An innate sense of empathy and compassion initially put her on the path to a career in nursing, but local illustrator Karen Alleluia has found her true calling through sharing messages of positivity, hope and courage through words and art.
Alleluia is the independent creative founder of K’Luia, a business that allows her to use her entrepreneurial spirit and art to tell stories of characters who overcome challenging issues everyone faces like rejection, feelings of inadequacy and loss.
Among her favorite works: an oil painting sold at the Chula Vista Art Gallery that portrayed the Florida man George Zimmerman who fatally shot Trayvon Martin as a greater threat than the teenager; a painting that showed an exaggeration of how some people view women wearing Niqabs, the garment that covers both the face and neck but leaves the eyes exposed, which took Honorable Mention by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego; and 100 portraits that were part of a campaign that raised more than $2,500 for Black and underrepresented communities.
“My hope is that my designs will serve as reminders to be resilient in your struggles, to be compassionate toward others and to always choose joy,” she said.
Alleluia works in various art styles and genres, from creating book art and printed merchandise to painting murals, designing toys and building ceramics. She has developed creative marketing campaigns for small businesses and also teaches children how to draw.
She also plans in the near future to release “Fish the Blue Eared Fox,” her unpublished, 42-page children’s book that has been a project for Scholastic Co.’s Mentorship Program.
“I like to create stories, specifically children’s books, that help when things get hard,” she said. “I want kids to understand that things may be heavy now but they can get through it. It’s important to keep addressing issues of grief and failure and rejection, which can destroy self-esteem and stop us from moving in a forward direction.”
Alleluia also created a plush toy fox related to the book, and through the crowdfunding source Kickstarter, raised $17,000 in two weeks.
The 31-year-old who spent her teenage years in National City and graduated from Morse High School in 2010 began her career having fun drawing stories around adventures with her two chihuahuas, Bandit and Fatboy. Within a year, she said her love for storytelling with art grew beyond her home setting.
“I found great purpose in projects that allowed me to stand up for those whose voices have been silenced,” Alleluia said. “I realized that I wanted to do more than just create likeable characters or attractive art – I wanted people to connect with my work so they would feel empowered to stand up for someone, even if it’s just for themselves.”
Alleluia said partly for financial reasons, she looked into nursing, worked for several years in a nursing home and excelled in prerequisite courses needed to be accepted into a nursing school. But she said in a very competitive field, she was turned away everywhere she applied.
“Every year I got rejected, so I took it as me having free time and getting better at the arts,” she said. “After the third year I got rejected, I told myself, ‘I don’t think I should be going this route.’ And I started turning my thoughts to doing art because it was fun.”
She was also good at it.
Alleluia attended Southwestern and San Diego Mesa colleges and earned an associate degree in Studio Arts. During that time, she was selling oil paintings and realistic portraits of people at Southwestern College and the Chula Vista Center shopping mall.
“At that time, I decided to no longer pursue nursing and put it all in for being an artist,” she said. “At the end of the day I saw that nursing is not where I belong. I also realized that art has the potential to change the world through being creative, even if it is just one interaction or one person.”
She officially launched her art business later in 2021, creating art on pins. She also began a partnership with Asian Business Association San Diego, helping paint a mural to combat Asian hate. During that time, she also wrote and illustrated the book for Scholastic.
Alleluia said it is only now, two years later, that she is fully concentrating on life as an artist. “This is my first year of feeling like I have it together,” she said. “All things I create, I put my heart and soul into it. I’m still open to exploring different creative ways to support my artistic projects. I’m always looking for investors so I can fund more designs of products I’ve had success with such as books, ceramics and my next plush toy.”