Karen Kurycki, a designer and illustrator based in Florida, has an interesting style of work: She infuses her graphic designs with watercolor. In this feature article, we put a well-deserved spotlight on this skillful artist’s work.

On the left: Karen Kurycki. On the right: "Nike Apparel"

Karen has worked with the design team over at Nike.

She’s illustrated for the Washington Post.

She’s garnered highly coveted featured spots at popular online media outlets like DesignWorkLife and the Behance Featured Project Gallery.

She also runs Absurd Overheard — a quirky and humorous niche website that publishes interpretive illustrations of silly statements she’s come across.

And she participates in volunteer work, using her skills as a designer and illustrator for the betterment of the public.

To say that this artist is well accomplished and busy these days is an understatement.

Perhaps what’s she’s best known for is her distinctive style of marrying watercolors with her designs, resulting in eye-grabbing, vibrant, and very memorable pieces.

"Lovin’ Machine"

She started experimenting with watercolors back when she was still in college at Kent State University in Ohio.

"While I was there I had an awesome professor who is also a great illustrator named Jerry Kalback and he really encouraged me to keep pushing forward with the illustration alongside my design classes," Kurycki shared.

The Creative Process

Like many designers, Kurycki starts her projects with thumbnails, sketches, word association lists, and other things that help her develop a concept.

She gets her inspiration everywhere, but she says that "humor and wit are two very inspiring things" to her.

"I like to surround myself with funny people because it’s really such an important part about life. I’m truly inspired by funny people," she says.

"More people are killed each year by dishwashers than by sharks."

As for blogs and sites that inspire her, Kurycki cites Design Work Life, Designspiration, Ffffound and the interviews at The Great Discontent.

Tools of the Trade

For her watercolors, she goes with Winsor & Newton professional grade watercolors that she buys in tubes and uses to create her own color palette consisting of 32 colors.

Her canvas is either an Arches 140 lbs. cold press paper or Winsor & Newton 140 lbs. color press paper.

"Washington Post Sunday Style"

She scans in her work with an Epson scanner so that she can use a graphics editor like Photoshop. "When I combine illustration and design, I’ll tweak it in Photoshop until I feel I’ve achieved the look I’m going for," Kurycki shares.

Serving the Public through Design

Karen is highly active in volunteerism. Ever since she was little, she’s been volunteering and trying to give back to her community.

"I can’t really imagine not giving to something, whether it be through design or doing hands-on activities," she says.

When I asked her whether she thinks performing pro-bono design work devaluates the profession, she tells me, "I think a lot of people misinterpret what ‘pro bono’ means — it means ‘for good’ not ‘for free’.’"

She’s currently working with Rethreaded, an organization helping women escape the sex trade.

"It’s a heavy subject, but every community deals with it, and it needed awareness," Kurycki says about the collaboration.

Part of "Women Out of the Box"

Kurycki also helped create the AIGA Jacksonville high school design mentoring program because she saw a need for more design education in her area. "It’s been a very rewarding experience getting to work with the kids and now some of the students from the first class are graduating from college with design degrees, which is very exciting," she says.

Showcase

Here are some handpicked pieces created by Karen Kurycki.

"Gameboy Color as a phone."

"Charles Dickens, the original Chuck D."

Part of "Women Out of the Box"

Part of "Women Out of the Box"

Part of "Women Out of the Box"

"I’ve been doing impersonations of Bane from ‘Dark’…"

Part of "Objects of Affection"

Part of "Objects of Affection"

Part of "Objects of Affection"

Part of "Flux Gallery show"

Part of "Flux Gallery show"

Part of "Flux Gallery show"

Part of "Flux Gallery show"

Part of "Flux Gallery show"

Part of "All Heart | All Passion"

Part of "All Heart | All Passion"

Part of "All Heart | All Passion"

Part of "All Heart | All Passion"

Part of "Absurd Overheard"

Part of "Absurd Overheard"

Part of "Absurd Overheard"

Part of "Always Summer 2011"

Part of "Always Summer 2011"

"Jacksonville Jaguars"

"TBWA/Italia"

"AIGA Colorado Heart Art Auction"

“DENY Designs”

More Info About Karen Kurycki

If you enjoyed learning about Karen and seeing her work, check out her portfolio site cmykaren.com and her other website Absurd Overheard for more of her pieces.

Also follow her on Twitter as @cmykaren and connect with her on Dribble.

* Thumbnail image: "These eyes" by Karen Kurycki

Author:

Jacob Gube is the co-founder and a managing editor of Design Instruct. He's a web developer, and also the owner of Six Revisions. Follow Jacob on Twitter: @sixrevisions