Jon Sorrentino: [00:00:00] Welcome to Wellfed, a podcast for hungry creatives. I'm your host Jon Sorrentino designer based out of New York. And on this podcast, I speak to some of my creative heroes to learn from their experiences and discover the ingredients to grow within the creative industry. On this episode, my guest is Alex Kiesling, who is a Brooklyn based illustrator and animation director who has worked for the likes of Apple, Google, MTV, the New York Times, Robinhood, and many more. I came across Alex's work through social media and ever since then, his work has always stopped me in my endless scrolling. Everything from his unique characters to the dark and dreamy situations, he puts them in.

I knew I had to ask Alex to join me as a guest to learn more about his process and what inspires his work before we get into the episode. I just want to share a few things with you. First, if you want to stay up to date with the podcast, you can head over to wealth ed, where I have all the episodes as well as videos and articles with tips for creatives, just like you.

Second for this season, I just launched a Slack group that you can join by going to wealth. Ed There you can share work and connect with other designers, illustrators, and photographers from all over the world. Last, but not least I'm doing free one-on-one portfolio reviews over zoom for anyone that signs up for the newsletter on the website, I've already had a few of these with listeners and we've talked about things like getting more clients, ways to present your work on your website and a bunch of other topics. All you have to do is sign up for the newsletter over at Now that we got that out of the way, I hope you enjoy this episode.

All right, Alex Kiesling thank you so much for joining me today in this new zoom world that we're in, usually end up recording these in person, but, um, you know, I thank you for jumping on the zoom call today. So I appreciate that I'm super interested. I've followed your work for a while because, um, your work kind of just grabbed me when I saw it on Instagram.

It's like very other worldly, kind of sci-fi very like dystopian at times. And for some reason, I dunno, I tend to like that sort of, that, that, that world, that vein of, of art. And, um, I've just kind of, you know, over the last couple of seasons, seen your posts, things like that. And I knew I kind of wanted to talk to you and how you sort of developed this style.

Um, but before we kind of get into all these questions that I have, we started to do a video segment last season called five drawings in five minutes. And unfortunately we're not able to do this in person, so I've kind of shortened it, altered it a little bit. And what we're going to do is we're going to reuse those questions for what I'm calling five questions and 50 seconds. So, uh, we'll put on the virtual timer, uh, not really here, but maybe eventually later in the season we'll get one. And you know, if you're ready, I'll go ahead and fire off the first one. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:02:41] Yeah, go for it. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:02:42] Cool. If you had to give up bread or cheese, what would it be?

Alex Kiesling: [00:02:46] Um, I'm a Wisconsinite, so I technically should say cheese, but I like, I should stay with cheese. I'll think I'm going to give up cheese because I, I just like love carbs too much. Yeah. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:03:00] Next question. What's your sign? 

Alex Kiesling: [00:03:03] Uh, Sagittarius. So super chill, I guess.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:03:08] Okay. Yeah. I was going to say like, do you find that to be any qualities of that true?

I don't know why, but, uh, it's very much like a New York thing for someone to ask you. Like, what's your sign? What's your horoscope? 

Alex Kiesling: [00:03:17] Oh, I mean, I don't know how many people actually believe it, but yeah. I'm I seen the traits in it is like, I'm like, Oh yeah, I am like all those things. Like, there's definitely other signs I looked up and I was like, Oh, I'm definitely not that.

So, but I'm not a superstitious person. So I don't really believe it. Totally fully 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:03:34] agreed. Next question. Cat or dog? 

Alex Kiesling: [00:03:37] Uh, I used to be a cat person cause that's what I grew up with. But I'm gonna have to say dog. I don't know if it's like the videos I've seen on New York subways, but I just really want a dog now.

It's just like they're. So I just think they're like, there's a reason they're man, best friend. They're just. It's like otherworldly that an animal can be so involved with like another species.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:03:58] Unconditional, and they just know they just, they can sense what you're feeling. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:04:03] Yeah. They're just always going to be your friend, no matter what.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:04:06] Um, if you could eat one thing for the rest of your life every day, what would it be? 

Alex Kiesling: [00:04:13] I'm gonna have to say I had this, um, I've created this, like the sandwich was just like anchovies with mustard and basil, um, and tomatoes on, on like a slice of toasted sourdough with like, Grilled sourdough. And I just like, absolutely love it.

It's like pretty high. It's like, other than the sodium, it's like quite healthy, like pretty low and cards. If you use like the fitness bread, anchovies 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:04:36] They'rere supposed to be really good for you right? 

Alex Kiesling: [00:04:38] Kind of like a superfood for my heart and they're like super sustainable for the environment. You can't really like over-fish anchovies.

And it's like, and it's got so much umami with like all the ingredients it's like, you don't really need to have a lot of meat in it. It's just like the anchovies, just like three little slices is like enough and it just like packs such a punch. So I love it. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:04:58] Last question. And we're definitely over 50 seconds I think, but that's okay.

Um, it's good to have a goal. Um, Spotify or Apple music. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:05:06] Uh, I'm say Spotify. Um, Yeah. So I'll have to go with that. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:05:13] What was the last thing you listened to on Spotify? 

Alex Kiesling: [00:05:16] Oh god. Uh, Oh my God. I have my Spotify open right here. So. I'll say, Oh, it's probably wham city by Dan Deacon. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:05:25] Okay. Yeah. Cool. Yeah. I don't think I've, I don't think I've heard of Dan deacon, but I'll look it up.

I actually 

Alex Kiesling: [00:05:31] He's like a weird psychedelic, but like really party hoppy psychedelic kind of weird music. I think it's, it's really, it's like, I love his stuff though. It's like super kind of fun and weird. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:05:44] Good music to jam out to while working. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:05:46] Oh, yeah. Or just going on a walk. Just wonderful. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:05:49] So you mentioned you're, you're in Brooklyn now.

Um, but you mentioned you're, you're originally from Wisconsin. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:05:55] Yeah. I'm uh, I'm from a little town, uh, called Pewaukee, which is about 30 minutes west of Milwaukee. So Pweaukee, Milwaukee. Yeah. It's all native American tribe names, I think. But it's um, so yeah, it's, it's, uh, it's kind of like rural. So it's like suburbs mixed with rural.

So then, um, I definitely would say it's quite a difference from moving from there to like Rhode Island to go to, you know, Rhode Island School of Design, and then going to, uh, New York. It's like, it was a huge culture jump and then even coming back home for the holidays, I've had my own like culture shock of being like, this is so different, like being here than what it is in New York.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:06:39] Yeah, things are a little bit slower. The roads are a little bit longer and, uh, you just kind of move at a different pace. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:06:46] Yah just saw a lot more cows. I definitely would say like very normal you get turkeys, pecking at like your front door. I get, like, I find turkeys like all around my yard and deer everywhere too.

It's just like, that's like totally normal. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:06:58] It's kind of refreshing though at times. I remember, um, You know, my parents live in South Carolina now kind of a little bit further away from the city and you wake up and you have chickens in your front yard and a deer. And. It is refreshing that, especially when you're just living in the city all the time.

Alex Kiesling: [00:07:14] Yeah. 

I've seen, I've seen some weird stuff. Like I seen like turkeys, like up in trees and like a whole bunch of turkeys that were just hanging up and it was like the smallest little tree, like maybe 30 of them. And I was just like, how is that tree like even standing up still? 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:07:28] How did they even get up there?

Alex Kiesling: [00:07:29] Yeah, I know. I'm like, dude, even fly, like you see them around, but like still even fly. Like it's so weird. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:07:35] I don't, I don't know off the top of my head, it'll be a Google search after this. But, um, so you mentioned that like the first time you really, or not that maybe not necessarily the first time, but your big move from Wisconsin was, uh, to go to school, to Rhode Island.

And that was a big culture shock, but, you know, how did you sort of develop this idea that you want to go to Rhode Island School of Design in the first place? You know, like, was there someone in your family growing up that kind of influenced you? Or where did that kind of creativity come from? 

Alex Kiesling: [00:08:01] Yeah. 

Um, well, so apparently my dad wanted to go to like Rhoda Island School of Design when he was like, you know, a kid, high schooler or whatever,  and his da so my grandpa was like, no, it's too expensive. And at the time it was about $600 per semester about that. And you're just like $600 a semester. And you still said no like, Oh. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:08:25] Yeah. Now you're like, wow, that's crazy. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:08:27] Yeah. 

That's like such a deal. Like what? It was like something around that price. It was like super, super low.

And, and, but my, so my dad always wanted to go there. So when he found out I got into the school, he was like, he didn't push me, but he, my family was very supportive and was like, You know, you, we think that you, you know, you're not like some slag off that doesn't really know what he's doing, and he's just like, I don't know, just kind of do art or something like you seem like you're somebody who's really actually passionate about it.

Um, and my dad was very like, also like, you should, you should go for it. You know, do what I can't do. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:09:02] Were you kind of like, you know, were you involved in like art or something, you know, that kind of led them to think that?

Alex Kiesling: [00:09:09] Yeah, I think it just my whole life, I was just like, it's like the typical story of like those art kids that like, are really bad at school.

Like there are always get like C's and D's and stuff. I was always like a C, D kind of student and, uh, never was able to pay attention. Never like, always forgot about his homework. And just always drawing on his paper and some, you know, obviously, like, not that it wouldn't fly, but it's like, I had some teachers who were like, Oh, but we understand he's like, he just can't even, this is like, so set for like a different kind of mindset.

And they always knew that I was like really artistic driven and I just like always had that, like just wanted to draw kind of thing. And so I had some teachers who were like, we know that you are going to like, want to do this for a living and you'll actually fit in really well. And they were very supportive too.

Um, so I was very fortunate in that sense to have like that environment to grow up and not to have an environment, which was very like. Art is not real. It's like, you're stupid. You got to get a real job kind of thing. I was like very fortunate in that sense. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:10:15] Yeah. I think I read up that your, that your parents are like all mathematicians, right?

Alex Kiesling: [00:10:21] So it's like my, okay, well, my mom is actually technically was an architect and my dad was a sculptor, but my dad became an engineer later on and my sister is a, she's got her PhD in like nuclear physics. And my brother, he, um, he graduated in physics and then was doing his masters in material engineering.

And then now he actually. I think because he saw that I was doing well in art and he was always kind of an art guy. He was always like super, super great at math. And my, my family was like very pushing them to go into a math field, but he got kinda miserable. So he decided to take what he's learning from math and trying to apply it to his work now as a sculpture. So he's like he got, like, I think it was like something like a full ride to go to school, like an art school to like essentially combine like that technology side. And he wants to do things with like artificial intelligence and, and implementing with like sculpture. That's like what he's telling me.

And so he calls me sometimes and he's like, Alex, I need you're like, I need some, um, just need to bounce some ideas. And I'd love to just chat with them sometimes. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:11:28] That's cool. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:11:29] That's like pretty much my family, it's a very sciency, but also kind of like that math. So I guess engineers, like the best way to say it.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:11:35] But they kind of allowed you to explore, but it sounds like they all sort of had their hand in making something in some way, shape or form. So they didn't really hold you back from, you know, pursuing that in a way. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:11:48] Yeah. Yeah. They're yeah, they're all. I think we all kind of have a similar mindset. I'm just like very dumb with the math part, but like my, my brother and sister though was always like, you know, the AP, AP calc kids in high school. And I was the one that was in the lowest level math. So there was always a D there's always a D Oh, you're saying 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:12:08] I was, you know, you'd always look at the AP has, and they're like not necessarily special treatment, but you're like, Oh man.

Uh, that'd be, that'd be nice. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:12:15] Yeah, I was, I didn't realize at the time, but it was all the term and I think with like a single test that decide what kids go a little bit ahead in math and, and what I, so it's like when you start in high school, there's always still that separation gap. My kid, my brother was like the one that was like, even in middle school, he would take that bus to go to high school, to just take math and then come back to middle school.

And I was like, And because I was in the lowest level, I just kind of thought I was dumb. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:12:37] Sure yeah. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:12:38] Yeah. But it just kind of just turned out. We just had, we just have, our brains are a little shifted in different ways. He's more left side. I'm more right side of the brain. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:12:47] Yup. It works out. It works out so fast forward a little bit, I guess, you know, you, uh, you eventually make your way to RISD, did you have to do the bicycle part of the portfolio?

Alex Kiesling: [00:12:59] Yeah. Yeah, that was, I did, like I did like, um, Uh, it was like a cartoon of a guy that like almost looked like a Tim Burton character on what's. Uh, what's like bicycles that are like real one large giant wheel and one little small wheel. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:13:13] Yeah, I know exactly. You're talking about, I have no clue what they're called proper.

Alex Kiesling: [00:13:17] It was like very early 2000 hipster looking like, and just like, I don't know if you know what I mean by that. It's like, I always feel like I described things as early as 2000 hipster, but it's like, It just reminds me of something from Portlandia where it's like, put a bird on it kind of thing. It was like, it just kind of has that like style of like yeah.

But it was, it was a good piece for like the high schooler. It was good. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:13:41] Um, did you have any sort of, I guess like, style or sense of direction when you got to RISD like, you know, where were you at? Cause I know that, like, for example, I went to community college. I had no sense of what I wanted to do. And even after going through like a college design program, I still didn't have any sense of style or preference really. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:14:02] Yeah. I didn't have, so I, I was when I did, I don't know if you've ever done those like portfolio reviews or if you had that fortunate to be able to go into like a city and they've had like the colleges come. Yeah, but yeah. So whenever I did that in high school, um, they said that like, I, I was really like illustration based like every single time.

And I guess it was because I was really focused on like that cartoony drawing. I'm not really sure, but when I, so, but in high school or a sorry in college, like RISD, I had, uh, I really didn't have a style and I didn't really know what I was doing. I was still kind of figuring myself out. Which fortunately I think was the right thing, because from what I understand and what I've kind of preach in my own ways, it's like, it's good to not set yourself on a style at a young age, because then you're kind of like when you go into college, that's the time to explore.

Um, it's really an environment. It's like an incubator environment. And if you're just doing the same thing over and over, you're not really taking advantage of the resources or like. You know, the opportunity to explore new things. So it's just kind of like, I think it's good to just like, not really know what you're doing and just taking that opportunity to fail as much as you possibly can so learn from, you know, what is the right thing to do. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:15:20] Completely agree. I think, um, it's also kind of good to not. I guess, like, have that thought of like, this is what I'm going to do. I'm only going to do this. It sort of closes your mind off to actually like learning and exploring as well. Um, you mentioned that, like you had this sort of cartoony style and guessing that you inadvertently watched a lot of cartoons when you were a kid. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:15:40] Yeah. I mean, I've never had cable. I was like one of those, those kids that never had the cable access. So I was stuck with, you know, PBS, which I kind of hated. And I was always jealous of the kids that went to school and talked about like SpongeBob and stuff. And I was just like, I can't relate to anything. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:15:55] Wow.

I was waiting for you to be like, yeah, I watched Digi ma and Pokemon. I was like, 

Alex Kiesling: [00:15:59] Oh no, no, no, no. Now that you say that, no, actually, no. Yeah. As like a little kid, no, Digimon was massive for me. So thanks for bringing that up. And my brother and I actually didn't use to make our like own like Digimon and Pokemon cards.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:16:10] Yes. That's what I'm looking for. Yeah. Yeah. I'm not the only one.

Alex Kiesling: [00:16:15] No, I remember that. Yep. My brother and I used to do that. It was like terribly drawn on like eight, like those a line paper. And it was like, this is like my  and stuff like that. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:16:26] A cross between a dog and a cat or whatever it's got, like. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:16:29] It was always like some, it was like some, I remember drawing like some Sonic looking characters.

I love like the digimon anime hair? So I used to try to like draw like the spiky anime hair

Jon Sorrentino: [00:16:38] Like the dragon ball-z kind of like style. Yep. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:16:41] And I was like, when I figured that out, it was obviously really barely drawn when I did it, but it was like, when I was like, Oh my, I was like, this is so awesome. Like I'm like, I'm drawing like real anime right now.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:16:52] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:16:54] I take that back. Sorry. I did have influence. I just like, couldn't think off the top of my head right at the moment, but what do you bring when you, when you bring those up? I'm like, Oh no, I know. I know what I got. Yeah. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:17:02] Yeah, I know we're kind of in the same, the same, you know, couple of years of each other where, you know, those shows were very prominent, uh, when we were growing up.

So you kind of go through RISD, I guess you're you're pursuing illustration and drawing. Correct?

Alex Kiesling: [00:17:16] Yeah, it's just illustration. Um, but yeah, it's like, I guess it's pretty similar. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:17:21] What is it like coming towards the end of your kind of like, program at RISD, you know, like what are they, what are you gearing up for?

What are you kind of looking to do as you graduate and things like that? 

Alex Kiesling: [00:17:31] Um, yea I was freaking out. There's a lot of freaking out. I was like, I don't know what I'm doing with my life. Um, pretty much I had zero money at the time, um, was with my girlfriend. She got a job all the way at like these studios in Portland, but I was like, I didn't have any job lined up and was had $600.

I think it was like $600 in my bank account. And I had like an apartment. I was like trying to like, how am I going to pay my bills kind of thing, pay rent. And I got like, I was just fortunate enough to like start applying for jobs. And I got like a crappy little internship in, in, um, in New York. Um, sorry, I should say so.

I shouldn't say that cause, uh. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:18:17] It's okay. The first one is never that great. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:18:19] Yeah. I remember the first day I got there, he goes, he's just like, by the way, um, you know, we'll tell you if you, if we'll fire you within the first two weeks or not, you know, if you're just not working out, we'll let you go. And I was like sitting there, like I just moved my whole life to New York and I really need that first paycheck that even just like pay for anything kind of thing.

I'm like sleeping on my friend's couches and I'm like, please don't tell me that. You'll like fire me if I go work out. You know? And I, I definitely, and I definitely at the time was like, really desperate. And I was like, yeah, I like know illustrator. And I had to learn it like a week before. And that's, I think they were not happy by that.

Cause I could tell they were like, I don't think he knows this program. And I was like, 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:18:59] Def classic, fake it till you make it. That everyone grows up here in school, which is, which is, you know, I think like it's not, it's not like a bad saying. Right. But like, to your point, you know, you, you kind of just.

In a way, have to force yourself to learn this new thing. So like you can kind of get through it and like get onto learning the next thing and the next thing and sort of growing over time. I mean, there's nothing, there's nothing necessarily bad in that saying you can, but it can, I can see how it can be taken the wrong ways at times.

So. You, this is your first internship or was it, or I guess, do you want to kind of keep it nameless at the moment? 

Alex Kiesling: [00:19:35] I'll keep it nameless, um, for a time. Um, loved. I love the people there, but yeah. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:19:41] What do they have you doing?

Alex Kiesling: [00:19:43] It? It was essentially like a drawing, so they're doing like animations. Uh, they started doing animation work and, and, uh, a lot of characters designed for like a game app.

So they're working on it simultaneously, like a TV show and a children's learning game app kind of thing. So I was taking these like illustrator, vector files and like doing like character turnarounds and making sure that like, you know, they putting clothes on them. That's kind of like very asset driven.

And I was like, I was not good at it. Um, and honestly it was like, I was kind of miserable at it too. Like I said, like, I love, I love the people there and everything like that. I just think that the work was just very, like, grunt is very, very grunt and. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:20:33] In the trenches doing a lot of like the in-between stuff.

They're like, we need a position for this because we don't want to do it anymore. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:20:38] Yeah. And it was a special, I think I, I wish that I at least had a grunt job that was for something that was like the final product kind of had a little bit more satisfaction, but we didn't really release anything. Um, a lot of, not a thing really came out of it, uh, with like work.

So it was, um, but yeah, the, like I said, though, I love the, I love everybody that worked there. I'm like, I still friends with a lot of the people are close knit, you know, but it was the end of the beginning of the internship stuff was like, yeah. I was like, you know, you're just here to just like fill up a role and we'll give you, we'll pay you $10 an hour.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:21:15] What was, what was next for you after that? You know, like, uh, you graduated in what? 2016? Uh, 

Alex Kiesling: [00:21:22] I graduated 2016. Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:21:26] So you got, you got that internship then. Um, what sort of like your path, uh, leading up to say 2019-2018. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:21:36] It's like starting to, into freelance and stuff. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:21:39] Yeah, I guess like, you know, how many positions were, did you have before freelance?

Um, and then, you know, where were they at? 

Alex Kiesling: [00:21:46] Oh, no, actually I, so this job I was talking about, I worked there for like two years and I kind of worked my way up a little bit to just become like, uh, just like an illustrator there. And, uh, I've seen, uh, the entire company come and go other than to other employees.

So I was kind of like, I went from like the child to like the, like the eldest with the most work experience. And it was only, it was only like two years experience. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:22:11] Everyone's like, Hey, um, I'm, I'm John and I'm, I just joined four weeks ago. And then like intros get to you. And you're like, yeah, I've been here for two years.

Everyone's like, what? Like two years. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:22:21] Yeah, but it was like, I've seen, like, like I said, I've seen a whole company come and go and, uh, it was, it's a little sad. It kind of, that definitely triggered me in some ways where I was like, what am I doing? Like, everybody's like, Am I supposed to do something similar where I'm supposed to like work here for a little bit and then move on to another place.

But, um, no, uh, so essentially I got into freelance because I was working there. I, they wanted me to work in England, um, and they wanted me to permanently move into England. So I was there for six months in London. And essentially I got, um, actually, uh, somebody who follows me on Instagram, he was an art director at Google and they wanted me to essentially spend and do an art artist, residency residency for Google.

And it was like, you know, good money and stuff like that. And. Uh, it was only for like a few is like for a few weeks and stuff like that. But I just like, I, I, this is my, this is the thing that I'm looking for for that next step. And I was like, I need to do this. I had like other little freelance jobs, like small editorial jobs for a small magazines and stuff like that, but I'd never really had like, something like this big before.

And I just like, I have to do this. This is like my next step. So that's when I decided I'm going to leave the salary job of doing like character asset work and you know, trying to figure out how to, it's going to be working until like a kind of animation for children's education and move into essentially doing yeah.

Well, whatever I'm doing now. Yeah. Essentially. Yeah, just full-time freelance. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:23:47] So is that, so that's kind of the start of just you going independent and being independent from pretty much until today. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:23:54] Yeah. Yeah, that was the, it was definitely was a rocky first start. It's like, uh, for a while it's like with freelance, you never really know when your next jobs can kind of come around and stuff like that.

But, uh, it slowly over time, like got wa like a little bit more stable, a little bit more stable than, you know, certain clients. I realized that, uh, I was relying too much on like a paycheck from them. When I was really very little and kind of being like, I know that they've constantly come to me, but then over time it started getting more work and it just like became a little bit, a little bit health, like, uh, like financially healthier.

Is that even a term? 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:24:31] Yeah, it's just a little more fruitful. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:24:34] Yeah, it got a little bit more fruitful. Yeah. You could say definitely. That's a good way of putting it. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:24:38] So, so you mentioned, you mentioned that you got this Google kind of like artists, residency commission all through Instagram. So like. You know, I guess, you know, what were you doing at that time while you're working this job to kind of like either kind of get your work out there or, you know, like, you know, w w w so it can go from zero to a hundred that quickly there's gotta be a little bit of work.

Alex Kiesling: [00:25:01] Yeah, I can definitely describe that. Yeah. That's so, uh, while I was doing so. All the way back to when I was interning at the time when I was interning, before I got hired by the same company to become an illustrator. So while I was interning there, I was like super miserable, you know, going home. I couldn't really afford.

Actually, I really couldn't afford food. I can only have two meals a day because I realized that it was too much out of my budget to like, uh, essentially make breakfast and stuff like that. So, yeah, that's, that's when it was the most brutal, like I said, it was like $600 in my bank account. I was like, seriously, I had $600 in my bank account and then like $10 per hour on the minimum wage in New York City.

So, but, um, I was really miserable. I didn't want to go home and because I just like. I just, I just felt like going home was just me laying in bed and doing nothing. And my roommate, who was my friend at the time, she was not, you know, she wasn't around ever. So I just kinda was like sitting alone there. So I decided if I'm going to sit alone, I might as well just like sit alone where there's an actual computer.

Cause I don't have a computer at, you know, at home. So I decided to like, you know, sit and do my own drawings cause I just wanted to vent out. And that's when I started finding my style a little bit more. And I think out of like pure just being so like not having so much going on with like other artists and influencing me and just me doing whatever relaxes me the most, I found like a little bit of my process that I found was like consistently go to because it just kind of felt like it was most comforting to me.

I just saw, I just realized I really liked, you know, doing rendering and shading and stuff like that. And then I just started like making characters and I think working in a, in a children's. Children's app company. I started to make characters that are very kind of almost like geared in that direction of like children's, children's, uh, cartoony kind of, I don't, I don't know.

You probably don't know any of the brands with those, like this brand called Toko Boca. Um, and they do like kind of weird goofy characters and stuff like that. So we were all like influenced and that's kind of like, but I wanted to do, like, I just really wanted to sit and just shade and stuff like that.

I just got kind of really invested in that. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:27:11] So that's kind of cool because like, even though you might have this internship, this first position that you had at this children's company was a little grueling in some way, it's sort of like, kind of brought life into these drawings, right? Because I mean, even, even today, you could, I mean, tell me if I'm wrong, you can kind of see that influence still, you know, your characters and the way they are sort of shaded in the way they are sort of tiny with, you know, bigger proportion head or hands or whatever it may be.

It's still very much there in the work today. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:27:39] Yeah, I actually I've said this a few times. I said that like, I don't regret ever, or working this like small internship kind of job that for two years, because in a way it really molded me into who I am. I am now. And I was like, thank you for like, you know, they were also like, the company was actually really great to me.

And so I just felt very comfortable at that company. But, um, yeah, I was very, I think, I don't know if I would be the same person if I were to like, be it in a different route. Maybe I'd be making work like a lot more traditional media or something. Cause I was doing that a lot. Like my senior year I was doing a traditional media type work and like never really getting into like digital CGI or any of that type of type of stuff.

So I don't know. I don't really know. It's like kind of one of those things where it's like, W w is there a parallel universe of me that is like, 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:28:28] Thee what if game right. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, whatever. So, so you get this commission from Google. Um, you know, I kind of, I went through a lot of your work and again, I've also looked through like your Instagram and stuff like that.

Um, you've worked with like Robinhood. You've worked with MTV. I saw you worked with Landyachtz, which I thought was pretty cool. I was really big into like downhill free riding and stuff like that. So that's always cool. Um, you know, how has that kind of, how did that sort of progress? What was after Google and you know, how, how has work kind of coming in?

Alex Kiesling: [00:29:00] Yeah, it was, it was like, well, I had my consistent base of like a few clients that would come to me, like maybe once a month or something like that. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:29:10] And would you say these clients are like, you know, not necessarily your top brands, but like kind of, you know, companies that are doing business that are, you know, you enjoy working with.

Alex Kiesling: [00:29:19] Yeah, I had, I was fortunate to have not, she wasn't my rep, but I had a rep who like, just like to find artists and be like, Hey, I have a job that I think you might fit well for. And she consistently came to me and we constantly worked with like this company called PSYOP. So it's a, it's a TV, it's a animation studio in New York.

So I constantly was working with PSYOP. Let's say like once a month and her. And, and that was like a healthy, it was bringing some money in. It was, and then I had like this editorial job that like I had, you know, quite a few times with this magazine company. Um, and it just like, that was very like, if I didn't have those, like the, I think, I don't think I really could have made that next step into freelance.

It was like, I wouldn't, I wouldn't feel too comfortable. Um, I was also, I think I jumped into freelance maybe. Like, I didn't have enough money in my bank account, wish I saved up a little bit more at the time. I was like, Oh, this is like a plenty enough. And then I talked to my friends like afterwards, and they're like, that is like, not enough to like jump into freelance.

And if I were, I fired told people, I'd be like, I'd be like, look at, you need to, yeah. If you want to jump into freelance, I would definitely plan out a little bit more and stock up stock up. Fortunately, I think nowadays you don't, if you're freelance, you don't have to like move to New York. You can like, especially with coronavirus, I think a lot of companies kind of realizing they're like, yeah, yeah, you don't need to sit in our studio.

You can probably do work from remote. They they really, what they look for most is like, The people that they think are really good and skilled and have a good portfolio. And those other things are going to be like, I think second factor they're going to, they really want somebody to think is like making good work and they'll hire them.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:31:02] I think. Yeah. I kind of think, you know, my initial thought with coronavirus as terrible and just awful as it's been for people, you know, I think it has really given creatives sort of the freedom now and has sort of lowered the expectation of like being in person to do work because I think to your point, right, it, I think it does kind of raise the bar a little bit on how you conduct yourself and how you kind of work with people.

And that is very key because I think people really appreciate that, especially as we're so distant, but they are looking for people that are doing good work and that is really the one thing that stands out. Um, and, and I guess to kind of bring it back over to you, you know, like as you're going through and working on the, with, you know, these clients and, and being freelance, like, is your style sort of, you know, being altered?

Are you kind of like making work that is more in line with the brand or are they coming to you and asking you for your specific kind of take on it? What's how's that kind of relationship? 

Alex Kiesling: [00:31:59] Yeah, I think definitely I am a little bit fortunate where I'm not trying to gear myself towards brands and I Def I definitely was making work that just was feeling like me.

And I will say that I don't recommend that. I think I just lucked out because the fact that my style, if I checked, if I have a list of check mark boxes of what clients might, like, I think it just kind of fits for a lot of clients. Um, and it's like, you know, they. Uh, a lot of my older stuff would be like, you're not, I'm not really drawing, I'm drawing people and characters, but I'm not drawing things that have anything with race or gender or anything like that in a lot of companies actually kind of like to keep it really ambiguous because it gets into topics that they don't really want to touch.

And there's like things where it's like colorful, it's playful, friendly. There's not really anything too scary. Um, I think people also just kind of like just normal folks in general get kind of enamored by like, when things are kind of more drawn, realistically, I'm just guessing that as like a, my own guess.

I don't really know. So they're go like, Oh, like it's really shaded. Um, cool. I don't really know, but, um, I just like have like these, like, I'm like, I'm like if I were to, I feel like maybe that probably helped in some ways, obviously it's not, that's just a general. My own general idea of what it might be. I think there's like, certainly like, cause there's definitely plenty of super successful people that are opposite.

You know, you're just talking about like, you know, uh, Amber, Vittoria, she's like, you know, actually, very gendered  and women based and that's a whole different topic. So I can't, I'm not like that type of person, but she gets like probably a lot of clients in herself. Um, really big clients too, for like the same companies.

Uh, so it's, it's like, I couldn't really say, I thought, I feel like there's probably a little bit where they like that a little bit of ambiguity for things. I know I got a lot, I got higher a lot for like Kellogg's or like cereal brands and stuff like that. Cause they were like, it's cartoonish. Like you can draw cartoons and stuff like that.

Or like illustration stuff. Um, I got a lot of food, food brands and stuff like that. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:34:04] That's interesting because I mean, I saw. I look at the work from Robinhood and I thought that was so great because like Robinhood is a very, like, you know, serious buttoned up investment kind of brand. And the work that you did was so in line with your style that, you know, they, it's kind of like.

I don't want to say that their brand takes a back seat, but it was like you had more influence on the work than necessarily they did, which I think is always great. You know, I think that's, I think more brands need to do that. I think it's awesome. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:34:30] Yeah, actually, um, Robert, he's the art director there and he's like a super, super awesome guy.

Um, I literally just talked with him for like an hour on Skype, like before the projects and he just seems like. He just seems like some guy that's just like super creative driven and he's just like him and I were just like, bouncing, just talking about, you know, what we, what we'd like and art and what this, and actually, we kind of did bring up like what I just said, how my art is not really, it, a lot of my other art was kind of ambiguous to people and stuff like that.

They found it to be very brand safe and they're like, and they're like, Oh yeah, that like really works for us. And you know, these ways, because we don't have to really worry about things, you know, if something kind of turns the wrong way or, you know, depicts like the wrong thing and it can reach an international audience, you know?

Uh, so it was very, he also, yeah, he was just like, really just chill with it. And he's like, I trust you. I, I know how it is. He, I think he was kind of like Robinhood itself. I don't think it's very like necessarily the company is not very creative, but he's like that one person who's like a very, like, I know just trust me.

I'm a big I'm senior art director here I've worked in and these things. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:35:41] He's out there advocating he's he's pushing buttons. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:35:44] Yeah. And there's some, there's a few companies that are like that who are just like, they may not have the, the rest of the company, maybe not so creative, but they get that like one person who's just like, look at, I know what artists are super cool. I'm going to get these artists. And you're just like, ah, it's like so awesome. And it's like the most random boring company 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:36:03] I've worked with a few people like that. And it's always it's. So much fun because they are always kind of pushing the boundaries a bit and it's great to know them.

And even when they do move on, you know, just kind of keeping up with them is always exciting. I've found at least. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:36:17] Yeah. Yeah, I, yeah, him and I just talked like only like a month or two ago. And he was just like, yeah, I just want to fit you in for another project. I love what you're doing recently. And I was like, Oh, awesome.

Yeah, let's do it. Let's uh, just, just super, super chill. I just hit me up. Yeah. Hit me up, man. Like that's essentially you have, sometimes he chip, like you chat with the clients like that. Yeah. Hit me up. Yeah. They like, you know, they're they're people too. Sometimes I get clients that are like super, super serious in their emails.

And I'm like, it's very polite, but I don't know how to type properly. And I sound like a very, like, very like, Oh, pardon sorry about that, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Yeah. And it's like, I'm not really good with that. I feel like I have to check my email like 30 times for grammar mistakes, but then I get like some of those clients who I, you just vibe a little bit more and they're like way like, yeah.

They're just like, yeah, that's awesome. Yeah. And you're like sweet. And they, they kinda like that they liked where they sense that enthusiasm. I think like clients where I, I can't really show that enthusiasm. Like, yes, I am so happy that you have, like, you reached out to me in this version. Yeah, I am a ecstatic til  yeah.

I'm ecstatic to work with you on this project. It's like, it gets kind of like, it feels a little lethargic. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's like something like that. And so it's like sometimes those pro those clients where you can really kind of more express yourself as a person there's, you know, it just, I just kind of enjoy that a little bit more.

A lot of you have clients that are like that though. Most clients are very, more relaxed. I don't think I've had too many clients where they're, like super serious I've only had like maybe three or four. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:37:55] That's good then that means, you know, you're enjoying the work and working the people you work with.

Do you have, um, do you have like a brand wishlist that you'd like to work with or kind of like, you know, clients that you'd want to aim for anything like that?

Alex Kiesling: [00:38:08] Um, I've got, I've actually got, I've gotten that asked once before and I was like, I don't know if I have like a brand I specifically want, I was never really like.

A brand type person, but I will say, I do want to work for, this is gonna sound weird, but I want to do something for the MTA. I like the New York transit system, you know, the subway, because whenever I go on the subway, I see the get like that artist that like has their banner up on the subways. And they, like, they pick like a few artists to like, and I'm like, Oh, I mean, I don't want to be that artist.

I want to have my art on like a subway. And it seems like, so it's like one of those clients where people would probably be like, Oh, I want to work for Nike. I want to do this for this company. And I'm kind of like, I want the New York transit system. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:38:51] You'd want to see it every day, every day you're on the subway.

You want to be like that? I did that. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:38:55] Some clients are just like, ah, they get the cool kids. Like, that's like one of my mom like, Oh man, I get like the cool artists on there. They get like, Jillian Tamaki I want, I want to work for them. And there's yeah, there's this like this sometimes it's like that in art where you're just like, Oh man, like.

All the cool kids. Like, I want to do that now, but, um, yeah, it's, I can't really say I don't, I feel very satisfied with what I have at the moment. Like, I feel like I've worked for a lot of the clients that I've like, I think I had time was Google was my biggest one because I've had a lot of friends who like worked for them. And it just felt like I was like, Aw, man, like, that's so awesome. Like there's so many, like, they're just like doing so much fun things and I've gone to the Google office and it was like super cool. Like, just so you can just grab drinks and food whenever you wanted. And it's all free. And it's like, it was just like, I don't know.

I was like always just kind of jealous of them and their success. And then when I got that job from them, I was like, very, like, I was like, Oh wow. This is like, This is like everything I wanted. Um, so I think that was the biggest one at the time. Yeah. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:40:00] Um, you know, before we wrap up, I kinda, you know, I'm gonna, I, this sort of just popped into my head and maybe those will stick for the rest of the season.

Maybe it won't. But if you, um, if you had to look or I guess say in a year from now, you listen back to this episode and you can give yourself advice to your future self, what would it be? 

Alex Kiesling: [00:40:19] Oh, advice to my future self. I'm just hoping. I don't forget the things that I like. What made me happy with an art kind of thing.

It's like, I think that's probably like the best answer I can give, because like, you know, I feel like when you get older and you always see this, like, say as a kid, you're kind of go, like, you feel like parents get a little bit more boring. You always like happy adults. And you're like, and I think it's just because they get more, they just have more responsibilities.

And I feel like as a, I hope when I get older, I can still keep those responsibilities, but still feel like I can keep that level of imagination and stuff like that. I, I did worry that like, where I was like, I wonder if, like, I feel like I'm so much more imaginative, you know, when I was a kid you ever like listen to music and you wish you could just like.

In a Marvel fight scene kind of thing. It's kind of embarrassed. It's kind of cringy and embarrassing. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:41:12] No, no, I, I totally did that. I like, I remember I used to take karate as a kid and I'd get back and uh, just let the radio play. And then like I do karate to like whatever was playing on the radio in my front yard.

Very embarrassing. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:41:23] Yeah. Yeah. Like, Oh, I can be up to school bullying when I listen to music, I'm going to like have super powrs. It's like 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:41:28] that you imagine you're in the movie. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:41:31] Yeah. Yeah. And I feel like nowadays it's like, I don't have that. And I'm like, I wonder if I, like, if I it's, like, I don't know if I met you and just kind of shifted to, like, it became almost like my imagination became a little bit more analytical.

I like, I kind of like realized what are the things that I like creatively and I'm like, okay, like I can actually analyze like, oh, abstraction and this type of thing. Why do people like this when it's like little census of details, little, little gems with an art pieces kind of thing. And I kinda, I kind of feel like maybe it just shifted, but at the same time, I kind of hope that I like don't become like a boring old person and just kind of like, you know, do, do you, don't don't really try to, you know, be like the person that's like I'm senior art director.

I become slave to, to a brand or something like that. That'd be, that'd be pretty terrible. Totally. Yeah. 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:42:22] Alex, where can, um, where can people find you your work and how can they get in touch with you? 

Alex Kiesling: [00:42:27] Yea you can find me, uh, uh, my Instagram is just @alexkiesling just should be my name. I got a little, little red face, blue hair, character as an icon.

Uh, otherwise my website is just Uh, pretty, I, I think that's just part of the, part of the freelance world. Got to make sure you're you can be easily found, but yeah, so it's just type my name and you'll find me 

Jon Sorrentino: [00:42:49] AWesome. Alex, thank you so much for joining me on this episode. 

Alex Kiesling: [00:42:52] Thanks, Jon.

Yeah, it's super great to talk to you.

Jon Sorrentino: [00:43:00] This podcast is produced by me, Jon Sorrentino, out in Jersey city, New Jersey. Editing mixing and music are all done by my friend, Kevin Bendis and Greenpoint Brooklyn. Definitely check them out. You can find out more about welfare and where to listen or on social media at @wellfed.podcast.

Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you soon.

Illustrator Alex Kiesling Discusses The Rocky Road to Full-time Freelance and Working With Big Brands

Alex Kiesling is an illustrator and animation director currently based in Brooklyn, New York. I don't remember exactly how I came across Alex's profile but I have been following him for some time now and have enjoyed seeing his work pop up in my feed. Alex and I discussed what it was like after graduating from school with only $600 in his bank account. Alex also discusses how even though his first internship was not the most fun, it made a huge impact on his style and process today.

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Listen to episode 1 of season 4 with Verena Von Pfetten, the founder of Gossamer

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Illustration by Alex Kiesling
Illustration by Alex Kiesling
Illustration by Alex Kiesling
Illustration by Alex Kiesling
Illustration and animation by Alex Kiesling
Illustration and animation by Alex Kiesling
Illustration by Alex Kiesling
Illustration by Alex Kiesling
Illustration by Alex Kiesling
Illustration by Alex Kiesling