By Staci Wolfson
The arts community in Baltimore is small and quiet, but nonetheless vibrant, making subtle but worthwhile contributions to the art world. At the center of this is the Maryland Institute College of Art, one of the oldest and top-rated art schools in the country. With top programs in fine arts and graphic design, the school regularly churns out successful artists.
One such gem is award-winning designer Jennifer Epstein, who launched Popkern, a design and animation studio early in 2010. Since establishing Popkern, Epstein’s work has become highly sought after in New York City, where she now resides, and across the country.
Although Epstein lives in New York, her development as an artist has its roots in Baltimore and its suburbs, where she grew up and got her education as an artist.
“I always had a passion for art from a very young age,” Epstein said. “Instead of a lemonade stand like other kids, I had an art stand with signed original artwork at the end of my driveway.”
As Epstein continued to pursue her goals, her parents supported and encouraged her, enrolling her in art lessons, buying her art supplies and driving her to portfolio review days.
She knew she wanted to go to art school for college, and when the time came in 2003, she turned down acceptance from revered schools like the Rhode Island School of Design and Parsons the New School for Design in New York, opting for MICA.
“The four years I spent at MICA really shaped me as an artist,” Epstein said. “Though the animation department had just started when I entered my freshman year, it had a really strong faculty that was able to help me reach my goals as an animator.
“Being around so many talented peers was nothing short of inspiring. … It’s a great place to grow as an artist and develop your skills while living within a creative community,” she said.
After completing an internship with Fuse and later with MTV, Epstein joined MTV as a designer and animator in the on-air graphics department. While she was there, she created graphics that went into various show packaging, the Video Music Awards, and the MTVu Woodie Awards. At the age of 24, Epstein left MTV to found Popkern, an achievement that she says makes her prouder than any project or award.
“It was the scariest and most rewarding experience I’ve ever had,” she said. “Having new clients call me from all over the United States asking me to work on their projects is still an incredible feeling.”
And the name?
“I wanted a catchy name that people would be able to remember, but would also serve as a loose description of my work,” she said. “My pieces are rooted in pop culture, hence the ‘pop,’ and kerning is a design term used to describe the spacing in between letters.”
Representing her Charm City roots in New York, Epstein is showing no sign of slowing down.
“I can work on anything from show packaging, to an awards show performance screen, to animation for an iPad app,” she said. “As silly as it sounds, the hardest part of being a freelancer is having to turn down amazing projects because I’m already booked somewhere else. There seems to be an endless amount of new and interesting projects to work on.”