Monday, 20 December 2010

Lauren Carney interview

This interview with Lauren Carney first appeared on the Pikaland site in October 2010.

Lauren Carney is an amazingly friendly artist, illustrator and crafter from Brisbane, Australia who constantly made me giggle while we were setting this interview up!

How are you? What are you working on at the moment?
I’m really well, thanks for asking! I’ve been quite a busy little bee over the past few weeks! I’ve got a group exhibition coming up next week, so I’ve been trying to finish off some large water-colour pieces for that! Then the weekend after I have the Finder Keepers Spring Markets on, where I will be selling my wares and meeting very lovely art folk! Crazy right?

How would you describe your art?
The content of my work is whimsical and curious. Romanticism plays a large underlying theme and I think that is portrayed by the fanciful characters within each illustration. My artwork touches on a variety of mediums, mostly traditional mixed with digital illustration. The linework is messy but heavily detailed, the colours are bright, and the subject matter is a quirky!

A lot of the characters in your work are very cartoon looking (a good thing!), are you a fan of comics?
I’ve never been that into comics, but always wish that I had been! I was never really able to get my hands on them as a kid, because I grew up in a small town with a shortage of cool comic books in general. However I did have a huge cartoon fixation from my younger years, and that has stuck with me to adulthood! So I think that has a strong influence over me to this day!

What puts you in the best mood for drawing?
Well I have a confession, just of late I’ve been watching Coraline and Fantastic Mr Fox each day to get me through my creative block! I’m pretty sure I watched Coraline fifteen times last week – I’m a little bit addicted. But hey, I churned out eleven paintings that week, so it must have worked? But apart from obsessive movie watching, I generally sit down with a cup of tea in the morning, and look over my favourite blogs, with some Neutral Milk Hotel playing in the background. Then I’m good to go!

What materials do you most often/ most enjoy working with?
Moleskin Art Diary, A 0.005 Art-line Pen, Watercolour paints and different textured papers.

How did you first get started in art, is it something that you’ve always been interested in and excelled at?Were you always good at art at school, and did you study art beyond school?
I’ve always been really into art! I used to make my own mini zines as a kid, and home-made graphic novels! Hah, they were epic too! I’m pretty sure I decided when I was six I was going to do something creative career wise! In high school I finally made my mind up to do a Bachelor of Animation at Queensland College of Art in Brisbane. I really enjoyed it, and was a total claymation/stop motion fiend, but preferred illustration more (maybe because there is less work? Who knows!) It was a really good degree, and the knowledge I learned from there I can apply to doing illustrations and design program work on the computer!

How and why did you move to making art professionally? How did you gain the confidence (in yourself and your art) to do this?
Getting the confidence was a three year process, I didn’t enjoy my artistic style in University, so didn’t really take it seriously until after I graduated. I remember sketching and thinking “This style just isn’t me, it’s not reflecting who I am as a person”. I started getting into a routine where each day I would draw something new and progressively created a style that I now can comfortably call my own. I decided that I had to be more proactive with ‘getting my art out there’, so did a lot of local art markets, emailing magazines, creating a blog / website / facebook page and generally trying to learn as much as I could from other successful indie designers!

How representative of you is your work? I ask this, as just by looking at your work I have a little inkling of what I think you must be like as a person!!
Ha ha! I would say there is a little piece of me in each drawing! I’ve found this balance in life, and I feel it shows in my work. I can embrace being awkward, messy, nerdy and a little bit odd. It’s something that lots of people can relate to. I want my images to convey a sense of nostalgia, show love and the importance of appreciating everyday life. I’m on the small side of things, so like to draw my people that way. The girls are cheeky with tiny boobs, and the fellows sport bow ties and skinny jeans!

Your work has been featured in a lot of independent magazines (such as Charlie, Yen, Thaw, and Peppermint), are these magazines that you read personally, and as such how important to you is featuring within them?
Oh gosh yes! It’s so nice to be a part of something that you admire and adore! It’s so lovely being recognised for your hard work through different mediums, but to be able to hold in your hand one of your favourite mags with your own work captured within the pages – well, it’s a pretty awesome two in one!

The magazines aren’t solely art-focused magazines (I saw, for example, that in Charlie magazine your illustrations were part of a fashion spread), how important to you is meshing alternate aspects of art and culture together, and increasing exposure to art and illustration by it being used in less art-only/gallery-only spaces?
It’s so important to not put yourself in one box or category – metaphorically speaking. Design is incorporated into our everyday lives, we just don’t notice it half of the time. I’m trying my hardest to do the corporate stuff, along with the fun things and artistic integrity in the process.

I think the good thing about having an artistic nature is that you can apply it to heaps of different things, books, advertisements, gallery exhibitions, magazine spreads, clothing items, catalogues, game design – the list is endless really, its just being proactive and trying to pursue as many avenues as you can!

You have an upcoming exhibition in a joint show at White Canvas Gallery in Queensland.
What work have you created for the show? – Has the experience of preparing for a gallery show been different to how you usually create work?
Are you excited for the opening?

Oh I am so excited! I have emailed so many people – blogland friends, art friends, and some of my favourite shops around Brisbane! I’ve dropped off letters and sent bulk text messages – and those are the easiest jobs! Two of the artist’s Mark and Elizabeth have done all the organising for it, so I’m really learning a lot from them about how to go about getting ready for an exhibition! I thought it would kind of be like a high-school or university group assignment, where the deadline draws closer and the anxiety sets in, but its so not like that! It’s almost like a mini celebration, where you get to play show-and-tell with friends and art fans.

I’ve managed to whip up eleven mini A5 water-colour artworks, and three bigger pieces for the show! I feel that my work is better in person, because you can see the detail up close, whereas the detail isn’t as effective viewed on computer monitors! I usually upload pictures onto my blog when I finish them, but I’ve had to hold off for ages, and not show anyone, so I feel like I have a mini secret that is ready for sharing come Friday 29. Eek!

What keeps you motivated?
Hah, mostly coffee. Inspiration and motivation generally go hand in hand though. Ultimately artists inspire other artists. It’s amazing how another’s work, whether it be photography, painting, music or sculpture, can impact on you. I need daily inspiration to function. So I definitely take a coffee break once or twice a day and look through things that I know will keep me creatively going!

Your artwork can be crazy-intricate, even your journal pages are chocked full of detail. How important to you is attention to detail?
To me it’s pretty important. I just have this thing where stuff has to look busy, even if its simple, there still has to be little etchings, stitch marks, hair detail, freckles; all stuff that seems pretty insignificant but is rather important! I know when I look at drawings that are busy, I’m lured in, and it captivates me for a longer time frame than something plain would. So that is how I justify my busy pictures!

My favourite pieces of yours are the ones that feature the little ladies in their various kick-ass fashions looking super rad and hella cute (seriously, eyelashes and rosy-cheeks drawn in the way you do it will always make me swoon! And I’m a huge fan of well-drawn hair!), and also the ones that incorporate text and typography.
What inspires you to draw girls like these?

Hah, why thank you! It’s a well-known fact, that all kinds of folk, regardless of sexual orientation or gender, can appreciate the appearance a classy well-dressed lady!
The way someone dresses can tell so much about his or her personality. You get this real sense of individualism when you catch a glimpse of some people, based upon their clothing. I really try to capture the same thing with my little drawn ladies, because not all women are the same, it’s the shoes, the hair, the lashes, the odd glasses or array of freckles and personality that vary for each girl, so I try to convey that when I draw.

What sort of aesthetic things do you like; for example where do you work from, and what images/artefacts keep you company in your studio / place(s) of work?
I work in a nicely decorated office from home. On my desk you will always find no less than two coffee cups, a darling assortment of stationary, a gigantic mac and wacom drawing tablet. But apart from the boring essentials, I have my James Jean / Courtney Brims / Anke Weckmann postcard collection plus Frankie Posters creeping up my walls, A Wooden Toy magazine handy in case of emergency artists block, and the occasional bunch of flowers to make me feel out-doorsy.

Are you a collector/coveter/admirer of other artists’ work?
Hah, I seem to have this increasing amount of Dave Collinson work adorned around my household! I also have this stash of Miyazaki goods that keep on growing. DVDs, books, other bits and bobs. Haha. I would however, enjoy accumulating a collection of plushies like the ones Cat Rabbit creates. Then I could say “My name is Lauren, and I am a collector of friends, tea cups, art paraphernalia and fancy dressed plushies” I think I could win hearts with that one liner.

Who are your favourite artists that you could tip us off about from your native Australia?
Oh gosh, I have so many! Dave Collinson, Mel Stringer, Charmaine Olivia, Audrey Kawasaki, along with street artist’s Ghost Patrol and Creepy.

Beyond illustration you’re also a crafter. What to you enjoy about this form of creativity?
I think it takes me to a happy place from when I was younger! Oh nostalgia! I was always stitching, knitting and sewing in primary and high school, but didn’t really go any further with it until I realised it is quite fashionable to dabble in nanna-esque hobbies. I kind of put my own swing on it though, incorporating my love of drawings with hand made products!

What for you are the most enjoyable or rewarding aspects of working as an artist?
I think it would definitely be the way my work impacts on people. I love having a stall at markets because I can see their reaction in person. It sparks a little bit of curiosity at first then a giggle. It’s nice to know that my artwork can connect with people in that sense.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Lilli Carré interview

This interview with Lilli Carré first appeared on the Pikaland website in September 2010.

Cartoonist and animator, Lilli Carré (Chicago USA) is the writer and illustrator of the books Nine Ways to Disappear, The Lagoon, and Tales of Woodsman Pete, and has contributed comics strips to anthologies such as MOME. Lilli also creates the most wonderful moving drawings. I love the way her mind operates, and the amazing illustrated work it creates!


You were recently in Sweden for the Small Press Expo in Stockholm – how was the trip, and how was the expo?
It was really fun! I was glad I was able to make the trip, because the volcano in Iceland prohibited a fair amount of people from being able to fly into Sweden for the expo, but I was able to get there after zigzag bus trip from Oslo. I enjoyed exploring Sweden, and the comics show itself was great. There was a lot of great self-published work and many more international publishers and creators than I get to see at shows in the US. I was exposed to a much larger range of styles and formats than I I’ve seen before, it really got my juices flowing to see and talk to these other creators. It was interesting to notice differences such as how many comics from Sweden were completed purely in pencil rather than pen, and some of the different inventive binding techniques and storytelling styles and things like that.

What links does your illustration and comics work hold to that independent/DIY culture and community of alternative press and self-publishing?
I think of myself primarily as a cartoonist and an animator. I started making comics by printing them at school and self-publishing short stories and collections of my comics work and trading them and putting them out in stores and mailing them to a few people. I still try to self-publish, and I love to seek out and stumble upon other self-published work that excites me. There’s something very unique about ideas going directly from one person’s head and hands straight to paper with nothing else to taint it. That’s what I enjoy about experimental animation as well, that it feels like you get to be inside someone else’s head with nothing to interfere.

You debuted some new silk-screened books in Sweden that you’d bound yourself. I hear that this project was a result of your residency at Spudnik Press.
Could you tell me more about how you’ve been getting on with bookbinding, and how/why you got into making your own editions of books in this way?
I wanted to experiment more with screenprinting and playing with the overlapping of different transparent colors, so I decided to work on a small batch of stories that I could draw in a more graphic style, allowing me to play with these techniques. Like I mentioned above, I wanted to make a little batch of handmade hardcover books because I myself love the feeling of holding a handmade object in my hands that has some straight from someone’s head and hands and is completely unique, so I wanted to make something like that and experiment in the process. I had never really bound hardcover books before, so making 45 of them really pounded it in. I’d like to make more small editions of books this way.

How has your time at Spudnik been for you? How important to you has being there been, in terms of being a part of and receiving-and-contributing to: creative community, collective working, and skills sharing?
Working at the print shop for 3 months was a really good experience. Especially in contrast to how I usually work on projects, which is holed up in my work room in my apartment, staring at blank pieces of paper! Having to be at Spudnik for a certain amount of time each week was very helpful. It made me print and pull ideas out of my head that otherwise I might not be as active about working on. It was also really fun and helpful to be around the other regular printers in the shop, witnessing how they worked, what they were working on, and having good company while doing an otherwise pretty labor-intensive project.

The one trip I’ve ever made to San Francisco was the period when your book ‘Nine Ways To Disappear’ was being released by Little Otsu, and their storefront featured an amazing window display of your illustrated sculptures (that I presume you’d made?
Yep! I made the silhouetted cut-outs here in Chicago, and then mailed them to their SF shop, where they installed them. One of their workers skilfully reproduced the tea pot image from the cover of Nine Ways).

How was the experience of doing that?
And how important to you is working with and collaborating with independent companies like Little Otsu? What does working with independent companies allow and afford your artwork and publishing ventures?

Little Otsu has been very supportive of my work and wonderful to work with. My stories can be on the bizarre side, and it’s really important to me to work with people who I feel really get what I’m trying to do with my comics and images. They didn’t try to change the stories at all or shape anything in that sense— we worked together a lot on the look and feel of the finished piece, so it was a good collaboration. The other publishers I have worked with to make books of my comics, Top Shelf and Fantagraphics, have also allowed for my work to stand on its own, and have helped immensely with good book design and promotion and having faith in my more off-beat sense of humor and story.

What illustration projects are you working on at the moment?
I’m usually juggling a handful of different things. I just finished a piece in comics form about how the city of Chicago raised its own streets and buildings in the 1850’s, and now I’m working on a book cover, a series of animation loops for a website, and an illustration to be printed on a tin box.

How long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?
What a question! I suppose I’ve been embracing my creativity since I was a little kid— A major activity throughout my childhood was when my parents would roll out a big sheet of butcher paper on the apartment floor, and my sister and I would amuse ourselves quietly for hours by drawing images and stories all over it. So since then.

How did you first learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and gain the confidence to make art your career? A lot of people struggle with knowing that they’re ‘good enough’ to do that.
I don’t look at it as a high-pressure thing. I just make the work I want to make, and if there’s a venue out there where I can share it then I’ll go for it. I still work a part-time job at a bookstore and make the work that I get excited about making, I’m not lunging at making a big career for myself. I need the outlet of making the work and drawings and stories, otherwise I’d feel very expressionless and ready to explode. So it doesn’t seem like some big choice or anything about confidence, it’s just a thing I have to do for myself, and if I have the opportunity to share it then that’s an added excitement.

Which artistic techniques do you employ most often within your work, and enjoy using?
I like trying out different styles and techniques all the time. I don’t feel that I’ve mastered any single one, so I like to switch between media for whatever I think might suit a certain story or idea. I really enjoy the feeling of using a nib pen, I find it very satisfying to draw with one even though I feel like I have less control than with a regular pen. I like playing with different printmaking techniques, and seeing what types of looks I can get with coloring things in photoshop, too. I’m pretty all over the place when it comes to styles, though I think that my work still looks like it came from the same person even though it’s made with lots of different tools.

What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on so far?
My story The Carnival that was in the anthology Mome vol. 14. I just put a lot of myself into that story.

One of the things that strikes me over and over again about your work is the ‘mood’ or ‘atmosphere’ of your pieces – part, I feel, to do with the folk-arts visual style, part to do with your work’s poetry, and partly due to the fact that your illustrations often highlight the everyday, arbitrary, or unfair aspects of life that are nonetheless part and parcel of the vibrancy of life.
Would it be fair to say that there is a unique atmosphere about your work? And is it something that you have worked to maintain consistency over throughout your different work in different mediums, or does it naturally work out that way?

Certainly. Coming from studying experimental animation in school, I think that I try to convey a mood and a pace in my comics that comes from thinking about how to do so in a moving picture, where sound and time are an element. Sometimes creating a mood is one of my main objectives of a comic, equally alongside the artwork and the story.

Thinking about mood and atmosphere, your own personal experiences must influence what you create. Do you find it difficult to create and paint when in particular moods due to how it may influence the ‘feel’ of a piece?
Yeah, sometimes I find it hard to sit down and work on something if I don’t feel like I’m in the proper head space to do so. My book The Lagoon, which is very mood-driven, took me about 3 years to finish, because I had a lot of starts and stops when working on it. This was partially due to still being in school and working at that time, but also because it was hard to always be in the right mindset to work on such a moody piece and figure out the trajectory of the story. The setting of the book is in a southern swampy area, and I made the first 8 pages of that story while at a summer class that took place at a small lagoon, but once I returned to the city to finish it, it was harder to get into the same momentum.

Speaking of the everyday nuances of life that your art depicts, it is often a curious, surreal life that is shown; perspective, space, size, direction, and expectation are often played with [for example, tiny, miniature coughing men crop up in your work. As do people who are hiding under chairs, upside down, with fish in their mouths. Not to mention the giant proportions of the character Paul Bunyan, or girls with wide-set eyes, or a boy who shrinks to the size of a button.)
All of the above is also perfectly observed within your moving drawings. Does working with animation allow you with a further tool for depicting the more curious nuances of your characters everydays?

Sure, I mean there are different things you can do with both mediums to bring out nuances of characters and the everyday. I wouldn’t say it’s a further tool but a different one. Timing and little movement ticks and sound are expressed differently through animation than comics or single images, and can present a different kind of humor. The moving drawings I make are usually of something who’s humor I think would be suited for movement, and that I just want to animate it to create a tiny funny little moment in a way that I feel a single drawing couldn’t.

What is your favourite thing about being an artist, and working creatively?
Being able to draw the things I imagine and put my observations and thoughts into a form that articulates them better than I ever could through talking or singing or running. There is catharsis for me in being able to put bits of my mind and life to paper.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Laura McKellar interview

This interview with Laura McKellar first appeared on the Pikaland webiste in August 2010.

Online Shop:
Zine blog:

Hi Laura, could you tell us a little about yourself, and what are you currently working on?
I am a freelance graphic designer living in Melbourne, Australia. I’m currently working on artwork for exhibitions, album artwork, illustrated ceramic brooches, some logos and thinking about my next issue of my zine Okay.

How long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?
As a little girl I was encouraged to be creative. My sisters and I would spend a lot of time drawing and painting and using mum’s Derwents.

My uncle and grandfather were both photographers and I was influenced at an early age by them. I collect film cameras and use my photographs with illustrations. I am drawn to images I find in old 50s & 60s pattern books and have collected many which have had a significant effect on my work.

I studied graphic design for 5 years at college but I’ve been making things for as long as I can remember. Learning to use design programs on the computer has definitely influenced how I design my artwork.

How did you first learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and gain the confidence to make art your career?
I grew up in a very creative environment. My aunt is a professional illustrator so from a very early age I learned with a lot of hard work and dedication that it is possible to make art your career. I also learned at school that I could make a living from being creative and have since pursued it!

Why do you create? What is it about being creative that makes it something important for you to do?
Creating is a natural occurrence in my life. It makes me feel good and it is the best way for me to express who I am and how I think. I love making pictures whether they are for a job or an artwork, it is the most fulfilling time I use.

Where did your interest in collage, retro/found images, and mixed media come from, and how has your art developed over the years to incorporate it?
I have been collecting second hand picture books and dress pattern books for two reasons: 1. To use in my design + art work and 2. Because I can’t leave an op shop without one! I like the desaturated colours, detailed illustrations and the dreamy landscapes. The photographs in pattern books are so classic and I like the beautiful handmade clothing.

Although my work looks nothing like his I was influenced by Fred Free’s use of found images. Through making my own zine ‘Okay’ I have experimented with ways to use these images and right now am really enjoying using the found images with embroidery.

Where and how did you learn of your skills and interest in textiles and embroidery, and come to use these techniques within your work?
How do you actually construct each embroidered piece – do you sew directly onto paper?
I learned about sewing at a young age, my mum used to make all of our clothes and we were given hand-embroidered singlets for birthdays as children.

I have collected a lot of second hand sewing reference books and embroidery was something that appealed to me. You don’t have to be a master at it to make it look special. I transferred my drawings onto fabrics and started embroidering small details and have continued working like this.

Do you enjoy the processes of ‘handmade’?
As a child I received handmade birthday and Christmas presents which always felt so special to me. They had this very unique quality and aesthetic that felt so personal. I don’t think you can have the same emotional connection with another bought object that you can with a handmade present you receive from a loved one. It holds a much higher sentimental value that cannot be replaced. The time someone puts into handmade work is very precious and I value that.

How and why do you self-publish your artwork within your handmade zine, Okay?‘Okay’ is a personal project that I can have total freedom over everything! I love putting together in their special order. I send it to people I admire and people who are special to me. It’s also a great self-promotional piece.

Does each issue allow you to follow a unique theme?
I base the issue on something I am dreaming about. The theme of the last issue was Exploring and it is made up of pictures of places in my dreams and things I will do when I go exploring.

What is your history in independent self-publishing? Is Okay your first zine?‘Okay’ is my first attempt at self-publishing my own work. With the evolution of the Internet it is continually becoming easier to market yourself online and reach a broad audience. Through my zine I have connected with other people who self-publish from all over the world.

Do you think zines are a good way to share art, to display art, and to reach (new?) audiences or artistic communities?
I think putting together a zine is a personal experience because you put in so much time and effort with the content and then to go ahead with printing and publishing. In Australia zines are becoming popular and lots more people are starting to make them using their own artwork or featuring other artists. It’s very easy to get your work out there through online art and social communities. Okay has been featured on some respectable websites and blogs, it has allowed me to connect people who may have never seen it in a specialist zine shop.

Have you employed skills learned via self-publishing/ DIY publishing (skills perhaps of networking; working independently – utilising the skills and talents you have; creating/printing things yourself, from scratch; working in a handmade way; honing your skills, interests and ways of working outside of mainstream constraints; approaching interested and interesting parties yourself; exhibiting in communal ways, on collaborative projects and exhibitions, etc) in your everyday artistic practice? Do you find the worlds of art and DIY self-publishing intersect in such ways?
Through self-publishing Okay I have learned to push the boundaries and experiment with different stocks and printing techniques that I can do myself. It has influenced my approach to materials I use for my artwork. I learned to print on fabric this way.

I like to hold craft days with my friends in my studio. We make our own creative environment to inspire each other when we’re working on our projects.

Amelia Gragory, recently interviewed on Pikaland was asked, ‘What do you think is the biggest challenge for illustrators today?’ to which she replied: “There are just so many illustrators out there that the biggest challenge is getting your work seen and known. There isn’t a massive market for commercial illustration – at least not of the type that most illustrators enjoy creating.”What are your thoughts on this, from your own experience, and how do you personally approach this challenge?
I do agree with Amelia, she is right that it can be very tough. I have personally dealt with clients who take advantage of my skills and expect me to work for free. They think they’re doing me a favor by letting me do a job for them, to get my name out there. In the past I have done the work purely because it will look good in my folio, but to be honest it was the start of a bad reputation.
The thing about being creative is you never stop using that skill, it is inbuilt and if you are motivated enough you can focus on personal work to send around, put up on an online shop, and keep on your website.

Nature and fauna, alongside the human form often intersect within your work, (I’m thinking here of the animal mask portraits, and of your images of humans with animal heads -and visa versa.)
Is this as an exploration of identity? A comment on animals and humans sharing the same earth? Or, like me, do you just think people look funny, beautiful, and rad with animal heads and animal features?

Anthropomorphism (animals adopting human characteristics), humans with animal features and human interacting with animals are reoccurring themes in my work. I grew up watching Disney and more recently Studio Ghibli and reading picture books like Beatrix Potter stories which show similar concepts. The way children have relationships with the animals with no inhibitions and with free imagination, they live in harmony together. I am very interested in the relationship and I very strongly believe animals should be given a voice. This is the reason I express these concepts in my work. It does make me smile looking at an illustration of a Hare wearing a cable knit jumper or a gorgeous girl with a bird nest for hair!

What’s your favorite art project that you’ve worked on so far?
My favorite project is collecting and making images for my zine. I’ve taken Polaroids in Indonesia and Japan, found some beautiful second hand picture books in op shops, made stickers on my typewriter. When I have no jobs on I like to sit on my computer and play with pictures and compositions, combining different papers for the pages and putting them in a perfect order.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Katy Horan interview

This interview first appeared on Pikaland in August 2010

Katy Horan is a painter, drawer, crafter, and maker-of-things. She loves all things folky, spooky and crafty. Katy lives in Austin, Texas.


Hi Katy, how are you? What are you working on at the moment?
I am great, thanks! I’m experimenting quite a bit these days. I am trying to balance the tiny details with more texture and looseness. I am hoping to make some large scale figures that incorporate ghost and widow imagery…should be pretty spooky.

How would you describe your art?
I would say I make bizarro lady monsters out of tiny lace patterns that make my hands hurt. That’s the casual version.

Here’s the formal version: I intuitively combine fragmented visual references with imagery from my own memory to create something that is both ambiguous and familiar. I do this to filter images from my own subconscious while raising questions of what we visually identify as feminine.

What are your daily inspirations?
I get a lot of inspiration from things I read, listen to and watch. I like to use my work as a filter for all the tiny pieces of inspiration I absorb in my everyday life and that remain from my childhood. Folk and ghost stories are a source that I return to regularly.

I am also really into history, so I like to incorporate visual details from the eras that interest me. Right now, I am really into Victorian mourning customs, so there is a lot of widow imagery floating around my head and studio.

How did you first get started in art, is it something that you’ve always been interested in and excelled at?
How long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?
I always drew. As a kid, I did all kinds of other activities… dance, theater, piano…but art was the only thing that I never got bored with. It always felt more natural to me than anything else.

I always wanted to do something visual. I went to college initially to study costume design, but became more interested in children’s books than theater. I then transferred to RISD to study Illustration. After I graduated, my work gradually began shifting towards fine arts, so when galleries began showing interest and publishers weren’t, I decided to pursue a more fine art sort of path. Since then (around 2006) I have been pushing my work and process, trying to find deeper concepts and create more dynamic imagery.

How did you personally learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and gain the confidence to make art and creative expression your career?
My work is at it’s best when I work completely intuitively. I have always sought that place where the conscious mind shuts up and the work becomes meditative. I listen to audio books to distract the nagging, judgmental part of my brain, so that I can work without thought. It’s been a lot of trial and error to find the best way to get around my neurosis and ADD, so that I can just work and not worry about it!

As far as confidence goes…I am not sure how I kept that up. I am just so self conscious about everything else that it was a natural choice to pursue the art instead of another career.

And, what daily things give you the incentive/confidence/push to continue?
My work suffers when I remain attached to preconceived notions of what each piece should be. It is scary, but when I allow an image to go into unfamiliar territory, exciting and surprising things happen and I feel good about what I have made.

My studio is the safest place for me and I feel the most peaceful when I am engaged in the work. It’s my need for that peace that keeps me going. That said, it really is a hard road and many of us as artists seek some form of success or validation. I have been blessed with some great opportunities, but there have also been a lot of rejections. To keep myself grounded and my work honest, I try to keep everything in perspective, and focus on the enjoyment I get from making the work as opposed to any idea of artistic glory that I may have.

I have read of your work that you really value the connection between people and nature – hence why your art shows characters often performing ‘traditional’ tasks within their everyday environments.
How important to you is referencing ‘the everyday’ and ‘the personal’ – those simple everyday nuances of life that perhaps connect us all?

That was a central theme in my older work. I was living in New York City at the time and I think I was reacting to my extreme urban environment by creating extremely natural worlds for my characters.

My current work focus much more on singular characters. I went through a big change last year and decided to simplify my compositions so I could develop a new method of working. These characters allow me to explore historical and mythical ideas of femininity which is something that intrigues me everyday.

You have created work in many different ways, from acrylic and gouache painting on wood, to pencil drawings and work on paper, to brown pastel paper and tiny brushes. How liberating to your work is the ability for you to work with different materials and explore many different mediums?
It’s very important. It keeps me interested. All mediums have their pros and cons, so eventually with each medium, I get tired of the limitations. It’s refreshing to find a new way to execute my imagery and let go of the hassles of other medium.

I worked for a while on stained wood with acrylic and gouache. When I started exploring a new process, I turned to paper because it is so immediate and allowed me to experiment more freely and quickly.

Magic, domesticity, and femininity are all main focuses in your art; is this a direct influence from your love for folk art, and interest in what art and history can teach us about culture and heritage, or is there a more contemporary aspect and comment being made of current society through your depictions?
Honestly, I think it is because I want to escape reality. I have always been a sucker for anything that allowed me to enter another world. I totally indulge this need with my work. I have never really been interested in cultural or social commentary. Even when I am investigating ideas of femininity, it is not overtly critical. It is in part my love of feminine beauty and decoration that my work explores these themes. I think in the end my motivations are purely personal. I just want to connect to the things I find beautiful and magical!

How important do you think it is to include and represent traditional ‘folk’ art forms in contemporary artwork like yours?
I think it is very important. All these art forms that at one point may have been considered outside or less than by the contemporary art world can make our work so much more interesting and dynamic! There has been a noticeable acceptance of (for lack of a better term) “low brow” art forms such as illustration and folk art lately, and I think it’s a very exciting development for the art world.

Speaking of the nature and culture of folk art, how important is the role of ‘story telling’ in your artwork – I ask this, as I think the centrality of ‘the everyday’ in your work adds story to your images.
Story telling was very important in my older work. That stuff was extremely narrative and literal in a way. It is still important to me, but I am trying to use it in a much more abstract way. My hope is that the viewer comes up with their own narratives when looking at my current pieces.

Your work primarily contains female subjects. What is it about femininity that draws you to capture its many guises within your work?
I grew up in Texas and although the pressure to be a feminine female is everywhere, Texas excels at it! I grew up wanting to be like the pretty women in the magazine, but I was also aware that the pressure to conform to preconceived notions of what women look like was wrong. I always felt at odds with the idea that most of the pressure on girls was related to their physical appearance. I think my current work is a direct result of this. I think am trying to reconcile my personal issues with this and my visual attraction to certain feminine aesthetics.

How much fun do you have creating and painting costumes? (I’m thinking here of my favourite work of yours, the incredibly intricate lace ladies in the ‘Lady Monsters’ series)
Um, I completely love it! I have always been drawn to costume and decoration. I actually wanted to be a costume designer for a long time. From childhood to high school, all I drew were ladies in crazy outfits.

You have said that it is comforting to you to reference ‘old fashioned’ “women’s work” (quilting/sewing/sacred ritual/gathering/domestic arts and crafts/etc) within your art. Why is this?
There’s something about the gathering of women to make something for a home that is both beautiful and comforting to me. They developed these art forms as a means to express themselves when they were expected to maintain a home. I love the intricacy and humility in all of it.

Your work is incredibly intricate and precise, and you are very particular about the muting of colour and the role that that plays in your images. On the flipside, I read that you are fond of experimentation and a relaxed exploration of ideas.
What role, therefore, does the notion of ‘perfection’ play in your artwork?

Experimentation allows me to discover new imagery. I then like to filter my discoveries through my ridiculous, perfectionist process. I like to see just how precise I can be with my line work, it’s a fun challenge and it can also be pretty meditative, which is nice.

That said, I am trying to be less of a perfectionist. I worry that the evolution of my images are limited by my need for precision. I want to see what I come up with if I experiment more with the finished pieces.

What for you are the most enjoyable or rewarding aspects of working as an artist?
Being alone with my thoughts and interests are probably the best part. In my studio, I am free to explore whatever pops into my head. If I want to learn more about the Civil War, for example, I can just research it and incorporate it into my work…Not that we need excuses to learn something new, but I love using my work as a platform to explore random interests.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Jill Bliss interview

This interview first appeared on Pikaland Website, April 2010.

Jill Bliss is celebrating ten years of her professional career as an artist/crafter/designer – during this time she has made some of the most exquisitely attractive illustrations, books, and crafts a girl could wish for; all with her unmistakable eco and natural stylings.

Name: Jill Bliss
Location: Portland, OR. USA

Hi Jill, how are you? [As I sit to write these questions to you the smell of freshly cut grass has just wafted through my open window, and it seems almost perfect, like whoever is cutting their grass knew I was speaking to you at this very moment!!]

Oh, I love that smell! Or the smell of spring air right before it pours rain – as if the entire plant world is releasing their scents before the rain washes it away!

May 2010 marks 10 years of you doing what you do. Is this anniversary a celebration of you first fully devoting your time to be an artist and selling your work, rather than you first starting to make your work?

The former! May 2000 I graduated from college [Parsons in NYC], and began making my way by making art and things for myself and for clients. My first self-assigned project was a book called “one” which I self-published the following year.

How did you first get started in art, is it something that you’ve always been interested in and excelled at?

I’ve always made art, and worked very hard at perfecting it even when I was really little. In his retirement years, my grandfather did Thomas Kincaid-style oil paintings in a studio space in his garage, which I would emulate but using pens and pencils instead of paint. My father worked at the Wall Street Journal in San Francisco and would bring home the end rolls of newsprint for me to draw on. I’d draw everything in my world, life-sized: friend’s fancy toys I coveted, the jolly green giant, my friends, unicorns… I’d even recreate 3-dimensional items on the 2-d paper, working out how to depict each piece of the item I was drawing, and learning how to build things that way. Drawing has always been the way in which I record and understand the mechanics of the world around me.

How long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?

My current style, of course, has evolved, but I’ve always been obsessed with expressing the world with definitive lines. Recently I brought in some of my college sketchbooks to show my students at Portland State University [I teach in the graphic design department], and it was amazing to see the progression of my work the past 15 years. As a student, I was taught that all of us have a unique creative voice and, no matter how our work evolves and changes, we all tell the same 2 -3 stories over and over. And, yes, a common thread of both line quality and subject matter really does run through all my sketchbooks and work! So, this is what I concentrate on imparting to the next generation of creatives: first deconstruct your work and the work of others you emulate and figure out the essence of what it is you love about it in terms of colors, shapes, subject matter, materials. Once you’ve figured that out, you’ll have a solid base for yourself as a creator and person from which to create.

How did you personally learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and gain the confidence to make art and creative expression your career? Confidence is such a slippery fish!

I was discouraged from pursuing a life of art and design by family and friends for a very long time. I grew up in the olde tyme days, before artists could make a decent living and connect with fans directly via the internet, Etsy and Paypal. It was looooong process for me to overcome this deeply-ingrained mind-set. Moving away from everyone I knew to go to New York City and Parsons School of Design, and meeting artists and designers able to make a living off their work helped me gain confidence that what I wanted to do was valid, but I still remember feeling guilty doing my art homework instead of more “normal” homework like some of my friends going to “normal” colleges.

How has your creativity, process and output developed/altered/morphed over the past ten years?

I’ve narrowed my focus and my interests – I’ve tried a lot of different ways of working and things I’ve made, and now have a good sense of what I’m capable of and have a sustained interest in exploring!

Sustainability plays such a big part in your work. Whether this be in the depiction of the nature in your actual art, and your devotion to sustaining our environments, nature, and the native ecology that we see around us – to the very fact that you have been doing-it-yourself and making a living independently from your art for the past decade, sustaining your life through your own talents, creativities and hard work.
How have you been able to find and maintain such creative, eco, and financial sustainability over the past ten years?

I’m always re-examining the way I do things and the things I do in order to live as simply and efficiently as possible. I’ve always lived this way, it stems from my farmlife childhood and stories from my grandparents about living through the second world war in the Netherlands. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a bit of excessiveness now and again! Mainly to remind myself why I don’t always live that way, and to further appreciate the simplicity of my usual existence. I’m no monk, or fundamentalist.

Much of your work is created using everyday items, and captures the small, intricate detail of nature. Do you find that being able to find artistic beauty in small things enables us to put our own lives into perspective – in terms of being able to remember our own individual existences and what they can mean in the grand scheme of things?

That’s part of it. I’m also really fascinated by the idea that everything is interconnected, each is a piece of the greater whole – that each is the same as everything else, just on different scales. In my head, I envision the world and everything in it as “circles within circles.”

What is something key that you’ve learned about yourself, and your work, during the past ten years?

I am driven to do this work, even in the beginning when it wasn’t exactly clear what type of work I was growing towards doing! Along the way, I’ve found it necessary to give up many of the typical life milestones in favor of being able to continue on this path. I’ve been pretty stubborn about it, and still can’t articulate exactly why except to say that this is what I’m here to do.

You obviously draw a lot from your locality of the Pacific Northwest/Northern California within your work – how important to your art has your (changing) environment been over the past ten years?

All the different places I’ve lived and visited have made me realize the inherent similarities of all things, ideas, people and places. That being said, my “home” is very important to me. “Home” to me is the west coast between Big Sur California up to Vancouver BC. I haven’t been farther north than that yet, but someday I may venture farther north and see if Northern Canada and Alaska feel homey as well.

How important is community to you? Whether this be an artistic community, or a network of cultural production, or indeed an (environmental) activist community?

Community is extremely important to me. That being said, I’ve never felt comfortable in large group environments, those feel so impersonal. I prefer the more genuine connection of interaction with members of my community on a one-to-one basis or in small groups.

Linked to this question, how important to you and your artistic practice has collaboration been (and continue to be); collaboration and the potential for sharing, gaining and realising ideas, building (artistic) friendships, and discovering or allowing untapped opportunities to come about?
I ask this, as I know you have collaborated in many international group shows, and often work alongside other artists – most noticeable Saelee Oh in your yearly calendar project.

The reasons for collaborating with others has changed for me over the years. When I first began, it was the excitement of learning alongside another creative person, seeing things from different perspectives, and learning different ways of working.

Now that me, my work, and my work process have all matured, the collaborations I seek out are less frequent and much more discriminating. I’m not looking to learn so much as I’m looking to find connections between myself and my work and the other person and their work. I’m also expanding my collaborations to work with other types of makers. For example, I’m about to begin a mural project with a local chef/ restaurant owner, the content of which is/will be determined by a series of conversations we’ve been having about the local food-production community and native vegetation in and near Portland.

Does working in an environment alongside your peers provide any specific benefits to you as an artist?

I don’t need to see other artists work for my own inspiration. At this point, my work visually evolves from itself, it’s a natural progression. I have a few handfuls of artist friends here in Portland and elsewhere who I seek out via email, phone, or in-person meetings on a fairly regular basis to freely trade inspirational philosophical ideas or business aspects of being artists, or to just to take a break from it all with someone else who understands the hardships and celebrations of daily life as an artist. We never discuss our work directly, there’s no need for that.

I read that you are running more Summer drawing workshops this year, in the parks of Portland. What do these entail – and what do you hope for them?

Last summer’s workshops gave me the opportunity to perfect some basic techniques I’d initially devised a few summers ago to teach my mom and her friends to draw. They were all adamant they couldn’t do it and I was equally adamant that they could.

This past summer, I knew it was time to begin teaching what I know to others. I’d put out the word to several colleges that I was looking to teach, but, me being an impatient DIY queen, I took the matter into my own hands and devised my own curriculum and classes! Now I teach a class in the graphic design department at PSU, and am in discussions for other teaching opportunities. And I still have the summer drawing workshops as well!

How important to you is this communal/community action, this avenue for skills sharing?

It’s essential. I’m very aware of how privileged I am to have the education that I do, and I feel the responsibility to pass on my knowledge. It’s rewarding to show others what they already know how to do, and to show them how to do it consistently.

How important do you think it is to encourage and empower us all to believe in our own creative abilities and potentials?

Of course that is important! It’s not only about empowering our own creative abilities and potentials, but also learning to understand and appreciate other’s creative abilities and potentials. Perhaps someone I’m teaching may not end up doing what I’ve taught them on a professional level, but after having taken my class they’ll be more informed and appreciative about the artistic process. Perhaps it will help them better relate or understand the world, or perhaps it will make them more willing to support those of us who commit our lives to it.

Linked to this, do you believe that we all have the potential to be creative and/or cultural producers everyday?

Our everyday world consists of both human-made and natural environments that co-exist, which is something we all have to find ways to recognize and come to terms with – whether it be drawing, photography, writing, what have you. We all have the potential to be creative cultural producers AND consumers everyday!

You have spoken about having an underlying hope that what you are doing will inspire and encourage a more thoughtful art and design industry (focussed on local economies, fair practices, less consumption, and more sustainability). To me, this hope is infused within the “look” to your work, a specific “feel” or “mood” of hope that pretty much allows me to spot, or feel a piece of your work from ten paces! The colour palette you use and the scenes/subjects almost make me feel like I can breathe your hope in.
It seems to be such a constant thread in your work – without this positive hopeful optimism, could you continue to create art?

Ahhhh, it makes me so happy when people tell me they can see this in my work – that’s exactly what I aim for! Making the work itself is very meditative and I have to be in a very specific frame of mind for it to turn out well, for it to radiate that optimism to which I strive. I’ve learned I need to surround myself with a very specific kind of open positivity in order to live the life I need to live in order to create the work that I do.

I’ve been told many times that living this optimistically is too naive and shouldn’t be done – but no one can ever give me a memorable reason why apart from “because you’ll be taken advantage of,” which has certainly happened, but much less so now that I’m vigilant about my surroundings.

I heard Bjork say something many years ago that has stayed with me always. I don’t remember the specific words she used, but the thought was this: “Making something ugly and dark and negative is easy because that’s almost the default of the human condition. Making something joyful and beautiful is a challenge, it takes constant vigilance to remain positive. And I love a good challenge.”

What for you are the most enjoyable or rewarding aspects of working as an artist?

I enjoy the empowerment of creating my own life that I’ve given myself – to be the change I want to see in the world. I can no longer imagine living by “the rules” that so many people seem to impose on themselves and others.