Written by: 
Jessica DeLeón

A year ago, Kristen Barnhart Peers ('18) received an email that offered the opportunity to achieve her longtime goal.

The creator of the children's book series Little People Big Dreams asked the Arlington-based artist if she would illustrate one of their books.

"I said, 'Of course,'" Peers says. "Illustrating a children's book has been my dream. I was ecstatic. It was hard to believe it was happening."

Iris Apfel book cover illustration

A month ago, Peers walked into her local Barnes & Noble store and looked at the copy of the Little People Big Dreams book about Iris Apfel, the 100-year-old flamboyant fashionista. The book complements Peers' work as a former illustrator at Frito-Lay and her popular Instagram account that features quirky, colorful artwork with positive messages. She said looking at the book was a surreal experience.

"I know, it's crazy," she says. "I never thought that would happen."

In fact, Peers only took one art class in high school and didn't like it.

"I was always an avid doodler," she says, noting she would draw on the back of tests. "I always had a creative spark, always making things."

She came across information about UNT's communication design program online, and it sounded like a perfect fit for her.

"While I was in that program, I kept drawing in lecture classes and that sparked that interest in illustration," she says.

Kristen Barnhart Peers

Peers noted all the communication design professors each had their own way of pushing and helping her. In her senior year, the portfolio class required her to create her own campaign for a company, inspiring her to open an online shop with T-shirts and art prints.

After graduation, she worked as a freelancer before landing a position a Frito-Lay's D3 agency, which creates content for social media, TV commercials and ads. She focused on Lays, mixing photography and illustrated objects -- such as a jar of jalapeño dip that she reimagined as a swimming pool with the dip as water.

"I did have a lot of fun," she says. "I learned a lot of skills that I wouldn't have learned anywhere else."

Now back to freelancing, she's created work for Michael's and other businesses. Her Instagram account boasts 88,000 followers and features her artwork often matched with her offbeat musings.

In fact, that's where the Little People creator discovered her and offered her the Apfel gig.

Peers had watched a documentary on Apfel and scanned through many photos of her outfits that are documented on her Instagram account.

"It was a perfect fit," Peers says. "She's so colorful. She's so spunky and unique."

And to think it all started with her doodling.

"I think my Instagram is my back-of-my-test-sheet doodling now," she says. "It's a place you can upload anything really. It's a safe place for my doodles. I enjoy when people can laugh or relate to my drawings because we're all weird humans and we can all relate to the weird things we do in life."

Continue Reading