An interview with artist Krystal Quiles

H+R is celebrating International Women's Day by looking back at the process behind creating the exhibit Girlhood (It's Complicated), which just opened at the National Museum of American History.


In search of a way to give the exhibit's wide-ranging themes visual form, we saw a prime role for custom art and illustration. After a nationwide selection process, we chose artist Krystal Quiles. From billboard-sized murals to spot illustrations, her work personifies the spirit and voice of the girls interpreted in the exhibit. Here is what Krystal has to say about working on her first exhibit project.



What do you think custom art and illustration can contribute to a museum exhibit?

So much! Art offers different perspectives. It funnels information through your senses and allows you to view through a new lens that can feel refreshing. Art and museums go hand in hand for me. When there’s even a touch of creativity added to an exhibit, I think the potential for people to be moved and remember it increases significantly.


What's it like working at such a large scale, in 3D format?

To create the large scale illustrations I used digital tools which meant working on a screen. The screen I viewed the art through was much smaller than the walls of the exhibit so the challenge for me was envisioning the final product. When working at a small scale you can easily get caught up in little details however I had to remind myself of the big picture, literally. This was a fun challenge much like creating a puzzle, and more technical than I’m used to working. I broke up the murals in smaller blocks that would be pieced together by the designers and finally on site by the production team.



What was your creative process like?

Once I had the curator’s historical references and specific themes for the murals I jumped right in and started by collecting even more images and researching the topics I would be illustrating. I observed and soaked in a lot of information before putting pen to paper. With the curators we approached the historical content in two ways, some walls focused on specific photographs and in others I was given creative freedom to recreate historical themes using different photos. It was fun to collage these moments, it felt like I was capturing unseen moments in history.


Do you have a favorite piece?

Hard to pick! I loved creating the politics wall, this was one of the most contemporary historical settings and for this reason it meant the most to me. I collected so many photos of the 2017 Women’s March and wanted to capture all the different faces that went out to support and have their voices heard, suddenly the mural didn’t seem big enough! I also loved how the design team chose to depict Naomi Wadler at the podium so the crowd in the mural is looking up at her, it was such a powerful idea.


Which piece was most challenging?

The fashion walls were challenging but also the most fun. It was decided to highlight specific clothing for certain decades but it was challenging to single out one look. There’re fashion trends throughout history yet everyone wore the clothing differently, so to depict just one girl to represent an entire decade was tricky. I wanted to show diversity in the girls as well as the fashion.


What do you hope young women and girls see in your work?

I just hope the exhibit and illustrations that compliment the stories, inspire girls to be creative and to express themselves through whatever means speaks to them.



To learn more about Girlhood (It's Complicated) and to see more of Krystal's illustrations, check out the exhibition website here: https://americanhistory.si.edu/girlhood



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