Recent Press & Podcast Round-Up!

10/18/17

Here’s a round-up for you of recent press (mostly for my new book A Glorious Freedom) and podcasts I’ve recorded! Enjoy!

The Creativity Habit Podcast – I talk to host 20Daphne about my story of exhaustion to burnout. We also talk about social media anxiety, the importance of having a clear vision and goals, the role of art and activism, and why it’s never too late to start your thing.

Forbes Magazine Article: A Few Wrinkes: The Price of Privilege

Interview on The Fold Magazine

Feature on The Jealous Curator

Excerpt from A Glorious Freedom on The Reset / Punchbowl

A Glorious Freedom reviewed in both BOOKLIST and Kirkus Reviews

Below is a review in Red Magazine from the U.K (Fun fact: I’m also one of the 200 Women in the book 200 Women, but more on that later this month!)

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CATEGORIES: My Books | Podcasts | Press
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On Self-Employment, Workaholism and Getting My Life Back

05/23/17

Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

-Mary Oliver

I could have titled this blog post What a Difference a Year Makes.

Or What Happens When you Really Lose It.

Or, simply, Freedom.

What I call it doesn’t matter. It just feels important to me that I write this down: part warning, part catharsis, part story of recovery.

I’m not telling this story because it’s at all unusual or because I think it’s in any way special. I’m telling it because the American ideal of busy-ness, success-by-hard-work, and the layer of bizarre importance we place on both social media & email — have the potential to be damaging. And I wanted to talk about how all of those things have impacted me and how I’m beginning to find freedom from them.

This is a story that started ten years ago when I left my job to begin making a full time living as an artist. But the important part of the story starts one year ago, almost to the day.

At the time, I was on a book tour on a stop in in New York City, and I was about to continue on to Minneapolis to deliver the 2016 Commencement Address at Minneapolis College of Art and Design and then do more book events the same week. I woke up in my friend Debbie’s apartment in Chelsea on a beautiful May morning, and came to the profound realization that I was done with the way things were in my life. I was exhausted, in physical pain, anxious and depressed. Something had to change, and this time was serious. I had hit bottom. I realized I could no longer sustain the intense workload and travel schedule that I’d been carrying for the past few years of my ten year career.

True fact: I used to be person who had a job and also thoroughly enjoyed her life outside of her job. I went to work (I worked for many years at two different non-profit organizations), felt committed and did my thing, but I didn’t bring it home with me. There was a tight container around work between the hours of 9 and 5. After 5 pm and on the weekends, I rested, swam, went hiking, hung out with friends, read books, slept in, went dancing, did some sewing and art projects, and relaxed in front of the TV.

Ten years ago in 2007, when I was 39 years old, I quit my job at the non-profit to pursue a career as an artist full time and, almost immediately, something inside of me shifted. As an artist just beginning her freelance career, I didn’t have an income yet, and I adopted a new mindset very quickly: time is money. I began to feel like even if I wasn’t working on a paid project (which I rarely did in the first couple of years), I had to be working on something — something that I could add to my portfolio for potential licensing, something that might spark some interest in my work from an art director (I started sharing my work online early in my career), or anything that might lead to something in the future. I also understood that because I was self-taught, I needed to work hard to develop my artistic skills and find my voice. If I wasn’t working, I began to feel like I was slacking. This mindset was buttressed by the fact that I was authentically excited to be making art full time. I loved what I did, and compared to an office job, I felt like I had hit the lottery, even before I made a penny. And this second factor was important.

As a result, I began working all of the time. For the first couple of years, I also opened a little store with my friend Rena to supplement my meager art income, but when I wasn’t there, I was making art and I began sharing it on the internet. For the most part, I stopped swimming regularly and I stopped relaxing in front of the TV, going dancing, sewing or sleeping in. When I was watching TV or “relaxing” in the evenings, I was doing it with a laptop or drawing paper perched on my thighs, where I was also working. In my mind, if I wasn’t working and sharing, I was losing a potential opportunity to get paid work.

This mindset served me well, initially. Within just a year or two, I began to build a following. As I drew and painted each day, I became a better and better artist. And from there, I began getting paid work. In 2008, I signed with a prestigious illustration agent. By early 2010 I signed a contract for my first book and began showing my work at a San Francisco gallery. I started getting regular illustration jobs, and I started making a regular income. (Eventually, I even wrote a book advising others how to do it).

And then in around 2011, things reached a new level — I call this my “tipping point.” At any given time, I was working on up to 15 projects at once, some small, some big. I said yes to literally every opportunity that came my way (and they began flowing in), including online teaching and public speaking opportunities in addition to illustration, publishing and licensing. Around the same time, my Etsy shop picked up steam, and I’ve made regular weekly sales ever since. I also consistently engaged in my own personal projects which I shared publicly as well, and which ultimately led to new professional opportunities. All of this stuff I was doing became a fruitful cycle. In my mind, even though it was often stressful, working 12 hour days and on the weekends was getting me somewhere. I was paying off debt, adding clients to my client list and building the career I had dreamed of having.

Looking back, I realize now that workload was already taking its toll, even then. I battled almost constant anxiety and I had terrible chronic neck and back pain from sitting at my drawing table and computer for so many hours. I had also started a relationship in 2008, and the weight of my workload caused tension for us as my career grew. I am so grateful that my partner (now wife) was so understanding, believed in me so profoundly and stuck it out with me. Ultimately, she had a huge part in helping me to walk away from the burdens of it. But aspects of our relationship suffered. I kept saying to her: “Look, if I work hard and often now, then in a few years we’ll be set financially and I will slow down and work less.”

The problem was, I was like a hamster on a hamster wheel who literally did not know how to stop the wheel and get off. Even though I was making a steady six-figure income and I could have taken some space, I had become addicted to working. I was also addicted to the rush that working and being acknowledged for the work brought to me. I was attached to the idea that it is the hustling that brings success. I began to feel more stressed when I wasn’t working, not just because I had so many looming deadlines, but because slowing down itself became uncomfortable. Despite early indications of burnout, I felt it was imperative that I continue in this way. I told myself, You can do this! You work fast! You don’t need much sleep! Someday you will be able to take a break.

To be clear, I also understood very deeply that this was all a choice I was making. While I wrote occasionally about my workload (including about how I was feeling overwhelmed) on this blog and on Instagram over the past six years, I was careful not to come off as a victim. I knew I had chosen this path. Mostly, I was outwardly cheery to my social media audience. In fact, in some ways, I wore my busy-ness as a badge of honor. I was busy, goddammit, and I was proud of it.

Somewhere in there, I got married, and two years later in 2015 we moved to Portland, Oregon and bought a house. Part of the decision to move was precipitated by a desire to have a slower lifestyle. We decided that moving from the frenetic work culture of the Bay Area of California to a city with a slower pace of life was going to give us a fresh start. But, like what happens anytime you say you are going to make a change but have no real plan in place or boundaries to implement it, we moved to Portland and nothing changed. In fact, for a time after we moved, my wife was working for me and then I hired an employee, and things actually got worse. My wife and employee were amazing and helped me with so many aspects of my business. But instead of lightening my load, I used having a team to help me with my workload as an excuse to take on even more projects for myself.

Fast forward to a year ago. I hit bottom. I was strung out, uninspired, anxious, and in chronic pain. I was miserable. For awhile, I thought about quitting all together. I fantasized about being a part time dog groomer or a gardener. I fantasized about crawling in a hole.

After I got back from that book tour, I began the necessary process of re-thinking my career and my life. Ultimately, I knew I wanted to keep working as an illustrator and writer. I just needed to get my workload down to a manageable size and I needed to start creating space in my life for rest and enjoyment and creative rejuvenation. About a year ago, I began to decline 80% of the opportunities that came my way. I said no not only to most illustration projects, but also to speaking engagements and some interview requests. I decided very intentionally to focus on only a handful of meaningful projects and speaking engagements for the next three years. I still had to finish the commitments that I’d already signed up for, but I set out to slowly relieve myself of responsibilities and start a new approach to living and working going forward.

You may remember that back in December, about six months ago and six months after I began the process of starting to lighten my load, I wrote this blog post about my burnout and the slow rebuilding. At the time, I was in the thick of the process of slowing down, but I was struggling — still really struggling — because even after I began making changes to improve the quality of my life, I still felt anxious and depressed nearly everyday. I didn’t know how to relax in my new-found time. I was still worried about what would happen next for me. The good news was that I was starting to feel inspired again — one of the worst side effects of my burnout had been a total lack of creative energy or motivation.

Fast forward to today: a year after starting this process, I am very happy to say I feel solidly on the other side. I am living and working differently, my depression is gone, and my anxiety is at an all time low. Most days, I feel great. My days are slow. I work and rest. I am starting to feel some sense of balance again. Here are some things about the journey over the last year that feel important to share.

  1. As I mentioned earlier,  I do believe the American ideal of busy-ness, success-by-hard-work, and the layer of bizarre importance we place on both social media and email — have the potential to be very damaging if we are not careful. I bought into them, and I suffered mightily. That said, I had to take full responsibility for not buying into them anymore, and that is ongoing work for me, every single day. If you had asked me a year ago to describe my existence I would have said, “I feel like I am trapped in a box and someone has filled every last bit of space in the box with rocks and trash.” The box was my life, and the rocks and trash were all my responsibilities and obligations.  I felt trapped underneath pressure, darkness and lack of space. I was suffocating. The choices I made put me in that box, and I was aware that I was also the only one who could get myself out of it.
  2. Just because you make an intentional, conscious and committed decision to change something, doesn’t mean you will see the positive effects quickly or that it will be easy. In fact, for me, my anxiety got worse before it got better — I had grown so accustomed to being in the world in a certain way, that change felt terrifying, even though it was clearly a healthy shift that I needed to make. But change happens slowly, especially when you are shifting mindsets and behavior that have been engrained in you for years. I used the same discipline to commit to slowing down and being present as I had used to hustle to build my career from scratch. I was literally addicted to work. And so breaking the cycle of constantly working was hard.
  3. That’s right. Once I did start to create some space, I had to literally relearn how to relax. As I began to finish up existing projects and take on fewer and fewer responsibilities, I began to see and feel space around me again. I was no longer trapped in the box! How cool, right? Um, no. It totally freaked me out! I was so used to filling space with work (even self-generated projects) that when my goal was to relax and slow down, I panicked. So I have approached it in several ways. First, when I am working now (because I still work), I focus on slowing down and taking my time — because there is no need to rush. I have more time! And that has made work feel more enjoyable. You can’t relax into work with you are rushing. Second, I also only check and respond to email and post on social media during specific times of the day now. I also post far less frequently on social media or on this blog. I’ve given up making art at “daily Instagram speed” — even if that means I post less often, or some days, not at all. I’ve given up being prolific and have simultaneously unplugged, both of which have been essential in finding some relief from my anxiety. Third, when I do have space outside of work, I think intentionally about how to use it. I read, take walks, mess around in my studio with no specific outcome, and go for long swims. Sounds easy, but it wasn’t. At first this intentional use of my new-found “free time” felt like torture. I was a nervous wreck! Read a book? Shouldn’t I just go back to work? I had to practice taking  slow walks in my neighborhood (which my dog helps me with since he has to stop and stiff everything in his path), going for long swims (instead of madly trying to finish my workout so I could get back to work), or reading an entire long-form article in the New Yorker (when I first started this process I couldn’t read more than a paragraph without losing focus). And I had to practice sitting with the initial anxiety that came with doing these seemingly enjoyable, relaxing activities. I am happy to report that I not only survived, but most days I am very good at relaxing now. I just have to engage my relaxing muscles again and not give up when it feels challenging.
  4. I had to redefine my definition of success. Previously, I aligned things like hustling and hard work with success. I had proven it myself over and over, and it became how I was wired. And while I do think there is a correlation between discipline, risk-taking and action with building a sustainable career as an artist, the stress of my own level of discipline, risk-taking and action had taken a huge toll on my psyche and creative energy. In the end, I decided to let go of the idea of success all together. So, now, I am beginning to think about and define whether I have a good life in terms of space and enjoyment instead of professional success. I am always thinking about how much figurative space I have around work projects, and whether I am actually finding any pleasure doing them. This perspective now also influences my decisions about what professional opportunities to say yes to and which to decline. If I am going to continue to have a career, I need to keep taking advantage of opportunities, so learning a new way of navigating them is important.
  5. Lastly, I can’t end this blog post without talking about something that has made all of this possible: meditation. Daily meditation has made all the difference for me. I have tried to mediate regularly for years, but I never followed through for more than a handful of days at a time because I never got past the “sitting in silence with my anxiety is torture” phase. But everything I read from Eastern religion to Western medical science espoused meditation as a real, long term relief for anxiety and living with more peace and calm. So, this time, to help me both with accountability and support, I began working with a coach and meditation teacher (best decision I made in the process). But here’s the thing about meditation: like with the other changes I made, despite the support, I didn’t see the positive results immediately. I had to practice meditation every day for 40 days straight before I noticed that in general I was feeling calmer and less anxious. I also had to redefine what it meant to be a “good” meditator. I had to let go of the notion that “thinking” or anxious thoughts during meditation were bad. Really, meditation is just practicing bringing your attention back to your breath over and over as the thoughts and anxieties arise. Magically (or maybe not so magically), the impact of 15-20 minutes of meditation a day on my entire 24 hour cycle has been profound. I have a long way to go in my practice, and I’m in this for the long haul.

You might be wondering, what am I up to now? I am working on two books, one that comes out in 2019 and one that comes out in 2020 — both with ample, almost luxurious timelines. The second book is a long term intensive project that will be my main work for the next two years. I am scheming a couple more video classes that I will roll out in the next year. I am making a lot of personal work. I have a book that comes out in October, and I’ll be having some book events this Fall. I have two residencies and one fine art show scheduled for 2018. Right now, that’s about it. And it feels great.

I also know I have to keep doing my other work: meditating, taking slow walks, going for long swims, participating in some activism in my community, protecting space in my schedule, and rallying against the notion that it’s all about the hustle.

I’m here to say, it just isn’t. It’s not glamorous to be busy. It’s just exhausting.

And I am done being exhausted.

Here’s to freedom!

Thank you for listening.

CATEGORIES: Personal Essays
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On Politics and Social Media

02/01/17

If you follow along on any of my social media channels you know that I’ve been, like much of America, a bit riled up after the election of our new U.S. president, especially since the inauguration. I’m not here to talk about politics at this moment, so hang in there with me. I’m here to talk about what some of my followers expressed when I did start talking more frequently about politics in the last year, and what their reaction has made me realize.

For the record, I’ve been speaking about my political (personal, social, world) beliefs here on this blog and on social media for years. I don’t do it a lot, but when stuff in the world or in my own life happens that I care about, I say what I think. I feel like I have a personal responsibility to say what I think. Also, I’m gay. Openly gay. I’m married to a woman. I’m covered in tattoos. Over the years, my hair has been every color in the rainbow. I live in a liberal mecca (and moved here from another liberal mecca). I have done work (very publicly) for both the Obama and Clinton campaigns, the Human Rights Campaign and other progressive causes. I’m an artist. You get the picture.

I sometimes naively assume that if you follow me online or take my classes, that you also get the picture — of me and what I’m about. But what I have learned over the years (and especially recently), is that a portion of my following, while they might assume I have political opinions that are different from their own, they don’t want me to talk about them. They just want to look at my pretty pictures.

Here’s the thing: for the most part, I do make a living drawing and painting “pretty”  (and mostly politically benign) pictures — bold, graphic landscapes, floral line drawings, animals, repeating decorative patterns, vintage-inspired quilt motifs, and inspirational hand-lettered sayings.

The day of the inauguration, I wrote a post here about activism. I started more fervently making and posting politically charged artwork. Afterward, I got comments and messages on various platforms saying some flavor of: “I follow you because I like your art, but I do not want to hear about your political views.” Others argued with the power or validity of anger (I had said, in no uncertain terms, that I was angry). One woman proclaimed that she was unfollowing me, and that she was also going to unfollow every artist who was also currently an activist speaking out against the government. Because, to her, it is wrong to question the president. She also vowed to unsubscribe to the platform on which I teach classes and to never buy one of my books again. She was done with me. It’s worth noting that I have not experienced a mass spewing of vitriol. Most of my former followers have unfollowed me more quietly, and, even if they’ve expressed their opinion about why, they’ve done it politely and respectfully.

(Above: one of my many recent posts on Instagram, at the Women’s March in Portland, holding a sign I made and wearing a Pink Pussy hat my mom made for me)

In truth, I believe the beautiful thing about social media platforms is that you get to choose who you follow or don’t. That requires a bit of trial and error — you might follow someone because you “like their art,” but then later discover they express opinions that you find offensive. I have unfollowed folks for a variety of reasons. I am in full support of unfollowing, because a lot of the time, it makes sense. And so, my response to the woman I mentioned above was some version of  “…that’s the great thing about social media — you don’t have to follow or listen to anyone who you don’t want to, who rubs you the wrong way, who you disagree with, etc. Follow if you want, but I totally respect unfollowing. Peace!” You get to “curate” your own social media feed.

After years on the Internet, I have learned not to take disgruntled followers or mean trolls personally. I have learned to accept unfollowing as part of everyday life. What has become more important to me, and the main point I want to make here, is living my truth, expressing myself as a whole person — not just someone who makes pretty pictures — is more important to me. Here’s how I put it to the woman who publicly proclaimed she was unfollowing me and all artist/activists: “I am not on this planet to please everyone or make everyone feel comfortable. I am here to share my art and my experience and to be a voice for what I believe in.”

That’s right: I might make pretty pictures, but they do not define who I am. I am a complicated, sometimes messy human being. I have past experiences that haunt me. I have regrets, hopes and dreams. My views have been shaped by my experience — as a woman and a lesbian, for example — just like your experiences shape your views. That’s why on my Instagram feed and here on my blog you see both the pretty things I draw and paint and, occasionally, of the other stuff — my struggles, my beliefs, my heartaches, my joys and contemplations and my political rants.

I also want to acknowledge that while I have lost many, many followers over the past months (especially in the past weeks), I am incredibly heartened by the support that the vast majority of my following (and it’s going strong) have expressed for my activism and my activist artwork. I think most of my followers do see me as a whole human being — they want to see me as a whole human being. They like knowing where I stand, and where they stand in relationship to me. Sometimes we don’t agree. Almost daily I am challenged to think about at least one thing one of my followers has said or asked.

I am also heartened by the activism of so many artists on the Internet — many of whom have never said a controversial thing on their Instagram feed or blog until now. I continue to urge artists to use their voices. Your freedom to do so is what makes our democracy great! Your words have weight. Use them.

Have a good Wednesday, friends! And thank you for listening.

Lisa

CATEGORIES: Personal Essays
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We Are Very Angry

01/20/17

Shortly after the election in November, I sat down with Maria Molfino, who hosts the podcast Heroine: Women’s Creative Leadership. We weren’t sitting down to talk about the election. In fact, we mostly talk about other things — things like what I was like as a kid (and how that changed when I hit puberty), and women stepping into their creative power, and the unsexy parts of my work. I hope you will give it a listen*.

But inevitably, at the end of the podcast, Maria asked me about using my art for activism. At the time the podcast was recorded the election had just happened. In some ways, I was still in shock. Even though I’ve never been shy about sharing my views online, I was just then beginning to think about how I would use both my art and my platform online to express my views and influence others in a more powerful way. I also talked about this very thing with Sandi over at Crafty Planner in our recent podcast episode, also recorded after the election. It’s been on my mind a lot. It’s something I think about nearly every day.

My question has been: how will I use my social media platform and my creative expression to contribute to activism?

In the last two months I have made some major shifts in this area. I have begun to care less about losing followers or attracting trolls, and I have begun caring more about speaking my truth, regardless of what happens as a result. I have begun to participate in fundraisers and political campaigns online. I have begun donating part of the money I make as an artist to organizations and political causes I care about. I have been openly expressing my grief to my 125,000 Instagram followers.

Part of that shift has come from watching other artists, in particular fellow women artists, speak their beliefs on social media and through their actions. It has been one of the most inspiring and liberating experiences of my life to sit amongst so many creatives expressing their dismay and anger.

Yes, we are angry!

We are very angry.

That’s right: YOU ARE NOT ALONE in your anger or sadness or grief.

You are not alone!

For me, action has helped keep me from falling into the pit of despair.

Here are some things I am doing, and I encourage you to do too:

+Use your pain to express yourself.
+Make time to express your feelings and beliefs through your art.
+Own your anger or frustration. Do not let others tell you to “settle down.”
+Be authentic: say what you feel and in a way that you would say it. Speak your truth!
+Stop worrying about whether people will stop following you or like what you post.
+Participate in fundraisers with your work.
+Support causes you care about through your art — raise money, encourage others to donate, do pro-bono work for them.
+Connect with other artists who are also interested in using their work and platforms to shed light on political issues and human rights issues you care about; collaborate with them!
+Research workshops in your community that teach about activism for artists. Participate in local initiatives.
+Follow and support fellow artists who are using their platforms to express themselves. This is a time to unite!

Tomorrow I am off to the Women’s March in Portland. Next week you’ll see a short video I made for a post-election cause I’m very excited about. After that, other things. I will not remain quiet.

In love and light,
Lisa

*If you enjoy Maria’s Heroine podcast, you can also find it & subscribe to future episodes in iTunes here: bit.ly/herpod

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Sam Kalda

06/25/15

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Last year, when I was on my Art Inc book tour, I made a stop at the Powerhouse Arena in Dumbo, Brooklyn for a Q&A with my friend Grace Bonney, followed by a book signing. Usually when I sign books on my tours, especially on my Art Inc tour, the attendees tend to be fellow artists, many starting out, and others hoping to recharge their careers. I like to say hello to people and chat for a few minutes with each person. Sometimes I remember the people whose books I sign, often because they tell me their names (and somehow I remember them), but mostly because they hand me their card. I can’t remember if Sam Kalda gave me his card or I simply remembered his name that night at Powerhouse Arena, but what I do remember is that I looked him up the next day, as I often do when I meet people, and was blown away by his work. I started following him on Instagram and am continually impressed by his illustrations.

Sam, who you’ll get to know a little bit here, and who is still relatively new to the illustration scene, already works for an impressive roster of clients like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Pentagram, West Elm, Buzzfeed, Ebony, WWD, Groundwood Books, The New Republic, The Boston Globe, Wired, ASOS, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Johns Hopkins University, among many others. I love the mixture of clean and modern in his work with warm, textured and colorful details.

Today’s interview in my Interviews with People I Admire series, I present to you illustrator and cat fancier, Sam Kalda!

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Lisa: You are a self described cat fancier! Before we get into talking about your work, let’s break that down. What’s a cat fancier? How is being a cat fancier reflected in your daily life?

Sam: Fancier is a fancy word for appreciator. I’ve always been a cat person and, as a subject matter, cats have been something people have really gravitated towards in my work. On a day to day level, being a cat fancier means taking care of a sweet but demanding house cat.

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Lisa: You are from South Dakota! I have never met anyone in my 47 years from South Dakota. Tell me what it’s like there.

Sam: That’s not an uncommon response! I’d like to think it makes us South Dakotans rare like some kind of exotic bird. While it varies quite a bit where you are from in the state (we take the Missouri river divide quite seriously), I’m from Sioux Falls, which is the biggest city in SD. It sounds a little generic, but it’s a great place to grow up. I’m gay and live in New York now, so often times people assume a default narrative about needing to escape a restrictive environment and discover myself in a big city, yadayada. Basically like Jo from Little Women. But I really love being from South Dakota. I feel there’s a certain laid back level-headedness and strong work ethic that I’m thankful for.

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Lisa: When did you know you wanted to be an artist? How did you decide to make your way to SUNY Purchase?

Sam: I’ve always loved to draw—it’s just been a thing that I did and was known for doing since I was a kid. I’m fortunate in that my parents were (and are) very supportive of my creative pursuits. My parents both work in the medical field, but they both are very creative in their hobbies (wood working, quilting, needlepoint, mold making, etc.), so there was always an importance placed on working with your hands. Regarding college, I actually picked SUNY Purchase sight unseen. I wanted an art school in a small liberal arts college environment that was affordable and close to NYC. Purchase checked all the boxes.

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Lisa: You started off studying painting, got your MFA at FIT and now you’re an illustrator. Talk about how one thing led to the next and the connections between all of those things.

Sam: I went from studying oil painting in early undergrad to making sculptures and installation work near the end of college. For a year after school, I helped a friend on a documentary about artist-led AIDS activism in NYC in the 80s and early 90s. After deciding film was not the path for me, I began working on a picture book idea I’d had for a number of years. In the process of making the book—and being thoroughly overwhelmed by the process—I was accepted into the MFA program at FIT. I made the decision to go back to school kind of impulsively, but it really changed my career. 

I’m not sure if there’s a direct connection between all those things!  I think what interests me in a broad sense is visual storytelling, be it through a book, movie, or painting. Illustration is a great cross section of many disciplines.

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Lisa: Obviously some of your work is hand painted. But some of your work appears to be digital? Describe your process. Do you start by drawing by hand? Do you work in illustrator? Give us the info.

Sam: I always sketch with a pencil. If it’s an editorial job with a tight deadline, I work digitally. Typically, I digitally paint the background in Photoshop, using the pencil sketch as a reference. From there, I add scanned in pencil drawings, paint textures and whatever else I’m feeling for the piece. It’s a hybrid of digital painting and hand-drawing. For my personal work, I usually either paint with ink on Bristol board, or with acrylics on wooden panels. I really see the technique as a means to an end and I like switching up the way I work from time to time.

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Lisa: You do lots of editorial illustration. I am amazed at people who do lots of it because it requires a lot of skill in problem solving, thinking outside the box & concepting ideas, not to mention short deadlines. Why do you enjoy it? What draws you to it?

Sam: I like the fact that I never know what to expect. Also, there’s a certain high you get after completing a piece on a short deadline that can be addictive. That being said, there’s always panic in the concept phase!

I think editorial illustration demands a certain level of organization, preparation and focus that has bled into my own studio practice. So many of these qualities don’t come naturally to artists—myself most certainly included. Thankfully, these things can be learned through practice.

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Lisa: Who/what are your most treasured inspirations and why?

Sam: I’ll just do a quick, stream of consciousness list: Edward Bawden, Maira Kalman, Peewee’s Playhouse, vintage picture books, Memphis design, Wiener Werkstätte postcards, Bloomsbury/Omega workshop interiors, midcentury furniture, collecting chairs, brass menageries, art deco posters, well-curated bookshelves, old interior design magazines, Will Barnet, patterned rugs. I think I should make a list like this monthly to see how my interests both evolve and stay the same over time.

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Lisa: You are quite a fabulously recognized young illustrator and your client list is very impressive. Your talent is clear, but you are obviously ALSO a hard worker. Have you always been a hustler or is that something you’ve learned as you’ve gotten older or entered the profession?

Sam: Thank you! I definitely feel that I’ve learned to hustle and be organized as I got older. Like I touched on earlier, I had to work a lot on my time-management habits and organization. Before becoming a full-time illustrator, I worked for a museum in the design retail department for a number of years. I learned a tremendous amount about being professional and a good deal about basic business practices. That was as important as my illustration training to my career now. For whatever reason, I’ve always enjoyed the hunt of finding new work, tracking down art directors, and submitting my work to blogs, competitions, etc.

As a kid, I wasn’t a very serious student and never really saw myself as a “hard worker” in school—-it just wasn’t my thing.  But when it came to creative pursuits (art-making, drumming, high school theater) I really could go into a kind of hyper-focus. Near the end of high school and into college, I really started to take art-making and education seriously. I’ve slowly been trying to tame my inner couch potato ever since.

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Lisa: One piece of advice you’d give to a young aspiring illustrator trying to make it.

Sam: There are so many platitudes to choose from! Honestly, the most useful advice I was ever given was by my thesis adviser in college: You have to make work for yourself before you can make it for anyone else. Stay engaged, discover things that inspire you, and don’t fear experimentation or change. Oh, and write polite, personalized emails without insane punctuation!

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Lisa: Where can people find you on the Internets?

Sam:
samkalda.com
instagram: sam_kalda
twitter: sam_kalda
tumblr: kaldaillustration.tumblr.com/
facebook.com/samkaldaillustration
etsy: SamKaldaStore
and my agency: folioart.co.uk/illustration/folio/artists/illustrator/sam-kalda

Lisa: Thank you, Sam! You are awesome. <3

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