Baltimore native Kiara Whiting has been going to @TobyMac concerts since she was 8. Brimming with creativity from an early age, she would regularly make some form of original art and bring it to the award-winning singer at every show until it became something of a tradition. Today, she’s the graphic artist behind Toby’s new album, "Life After Death." While her “day job” as a graphic designer for Christian apparel and accessory brand Elevated Faith finds her dreaming up design ideas for clothing, stickers, phone cases and jewelry on a weekly basis, she has independently designed artwork and select merchandise for @Lauren Daigle, @for KING & COUNTRY and KB, among other artists. “Basically, every day I’m waking up and coming up with a new idea,” she says.
An avid fan of Christian music, the 22-year-old talent recently chatted with K-LOVE to share more about her habit of gifting artists original art, her unique creative process, and how she earned the opportunity to design the full packaging for TobyMac’s latest release.
K-LOVE: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Obviously, you’re a huge Christian music fan, but did you grow up in church?
Kiara Whiting: I grew up listening primarily to Christian music. I want to say I started going to church when I was three or four. I have a twin brother. So when we were younger, we did karate together. Right next to where we did karate was a church. There was a children’s church, and then the building next door was the main sanctuary. After we finished our classes, my mom was usually teaching a kickboxing class, so we would just run around in the parking lot. And one day, these people were like, “Come to children’s church while your mom is doing her class.” So that’s how we started going to church, and we’ve been in church ever since.
K-LOVE: Where did your interest in art initially come from?
Kiara: My mom’s really good at drawing. And I grew up always making things — just creating in general. I’ll sew, I’ll paint, I’ll do anything. I was in art clubs in elementary school, and in middle school and high school, I would get into trouble for not always paying attention in class. While the teachers were talking, I was the one always drawing or doodling. And then somewhere along the way in middle school, I decided to start an art account [on Instagram]. Ever since then, when I would go to concerts, I would bring art. Even if there wasn’t a meet & greet happening, I would still bring art and find somebody on the tour who could pass it on to the artist. And that’s just how I started building connections and stuff. It’s been super cool to see everything come full circle.
K-LOVE: Was there a point where you knew art was your calling and what you wanted to pursue professionally?
Kiara: Well, I knew it was something I always wanted to do, but I think there’s a difference between knowing what you want to do and knowing what you’re supposed to be doing. I always knew I wanted to do art, but I don’t know that it was necessarily solidified until I started getting jobs and doors started opening. I think sometimes you can chase the things you want, but that’s not necessarily where you’re supposed to be in that season. It’s like a daily thing for me. I’m always trying to make sure I’m still where I’m supposed to be, doing what God wants me to do. Because it can change at any second. This might be my season now, but that’s not to say ten years from now, it will be. I think it’s a daily thing of asking God to clarify your calling.
K-LOVE: You started making art for artists simply because you were a fan and because you truly loved art, not because you ever intended to get a job out of it, right?
Kiara: Yeah. When I sold my first piece, it wasn’t through bringing anything to shows. It was on Instagram. I was 16, and I posted a drawing that just said Unashamed in these drippy letters. I would post a drawing every day before school. I posted this particular drawing one morning, and then I got on my phone after school and I had all these notifications, and I’m like, “What in the world?” The Creative Director at Reach Records, which was Lecrae’s record label, messaged me and said, “Oh, we really like this. We want to use it on a shirt.” I had no idea that was a thing people did. I wasn’t posting art thinking, Oh, somebody’s going to put this on a T-shirt. So, they bought that design, and then that planted the seed; but even then, I didn’t really know anything about design or what that process looked like until I went to college.
K-LOVE: As you’ve given art pieces to artists at concerts, have any of them ever reached out and wanted to purchase a piece after a show?
Kiara: I’ve gotten a few jobs that way, actually. I met Lauren Daigle pretty early on in her career. She was touring at different churches, and I met her at a meet & greet. I got a little sketchbook — probably a 5 x 8 sketchbook — and I made a drawing on each page for each of her songs. And she was like, “I love these so much.” She bought two of those designs, and they were just drawings from my sketchbook. She made them into posters. So that was fun. And one time, I painted a jacket and wore it to a for KING & COUNTRY show. And then that ended up being one of their merch pieces later on. Starting my Instagram account, I never anticipated it to turn into anything, because I was literally a kid, but it’s been super cool to be able to start working with people just from bringing art to shows.
K-LOVE: When did you initially meet TobyMac?
Kiara: TobyMac is definitely one of my favorites. I went to a few of his concerts, and I think the first time I met him was maybe in 2010.
K-LOVE: How did the opportunity to design the packaging for Toby’s new album, "Life After Death," come about?
Kiara: So this whole process was crazy. It initially started because Toby was coming to town for two nights on tour, and I cannot still to this day go to a concert empty-handed. So I made a T-shirt. That’s my new favorite thing. I will screen print T-shirts for concerts, or I’ll paint a jacket. I made a “Jesus Freak” T-shirt, and I posted a picture of it a day or two before he was coming here. And he messaged me and was like, “This is so cool.” Then he said he’d been meaning to reach out because he wanted me to work on something. He was sending a project out to a few different people, and he wanted me to take a crack at it. I didn’t even know what the project was at the time or that it was going to be the album cover.
K-LOVE: What assets did he initially send you? Did you have advance music or any specific direction, or was it very open-ended?
Kiara: I just had the title and this picture that he wanted to use. We didn’t end up using the picture for anything. I was taking some phone calls with him, which was so surreal, and I was talking to him and sending him some options. And then I met up with him at the concert while he was here, and we discussed some of the options. But even then, I still didn’t know if I was actually going to get the job.
K-LOVE: You ended up designing the cover art for his single, “The Goodness,” first. How did that happen?
Kiara: After a few days, we tabled the "Life After Death" cover because “The Goodness” was coming out as a single before the album. I don’t think we were super set on any direction we were going in for "Life After Death." So I think focusing on “The Goodness” helped us see the bigger picture.
So I heard the song, worked on the single cover for that, sent him some options. I want to say I sent four or five options for that. And I knew that the cover we landed on in the end was the right one. It just felt right in my soul. When we decided that we were most likely going to use the cover we landed on now, then we had to figure out how to work "Life After Death" to match it.
K-LOVE: Being a longtime TobyMac fan, what were your initial thoughts when you heard “The Goodness” for the first time?
Kiara: When I first heard the song, I was sitting at my desk. I like to close my eyes and listen to songs. When I got to the chorus, I was like, “This is the song of the summer!” It was just so upbeat and happy. So that’s when I knew I wanted the artwork to be something bright. When you hear the song, it’s so hard to think of just one illustration or one image that fully encapsulates what he’s singing about. He’s singing about the goodness of God, so obviously that’s represented by something different to everybody. I played around with a sun and some trees, but even that didn’t feel fully right. I just think the abstract cover really leaves it open for interpretation.
K-LOVE: The artwork for “The Goodness” looks like a painting. Did you paint that first, or was it all created digitally?
Kiara: That was all done digitally. They’re like paint strokes, and I can move them around in the composition and pick the colors; but starting off, they’re just black digital paint strokes.
K-LOVE: With all the projects you’re working on, how do you stay creative?
Kiara: One of my friends is also a designer, and she is about to start working for a small clothing company. She was asking me, “How do you come up with ideas?” And I’m like, “Girl, I do not know.” Honestly, I cannot even take full credit for what I make because there’s just no way, on my own, I would be able to come up with this many ideas. Literally, every day, I am praying, “God, tell me what You want me to say. Show me what message needs to be out there.” There’s no way I could come up with all that on my own. Absolutely not.
K-LOVE: What would be a dream project or dream client for you?
Kiara: I think my next goal, outside of doing album cover artwork and stuff, would probably be doing tour merch. I’ve done pieces that have gone on tour before. KB was just on Winter Jam, and I did a few of his pieces. But I think my end game would be to do somebody’s whole tour roll out. It would be super cool to go to a tour and see my stuff on the screens and on the tour tee and the merch backdrop — all of that. As for a dream client, I’ve been obsessed with @Anne Wilson. Obsessed. We’re around the same age. I think she’s 20, 21. I’m 22. We could be friends. No shame in my game, I listen to her album on repeat. Anne Wilson, girly, if you’re reading this…
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