Write Here Write Now // Nicole LaRue & Naomi Davis Lee

08/20/15

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Sometime in the last couple of years, I got a Facebook friend request from fellow illustrator Nicole LaRue. I knew of Nicole’s amazing work and also learned she was living with her partner Naomi in Japan. Since then, we’ve became friends, and I’ve learned we have lots in common — including our love for making art, hand lettering and creating books. Recently Nicole and Naomi published their first ever book, Write Here Write Now, which came out just this week through Chronicle Books. It’s a fantastic book for young writers designed to get their creative juices flowing — a place to write down all of their passions, dreams and ideas. A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Nicole and Naomi about their book, the process of making it, and their creative collaboration.

Without further ado, I present to you Nicole LaRue and Naomi Davis Lee, this week’s Interviews with People I Admire!

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Lisa: Tell us about Write Here Write Now. What’s the idea behind it and who’s it for?

N&N: Write Here Write Now, published by Chronicle Books, is a guided activity journal for older kids and trendy teens that encourages young writers to ponder, wonder, challenge, quiz themselves and their friends and, above all, to create. The journal is 144 pages packed with witty and unique prompts to inspire creative genius. The young reader becomes the author, the artist, the collector, the maker, the musician, and the explorer.

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With this book, they create short stories, poems, and rhymes. They doodle, color, and draw. They decorate postcards, explore their handwriting, and collect found objects for show and tell. They ask deep questions, wonder about their younger selves, and write letters to their future selves. They play games, help friends, explore their superhero powers, and become outright daydreamers. It is the best book they’ve ever written!

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Lisa: How long did it take you to create the book? How did you collaborate with each other?

N&N: Write Here Write Now was our first big collaboration. For months, we brainstormed activities for the journal on long walks together. We had kitchen-table meetings to talk about the structure and style. We’d sit on the couch to explore crazy word combinations for activity titles until our efforts turned into a laugh fest or dissolved into tears. Naomi was consigned to writing duty, and Nicole was entrusted with the illustration and design.

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Lisa: What do you hope kids and teens who use this book take away from it or gain from it?

N&N: Our hope is that young writers will get lost in creating their own adventure. We keep our fingers crossed that they’ll gain confidence in their own creative process and will be thrilled with the outcome.

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Lisa: Nicole, you are an illustrator. What else are you working on right now? What is your favorite kind of work, product or thing to create and why?

Nicole: My favorite projects are gigantic in scope. They give me the chance to be involved in all the little details and aspects—anything from books and journals, full product lines, to stationery programs. I have heaps of projects in the works all the time. I’m currently working on a travel program called Away We Go, an adult coloring book filled with quotes, and a graphic novel about mental illness called Food Fight.

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Lisa: Interesting fact: You are both American, but you’ve lived in Japan for a few years. How did that happen and what’s it like?

N&N: We’re grand adventurers at heart. About four years ago, we decided we wanted a change of scenery, so we pulled out a map and put a finger down. We packed our bags and headed east! Naomi took a teaching job at a university in South Korea, and Nicole uprooted her laptop and drawing pens and went along. A year later, another opportunity led us to western Japan, and we’ve been here for three years. So much in the cultural landscape has inspired us—even minutia that we never expected. At first, a profound language barrier had us wandering around in grocery stores for untold hours examining unfamiliar products. We were forced to slow down and see things from a new perspective, to digest the world in another way.

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But life here is not all about aimlessly wandering up and down aisles for hours. Efficiency is an integral part of city life, and it’s interesting to contemplate on crowded station platforms. Overworked people rush here and there, run for trains, crowd into packed train cars, vie for the next open seat if they’re lucky enough to spot one. Exhausted bodies press against one another. Sleepy heads bob about and come dangerously close to resting on your shoulder. Yet, the manners folks maintain are impeccable. No one seems to notice the chaos of this so-called normal life. Oh, but the stories we have to tell! In a country as densely populated as Japan, the rawness of humanity makes a scene that we can’t ignore.

Lisa: Where can people find Write Here Write Now?

N&N: Write Here Write Now has been released internationally. It’s being sold on the Chronicle Books website and is widely available online and from booksellers large and small.

Lisa: Just search for Write Here Write Now in your browser! And thank you Nicole and Naomi for taking the time to share your book and your experience with us!

Have a great Thursday, everyone!

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Chroma Show // Lisa Solomon & Christine Buckton Tillman

08/07/15

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{the CHROMA installation in Baltimore}

Almost 10 years ago I met artist Lisa Solomon online. The online world was much smaller then, and I met most of my internet friends at that time on the photo sharing site Flickr. When Lisa and I met on Flickr, we quickly discovered that we both lived in the Bay Area in California, so we went rapidly from being internet friends to real life friends. Over the years we’ve collaborated on projects (even having a show together on the East Coast in 2008), traveled together, and remained close friends and confidants. Lisa is one of the artists I interviewed in Art Inc, and I admire her work greatly.

Around that time I also met Christine Buckton Tillman on Flickr and admire her work greatly as well. Lisa and Christine (who Lisa also met on Flickr 10 years ago!) have gone on to be friends and collaborators as well. Recently they collaborated on an installation called CHROMA at Gallery CA in Baltimore, Maryland that literally knocked my socks off. CHROMA “explores color theory through objects from everyday life, expressed through crowd sourced installation, drawings, and sculpture…  The installation will be a culmination of sorting, arranging and compiling the materials into an orderly, chromatically compelling piece, with the intent of elevating the viewer’s relationship with the mundane debris that we interact with on a daily basis.” I decided I had to interview Lisa and Christine about their CHROMA collaboration. It was a huge, time intensive endeavor, and the end result is really phenomenal (as the photos here show) . Without further ado, I present to you Lisa Solomon and Christine Buckton Tillman in my Interviews with People I Admire Series!

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Lisa C: Tell us about yourselves! Who are you and how did you meet?

Lisa S:  Hi, I’m Lisa. I live in Oakland, CA. I’m a mixed media artist who gravitates toward concepts of hybridity, domesticity, and issues/materials surrounding art and craft. I also am an educator, teaching at various colleges in the Bay Area, and sometimes a craft book writer/illustrator/graphic designer. Christine and I met online – I think Flickr was where we first crossed paths almost 10 years ago. We had both recently finished grad school, and we were eager to find like art minds. Back then Flickr was a great community. We would post a lot of work and get feedback. I gravitated to Christine’s work immediately. It was just so my aesthetic, the colors, the subject matter, the handmade quality of it. We joked that we should have a show together back then. We’ve always kept in touch via the various social media of the moment, and so more recently it’s been Instagram.  We are also both working mom artists [which I often don’t want to admit is its own clan, but I think in many ways it is.]

 

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{Lisa’s work on display in the gallery}

Christine: I’m Christine! I have Midwest roots but I’ve lived in Baltimore, Maryland for the past 13 years. I’m a very flat sculptor who makes mostly drawings. I also teach at The Park School of Baltimore. When I met Lisa on Flickr, I was a couple of years out of grad school  (Iowa 2002!) and missed the accountability that a large community of artists. Lisa was one of the first like minded artists I met on there. I think she was embroidering robots. I loved that the community shared not just finished work but the process too. I have really vivid memories of her early felt tanks and seeing her map drawings in her studio before the installation.  At the time I was doing a lot of work with felt too and a few years later made similar maps for these huge outdoor sculptures made to be photographed using copy paper and golf tees.

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{Christine’s work on display in the gallery}

We met in person back in 2011. I was tagging along on a trip for my husband’s project and he ended up speaking to Lisa‘s Professional Practice class at SF State. While it was short, it was great to meet in person. I was pregnant at the time, and we turned the trip into a California “babymoon.” Lisa‘s daughter is a few years older than mine, and watching her parent, teach and be an artist has helped me every step of the way. Most of my mom friends in town are not in the arts. It’s a much needed clan.

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{cross section of final CHROMA installation}

Lisa C: First, describe the concept for the CHROMA show. How did the idea for the show come to be? Tell us from the beginning how it was sparked and how it evolved.

Lisa S: I think we honestly have ALWAYS wanted to show together. Our work just seems to fit together. But Christine finally pushed us to propose a show to Gallery CA in Baltimore when they put out a call for exhibitions in 2014. It turns out I know quite a few lovely people in Baltimore so it seemed like a great idea to me. Show/Visit/Hang out: YAY!

In thinking thematically about where our work intersected it seemed that color was really an obvious starting point. We are both drawn to and utilize color in pretty specific ways in our work. I think as moms we became even more acutely aware of how toys are colored. How much plastic and general colored STUFF is in our lives. For example why are there bread ties in white, turquoise, red and blue? I’ve also been doing social practice pieces lately – asking the public for help in various ways; it’s been really rewarding and adds a different dimension to the work. So we thought HEY, why don’t we ask people to send us stuff?  Any kind of stuff – things that mostly read as one color,  junk from your drawers, discarded kids toys, etc. etc. In part I think we wanted people [and ourselves] to take notice of what surrounds us: how do we interact with color in our daily lives? And, in part, we both believe that things arranged in color can be stunningly beautiful, even bits and bobs and doodads.

In addition to the installation, we concluded that we’d both show individual pieces, but we also thought it would be SUPER fun to collaborate. Christine sent me a pile of “reject” drawings [none of which I thought were rejects], and I sent her a pile of drawings and we had at it. It was really fun to get to play with her work. I just ended up doing something really simple. I added felt and embroidery. She ended up doing some really amazing collaging and cutting up of my work. When I saw them I kept thinking, now why didn’t I think of that?!

 

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{Some of Lisa and Christine’s collaborative work}

Christine: When I first finished graduate school I taught a Color Theory class at a local community college. I asked students to make a “color collection” — collecting 100 things of different colors. I always felt that idea had more potential than what my students ended up doing. Probably because Lisa and I didn’t just simply collect, we also ordered everything, and ordering the stuff was a big deal. It took the both of us nearly two days of arranging during installation of the show. That part is super formal and complicated. Size, shape and texture all play  a role with the color. We had to think about lines, edges and small compositions within the larger composition. It’s hard stuff. We were so afraid that it would just be straight up rainbow but there’s so many transitions- pinky- oranges! dull purple-blues! A yellow and green paper corn and husk! That’s the stuff that makes it different than a new box of 8 Crayola crayons. That and the fact that it’s massive and full of thousands of things.

I was happy to have the rest of our work together too. I love how Lisa‘s doily piece and my woven piece work together. They both feature obsessive handcraft and grid structure and it’s nice to see them hang out together.

The best part of collaborating is when you do something you would never have done solo. I think for both of us it was nice to let go and work entirely with found objects. I’ve done large scale installations with found objects and overhead projectors but this is different. I can’t forget the drawings! I hadn’t see what Lisa did with my rejects till we opened them in the gallery and HOLY CATS!  There’s this great one where she cut out these Mattise-like leaf shapes that were in the back of my drawing in the colors from the shape in the foreground. I think I’ll have to keep sending Lisa my rejects!

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{Lisa installing the CHROMA show}

Lisa C: You put a call out for people to send you their colored stuff for the show. What was the experience like for you of asking and receiving people’s unwanted stuff? Did you use everything that you received? Did you get about what you needed/expected or more or less?

Lisa S: The experience was really positive. I think we both thought, OK hopefully we’ll get a couple 100 objects and we’ll manage to make it work. In the end we ended up with thousands of items. Way more than we expected. Most of the stuff came to me and I would arrange it and photograph it and give a shout out to the donor on our blog & Instagram. I was shocked at what people sent. Some beautiful vintage items. Some really personal items. Some handmade things. We got a lot more than we expected. This is the beauty of just asking. It’s amazing how people want to participate. The small installations for documentation ended up being really crucial to understanding how the larger install was going to work.

We did not end up using EVERY item we received. Mostly because we ran out of room. In some instances we just couldn’t fathom using 50 buttons of the same color [although there really are a lot of buttons up there]. And also a few things were just really tricky to figure out how to adhere to the wall; we used hot glue for most things, some pins, and poster putty – a few items like really heavy bouncy balls just would NOT stay up no matter what we did.

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Christine: We definitely ran out of room for blues and whites and a few things didn’t make it on the wall. But it was like less than 1% of the total submissions!

The bulk of my objects came from my work. I work in a K-12 school and while people sent me things by mail too the bulk of my collected objects came from the Park School community. I spoke about the show in assemblies to the Lower, Middle, and Upper School showing them pictures of Lisa‘s work and mine. You could always see the knitters (students and faculty) in the audience gasp when they saw Lisa‘s 1000 doilies! I showed them a picture of some found objects and told them I need the same kinds of stuff. I left boxes around campus and they filled up over the course of a month or so. The Lower School kids filled the box three times and while the Upper School students filled it about one and a half times I had a student give me a whole box from her house and the cast of the spring play carry up a box of hundreds of popped balloons that they had used as fireworks sounds.

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{Installation process!}

Lisa C: What was the installation like? What was the process? How long did it take? How did you decide on composition? Where there any items that were difficult of impossible to hang on the wall?

Lisa S: The installation was crazy, but good. I had organized all the stuff sent to me by color, each in it’s own garbage bag. The first day in the gallery we dumped all the colors out and started arranging them. We realized that we had enough stuff to pretty much cover the main wall in the gallery. That was exciting and daunting! The composition was sort of dictated by what we had, and how we wanted to transition from color to color. We also knew that we didn’t want to start with red. While we love rainbow order we didn’t want to strictly adhere to it. So we started with red on the right. We were SO lucky to have so many amazing helpers and scaffolding [I love scaffolding] so the process went faster and smoother than we anticipated.

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We basically decided that the best way to go about it was for Christine and I to arrange the bulk of the installation right in front of the wall on the floor. We tacked each color. We realized that we both felt that the transitions between each large area of color were incredibly important. There were certain objects that helped those transitions happen, and there were certain multi colored objects that we had to decide where they belonged. We also noticed that there were certain color combos that  kept coming up: red and green, royal blue and red. Trying to incorporate those became tricky, but also rewarding. As we worked on the floor we photographed each section and then people had a map to use as they glued to the wall. We knew that it wouldn’t be exact, but the map would help to insure that things ended up close to how we wanted.

We also wanted the composition to be organic, not a rigid square or rectangle. What we liked about all the smaller compositions [photographed as they came in] was that they had interesting borders, so we wanted to reproduce that on a grander scale.

Overall the install took 4 days – with a couple of long nights in there.

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Christine: We had tons of volunteers too! Gallery CA is in in the ground floor of the City Arts Building in the Station North Arts District in Baltimore. The top floors contain live/work spaces for artists and creatives and affordable housing for people in the neighborhood. We had lots of residents volunteering to help as well students and former students of mine, and of course friends from Instagram!

In total I think we had over 20 different people helping us so having the maps that we photographed on the floor was crucial. We learned pretty quickly due to the red section having a thermostat in the middle of it that sticking to the map made everything go much smoother. Especially when you have 8-10 volunteers sharing glue guns and working on different colored sections, some up on a high scaffold. Having a guide and being able to just get someone started as soon as they walk in was crucial.

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Lisa C: What was the most satisfying aspect of collecting and installing the show? What was the most frustrating aspect?

Lisa S: I think it was mostly really fun to collect everything. It was like Christmas every time I went to my PO box. It was also just wonderful to see how involved people got. All the notes of encouragement, the excitement for the project. It was infectious. Also hanging a show like this always feels like camp or theater, you know? You have a finite time with these people. You have to trust them. There’s a lot of time to talk and get to know someone while you are performing a repetitive task. It feels very communal and exciting – everyone working towards a singular goal. Overall there wasn’t much frustration. A couple of times during the layout process I realized a needed a break and couldn’t see straight anymore. A few times we had to re-adjust things on the wall, but otherwise I’d say it was a pretty seamless experience.

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Christine: Not much frustration at all. We should have had knee pads for that first day crawling on the floor but otherwise I thought the install went great! I loved seeing all the things come together at once. That first day was the first time we had seen everything together and it was great to see each others reaction whether it was my awe at some pink scissors or a glittery blue car or Lisa‘s amazement that we had three of these weird toy compasses.Lisa C: What was the reaction of the people at the opening of the show? What are some of the things you heard people say?

Lisa S: I would say in general the reaction was surprise and wonder [always a good reaction]. Kids LOVED it [including mine – she insisted on telling me what one special item she would treasure from each color]. There was some good gasping.  And good giggling. A lot of “I would not think to do this,” and “how much time did it take?”

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{Observers at the show’s opening}

Christine: I heard a lot of “this is so awesome!” A team of videographers making a short about the neighborhood said they got some great shots, and my friend’s 3 year old wants everyone to know that he “likes the blue car.” When you see a bunch of things all together like that it’s hard not to try to pick out your favorites. It’s overwhelming in the best possible farm auction kind of way. While it wasn’t at the opening I was pretty thrilled to see that the Mayor of Baltimore took pictures of it and Instagramed it!

Lisa C: That’s amazing! I wish I could see it in person myself. Now, I have to ask: What will you do with everything once the show comes down?

Lisa S: We are saving everything! We are doing CHROMA #2 in San Francisco next summer at Rare Device. It will be interesting to reconfigure it to fit their space. I’m already thinking about how to deal with the doorway! And the fact that we can’t lay everything out on the floor for days on end since the space has to function as a store too.

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{Christine and Lisa after the completed installation!}

Christine: It comes down on August 20th. I’m already assembling another team of volunteers ready to climb the scaffold and get everything off the wall. It all fits into about seven boxes that will live in my basement until it’s time to ship them across the country again. I love thinking about the jet set and glamorous life these objects are having.

Lisa C: Thank you so much for telling us about this amazing collaboration and for sharing all the gorgeous images of the show! I know my readers will enjoy it! If you live in Baltimore or nearby, the show is up through August 19.
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Kathryn Clark // Foreclosure Quilts

07/28/15

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{Kathryn’s incredible Washington D.C. Foreclosure Quilt, now part of the Smithsonian Collection}

A few years ago, I became acquainted with artist Kathryn Clark. We have many friends in common, and it was inevitable that we would meet. Since I’ve known Kathryn, I’ve always admired her work. Earlier this year we were both at a gathering at our mutual friend Sonya’s house. There were about eight of us, and we were all sitting around chatting. Kathryn pulled out part of a quilt she was working on. She explained that it was a quilt she was madly trying to finish because it had been acquired by the Smithsonian. We all gasped in delight (the SMITHSONIAN!!!), and naturally we all had many questions. She proceeded to tell us about the series of “foreclosure” quilts she’d been making and how that led to the Smithsonian acquisition. Her story is so fascinating and her foreclosure quilts are such stunning (and interesting) works of art that I decided I had to interview Kathryn here about the quilts and the story behind the acquisition.

Without further ado, I present to you the amazing Kathryn Clark in my Interviews with People I Admire series!

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{Portrait of Kathryn by Leslie Sophia Lindell}

Lisa: Kathryn, congratulations! You just had a quilt acquired by the Smithsonian! We’ll get to that in a moment, but I’d love first for you to tell us about your background & trajectory as an artist. How did you get where you are? What kind of work do you make?

Kathryn: Thanks, Lisa! I’m still in a state of shock about the acquisition. When the Smithsonian’s Renwick first contacted me via email, I thought it was a hoax! I’ve been pretty lucky with my background that led me to where I am now. I’ve been an artist ever since I can remember (both my mom and dad were artists so it was natural to follow a similar path). I’m a fourth generation artist on my mom’s side. I also had a love of maps and architecture from my dad’s side of the family. But, I wanted to have a degree in something where I could find a job but didn’t have the financial resources to pursue architecture, so I chose to study interior architecture at San Jose State. My first job out of college was working for my college professor who had a three person architecture firm in San Francisco. We had the chance to do some urban design and our bible was Peter Calthorpe’s book, “The Next American Metropolis.”  I realized when working on the urban design project that Peter’s firm, Calthorpe Associates was in Berkeley, just over the bridge. I loved the big picture, sketchy nature of urban design over architecture so I called up the firm and asked if I could stop by. With no prior design experience, Peter loved my rendering skills and called me that night to offer me a job. I was blown away! I worked my way up to project manager in three years and loved every second of it. I left after three years to work in San Francisco in the hopes that I would be closer to home to start a family. But a few less than exciting jobs in other firms sent my stress level over the edge so I escaped to work full time as an artist.

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{Detail of D.C. foreclosure quilt}

I slowly evolved as a fiber artist, actually resisting the urge to work with fabric for several years because of the stigma of it being a craft and not an art. I used to be an abstract painter but started to dabble with sewing and knitting when I had my daughter in 2004. I didn’t understand what drew me to love the medium, it just felt so comfortable when I was sewing. One day, when I was doing a little weaving project on Mother’s Day and doubting that what I was doing was ‘art,’ I was listening to a Storycore Mother’s Day special. It suddenly dawned on me that my mom had been a fiber artist and that’s why I was so drawn to it. My mom battled leukemia for a large part of my childhood, and she died when I was seventeen so I vaguely remembered the early years of her sewing and weaving on her giant loom. No wonder working with fabric felt so comfortable for me. I’ve never doubted my choice of medium after that day.

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{Chicago Foreclosure Quilt}

Lisa: That is so interesting! My mom was a weaver when I was a kid and is also a fiber artist! Okay, now tell us about your series of “foreclosure” quilts. How did that series begin? What sparked it for you? How did it develop over time?

Kathryn: It was a slow process as I knew I wanted to merge my love of urban planning with my art. The first foreclosures began around the time I was still an urban designer. There was a lot of rapid urban development and a lot of encouragement to buy into these new neighborhoods with crazy incentives. Las Vegas is a great example. No one seemed to care how much making people live beyond their means with predatory lending was hurting the people and the economy. It certainly wasn’t obvious in the news (except for Gretchen Morgensen’s articles in the NY Times). You would hear the stories about the foreclosures and you would hear a statistic but you couldn’t actually see the effect it was having at the neighborhood level. That is, unless you paid to access the foreclosure data and only then could you see it on a map. Of course I paid because I was obsessed with it. That was when it hit me. I had to show the crisis in map form to reveal what an affected neighborhood really looked like. It took me a few months to figure out how to show the maps as an art form. I had been dabbling in fabric for some time and my paintings had started looking like quilts (lots of gridded blocks). I had one of those ‘ah ha!’ moments when I could translate a neighborhood ‘block’ into quilt ‘block’. I had another big moment after I had made my first quilt (Las Vegas) and thought it looked too perfect and too clean. This was a messy situation and it needed to look that way.

So I started to sew my quilt blocks together in reverse with the seams showing. As the quilt is made, the edges fray and become tangled and ugly. And this is literally what has happened to our neighborhoods: decaying and abandoned houses, vacant lots covered over with weeds. Another thing I learned that I wasn’t able to show in my work was that the foreclosure data is collected differently in every city. It was being addressed as a local crisis. There really wasn’t an investigation at the federal level or any kind of intervention early on. I think they just hoped the cities would cope somehow on their own. And some cities did better than others.

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{D.C. Foreclosure Quilt detail}

Lisa: The quilt you made for the Smithsonian. Tell us about that Washington, D.C. foreclosure quilt specifically. Was it commissioned? What is it made out of? What was the process like for you? Is it your largest foreclosure quilt to date?

Kathryn: The D.C. Foreclosure quilt wasn’t officially commissioned as the Renwick gallery doesn’t do commissions. The gallery curators contacted me last year to purchase one of the existing quilts. I mentioned I would be happy to make a quilt of any area of their choice and they asked about making a quilt of a neighborhood in D.C. Finding the foreclosure data varies from city to city but the foreclosure data compilations on D.C. are practically nonexistent which completely shocked me. The data just wasn’t there! I did manage to find some compiled data on a few neighborhoods but they didn’t scream D.C. when you looked at them on a map. So the curators kept encouraging me to dig deep and do something monumental like, for example, the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

So I agreed and started researching and researching and researching. I was really freaked out that I’d come up empty handed but found if I went lot by lot (!) and compared the data through zillow.com, dcblockshopper.com, and DC Atlas Plus, I could go back ten years and see all of the sales history on every lot. It took weeks to coordinate the data and mark up a map! And those lots are narrow so you can fit quite a few on a block. My friends thought I was crazy to be so detailed. But you never know when someone who lives on a block will walk up and recognize their lot. Once I found the data and I knew I could make an impressive quilt of the Capitol Hill neighborhood (that was half the work!), we discussed fabrics and agreed on just the right shade of linen (of course I started to run low at the end and was panicking, lesson learned, always buy way more than you think you need). It is the biggest quilt I’ve made to date at 57 1/2 “ x 84”  and the hardest to piece because the ‘street’ angles needed to line up perfectly with the overall ‘street’ grid. Let’s just say fractions and geometry were never strong subjects for me in school, but I had to be exact with my measurements and plan for all of the seam allowances. I pulled my hair out more than a few times. By halfway through though, I had a system for piecing and it all just flowed from there. It’s all hand sewn as well I might add, just to add to my friends telling me that I was crazy.

Modesto Foreclosure Quilt

{Modesto Foreclosure Quilt}

Lisa: That is an amazing story!! You were very determined. What impact do you hope these foreclosure quilts have on the people who see them?

Kathryn: I made these quilts for people today and tomorrow. For the people who were directly affected, there is a feeling of shame and I feel that’s wrong. Most of the people who lived through the crisis were targeted with predatory lending. They had real hopes of living the ‘American Dream’. A little diversion here about that: I’m sure there were people who took advantage of the system but I really believe that the majority just didn’t know what they were getting into. You bought a house recently (congratulations!) and did you read your Truth and Lending statement they handed you before signing the papers? My husband did when we bought our house in 1998 and I can tell you he was fuming when we went in for the signing. We almost walked away. The paper they had handed to us didn’t match the Statement we had agreed to. They had changed the paperwork to their advantage. I’m guessing millions of other homeowners didn’t delicately read their documents when signing their papers or just didn’t understand the lending jargon. I also made the quilts for the people who are naysayers, the NIMBY’s who told everyone that there was no crisis in their neighborhood. Oftentimes, a foreclosure isn’t obvious from the street. It hit everywhere and spared no group of people.

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{Detroit Foreclosure Quilt}

I also made these quilts for future generations. After all of my research (Alyssa Katz’s “Our Lot” is a fantastic place to start), I learned this was not the first foreclosure crisis we’ve had; we have forgotten the past. There was a huge foreclosure crisis in the 1930’s that coincided with the stock market crash but that history is dying along with the people who lived through it. The stories become buried in newspapers that are thrown aside or hidden away on microfiche. I wanted something that would be laid on a bed or hanging up on a wall in the future to tell a story about the past. Honestly, who could ask for a more appropriate place for these quilts to hang than in the Smithsonian?!

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{Cleveland Foreclosure Quilt}

Lisa: The Renwick at the Smithsonian is currently closed for renovations, yes? Tell us about when and where people can see your quilt once the gallery reopens.

Kathryn: The Renwick has a grand reopening planned for this November called “Wonder”. Afterwards, the new permanent collection will be on view starting in the summer 2016, exact date TBD. My quilt should be a part of that exhibition. I certainly will be at the opening!

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{Detail of Cleveland Foreclosure Quilt}

Lisa: What are you working on now? Will the foreclosure project continue? Any goals for that project or new projects?

Kathryn: Well, it seems that the foreclosure crisis has mostly subsided somewhat (never say never though as I’m seeing a bubble happen all over again right now), so I’m focusing my attention on other projects. I’ve created a new website called www.blocklabstudio.com where I design quilt block patterns that reflect what’s relevant in the world today. The block patterns will tell stories, just as traditional quilt patterns did years ago, but these are our contemporary stories: drought, racism, equality, revolution etc. I’m in the idea generating stage at the moment. One of these ideas will likely turn into another investigative project like the foreclosure quilts. It will depend on how the media handles the issue. If I feel like they’re not addressing the story well or misinterpreting the facts, I will feel the need to create a body of work around it.

Lisa: Thank you so much for tell your story, Kathryn! I am so inspired by everything you make and do.

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Words for the Day // No. 68

07/17/15

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Quote I created for Blogtacular just last week. Quote by Anthony Peters. Have a great weekend, friends!

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Katy Ann Gilmore

07/16/15

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Every now and again I discover an artist’s work on the Internets, and I’m immediately blown away. My most recent mind explosion happened when I saw the work of Katy Ann Gilmore on Instagram. Like me, Katy Ann has a thing for micron and gel pens, and she uses them in most of her work; but Katy uses them in very different ways than I do. In fact, I’ve never seen anyone use them in the ways she does, even friends who are obsessive pattern drawers. I became so intrigued by her “one-dimensional-drawings-of mountains-that-look-three-dimensional” (or what I’ve come to call them), that I decided I had to know more, so I emailed her to see if I could interview her. Not only are her drawings impeccably rendered and mind-blowingly beautiful, I figured she also had to know a thing or two about how to play with dimension in space, which meant she had to be super smart. I was right.

Thankfully, she accepted my interview request. I present to you Katy Ann, the latest installment in my Interviews with People I Admire Series.

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Lisa: Katy, welcome to my blog! Tell us a little bit about you. Where did you grow up, what’s your background and how did you begin your career as an artist?

Katy: I’m originally from the Midwest (Indiana/Illinois) and moved out to LA about four years ago. I’ve always had an internal drive to create, and when I wanted to learn a new skill or technique, I would find someone to teach me or teach myself. Growing up, I learned woodworking from my mom, was always drawing/painting/making sculpture, and picked up sewing, knitting, and other fiber arts. I don’t think there has been a moment in my life where I haven’t been making something.

I was also really interested in mathematics, so that was pushed a bit more strongly as I entered high school as it was deemed more practical. I’m definitely happy to have studied mathematics as well as art, but the distinction between math and art, or metaphorically the practical and impractical, has been something I’ve worked to navigate. I went to a liberal arts undergrad, so that allowed me to study a few different subjects. This was a great decision for me, as opposed to an art specific school as I’ve always felt a bit more of a hybrid. I don’t see the two subjects as disparate and have worked to naturally communicate my love for both in what I make. I think the pieces have been there my entire life, I’ve just been working to put them together.

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Essentially, growing up, I knew I wanted to somehow live my life by just making things. I didn’t grow up in an environment where that was realistically encouraged because of that whole “practicality” issue. Moving to Southern California was certainly a key decision in pursuing what I love. I worked as an Admin Assistant and then Finance Coordinator for a few years while working on my MFA.

I finished my MFA last summer and kept working my 9 to 5, because that’s the practical thing to do. I think I was plagued by practicality and was a bit complacent, because working a regular 9 to 5 job is what you’re supposed to do, right?! I was practical and realistic even as a young kind, and if I could talk to little 10 year old Katy today, I’d say, “You’re tenacious. You can make things full-time. It will be hard, but you’ll figure it out.” I eventually quit my 9 to 5 last fall, without really intending to pursue art full-time, but I think my intrinsic desire to do so took over. I eventually let myself believe that it was possible, and I’m so thankful I did.

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Lisa: Congratulations! Making the leap to full time art-making is not easy. I’m so excited for you!  Okay, so let’s jump straight into the juice here. I am super intrigued by your two-dimensional drawings, mostly because they look three dimensional! How did you begin making this kind of work? What is your process for making it? What is your medium? Pens only or are there other tools involved?

Katy: I started these type of two-dimensional drawings about four years ago. I’ve been drawing my entire life, but these grew out of desire for a change of pace after finishing undergrad. At the end of undergrad, I was painting on unprimed canvas, cutting it up, and sewing it back together, which I see big connections with in my current drawings. I wanted to simplify things a bit, work on technique and detail, and ultimately decided to focus on pen and paper for awhile. Also, drawing is just really convenient….I love the portability of it (at least when working on a smaller scale), and make my “studio space” in a few different locations. The drawings then started to be expressions of 3D work I would ultimately make during my MFA, and eventually become works in and of themselves. And, in the year since finishing my MFA, I’ve mainly focused on drawing.

I typically use Pigma Micron pens (usually size 005 for small drawings, and sizes 01 and 02 for larger ones). I’ve also been using watercolor, gouache (although I typically end up using the gouache in a wash-y way like watercolor), marker, or bottled ink. Depending upon the type of drawing, I may sketch a few things out, but I usually just let the drawing develop as it goes. This has been my method for the more topographical/mountain-y drawings. I love the mix of planned vs. unplanned parts in a piece. For these mountain pieces, if color is involved, I’ll sketch out the general idea in watercolor and lay the grid on top. But I welcome the little surprises that happen when drawing the grid. Parts of the drawing will recede, parts will come forward…so sometimes it becomes a bit of an intuitive and reactive process. That rigid/planned vs. unplanned/intuitive mix serves as a good metaphor for my interest in math and art I think.

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Lisa: Inquiring minds want to know: how long does it take you to create one of these drawings? Does your hand hurt after awhile? How do you stay focused?

Katy: Small 5 in. by 7 in. drawings typically take a few hours. For an 11 in. by 14 in. drawing, it can take anywhere from 10-25 hours, and, honestly, I lose track on anything larger than that. I usually try to “clock-in” and “clock-out” when making larger drawings, but I haven’t been too diligent about that (and sometimes I don’t really want to know how long it takes, because it’s long.)

I think I’ve instilled a good amount of diligence in myself and am able to focus for long periods of time. When I was a kid working on a self-imposed art project, I’d be able to focus for hours, so I think that’s only increased with age. Sometimes I do feel stuck or in a rut with one particular drawing, so I’ll move to another. I’m usually working on 6 or 7 drawings at a time (all in different sizes), so that allows me to move to another drawing when I’m feeling frustrated with one. I think this is a good tactic because I don’t stop the flow of work. Instead of ceasing to work when feeling stuck, I move to another drawing and return to the original one later.

My hand does hurt a bit after marathon sessions, but never anything too crazy. I try to rest my eyes/hands/brain every once in awhile by looking away from the drawing, dropping the pen, and taking a breather. I know I hold my pen a bit strangely as I rest it heavily on my ring finger. In kindergarten, I remember teachers trying to correct this, but I think this strange pencil holding probably allows me to draw for longer periods of time. Hahahha. I think that’s the secret.

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Lisa: Your Bachelor of Arts is in Art, Mathematics, Spanish. Talk more about the intersection between math and science and your work.

Katy: I think my love for mathematics extends to my general curiosities about the world, and art has been a way to communicate those questions visually. I think a lot about grids and organized representation of spaces, which is certainly inherently mathematical. A few years ago, I was thinking a lot about the negative space around objects and how that constantly fluctuated as physical objects like you or I moved about in space. This resulted in an installation called “The Shape of the Air“.

For my MFA thesis, I was again thinking about objects in space. I was researching phenomenology and experience in environments, and this led to an installation (again, based upon a grid) called “Matter and Void”. I was intrigued by the disconnect between our perception of the world as consisting of solid objects and the reality of the “empty space” (that doesn’t appear empty) in matter. It floored me (and still does) that we don’t see things as they actually are, only in the format permissible by light, which interprets these non-solid objects as solid. I was really intrigued by that concept, so I was thinking a lot about perceiving these tiny little particles interacting. I think that’s a theme in my work, whether 2D or 3D as tons of little parts coming together and repeating.

For my recent drawings, I’ve been thinking a lot about a 2D grids being warped/pulled in 3D space. Connected with that, I think a lot about calculus. A lot of it is just about slicing up 3D objects into an infinite amount of 2D slices, and I’ve been thinking about that with some recent drawings by slicing up topographical drawings to reveal 3D cross-sections.

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Lisa: Tell us more about planning versus creating as you go in your drawings.

Katy: I usually have a general idea but let the drawing develop and change as I go. I like that unexpected part of it and responding to the drawing as it develops.

I have made pieces that are a bit more precise and there isn’t as much room for responding to the drawing. I drew a series of Square Shift/Glitch pieces that are generally confined to a square, so they require planning and adherence to a particular format.

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Lisa: What is the largest piece you’ve ever drawn? Any ideas to go even larger?

Katy: As far as drawing, the largest I’ve done outside of the formal education scene is 4′ x 5′. Oh, I definitely have plans to go larger!

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Lisa: Where can people find you on the internets?

Katy: Here’s a quick list:

Website: katyanngilmore.com
Instagram: @katyanngilmore
Twitter: @katyanngilmore
Facebook: facebook.com/katyanngilmoreart

Lisa: Thank you, Katy for taking the time to share your process! I have learned so much! Can’t wait to see what you do next.

Have a great Thursday, friends!

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Julia Rothman // Nature Anatomy

07/10/15

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Back in about 2006, when I was first starting out as an illustrator myself, I met & befriended another emerging illustrator named Julia Rothman. Julia had graduated from RISD a few years earlier and was back in New York (her home town) starting out in what has become a distinguished career as an internationally known illustrator. In the almost 10 years I have known Julia, she has published seven books and her now iconic drawing style has landed her work for such prestigious clients as Chronicle Books, Target, Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg Businessweek, Urban Outfitters, The Metropolitan Transit Authority, The Land of Nod, Kashi, Design*Sponge, Food and Wine, New York Magazine, Storey Publishing, and Victoria’s Secret.

I love everything Julia puts into the world, and I am especially smitten with her latest book, Nature Anatomy, part of her “anatomy” series, which includes Farm Anatomy and the upcoming Food Anatomy (more on that below). This book is a fantastic compendium of gorgeously illustrated bits of the natural world. Part personal interest project and part science anthology, Nature Anatomy is Julia’s tribute to the inner workings of the natural world that have fascinated her since she was a kid.

As part of my Interviews with People I Admire series, I sat down with Julia a few weeks ago to ask her all about this beautiful new book, how she made it, what inspired it, and what she’s up to next. Without further ado, Julia Rothman!

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Lisa: Julia, I really loved Farm Anatomy when it came out, and I really, really love your new book Nature Anatomy too. Nature Anatomy seems so much bigger and denser than any of your previous books, which makes sense because nature is really an endless topic. How did you decide what to include and what not to include in the book so that it was just the right size?

Julia: Thanks, Lisa! It is dense. There are a lot of drawings in this book. Like Farm Anatomy, it’s 224 pages of paintings and mostly handwritten text. It was very hard to decide what to include because the topic is so broad. At first it was going to just be “Backyard Anatomy” because I was worried the topic was too big. But backyard was a word that could mean too many different things and might have been misleading as a title. In the end, the way I decided what nature should be included was anything you could find around you if you lived in the United States and went for a short walk. Which narrows it down only a tiny bit since there are so many kinds of landscapes, from grasslands to deserts to forests to beaches. I tried to include a few plants and animals from every area – some very common ones and others that are more obscure and interesting. It also came down to visually appealing things. Ultimately the book is filled with plants and animals I wanted to draw. I worked with a friend on this book who is a sort of naturalist, John Niekrasz. John helped me organize the content and we wound up adding in some of his favorite topics as well that I would have never thought of (like mycelium, the underground fungi network, and recipes from edibles collected in a forest).

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Lisa: You grew up in New York City. Over the years, how did you develop an appreciation for nature and a passion for understanding the way the natural world works?

Julia: I grew up on a small island in the Bronx called City Island. It’s a strange place that most New Yorkers haven’t ever visited. While it feels like a small fishing town, it’s a quick subway ride to the middle of Manhattan. At the end of each block is a beach so I did spend summers swimming in the salty water and collecting shells. My parents were both teachers (they are retired now), and they were constantly trying to engage me in the natural world. We had a vegetable garden in our backyard and went camping every summer, usually in Maine. But I was more rebellious as I got older and preferred to be in the middle of the city hanging out with friends rather than hiking on a lake with them. Now that I’m getting older somehow the appreciation for those activities like quiet nature walks has developed. And I look forward to visiting my parents who still live in the same City Island house and hanging out by the water.

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Lisa: Why did you turn that interest into a book? What do you hope people take away from reading it?

Julia: After I finished Farm Anatomy, which was such a huge undertaking, I felt relieved. I told everyone I would never do a project like that again. It was so much work and I had really stressed myself out struggling to draw and paint in those deadlines. Then the book came out and it felt so incredible. The response was so positive. I missed having a giant project I was totally engrossed in. I suddenly wanted to do it all again. I wound up doing another book about growing up in New York City (Hello NY) before deciding to do this book. I realized I did really enjoy doing big book projects even with all the anxiety that came with it. After talking to my publisher and Storey, we decided to make a series of “anatomy” books. I really wanted to do a nature book next because I had all this renewed love for the outdoors after the farm book. Also I just started running, and I live very close to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. I wanted to learn about all the trees I was jogging under and the names of the wildflowers I was passing by. When you get excited about something, you want to share it with others and this is a perfect medium. I am hoping this book will remind others to appreciate the outdoors around them as well even if it’s just a small park in a dense urban area.

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Lisa: The research for the book must have been intense! How did your relationship with your writing partner John work?

Julia: The research part is always the best and the worst part. It’s daunting and overwhelming, but you learn so much. I bought so many Audubon field guides and books about nature. I bookmarked them all with stickies when I found interesting information or something I wanted to draw. Soon there were hundreds of yellow tabs sticking out stacks of books with no order all over my studio floor. Chaos! Once I brought John in on the project things got a bit more under control. He took over the writing part that was hard for me and I concentrated on the drawing and painting more. We worked on a shared Google document. I would add to it with notes “I just drew these sea birds. Can you find me some good facts about them?” and he would answer with a handful of amazing tidbits ready for me to insert in the pages. We had some very fun days together in person too, doing “research” by walking in the park. He forced me to eat a lot of plants I was sure a dog had peed on but it was a lot of fun. He kept me on schedule (as much as he could. I was always late!) and pretty much saved this project from becoming too much for me to handle.

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Lisa: You’ve made several books, some with your own work, and some compilations of other artists’ work. The artwork and the lettering in the book (and all your books) are really stunning. How long did it take you to make the book from start to finish? What do you enjoy most about the process of making books? What do you enjoy least?

Julia: The art compilation books are amazing. I get to work with all the people I admire the most acting as a sort of art director. Funny, illustrator Cun Shi won an award from the Society of Illustrators for a piece he did for our book The Who, the What and the When this year, and, as a result, I got a medal for art direction. I’ve never won a medal for my own illustration but now I am an award winning art director. Ha! The group books are just hard to make because publishing is not a huge money maker, so we (I work with my ALSO partners on those usually) don’t have the means to pay all 100+ artists and writers fairly, or usually even at all. I’m so grateful to all those contributors and so glad that we were able to produce such collaborative books. We want to continue doing them, just under a different model so that everyone gets fairly compensated for their time. We just haven’t figured that model out yet.

Doing my own illustrated books like Farm Anatomy, Nature Anatomy and Hello NY take me about a year from start to finish. My art process is a bit convoluted since it start with drawing in pencil, then inking it with a pen. Then I scan that in and print it out at a very low transparency and paint it. Next I scan that back in and composite it all in the computer. I think that last step of combining the line art with the paint is my favorite part. I get to see all the paintings come together. It’s very satisfying. Also that day I get an advanced copy in the mail, holding the final finished book for the first time, my face hurts because I smile too much.

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Lisa: What is your favorite section in the book and why?

Julia: Oh boy, it’s hard to pick. I like the spread on neighborhood creatures because I think the colors just all came together. The lake fish page as well, even though I could have painted those fish a little more detailed. I also really like the tree bark page because it was such a boring topic but the differences between the bark and the patterns they make was fascinating to me. I think the spread came out just okay, but I remember being really eager to draw it.

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Lisa: What are you working on now?

Julia: The third anatomy book, Food Anatomy! Yay! A very general topic again. It’s going to cover a lot about where food comes from, dining traditions around the world, techniques for cooking, a few recipe. I’m very engaged in it right now. I’m in the research and drawing phase. It won’t be out until next year. Rachel Wharton, a wonderful food writer, is helping me, thankfully. Coincidentally, I am also illustrating a children’s book for food critic Joshua David Stein that also happens to be about eating obscure things. Leah Goren, Rachael Cole and I are also putting together a Ladies Drawing Night book which chronicles twelve nights of our weekly drawing sessions with instructions. Other than books, I have a new wallpaper collection coming out next month that I’m thrilled about and have been doing lots of editorial work for a handful of publications. It’s been a busy summer! The best way to be. Thanks so much for the lovely interview Lisa!

Lisa: Thank YOU, Julia! I have learned so many interesting facts today! Friends, you can find Julia’s stunning portfolio of work here, follow her on Instagram here, or purchase Nature Anatomy here or wherever books are sold.

Have a great weekend!

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Heather Hardison // Homegrown

07/02/15

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I am so excited today to share with you the work of fellow illustrator Heather Hardison. Heather is not only a fantastic artist, she’s a master hand-letterer, a sign painter, gardener cook, and a writer. She has recently published her first book, Homegrown: Illustrated Bites From Your Garden to Your Table, a gorgeously illustrated tribute to her experience with growing and eating her own food. Through her words and illustrations, Heather guides us through the process of planting, growing, harvesting, and preparing over  25 vegetables and small fruits and cooking them up into delicious meals. It also includes tips for stocking an unprocessed pantry, pickling, canning, and more!

I sat down with Heather a couple of weeks ago and asked her all about the process of creating this beautiful book, about her art practice (including her hand lettering and sign painting skills) and, of course, and about her own garden.

And without further ado, as part of my Interviews with People I Admire series, Heather Hardison!

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Lisa: Tell us a little bit about you! Where do you live and how long have you been lettering and illustrating?

Heather: I live in South Berkeley, and my art studio is in North Oakland but I’m originally from North Carolina. I moved to the Bay Area 6 years ago after I finished college at NC State.  I’ve been freelancing as a illustrator and letterer for about 3 or 4 years, and sign painting at New Bohemia Signs for 5 years. I didn’t study illustration (I studied art & design), so it took a few years of doing personal projects and putting together a portfolio before I started getting regular freelance work.

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Lisa: Your new book Homegrown: Illustrated Bites from Your Garden to Your Table is beautiful! Tell us about how this book came to be!

Heather: When I finished college and moved to the Bay Area, my first job here was working at a french restaurant in Berkeley.  I learned so much about cooking, and eating seasonally while I was working there.  There is SUCH a great food culture in the Bay Area that I’ve been incredibly influenced by. There are farmer’s markets on almost every day of the week, and some the world’s best grocery stores and food co-ops.

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Even though I was having a great time working at the restaurant, I really wanted to keep up a creative practice. So in 2010 I started my illustrated food blog, Illustrated Bites, to share all the exciting stuff I was learning about food, but also to keep myself in the habit of drawing. After a year or two of blogging, my images started getting passed around and my blog started getting popular. My editor found my blog and approached me about doing a book proposal. She help me put it together, and in early 2013 Stewart, Tabori, and Chang (an imprint of Abrams) bought my proposal. From then it was GAME ON. I wrote, illustrated, hand lettered, and designed the layout of the book. It was very intense, but I had total creative control, which was a unique opportunity. I wrapped everything up in December 2014. It was a very busy 18 months.

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Lisa: Wow, I can only imagine! I’m amazed at all the different aspects to the book, the infographics & facts, the explanations, the beautiful illustrations, the RECIPES! Let’s talk about the recipes for a moment. Did you write all the recipes? If so, what was that like? Do you have any cooking training?

Heather: I did write the recipes! They’re all very simple, vegetarian, and produce centric.  I learned a lot about cooking while I was working at the french restaurant, but I learned most of what I know about cooking on my own. I took a lot of random workshops and cooking classes, and did a lot of experiments at home.

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Lisa: Did you find yourself doing lots of research as you made this book? There is really so much science in it!

Heather: Yes, I did A LOT of research. I very much enjoyed that part of the process. I read a lot, talked to experts. Watched documentaries, and cross referenced things to make sure I had the most accurate information.

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Lisa: What was your favorite part about making this book?

Heather: Of course, I LOVED doing the illustration and and the lettering. It was my dream project in that regard, but I actually liked writing it a lot more than I thought I would. I don’t really think of myself as a writer, but I enjoyed the process so much and walked away a much better writer. I’m definitely interested in pursuing more writing projects like this in the future.

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Lisa: Tell us about your own garden. What’s in it, and how much time do you spend there?

Heather:  Since I live in a dense urban area, my garden is a hodgepodge of green space that I’ve made for myself. My apartment doesn’t have a yard, so I’ve had to be creative! I took over the sad flower beds in front of the building and turned them into raised beds for veggies. I also have a large back porch that I’ve loaded up with container gardens.
I even have have a couple of beehives on my roof! My studio mate and I have a garden behind our studio that’s fairly large, and there’s also chickens.

I love spending about a half hour everyday in the garden, doing basic chores like watering or weeding. Once or twice a week I’ll spend a few hours to catch up on things like transplanting, fixing things, and harvesting. Early in the season there are always a few full days of work to get the beds ready for planting, and bringing in new compost.

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Lisa: What is your favorite vegetable and way to cook it?

Heather: Asparagus is probably my favorite vegetable. I love tossing the spears in olive oil & salt then roasting or grilling them, then squeezing a little lemon juice on top. I’ve also been crazy about radishes this year. Slicing them super thin and using them in salads, in tacos, or just eating them with some olive oil and salt on toast.

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Lisa: You are really a master letterer. Did you learn lettering in school where you studied art and design or are you a self taught letterer? Tell us about how you got so good.

Heather: I learned everything I know about lettering from working at New Bohemia Signs, a sign painting shop in San Francisco. I’ve been working there for 5 years. It takes a lot of practice to get good at brush lettering. Learning to draw letters was a matter of learning anatomy of type and typographic rules (and when to break them.)  I’ve spent a lot of time looking a letter forms, and after a while you start to internalize the proper proportions and develop your own sense of style.

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Lisa: You are also an amazing sign painter. Tell us about how you got into sign painting and why it appeals to you.

Heather: I found sign paintings after I moved to the Bay Area. Walking around San Francisco, I couldn’t help but notice all the gorgeous hand painted signs. Once I figured out it was New Bohemia Signs who was making them, I immediately called to see if they would teach me. Lucky for me, Josh Luke was leaving to start his own shop in Boston, and they had room for an apprentice. I studied art & design in college, and I never quite understood what art & design really meant until I found sign painting. If you drew a Venn diagram of art, design, and craft, sign painting would be at the intersection of the three. In my experience, sign painters are all practically minded artists, who aren’t suited to sit a desk and that describes me perfectly.

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Lisa: Who is your new book for? What kinds of people might be interested in purchasing it?

Heather:  I think anyone who loves illustration and wants to learn more about growing and cooking seasonal food would be interested in the book. It’s not a compendium on gardening and cooking; it’s more of a love letter.  Homegrown  is a marriage of all my skill sets and love for good food; it was really a passion project! I hope that comes across, and gets people excited about trying to grow some of their own food, and cook it too.

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Lisa: What new projects are you working on now?

Heather: Currently, I’m doing a lot of personal projects to kind of suss out what I want to do next. The book was such a big project, that it put everything else on hold. So I’m taking the time to take stock and think about what direction I want to go in before momentum takes over. I’m working on a type mural, and some other lettering projects, as well as working on things like packaging for my honey. I’m also trying to enjoy the summer and go outside a lot, and swim and garden as much as possible; that feels really good. I have to stay balanced and engaged with my interests to stay creatively charged.

Lisa: I am so impressed with all that you do! Thank you for taking the time to share your work, process and book with us.

To keep up with what’s she’s doing, you can find Heather’s website here and her Instagram account here. You can buy Illustrated Bites here or anywhere books are sold.

Have a great Thursday, friends!

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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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Monika Forsberg

06/16/15

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If you don’t already know the work of London-based, Swedish-born illustrator Monika Forsberg, today is your lucky day. I am thrilled to include Monika as the latest subject in my Interviews with People I Admire series. I first became acquainted with Monika’s work a couple years ago and fell instantly in love. Over the last two years, she has continued to wow the illustration community and scores of new fans with her combination of boldly colorful, super quirky illustrations, hand lettering and animations. I was lucky enough to meet Monika in person last month in New York, where we were both attending Surtex, and she’s as lovely in person as she is on the Internets. Without further ado, I present to you an interview with Monika, in which we discuss her background (including her thoughts on her home country of Sweden), her process and other fun facts.

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Lisa: Monika, I am such a huge fan of everything you do! Tell my readers a little bit about you. Where did you grow up? Did your childhood/early years have an influence on your style of artwork or creative endeavors over the years?

Monika: Thank you so much, Lisa! I grew up in Lulea which is a seaside town in the very north of Sweden. I remember snow, summer, sea, sand, trees and all the smells and a very slow pace, there was so much space for boredom. I still get that feeling in Sweden. Its the most beautiful place on earth but everything is already ordered and put in its right place and it’s so good you shouldn’t touch it. Nothing can beat the tender bright bright colours of the skies in my home town or the smell of pine forest in late summer when the mosquitos have died.

As children, my friend and I were obsessed with Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and the Mississippi river (of our imagination). We ran around our neighborhood, and I WAS Huck, and I didn’t pretend I was him but I actually WAS him.

As an adult when I am in Sweden, I just sit there (in the afternoon sun or at the kitchen table looking out at the forest through the triple glazed windows) and don’t know how to grasp it or get my rhythm to fall into synch with that tranquility and perfection. My kids love Sweden. It’s a sunshiny place. And Morfar (their granddad) makes fantastic pancakes and always has home made apple juice in the fridge.

I moved to England when I was in my early 20’s, and in London everything is like a crazy person’s idea of structure. There’s a disobedience and idiosyncrasy that, when I first came here, I found liberating, bewildering and rather difficult. Now I love that there’s always 569 things on the to do list (or the house will fall apart) and that nothing is perfect and so if I experiment it doesn’t matter. Nothing is perfect so I can make a mess.

My mum is a huge influence in my work. She had a great eye for style, color and was always making things. We always came to blows when she tried to teach me things because we annoyed each other (so much). I have memories of me sitting under the kitchen table, angry, cutting things up and being sad. Even though we clashed, I learned most of what I know today from her. It wasn’t from the things she consciously taught me but from the things I observed her doing, from just being with her. And she was the best person in the world to hug.  I’m not sure if that makes sense, Lisa?

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Lisa: It does! Our relationships with our mothers are so interesting! So tell us, before becoming an official “illustrator” in the last few years, you had a varied creative path. Start from when you were a teenager to where you are now. What was your path like?

Monika: I was a really embarrassing teenager. Cringe worthily so. You know; bad poetry, painful shyness and generally reveling in being misunderstood (how can anyone understand you when you’re too shy to speak and when you do actually speak you make no sense?). I was really childish, a late bloomer and everything in my head was a bit like grey porrige. I watched “Pretty in Pink” “The Breakfast Club” and “My Life as a Dog,”  thinking THAT is what life should be like. I’m still all of these things, come to think of it.

My friend’s dad was really into photography, and I discovered Anders Petersen’s work as a teenager when leafing through a photography magazine at their house. He photographed real life. Told stories. I quit normal school and enrolled at a photography school which had mixed aged students, and there I found my kind of world and a way to communicate that made sense. It was heaven.

The downside was that I’m an introverted shy person so photographing people all day long (as I didn’t have the patience to photograph still objects) was REALLY HARD WORK. So I moved to England to study art instead with the intention to become a textile designer. I found animation instead. And learned a new language.

I worried up until about 2 years ago that I had nothing interesting to say and that my art was boring but at the age of 39, I embraced that being rather boring is okay and that it is fine to draw little things without any big meanings.

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Lisa: To me, your work is the opposite of boring. In fact, your work has a very distinct style. What mediums do you work in? Does your work start by hand or do you render everything digitally? Or is it a combination?

Monika: I do as little work by the computer as possible. So the starting point is always pen, paint and paper sitting on my bed, whilst listening to audio books or radio documentaries. When I have a big enough pile of drawings I scan it all in and maybe use a third of it for whichever picture/project I’m working on. So there’s a lot of spillage. I use Photoshop to assemble the pictures and to enhance and remove and add little bits n bobs. I worked with Leigh Hodgkinson, the picture book author/artist, to teach me Photoshop and After Effects back in  2003 when I was making an animation for telly (and I knew nothing about computers back then), and I still use the 3-4 basic things she taught me and not much else.

I love how all creatives seem to use these programs completely differently. I tried using Adobe Illustrator once but it did my head in. I think using technology sparingly is the key. Or things turn into epic cgi monsters, which is fine if you like that sort of thing (but I don’t). How do you approach your work, Lisa?

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Lisa: My process is similar! Everything starts by hand (pen, paint, pencil) but ends up getting scanned and then “cleaned up,” moved around and arranged in Photoshop. I am self taught except (like you) for some Photoshop lessons I got from someone back in 2008, so I use the same 6 processes in Photoshop and not much else. There might be a faster, easier way to do what I do, but I have no idea. Next, let’s talk about your animations. How is the process of animation the same or different from still illustration?

Monika: It’s pretty much the same, just not as detailed. You can make 36 half decent pictures that are nothing special, but if you put them together you’ve got a three second little animation (and things move and looks pretty amazing). Animation is like a non consistent repetition. A forever changing repeat. I love repetition and find it comforting, but, at the same time, it really bores me to death. So animation is kind of perfect. You stay safe by drawing almost the same thing yet you get to make variations on a theme. Restlessness mixed with a compulsion to repeat oneself? When animating I often draw actions backwards (as it is easier to in my mind work out how a movement breaks down if i start at the end of it). Animation is great because you can make ANYTHING happen. A chicken can turn into an exploding whale in matter of seconds (and no actual animals will be harmed in the process).

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Lisa: There is very much an element of “silly” in your illustrations (and even your website). I mean that in the best way — your sense of humor really comes through. Do you consider yourself a silly person? Where does that come from?

Monika: I am really silly, and I am really happy. I love playing with words and I love banter and being silly. I think sometimes I might come across as a bit serious (until I start speaking), but it’s much more fun to laugh and have fun, although I’m a massive crier too. I cry at everything. And I have my moody days and I get angry. I sometimes feel a bit too much.

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Lisa: You break a lot of drawing and painting “rules” in terms of color, proportion, etc. This is what makes your work so unique and amazingly wonky. Is that an intentional choice or a result of something else?

Monika: My intentions are always really serious. I start things off deeply concentrated and in hyper realistic frame of mind and then about 1/3 into the drawing I lose concentration and get a new idea (or idea of a joke), and I go along with that impulse, and then I spend the last third of the picture trying to bring it back to the beginning or towards a third impulse. I guess this makes things a bit wonky. Also I love feeling the rhythm of things and my rhythm is totally unhinged. I was a terrible cello player when I was younger as I had my own rhythm (unless I played in an orchestra, then I could follow and assimilate to the general rhythm of things).

So when cutting things out I tend to cut in a fast-paced rhythm when going through curves and then slow down at details, but to generally keep a very fast pace, to not get stuck in the detail of things or the fear of not getting things right. If I do things too slowly I lose the thread. Maybe a bit like downhill skiing?

When I assemble things in the computer I am trying to learn to make interesting compositions, that’ll make your eyes dance around and move back and forth (without getting dizzy). It is the same thing with choices of color. It almost always get out of hand. I admire people who chose color palettes and stick to them. I start with a base color and then put somethings that complements it but then I just have to stick on something else, I think: “Ohh, this color likes that color (even if they shouldn’t ),” and it becomes little stories in itself which leads onto something other color wise. Then I have to try bring it all together in the end. I find blue a really difficult color to deal with. Do you feel like that about any colors?

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Lisa: Oh gosh, I hate working with purples. I avoid them quite a bit! So, inquiring minds are dying to know: where is WALKYLAND? What’s it like there?

Monika: One day my eldest son and I came up with Walkyland as a joke about something and I realized it was a great name that captured what I wanted to do, be and live. The only problem was that I had no work that fit my idea of Walkyland (a colorful green floral jungle full of strange creatures and happiness). I had no idea how to go about it as at that time I only did realistic black ink line drawings of people at the lido (outdoor swimming pool) here in London. I had no idea how to use colors or how to use my imagination. When I was a child we always drew with marker pens, and so when tackling the task of learning how to use colors I used that as a starting point because it was something I felt comfortable with.

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Lisa: What is your favorite way to spend the day?

Monika: With my kids, with my boyfriend, with my friends or all alone. At the cinema, in a cold lake, in the kitchen, on a bus or at the sidelines of my sons football match. Slouching on the sofa. Cooking, drawing, laughing, watching, being. Going to Paperchase on a Saturday afternoon with my youngest son and eating cakes. Pubs and picnics. COFFEE. Talking about all things big and small whilst swimming with my friend. Drawing whilst watching films. Dancing in the kitchen with my boyfriend as lunch is on the stove. Drawing and bantering with my office mate Matt Littler. Sleeping. Holding hands.

Lisa: What is your current dream job or client?

Monika:  l love working on commissions. I love the dialogue and the mixing of ideas and concepts between clients and myself. Collaborations. I been very lucky so far in my short illustration career to have only worked with fantastic people. Right now I’m working on some crazy butterflies for Eeboo. They are such fun people and they make work feel like play. If I could make a wish list; In the future I’d love to work on some book projects and editorials as I done very little of this.

Harvey Weinstein once wanted to meet up (well his people wanted to meet my people), but my people said unless they had a good selection of biscuits at the meeting it was a no. I think they didn’t get the joke and/or find it funny and the meeting never happened. But if he ever changes his mind  I’d love to make a ridiculously good film together with Harvs.

And we can forget about the cookie clause.

And it’d be awesome to one day do a little collaboration with you Lisa!

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Lisa: Yes!! I’d love that! Tell, us, where can people find you on the Internets?

Monika:

INSTAGRAM
WEBSITE
FACEBOOK
BLOG

Lisa: Big Thank you to MONIKA for hanging out here on the blog today! I hope you have enjoyed her as much as I have.

Have a great Tuesday, friends!

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Courtney Cerruti // Playing With Surface Design

06/08/15

PlayingwithSurfaceDesign A few years ago, I met artist, curator, author & teacher, Courtney Cerruti. Courtney works for Creativebug and helped to concept and produce all of my classes there (including my two best-selling Basic Line Drawing and Sketchbook Explorations classes). Courtney has become one of my most treasured friends. I am perpetually in awe of her prolific creative energy and free spirit. Courtney and I also share a longtime love of neon colors. Courtney has published several books (one which I wrote about here) and her latest is my new favorite. It’s called Playing with Surface Design, and it’s a book of surface design projects, including projects for creating wrapping paper, ribbon, lampshades, garlands, plates and more. Each project is fully photographed and includes step by step instructions. Last week, I sat down with Courtney to talk about this gorgeous new book. I’m also sharing here photos of some projects from the book, all styled by Courtney and photographed by Liz Daly (except the one above, which was taken by me). I hope you enjoy this latest in my Interviews with People I Admire!

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Lisa: What inspired this particular book?

Courtney: I wanted to make a book that showed traditional printmaking techniques with a fresh and contemporary look and feel. I’ve added neons, metallics and indigos to the color palette overall and made specific tweaks to some of the processes like marbling, paste papers and monoprinting so that they better fit into the craft and DIY world we all know and love today. I’ve also thrown in some favorite painting and stamping methods to cover designs for all surfaces.

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Lisa: You have several amazing and beautiful project-based books under your belt. Tell us about what it’s like to make books like this. What inspires you to share techniques with other people?

Courtney: Every book I’ve written came from my current passion/obsession. In addition to wanting to share a process or project that I love to make, most of the projects are ones I teach in my in-person and online workshops. The books aim to inspire people as well as teach successful methods for making. I want people to pick up any one of my books and learn a better way to make an image transfer, a monoprint, a book, etc., and to feel proud about learning a new skill AND smitten because they made something beautiful too.
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Lisa: That is a great feeling! To learn something new and make something beautiful. What is your favorite project in the book and why?

Courtney: OOOH, so hard! I think my favorite might be the Bold Botanical Prints because its evokes the feeling of cyanotypes with the addition of neon. Its also more accessible and less expensive than the cyanotype process. Best of all, the printing surface is an actual slab of gelatin, as in Jell-o, which is just plain awesome.

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Lisa: When you come up with an idea for a project for one of your books, does it always go as you planned? Or do you end up scrapping some of them and trying other techniques? Tell us about this process of risk-taking and experimentation.

Courtney: The process of making a book is ever-evolving. Although I come up with an initial list of projects, they change and shift, because I become inspired by something new as I work. Delving deep into any method allows for moments of discovery and that in turn causes me to add projects and strike others as I become more or less inspired by a certain aspect of the process. Luckily I worked with a great photographer, Liz Daly, and a great Editor, Jonathan Simkosky at Quarry, who were both flexible along the way.

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Lisa: When a project you’ve imagined and then try comes out beautifully, what does that feel like?

Courtney: A successful project feels like falling in love, like what you expected and at the same time like a tiny miracle. The processes I love — and most often use and teach — all have an element of unexpectedness, which is why I think they’ve kept me interested and engaged for years.

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Lisa: There is a gallery in the back of the book of artists who do surface design, in which I am so honored to by included. Besides the artists in the book, who are some of your favorite surface designers today?

Courtney: Helen Dealtry, Chris Schmidt of Yellow Owl Workshop, Naomi Ito of Nani Iro, Kindah Khalidy, Llew Mejia, Kitty McCall, and fabric and work from the studios of Mara Mi, Marimekko, and Liberty of London just to name a few.

You can find Courtney’s website here and follow her on Instagram here. You can purchase Courtney’s new book here or wherever books are sold. Did you make something from the book? Tag it #PlayingWithSurfaceDesign to share with others. Thank you Courtney for this inspiring interview. I hope everyone has a great Monday!

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Danny Gregory

05/28/15

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A few years ago, I discovered the work of Danny Gregory, artist, author and teacher of amazing talent and energy.  If you aren’t familiar with Danny or his fantastic array of words and pictures, you can find his website/blog here. He as written many best-selling books on art and creativity, is an avid sketchbook keeper, and runs an online art school. Before becoming a full time artist & author, Danny worked in advertising as a creative director.

I am continually impressed by Danny’s enthusiasm & commitment to encouraging us (all of us) to find the creative potential that lurks in every corner of our beings. I absolutely love his latest work, Art Before Breakfast, a funny & easy to access book designed for aspiring artists who want to draw but are struggling to find the time or inspiration. In the book, he offers 5– to 10–minute exercises to into any schedule, even at the breakfast table!

This week I present to you the ever-inspiring Danny Gregory in my Interview with People I Admire Series!

 

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Lisa: Danny, when did you start making art and how long have you been at it? When did you start writing books about making art?

Danny: Well, I have had two stretches of being an artist.  The first started when I was about 18 months old.  I was very productive — worked in many media, drew, painted, sculpted, danced, sang, composed, wrote books, plays, poems, had a major retrospective on my grandmother’s fridge. Then, when I was, oh, about eleven, I retired. When I was in my mid-thirties, I started again, but for very different reasons. My son had just been born when my wife was in a terrible accident and was left paralyzed. In a desperate search for meaning in a world that suddenly seemed pointless, I found an urge to draw. I began by drawing the things around me — cups, bagels, toilets — and soon discovered they were all beautiful. I haven’t stopped drawing since.

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Lisa: What an amazing story! Danny, one of the things I love most about your new book is that you address the elephant in the room right off the bat – and that is the fact that most people feel like they don’t have time to be creative or make art. But what you argue is that spending what little time you have being creative (even if it’s in line at the doctor’s office) will make your life richer, more interesting and you’ll be more present with yourself and the world around you. Talk about why it really matters that we spend time being creative, even though we are busy people.

Danny: The world is chaotic. It’s an endless barrage of experiences and input that can be overwhelming. Art gives it order. Making stuff makes it make sense. By putting a frame around our experiences, by choosing things to highlight, by writing down stories, we carve a path through the chaos. We explore and define what matters to us. We share that perspective with others, giving them a way of looking the world, and joining us all together.  How can we be too busy to do that for a few minutes a day? What’s more important? Your Facebook update? Real Housewives? The halftime score?

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Lisa: Tell us about the idea of making art before breakfast.

Danny: My life is as jam-packed as anyone’s. I have career, a family, New York City, two small dogs with small bladders, and very little time to call my own.  So I thought I’d try setting my alarm a half hour earlier, just to see if I could use that time as Me Time. Sure, I was cranky at first when the alarm went off, but I discovered that this half hour, when the world is still at bay, impacted all the hours that followed. I would listen to music, look through old yearbooks, study my son’s turtle, let my dogs wander wherever they wanted in the park and just try to see the morning as they did. And I opened my journal, recording these special moments in words and pictures as they unfolded.

This idea, of making art before breakfast, was a revelation to me. Not that you have literally to wake up early, but that taking a few minutes here or there that would otherwise be taken up by the demands of others, was really important to me. In my latest book, I suggest to people that they take a few of these moments between moments— while they wait for the kettle to boil or the spin cycle to conclude or the commercials to end or the elevator to arrive — and pull out a sketchbook and draw for a minute or two, instead of drumming their fingers, picking their noses, or checking their email.

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Lisa: One think you and I have in common is that we tell people NOT to follow the rules in art-making. Why, in your opinion, is it important not to pay attention to the rules?

Danny: There are a number of reasons.  First, creative people question assumptions. That’s how we cause change. And change is vital, now more than ever, because the world is full of new problems and we have to find better ways. That’s another reason art and creativity matter so much and why we can’t limit ourselves with what has been.

I also think it’s ridiculous to worry about rules when you’re making art.  The “Law” of perspective is open to interpretation. You can paint with your fingers, you can draw in books, you can write with a chocolate bar, you can draw the President with a mullet or a machete or a six-foot-prehensile trunk if you want.
I meet a lot of people who are terrified of being creative. Terrified by something stupid a second grade teacher once said, by wasting expensive blank paper, by drawing a wonky line or singing off-key. Who cares? No one is watching. Break the rules.  The art police are too busy guarding the billion dollar auction at Sothebys to care if you screw up a drawing of your cat.

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Lisa: Okay, yet another thing I love about your new book is that your activities get people to look at the world in ways they wouldn’t normally and then draw the unexpected – for example, looking at & drawing the details in a piece of toast, at shadows & reflections, etc. You must have had so much fun coming up with these activities! Which of the activities in your book is your favorite and why?

Danny: I love drawing toast. I did it this morning. It reminds me of when I drew maps as a kid and I pretend I’m in a spacesuit wandering through a vast, uncharted terrain of sourdough. I also loved painting with condiments.  Recording my ten favorite breakfast foods. Drawing on a treadmill at the gym. And copying a six-year-old’s painting of a monster as if were a master drawing.

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Lisa: So often people say, “I want to draw, but I don’t know what to draw” and your book is also chock full of ideas for things to draw. What do you hope your book shows the average person who wants to be more creative but isn’t sure where to start?

Danny: Start now.  You don’t need to take a weekend watercolor workshop or sign up for sketching at the Y on Tuesday evenings or buy another bulging bagful of markers at Dick Blick. Just pick up a damned pen and draw whatever is in front of you, even your computer as you read this blog post! Go on. Yes, I’m talking to you.

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Lisa: Tell us where people can find you online if they want to learn more from you?

Danny: They can visit my website. I’m usually there after breakfast.

Lisa: And you can get Danny’s latest book here or wherever books are sold! Thank you Danny! Always a pleasure.

Have a great Thursday, friends!

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Print & Pattern :: Geometric

03/05/15

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I’m super excited to have finally gotten my hands on Print & Pattern Geometric, another fantastic compendium of print & pattern by Marie Perkins, aka Bowie Style. I’m honored to have two full spreads in the book with some of my geometric works, along with the works of tons and tons of other illustrators. This book is a treasure trove of geometric visual inspiration — 460 full color pages in all!

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You can purchase the book here.

Have a great Thursday, friends!

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Block Printing E-Course!

12/17/14

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Friends, I’m so excited to share a new online ecourse by my friend Jen Hewett. In this sure-to-be-fabulous two day class, Jen will use videos, photos, and downloadable notes to guide you through the process of block printing on fabric. At the end of this class, you’ll know how to print your own custom fabric, which you can then use for tea towels, bags, quilts, or other fabric and sewing projects. Awesome, right?

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The course will take place online on January 31st and February 1st 2015 (PST), and will be accessible to you until March 3rd, so if you can’t take the class on that weekend, or if you want to work at your own pace, you’ll be able to access all the course materials through March 3. You will also have access to an exclusive Facebook group, where you’ll be able to ask Jen questions, as well as network and get feedback.

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And from now until December 31, 2014, you’ll get the early bird price of just $99 for the course! The price will go up to $109 on January 1st. Go get it!

I can vouch for Jen’s fantastic teaching: here I am earlier this year taking a block printing class from her in which I made some fabulous yardage that I used to make a dress.

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You design and carve your own blocks, so you can make your patterns unique to you. To learn more about the course and what supplies you need and to sign up, go here!

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Happy printing and happy Wednesday!

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Troy Litten

11/21/14

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Travel passes from Troy’s first trips abroad

If you have been reading my blog for any amount of time here, you may remember my friend Troy Litten. I’ve written about Troy before (almost a year ago to the day, as a matter of fact!) and his various projects and you may have even met him at one of my art openings (he’s a devoted friend). When we became friends, Troy and I instantly bonded over our love for travel, for design and for collecting old stuff. I finally had the chance to sit down with Troy and interview him for my Interviews with People I Admire series, and I was so excited, because Troy is one of the most interesting and talented people I have ever met. For most of his adult life, Troy has traveled the world more frequently than most of us, and early on — before the internet or Instagram  — he began documenting his travels in ways that have now become iconic. For many years Troy made his living as a designer, but along the way has dedicated hours and hours to his greatest passion: travel and photography. He now makes his living using his stockpile of images to create beautiful products — games, home decor, and stationery to name a few.

I sat down to ask Troy about how his obsession with travel and documenting began, where it has taken him, and a little bit about how his mind works. This is the longest interview I’ve ever published, and it’s filled with gems (including incredible images) from start to finish. Enjoy!

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Lisa: You’ve been traveling most of your adult life, and you are now in your late forties. How old were you when you became interested in traveling the world? What was your first trip out of the country and what do you remember about it? At what point did you begin the style of documenting your travels that you have become known for?

Troy: Hailing from the rather rarefied confines of Northwest Ohio, I didn’t experience much of the world outside my immediate existence (the family road trip to Disney World doesn’t count) until I backpacked around Western Europe during the summer of 1987 while in college, the definitive start of my interest in traveling the world. Among many memories are discovering my love of watching the world pass by from a speeding train, surviving on bread and cheese, realizing not everyone speaks English, youth hostel co-ed showers are a thing, meeting people my age from all over the world, replacing a stolen passport is a pain in the ass, spending nights in train stations awaiting the first train out, Europe is full of old stuff and American tourists, and that I wanted to see much, much more of the world.

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Pre-flight entertainment on Bangkok Airways, 1998

After graduating design school in 1989 I lived and worked in London for a few years and in 1992 set out for a six month trip with my friend Grit, starting in Berlin and traveling through Poland, The Baltics, Finland, Russia, China, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Afterwards I worked in Hong Kong for a while before returning to the US, first to New York then to San Francisco a few years later, continuing to travel and see the world at every opportunity.

Throughout my travels I was finding so much of interest to document, and my love of sharing what I was seeing of the world around me inspired me to begin creating postcards and mail art to share with friends and family. This was the beginning of my style of documenting my travels I’ve become known for.

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Hand-made postcard featuring Japanese street characters, created after Troy’s first trip to Tokyo in 1997

Lisa: Back in 2005 you published your first travel book called “Wanderlust” (of which I proudly have first edition copy!). In it you documented your travels through unconventional photos of regular things like signage, airline food, cheap hotel beds, train tickets and rotary telephones. This kind of collecting and documenting of the “mundane” has become popular in the last ten years but you were one of the first (if not the first) to share it widely. How did people react to your style of photography and documentation ten years ago compared to how they react today? What has changed?

Troy: Wanting to make something with all the photos and ephemera I’d collected on my travels, I created my first book proposal, titled “One-Way Non-Stop Hello Kitty”, in 1998. Two years later my somewhat more realistic proposal for an engagement calendar caught the eye of my first editor at Chronicle Books and “Wanderlust” was born. A set of 30 postcards and four journals were quickly followed by an address book (with images of public telephones from around the world), a travel journal, an engagement calendar, and in 2005 the “Wanderlust” book.

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Fueled by an appreciation of and fascination for all forms of visual culture, communication, and expression, Troy travels the world documenting hisexperiences and adventures. The result is “Wanderlust”, Troy’s series of travel-themed books, journals, postcards, notecards, and more.

I’ve continued to add to the “Wanderlust” series ever since, a total of 18 titles in 12 years, with the most recent being the “Skulls” and “Streets” journals published last year.

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Wanderlust “Skulls” and “Streets” journals

Through a unique presentation of travel photos, ephemera, and design, “Wanderlust” created a travel experience that anyone who’s ever traveled could relate to by focusing on the commonplace experiences (or “mundane”) such as trying to sleep on an airplanes, waking up in nondescript hotel rooms, ordering meals in foreign countries, finding your way around a new city, the people you meet along the way, and the souvenirs and mementos you return home with. As one reviewer at the time put it, “Wanderlust” “…created one of the most realistic accounts of the beauty, adventure, frustration, boredom and wonder of travel.”.

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Spreads from “Wanderlust”

I believe the premise of my work—that the joy of travel isn’t about getting there, but about all the fun you can have along the way—is as relevant now as it was when the book was published, as is my style of photography, documentation, and design. Now of course with camera phones and social media there are many more people documenting and sharing their daily lives and travels through photos, although I find an intriguing narrative, and the discipline to combine photos into a story to arrive at engaging universal experiences, is often lacking (I’m trying really hard not to use the word over-sharing).

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Troy’s morning travel ritual: cups of coffee from around the world, print available in his Etsy shop

Lisa: Do you know where your obsession with the “mundane” or “ugly beautiful” (as I like to call it) comes from? When did it begin for you? What role does the idea of obsolescence have in your work or how you think about your work?

Troy: I consider myself a bit of a loner/outsider/introvert and often tend to prefer observation to participation when I travel. Being instinctively drawn to the details around me that get overlooked or ignored or are thought of as inconsequential/unimportant/unappealing (the “mundane” or “ugly beautiful”), I find I can enjoy, appreciate, or simply find humor in just about anything (from cheap hotel rooms to bad meals to extended airport delays), which really comes in handy when I find myself in unfamiliar environments and situations. As Paul Theroux (one of my favorite travel writers) said, “Travel is only glamorous in retrospect.”

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Off the beaten track in Tokyo, 1997

Last year I found myself traveling to a very different place when I spent two weeks in ICU at hospital with my Mom. I found myself drawn to documenting the unfamiliar and rather scary surroundings—the beeping machines and high-tech medical equipment, antiseptic hallways and waiting rooms, the signage and seriousness of it all—in an attempt to understand my thoughts, emotions, and fears. Sharing this experience through the photos I posted on Instagram and the interactions with my followers really helped me cope with the situation and taught me a lot about the importance of the visual world around me and the impact it has on me, wherever I may find myself.

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Instagramming from the ICU, 2013

The idea of obsolescence in my work is something I’m increasingly thinking about. Many of the places I’ve visited over the years have seen dramatic changes in the visual landscape and more and more of what I’ve documented no longer exists. For example, I’ve always loved old neon signage and have a large collection I shot throughout Eastern Europe in the 1990s, much of which no longer exists. And my collection of public telephones from around the world, now a mostly irrelevant technology, I consider important as historical documentation of a moment in time fast disappearing.
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Illuminating Eastern European neon signage circa 1990s

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Public telephones from around the world, print available in Troy’s Etsy shop

Lisa: You also have an obsession with Eastern Europe. Tell us about what appeals to you about that region of the world, visually and otherwise.

Troy: I first visited Eastern Europe in the early 90s while living in London. The Berlin Wall had just come down so I visited my friend Grit in Berlin and we spent all our time exploring East Berlin on bicycles. I also visited Prague at this time, which was just beginning to dust itself off.

What first struck me about this part of the world was the “time warp” feeling, and my realization that it won’t last, that the things that made it interesting to me would not survive the approaching wave of westernization and standardization, the papering over of the beauty I found with Coca Cola and Marlboro billboards and glitzy marketing and advertising (such as you can now find on the sides of the trundling old-school trams). The no-frills graphic and product design, utilitarian architecture, and quaint signage—often naive, flimsy, unadorned, poorly printed/constructed, out-of-date—were by virtue of their flaws touchingly human and original and like nothing I’d seen throughout my travels thus far.

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Colorful Ladas, Skodas, Trabis, and more on the streets of Eastern Europe

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Earth tones and extra hard bristles, the only toothbrushes available at the central department store in Prague in 1991

Over the last 20+ years I’ve visited Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, The Czech Republic, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Belarus, Georgia, and Armenia. This past summer I returned to Eastern Europe, sharing my travels via daily posts on Instagram (@troylitten, #trippingwithtroy_europe2014). Although much has changed, I still find this part of the world inspiring and love documenting what remains from the past era as well as the changes I see.

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Instragamming Eastern Europe, 2014

Lisa: You are also an avid collector of the things you find on your travels. What are some of your favorite collections? What are some of the weirdest?

Troy: Yes, I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to collecting things I find on my travels. This harks back to my approach to finding beauty in the details of a journey and how every interaction with a place, including the things you find along the way, contributes to a better understanding and appreciation of the experience. Buying packaging in the shops, scouring the sidewalks and gutters for discarded pieces of paper, collecting airmail stamps at post offices, searching out vintage postcards, and collecting old stuff at flea markets are an integral part of my everyday life on the road. Many an old rotary phone has returned home with me in the bottom of my backpack.

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Vintage rotary phones at a Minsk flea market, the blue beauty hitched a ride home with Troy

One of my favorite travel collections are the scrapbooks and journals I filled during my trip around the world in 1992. The China chapter of my scrapbook reminds me of evenings spent emptying my pockets of tickets and bits of paper in dimly lit hotel rooms, removing labels from stuff I’d bought, and drinking warm local beer while documenting the day’s treasures and adventures.

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Traveling China with a blank book and a gluestick, 1992

I’m fascinated with travel tickets and collect them everywhere I go. It’s unfortunately getting harder and harder to find unique tickets due to the increasing modernization and standardization of transport systems the world over.
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Calcutta bus tickets printed on reused bits of paper, 2001

My collection of cigarette packaging from around the world is an interesting comment on the choice of English brand names for foreign products, and the often humorous and inappropriate results.

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Light up a “Stewardess”? Drag on a “Disco”? A pack of “Yak”?

I also consider my photo series as collections (you were the first to point this out!) and I have many series I’ve been documenting for years—from figure signage to “You Are Here” signs, cheap accommodation, train/subway/bus travel, markets, post boxes, and wall murals—that I add to whenever I visit a new place. One of my favorite photo collections is hand-drawn signage.

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Markets + hand-drawn signage = happiness

When I travel I’m always on the lookout for details that capture something about the culture of the place I’m visiting, such as my series of photos of buzzers and bells at the entrances to buildings in Istanbul. The colors, conditions, and often rather shoddy workmanship are one of my favorite impressions of wandering the streets of such an ancient, crowded, disheveled, and amazing city.

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Istanbul buzzers and bells, print available in Troy’s Etsy shop

As for my weirdest collections I must admit I photograph the colorful splash guards in public urinals and can’t quite bring myself to throw away the lint I rescue from my clothes dryer after every load. Don’t ask why.

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A pile of dryer lint

Lisa: You and I share a love for images of ordinary things arranged neatly on a grid. Why is this so appealing to us?

Troy: I blame (and thank!) my love of things arranged on a grid on my Swiss-influenced design school education. Order, color, form, composition—basic design principles that I learned in school and honed throughout the years—still very much frame my approach to both my professional work as a graphic designer and my personal work. I’m always searching for structure in the world around me and aim to compose images that make sense to me visually and satisfy some inherent urge to understand, rationalize, and control my environment. I believe this is a discipline we both share, albeit arrived at through different educational and professional practices and personal experiences.

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T-shirts organized by color at Troy’s favorite Ohio thrift store, 2013

Arranging ordinary things neatly on a grid (a “Troygrid” in Troyspeak) is also for me a way to present my photos in a straightforward manner that allows for easy comparing and contrasting. I also think that utilizing grids to present similar images can result in an impression of a particular thing, place, or experience that one single photograph can’t quite capture.

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Groovy Shanghai tour buses, 2007

Lisa: What is a favorite place you’ve visited and why?

Troy: I may be interpreting your question a bit differently than intended, my favorite place I’ve visited is a place I can visit over and over again regardless of where I am, the place between departure and arrival. Traveling by air—above the earth and suspended in the sky—inspires me to contemplate where I’m coming from and where I’m going as I leave one place behind and anticipate the adventures that await upon arrival. It never ceases to amaze me that I can board a plane in one place and 12 hours later find myself on the other side of the world.

And ever since traveling overland from Berlin to Hong Kong in 1992 (including seven days on the Transiberian from Moscow to Beijing) I’ve loved traveling by train, watching the landscape speed by, observing and meeting other passengers, and moving deeper and deeper into the unknown.

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Troy’s seatmates on the train to Jaipur, India, 2001

Lisa: What are some of your recent travel-related projects?

Troy: My first puzzle, “Transit Graphics”, was published by Galison this past spring. The artwork is a collage of drawings of travel signage I’ve documented throughout my travels and I’ve really enjoyed sharing my love of signage through this new format. “Muchos Autos”, my next puzzle with Galison, will be published early next year and features photos of cars on the colorful streets of Latin America.

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“Transit Graphics 1000 Piece Puzzle” available at galison.com and other fine retailers

This year I’ve begun exhibiting my work in gallery shows around the country, including Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek CA, Kiernan Gallery in Lexington VA, and Black Box Gallery in Portland OR.

Next year The Art Group in the UK, one of the world’s leading art publishers, will be releasing four of my pieces as fine art prints and canvas wall art. My favorites are “Air Mail”, a collection of air mail stamps and stickers from around the world, and “Late Night TV” featuring photos of TV screens with off-air test patterns and graphics from various locales including Japan, Hungary, China, Spain, and Morocco.

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“Air Mail” and “Late Night TV” fine art prints soon to be published by The Art Group

Lisa: What are you currently working on and what are some of your dream projects?

Troy: I’m currently doing some thinking outside the grid and exploring ways to combine the photos and graphics I collect to capture a sense of place through unexpected juxtapositions and arrangements, such as combinations of photos of distressed wall surfaces and drawings of graphic motifs documented while exploring Istanbul.

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Impressions of Istanbul, 2013

Some projects I’m working on a bit closer to home are documenting the garages of San Francisco (where it’s nigh impossible to find a parking space) and a typographic homage to the San Francisco street corner. Street names in SF are stamped into the concrete at street corners, and the impact of the natural and man-made environment on the letter forms—leaves and flowers from the many trees, trash and cigarette butts, moss, broken car window glass—captures for me the unique beauty and grit of the city.

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The garages of San Francisco

I’ve also begun to explore drawing as a new medium through which to share my collections and my love of things like signage, ephemera, and even hardware stores (one of my favorite places to browse). And it’s also nice to spend some time away from the computer for a change.

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Drawings of stop signs from Troy’s photo archive

A current dream project is creating a book of impressions of Eastern Europe in the 1990s through photographs, ephemera, and writings in collaboration with two good friends and travel companions, Grit and Sean, who have also traveled extensively through Eastern Europe and share my appreciation for the visual aesthetic and historical importance of this unique time and place.

I would love to curate/create an immersive gallery exhibition that explores our connection with travel and the world around us through the presentation of common travel experiences utilizing both still and interactive elements that allow viewers to react with the content, share their experiences, and respond to the experiences of others. I also hope to continue to find new ways to share my love of travel and design through new publishing formats, editorial endeavors, and surface and product design applications of my photographs and drawings.

And of course keep traveling.

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Troy’s trusty travel companion, 22 years and still going strong

Visit Troy’s website & blog here and his Etsy shop here. And don’t forget to follow him on Instagram. You will not be disappointed!

Thank you, Troy, for sharing this incredible interview and your beautiful images with us!

Have a great weekend, friends!

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Danielle Krysa, aka The Jealous Curator

11/05/14

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{*Rosa’s Garden, 16″x20″, above, left (detail, right) from Danielle’s new collection of work, featured today as part of this interview. Scroll down to the bottom of the post for more information about this collage series.}

On January 10, 2010 I first became acquainted with someone who has become a really important person in my world: Danielle Krysa. At the time, I mostly knew her as The Jealous Curator, and we “met” because she wrote to me to let me know that she’d written about my then brand new Collection a Day project. She was, incidentally, one of the first people to write about my project — she wrote about it just 10 days after I began (the project lasted a year and was written about later by extensively by magazines, bloggers and newspapers). Anyhow, fast forward a couple of months and we had more contact, and then she began including some of my artwork in her blog, and then again featured my work on her blog the following year when I had my first major solo show in 2011. Our friendship was solidified in 2012 when she asked me to host a San Francisco Girl Crush party in my studio, an event where women signed up to come to my studio and spend the day eating and talking about the creative process. Danielle came to San Francisco from Vancouver to help organize and set up the event, which was a really fantastic (and led to many lasting relationships among the women in the room that day). At that party Danielle met an editor from Chronicle who was also in attendance — and since then has made two beautiful books with the publisher, Creative Block and Collage. I am so honored to be part of both of those books. And so happy the kismet of that event has led to so many amazing opportunities and friendships for both of us.

What most people know about Danielle is that she writes a popular blog called The Jealous Curator. Through her blog, Danielle shares the work of artists she admires (er, is jealous of…more on that in a second). Danielle has, four years after starting her blog, become a really important voice in sharing the work of emerging and newly established artists from around the world with thousands of people who read her blog everyday.

What’s interesting is that Danielle launched The Jealous Curator in February 2009 as a place to show artwork that “made her jealous in a bad, toxic, soul-crushing way,” she says. “I was literally getting stopped in my tracks every time I saw work that I loved. It was awful.” But luckily for Danielle she worked through all of that, and five years later, that ‘jealousy’ she says “has turned magically, wonderfully, and thankfully into inspiration.”

And that’s a good thing, because what most people don’t know about Danielle is that she’s also an artist — a really, really talented artist. And she’s recently begun making a brand new body of work after a hiatus. Danielle’s journey as both an artist and a blogger is the focus of my interview. This interview is part of  my Interviews with People I Admire series here on Today is Going to be Awesome.

Without further ado, let’s get this interview with Danielle started!

Lisa: You are a designer and an artist, and you are obviously quite passionate about art in general and the work of other artists. I imagine at some points (maybe even daily) you spend more time writing about other people’s work on your popular blog than you do making your own work. How does writing about art (especially the work of artists you admire) both hinder and help your own creative process? What have you learned about how to manage all of that since you started your blog in 2009?

Danielle: In the beginning, finding art that I loved really hindered my own work. I was discovering amazing, inspiring, fantastic work every single day, and it felt like everything had been done in every color, and all of it was so much better than anything I could ever make (or so I told myself). But as time went by, and my bookmarks list grew, I realized something very important. It dawned on me that the world is a pretty big place, and there is in fact enough room for anyone that wants to create. Sure, your work might not suit every gallery, or every homeowner’s wall, but there will be a place for it. So make it! And now I do. Here’s a strange little tidbit for you though. Whenever I finish a piece I’ll look at it and think “would the Jealous Curator write about this?” If the answer is “no” I keep playing. Weird?

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Lisa: Not necessarily weird, but really interesting! Let’s talk more about that. Recently you’ve reignited your studio practice. What prompted that for you?

Danielle: For years I’ve been telling myself: “Oh, I’m too busy with The Jealous Curator to think about my own art,” but it wasn’t until I started working on my book, Creative Block, that I realized I was totally using that as an excuse to chicken out. Before the book even hit shelves, I started trying the unblocking projects that the artists had given at the end of their interviews. They’re all so good! That got me started, but what really motivated me were all of the conversations I was having with my readers at book signing events AFTER the book came out. All of these people were really putting themselves out there. Pushing through blocks and trying new things “thanks to Creative Block.” I was so inspired by all of them, and I realized it was time to put that whole “practice what you preach” thing into action.

Lisa:  Tell us about the work you are making now. What have you learned, if anything, since you began making more of your own work again?

Danielle: Oh, this is a long answer so I apologize now. Ready? I was a painting major in University. Right before I graduated I had a terrible professor tell me (in the middle of a huge, humiliating critique in front of my classmates) that I should “never paint again.” And I believed him, I guess, because I haven’t painted in 19 years. I didn’t stop making art, but I switched to collage because it was easy and fun and totally didn’t count as art in my mind, because it was easy and fun. Anyway, in June of this year I decided to face my fears head on (practice/preach thing again) and start painting. It was awful. It was not fun. I kept trying, but found myself wandering off to the thrift shop to look for good collage material. I realized I was excited to make collages, and so I wondered, why wasn’t I just doing that? Because it was too easy and too fun.

Then my second book,  Collage, hit shelves in September. I got dozens of emails from painters and photographers saying “Oh, I love collage, but I’m not very good at it. It’s so hard!” What? It’s not hard. It’s easy and fun and not real art… right? A week or two later I was having coffee with an artist in Vancouver, and was telling her the story about the terrible painting critique when I was in university. She asked what the work looked like, and so I described it. “Oh, I was cutting pieces of the canvas out, sewing them back on, gluing pieces of textures paper over it, etc.” She stared blankly, paused and said… “So you mean, collage.” Holy crap. I’d been a collage artist for 19 years and had no idea! A-ha!!!! I have never felt so free, and so excited about making art.

My name is Danielle, and I am a collage artist. Bam!
Sorry. Longest answer ever, but I just had to share.

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Lisa: I love that story so much!!! What is it about collage that you are so drawn to? Both in your own work and in other people’s work?

Danielle: It probably stems from the fact that I’m a graphic designer by day. I love bold/graphic images, and strong composition, and a good collage has both. I also think it’s really exciting when an existing image is given a whole new purpose, and a brand new story, especially when the new narrative has a bit of a wink or cleverness to it.

Lisa: What is your favorite part of your own creative process, the part that is the most exciting to you?

Danielle: It’s all about found images for me. I could spend hours in thrift shops looking through old books. Once I’ve found “the perfect pages” I run home as fast as I can, and then spend hours (literally) cutting and cutting and cutting. At that stage they’re just funny/random clipped images, but very soon they’ll be assembled into a new story that never would have existed anywhere else had I not found them, snipped them, and glued them together. That is very exciting to me!

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Lisa: You published a book with Chronicle Books called Creative Block where you talk to successful artists about their own creative blocks. Why is it important to talk openly about creative blocks? What do you hope people get out of the book?

Danielle: It’s funny how rarely people actually talk about blocks. And you almost never hear people admit that they have inner-critics and self doubt, but everyone does. I think talking about it just makes all of us realize that we’re not alone. As I got the interviews for the book back from artists, I was so relieved to read that even very accomplished, successful artists doubt themselves from time to time. I want people to read the book and know that if they’re feeling stuck or insecure that they shouldn’t give up. They’re part of something bigger: a huge, supportive, like-minded community of creative people who also get stuck sometimes. I want them to do all of the unblocking projects, and I want them to have fun making, because there’s nothing more satisfying to a creative person than making something you love!

Lisa: How do you work through your own creative blocks?

Danielle: Slowly. But they don’t stop me any more. I’ve learned that blocks are just part of the deal when you’re a creative person. I take a breath, realize it’s not the end of the world, and just keep playing around in the studio. There is a quote in the book that I love, by Laura McKellar (an artist from Australia). She said “You should never stop experimenting. That is how you become a genius.” I love that and totally believe it! Playing, failing, experimenting: those are the keys to finding your way out of a block, and the direct route to stronger work.

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Lisa: You write about and promote at the work of other artists every day. Tell us a story about a time when a post you wrote about another artist led to something really cool.

Danielle: Yes! This is absolutely my most favorite part of having The Jealous Curator. Here’s a story that just happened this past spring. An American painter named Anna Jensen sent me a link to her work and I loved it and wrote about it right away. Literally the day after I wrote about her, I got an email from a gallery in Paris. They had seen the post and asked if I could connect them to Anna, as they wanted to give her a solo show… IN PARIS?! So, I e-introduced them and off they went! But that’s not the end of the story. Anna set up a Kickstarter project because she couldn’t afford to get herself, and all of her paintings, to Paris. She had raised a bit of money, but not quite enough, so I wrote another post asking my readers to help get Anna to France, and they did, (and then some)! Her show opened in July and, boy oh boy, I wish I’d been there with her. It was so, so, so exciting!

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Thank you, Danielle, for sharing your story with us! And for sharing your own work and the work of other artists with the world everyday. Thank you also for your beautiful books. You make the world a better place.

{*About Danielle’s work, pictured throughout this post, in Danielle’s own words: This series is called “Rosa’s Garden” and each piece is named after a rose. My great grandmother’s name was Rosa and she lived in a little mint house with lots of roses in the garden. She also lived through the roaring 20’s and had a bit of an edge to her. Yet another reason to love her! These pieces all started with hours and hours of cutting out roses, all the while thinking of her and my grandmother and her daughter, Blanche. The other bits and pieces (including an image of the house I lived in when I was little) found their way into this ode to the women in my family.}

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