Hartford Art School Grad Goes from 'Mentee' to Mentor

Thanks to the University of Hartford for this great interview.  

Posted by Barbara Steinberger

As an illustration student in the University of Hartford’s Hartford Art School, Christine Kornacki ’07 gained artistic inspiration and practical advice from two faculty mentors in particular.

Professor of Illustration Dennis Nolan “made me fall in love with children’s book illustration,” Kornacki says, while Professor of Illustration Bill Thomson taught her how to work hard, promote herself, and become a better artist. Both Nolan and Thomson are successful illustrators and authors of children’s books.

“Dennis loves life. He loves illustration. You can tell he loves everything he does, and he just instills that in his students,” Kornacki says. “Bill is the one who teaches you the business (of art). He is really good at pushing you. He teaches you to put your name in the wind and see what comes back.”

And that’s exactly what Kornacki did. After graduating from the University in 2007, she moved to New York City and got a job as a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At night, she worked on freelance illustrations and sent out postcards promoting her work.

Less than a year and a half out of college, Kornacki got an agent, who helped her land a dream assignment — illustrating books to go with two new American Girl dolls, the iconic, prize-winning dolls that represent different periods in American history. The first person Kornacki emailed when she got the job was Nolan.

Today, at the age of 30, she has already illustrated nine children's books — and she has become a mentor herself, teaching Hartford Art School students as an adjunct faculty member in illustration. Kornacki taught at the University for the past three semesters, and she is hoping to teach again next fall.

“I have a unique perspective — I’m still new enough in the field that I can really relate to the struggles students have,” Kornacki says. “I try to teach them the things that I’ve learned along the way.” For example, she has advised students on how to work with different kinds of clients, and how to promote themselves by going to conferences, entering competitions, and showcasing their work on social media.

Kornacki is still learning as well; she is a student in the Hartford Art School’s prestigious Low Residency MFA in Illustration program, and expects to graduate in July 2016.

All together, she has illustrated six American Girl books that tell the stories of Marie-Grace and Cécile, two best friends living in New Orleans in the 1850s. It took her two years to produce the 25 paintings and 20 smaller portraits that appear in the series.

In addition, she has illustrated three other children’s books: The Sparkle Box, an award-winning book about a child who gives back at Christmas time; an Easter sequel called The Sparkle Egg; and another Christmas book called The First Christmas Night.

For her MFA thesis project, Kornacki is illustrating and writing two children’s books, marking the first time that she has authored a book. One book, The Forest, is about a girl who gets lost in the woods and ends up meeting the four seasons. The other book, The Midnight Kitchen, tells the story of a boy who is a picky eater and who ends up in a magical kitchen, where he learns how to cook.

Kornacki hopes to continue teaching and mentoring illustration students. “It’s very exciting. I didn’t expect how much I would enjoy it,” she says. “It really is inspiring to see the students’ work, and to see how they’re thinking and problem-solving. It’s also made me look at my own work and at the way I problem-solve even more.”

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