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Meet Whittier Character Designer and Illustrator: Jenna Bergstraesser

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenna Bergstraesser.

Jenna, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I have been an artist for as long as I can remember. The road that led me to become a character designer and a design illustrator at Disney is really one of determination to achieve my childhood dreams.

As a kid, illustration was always my passion. I would ask for pencil and paper at every dinner out or event, doodle any chance I got, and paper my walls with drawings. My grandmother, an art teacher, would teach me concepts like perspective. I would say that when I grew up If I couldn’t be a rockstar (too impractical even to my child mind) I would be an illustrator of children’s books.

The only rival to my passion for illustration was theater and costumes. First grade Halloween I had four very different costumes throughout the day as I couldn’t choose one. Through grade school, high school, and college I performed in many shows, but what captivated me was delving into the characters. I would plot out their backstory, draw them in scenes, and design every outfit they could ever wear.

Once I got to Oberlin College, the duality continued. I majored in Art with an emphasis in Costume Design but definitely felt an epiphany during my two terms at London’s University of the Arts Illustration program. This was more than studying abroad – I was revisiting my childhood goals. I wrote my first children’s book, Lily the Knight, in which I used my costume design expertise in my medieval illustrations.

From then on it seemed art and theater were linked for me. Whether it was working as a poster designer for a series of theaters, a scenic painter, or in my first character design job in development for a mobile game, I used my costume and theater knowledge to inform my artwork and illustration.

My big break came when I was hired by Disney fresh out of college. I moved from Oberlin, OH, home to upstate NY to LA in the space of a week and began my year as Disneyland’s Costuming Professional Intern. Working on entertainment at Disneyland was amazing and the projects I had a hand in kept me thinking how I could wrangle staying after my year was up! I also wanted to find a job that could segue me back into the art side of things.

And fortunately, I did. I was hired as Design Illustrator for sublimated fabric in Character Development for the Disney Parks where I now work. It’s been mind-blowing what I’ve been able to work on so far, and even better to see come to life what I’ve created. I even have a trip planned for Tokyo next year to see some of my work on costumes at our parks abroad.

Outside of work, I’m now focusing on truly delving into character design and illustration. I’ve been designing freelance locally and remotely and like to get my stuff out on social media, where I’m forever building up my presence. My career is just getting started in terms of what I look forward to accomplishing.

Has it been a smooth road?
I have been incredibly lucky in my career thus far to not have any great setbacks; I have been privileged with great opportunities and very supportive family and friends. That being said, my stubborn optimism and my ambition probably also play a role in keeping me always looking forward and seeing the positive side of things.

Have you ever felt like giving up?
I think it’s tough to move to a new city and start out completely fresh, and that’s definitely what I did here in LA. But I think it also can bolster you forward. The make-or-break aspect of living in LA is quite the motivator and has helped me focus on my career and looking for more opportunities. Also, reaching out to others for advice has given me both new friends and cool glimpses into what other people are working on in this city.

Let’s change gears – is there any advice you’d like to give?
In terms of getting started, I would say keep yourself flexible. Find the company you want to work for (if you want to work for a company) and be willing to take a job not exactly in your field. Do that job really well but also show and tell them where your ambitions lie.

It’s a fine line to walk, but making your goals known to someone who can help you achieve them is really important. I believe I ended up with my Design Illustrator position from one that was less artistic because I showed my skills while proving I could do the work that needs to be done.

Freelance-wise, social media has been so important! Opportunities I’ve had have come directly from Instagram, from Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook– from sharing my art and sketches. That’s where I get a lot of my inspiration from other artists as well.

What are you looking forward to?
I’m excited to do more artwork, get involved in more projects.

In the future, I’d like to even further combine my skills and do character design for animated film/TV in the form of visual development. That’s what I’m working towards right now.

Contact Info:

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Image Credit:
Photo Credit: Ruby Lavin

1 Comment


    December 7, 2016 at 21:41


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