This interview first appeared on the Pikaland website in March 2011
Sara Guindon (USA) is an amazing illustrator, animator, paper-puppet maker, and one half of the creative duo Pin Pals (alongside Samantha Purdy).
Pinpals Blog: thepinpals.typepad.com/
Hi Sara, how are you? What are you up to at the moment?
Hey! I’m doing well. I’m typing my answers in a really good neighbourhood coffee shop. At home I’m working on some rough illustrations for a children’s book about a loon.
How did you first get started in art, is it something that you’ve always been interested in and excelled at?
When I was little I used to sit outside my mom’s aerobic classes at the Y with a big shoe box of markers and lose myself doodling. I was always a big daydreamer and liked to make up stories and draw them out. My mother draws and encouraged me from a young age so it’s always been something I was interested in.
How long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?
Throughout art school I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with myself. I stopped drawing all together and became more interested in contemporary art and design. In my last year I started drawing more and that is probably when I really started drawing the way I do now, in around 2004.
Your current exhibition, Nightcap, is soon to come to a close at the Assemble Gallery in Seattle. The show pieces looked so great! How has the exhibition been?
Nightcap was a lot of fun! I really wish that I could have gone to Seattle for the opening. It was exciting to show my work so far away in the USA and the ladies at Assemble are the bee’s knees.
I read that a lot of the ‘Nightcap’ exhibited work is ‘a collection of collaged drawings depicting loners, drifters & night owls experiencing silent intimacy with one another or with the artificially lit world that surrounds them’, and I got to thinking, does such work mimic the life of you as an artist? Is art creation for you a process of solitary or lonely pursuit?
Around the time of my show at Assemble I was going through a particularly lonely time. We had just moved to Denver and we were adjusting to a new city where we didn’t know a soul. I was feeling displaced and especially shy. On top of that, I went from working in a studio with others to working from home. That circumstance may have contributed to my description of the show. A lot of the settings and imagery I use are from my past. The first memories that come to mind right now are a lot of waiting around in donut shops and bus stations when I was younger. I like those places where you can be surrounded by people and still be alone, I find it really comforting. I guess you can apply that thought to most situations in life but certain places bring that feeling out for me more than others.
You regularly use collage and mixed media within your work, and I read somewhere that a large portion of your time is spent drawing, painting, cutting-up illustrations and putting them back together again. What is it about these techniques and mediums that most suits you? Do you love the process of working in these mediums? What stages, from start-to-finish does a typical piece of your work go through, and over what time frame?
I like a lot of ephemeral things like comics, food packaging and the mascots and cartoons on its labels, and I like the fragility of paper. Watercolour and gouache suit me because they’re light and seemingly less permanent than acrylics, like stains that fade. My process is kind of random and I have a really hard time planning a piece exactly. I need to draw little bits and see them placed together first. I often spend a long time on drawing parts that don’t end up working out, so I have a box of random heads, wheels, shoes and other silly things. I like my process, I’m not always sure what I’m going to get in the end, but I enjoy watching a piece come to life. It’s hard to say how long it takes me because I’ll work on a few pieces at a time, some take too long and some are not so bad.
I’ve always wondered about collage and mixed media… do you find that working in this way frees you up from certain pressures of perfection over the piece as a whole, since you can cut away and re-add or reposition aspects of the work before it is complete, in a way that is not possible when working in alternative mediums, such as straight canvas work? Do such elements of experimentation and reduced demands for immediate perfection suit you well as a person and as an artist? I know for sure that for me, being faced with a blank canvas to ‘get right’ first time would prevent me from feeling creative at all.
I definitely find it easier. I need to be relaxed when I’m drawing, if I’m feeling hesitant or uptight things get all stiff and it doesn’t look right. Whenever I work on a piece as a whole, as one flat drawing, it seems to lose something. I also like that when working with smaller parts each piece has my full attention.
I am completely in love with the dresses and other clothing that Supayana has made using your illustrations printed onto cloth. Did you ever imagine people would we wearing your art? How did the project come about?
Aw, thanks. I love Yana’s clothes too! We’ve been neighbors in plenty of Montreal craft fairs and eventually became friends. I think the Pin Pals have always felt a special kinship with Supayana because we both have an appreciation for thrifting and nostalgia. Yana and I decided that it would be fun to collaborate on a project. She makes these adorable tops and dresses using thrifted scarves and bandanas. I made some illustrated bandanas and had them printed with Spoonflower and Yana worked her magic. I love that there are cute ladies wearing my drawings.
Not so long ago you moved from Montreal to Denver. Have you noticed differences in the art scenes/cultures between these two locations?
Denver is definitely different from Montreal. It’s hard for me to describe the Denver Art and Culture scene since I haven’t been here too long. So far the way that I’d describe Denver is that there are a lot of old cars, old bars and food trucks that sell biscuits and green chili (not together) and there are some great thrift shops and really adorable turn of the century houses. Trains “choo choo” through the city all night long and there is a bar with leather booths and a juke box where they give you a free shot and a single rose with your drink, that’s my kind of city :)
I don’t know if you’ve been there long enough to know yet, but are there any Denver, Colorado artists, events, galleries, projects, magazines (etc) that particularly excite you right now?
I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t explored Denver galleries too much yet. I know that there is a lot going on here and I can’t wait to discover new artists. There is a sweet craft shop in my neighborhood called Fancy Tiger and they offer free craft nights where you can craft, chat and snack with a fun bunch. Craft night kept me sane when I was going through intense periods of isolation.
Now that you’ve moved to Denver, how is your arts and crafts collaborative project, Pin Pals, working, long-distance? Could you explain what Pin Pals is all about and what you’ve got up your sleeves?
The Pin Pals are a business that I run with Samantha Purdy. Sam cross-stitches and I draw and we’ve been collaborating and selling crafts together since 2005. The long distance has been an adjustment for us. Things have definitely slowed down on my end, since the Pin Pals are Montreal based. We’re working on a new plan for the future but it’s hard to say how things will turn out right now. I really miss being in the same city. We had a lot of good times hustling to make deadlines and rewarding ourselves with balti paneer and wine at our favourite restaurant in Montreal.
I love that your work has been described as incorporating ‘mature women with great hairdos and smart outfits’, that your work is ‘inspired by grocery stores and tan-coloured nylons’, and that you expect to be ‘creating scenes that include more discount bins, vending machines and anything bottled and canned in the near future’. If I wasn’t already in love with your work, I’d have fallen head over heels with it from those descriptions alone! How important is ‘the familiar’/’the everyday’, and such daily observation to your art work?
The familiar and everyday are important to my work. I also like movies, and productions that are fake or put on. A lot of my work is inspired by memories and objects and since I piece it together, I approach my drawings as if they were a set or a play, in that way they’re less everyday. Cans, nylons and vending machines are inanimate objects, yet they bring about feelings of emotion for me. They remind me of scenes from real life and ones acted out in movies. I guess I’m a sentimental drama queen.
There’s a strong feel of nostalgia about your work, whether it be the tones and hues, the materials used, or your subjects and their clothing/style. As such I find your work to be really approachable and it gives me somewhat of a warm feeling. Are aspects of nostalgia, vintage materials/techniques/sources, and folk art important inspirations to you and to the style and sort of work you wish to produce?
Most of the things I surround myself with are second-hand. Vintage children’s book illustration and craft books from the 60’s and 70’s are definitely a source of inspiration for me. Lately, I love getting lost on YouTube and watching older music videos from all sorts of genres. I’m inspired indirectly by a lot of random stuff.
One of my favourite aspects of your work are your paper dolls and paper puppets. Where did your interest in dolls and paper puppetry come from, and when did you first start making your own?
I’ve always liked having toys and dolls around. I started making paper puppets back in school, probably as a result of working in pieces. I brought some to a zine fair to sell a few years back and I haven’t stopped since.
Some of your paper puppets have appeared in animations you’ve made. How did you get in to animation, and what sorts of animations have you produced?
Animation seemed to make sense for me as the next step from paper puppet making. My first animation was produced by the NFB as a part of an amazing internship that I did there called the Hothouse. Last year I made another short from home called Dropkin with the help of some talented musicians and with some funding from the NFB.
How do you manage your time in order to devote as much time as you’d like to your art?
That was always an issue for Sam and I with Pin Pals. We loved our business but we wanted to work on our own art work too. It’s to justify spending time on art when money is tight. Luckily, my hours were pretty flexible and I could devote certain days to personal projects. My house gets pretty messy at times but I try to squeeze in as much work as I can.
What’s your relationship to confidence, with regards to making and sharing your art?
I feel more confident now than ever with my artwork but putting myself out there has always been a challenge. I’ve never been good with the business side of things.
I’m presuming that (like most artists) you make art because you like doing it, and you’re good at it – so, what do you do on the days when the art doesn’t come easily to you – how do you fight off creative blocks, and/or are there any rituals or routines that get you into work mode?
Moving usually helps. Sometimes I go for a walk or a bike ride or I’ll turn on some nineties hip hop and do a few rounds of aggressive air punching. Reading art, fashion and illustration blogs on the internet is always a help. And I can’t forget thrift shopping; I recently bought an amazing hairdo book that I’m looking forward to sketching from.
What gives you the incentive/confidence/push to continue making your art?
It’s too late to turn back now!
What’s in the pipeline for you for the rest of 2011?
I’ll be drawing loons for a little while and I have a few fun projects in mind for the Pin Pals. I’m also planning to get some new work together for another show hopefully in the fall.
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