometown: Aptos, Calif.

Current city: Minneapolis, Minn.

Education: Majored in illustration at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, graduated in 2009

Favorite color: Yellow

Favorite dinner: Mac and cheese

Favorite music (all-time): Elliott Smith

Favorite music (right now): The Tallest Man on Earth

Favorite movie: “Clueless”

Favorite Twin Cities spots: Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary, the lakes, Bryant-Lake Bowl, Red Stag Supperclub and Pat’s Tap.

Where you can find her work: kellyabeln.com

Where you can find her work in person: The zine that Abeln made with her friend Jordan Kay, “Girls / Women” is sold at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and Yeti Records.

 

Rookie Magazine, a website for teenage girls, publishes fashion shoots, videos of celebrities giving advice to teenagers, photos, essays, playlists and more three times a day — after school, after dinner and before bedtime.

Rookie’s eclectic content, subtle pro-girl message and soft, throwback aesthetic is a perfect fit for Minneapolis artist Kelly Abeln, whose folksy illustrations regularly find a home on the site.

Before the website was even launched, Abeln was already doing Rookie-like stuff — for her senior thesis at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, she created a paper magazine called “Cult of Flowers” based on the idea that media made for girls can focus on things other than appearances.

“I just like making work that has stuff behind it that I can believe in, or an audience that I can believe in — like Rookie for teenage girls,” Abeln said.

She also makes work inspired by things she finds cool. After discovering vocalist Azealia Banks, Abeln drew a piece of fan art. And after watching TV series “Twin Peaks,” Abeln drew a spread of Laura Palmer’s diary.

But in general, Abeln likes to be bound by a few constraints when she’s making her art.

“I don’t think I could ever be a fine artist that just paints all day because I’d go a little crazy. I like having assignments or briefs or things to react to,” she said.

When Abeln gets an assignment for an illustration to accompany an article, she reads through the piece multiple times. She highlights, makes notes and sketches until she figures out what to draw.

“That’s usually the hardest part about doing an illustration — choosing one image to represent the whole article or piece,” she said.

Once she’s figured out what she’s going to do, she has a system. First, she inks by hand. Then she uses a computer to add color, apply textures and shift the composition. But her work doesn’t look like it was made on a computer — it has a distinctly organic and hand-drawn vibe.

This naive style influences Abeln’s graphic design work too. In college, she took so many design classes that she feels comfortable taking on those assignments. But she can’t shake her personal style, no matter what she’s making.

“A lot of designers are really type-based and nonplayful, like serious design. Sometimes I think that’s beautiful, but that’s never what comes out of me when I’m making stuff,” she said.

Given the chance, Abeln will incorporate illustrations into her graphic design, and sometimes clients will want that. No matter what, her work always features her trademark warmth.

“When I have the opportunity, I like my design to look more human or playful or fun. … That’s the stuff that I respond to,” she said.