Extraordinary Routines

08/21/17

Hi friends,

I’m honored to be included in Madeleine Dore’s ongoing series called Extraordinary Routines. The piece has two parts: the first is a “day in the life” — which is essentially a summary of my routines and some thoughts on what I’ve learned about what works for me in my daily life. You can find that here. The second part is entitled Ten Lessons on Creativity, Career and Life. You can find that part here.

Enjoy!

Lisa

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Alice Stevenson: Ways to See Great Britain

06/30/17

I am so excited today to share with you an interview with Alice Stevenson. Alice is one of the most talented, dedicated, curious illustrators I know. I first met Alice several years ago when she came to stay in San Francisco, where I was living at the time. Hailing from London in the UK (where she has lived most of her life), she has just published a new book all about her home country called Ways to See Great Britain. The book is part visual adventure through her gorgeous country, and part Alice’s own personal exploration of parts unknown. That’s right, Alice traversed her country over the course of two years, and most of it for the first time, on public transportation and by foot, with the goal of getting to know the less common, less touristy parts of her country in more depth. And simultaneously she wrote and illustrated a book about it! Stunningly illustrated in Alice’s energetic, colorful style and written in Alice’s soothing voice, the book is both eye candy and inspiration for slowing down, looking at your surroundings and appreciating the unexpected. All the illustrations below are from this gorgeous new book.

And so without further ado, I present to you my  latest Interview with Someone I Admire — Alice Stevenson!

Lisa: Alice, tell us a little bit about your background, your story as an illustrator, and the kinds of things you work on as an illustrator.

Alice: I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator and surface pattern for a varied range of clients since 2005 when I graduated from the University of Brighton. I’ve illustrated many books and book covers including Maya Angelou’s autobiographies for Random House US and Carol Ann Duffy’s Collected Poems for Children for Faber & Faber. I’ve also been commissioned by a host of different editorial, advertising and packaging clients including Kellogg’s, Waitrose and Amy’s Kitchen. I’ve always had a lively personal drawing and painting practice alongside my commissioned work.

Lisa: This is your second book? Before we launch into Ways to See Great Britain, tell us briefly about your first book.

Alice: Ways to Walk in London is collection of reflective writings about my wanders around my home city, combined with illustrations inspired by my journeys. It’s a celebration of surprising corners of London and those fleeting moments of beauty you find when exploring a city on foot. I was initially approached by my publisher to create this book as so much of my personal output as an illustrator and artist is about drawing in response to my surroundings.

Lisa: How did Ways to See Great Britain come to be as the follow up to Ways to Walk London?

Alice: I grew up in London, and there is always a sense here of being quite cut off from the rest of the country. I’d always been aware that there was so much of the UK I’d never seen even though I’ve travelled widely overseas. I was interested in writing a travel book, which investigated the process of travel and my own reaction to different journeys and locations, so travelling around Britain seemed like a logical progression.

Lisa: It’s amazing how many places all over Great Britain you traveled!! How long did you spend traveling to create the content in the book? How did you decide what to explore in each region?

Alice: Yes, I look back at the book now and wonder how I managed it all! I spent just under two years doing trips for the book, and it was incredible. I’ve been much more sedentary this year and I really miss all the travelling, in particular the long train journeys. When I started the book, I wanted to restrict my travels to “in between places”: outskirts of towns, places that were a mixture of industrial and rural for example. But this felt a bit restrictive as I started making plans so I kept this in mind but gave myself permission to go wherever took my fancy, even if they didn’t fit into this sort of category. Really it was a mixture of places I’d always wanted to visit and places recommended to me. It ended up being quite an organic process. I’d often let whatever journey I’d just been on inform my future travel plans. For example, I fell in love with Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, which inspired me to visit the town of Harlow which had been designed by the same architect Frederick Gibberd, hundreds of miles away in Essex.

Lisa: The art in the book, which is gorgeous, is obviously driven by your experience in each place, and yet, the illustrations are not literal. They are more figurative, patterned illustrations on each place. Talk about your process for creating the illustrations in the book.

Alice: Thank you :). What I seek to capture in my illustrations is a sense of what I found visually interesting and engaging about a place. To me, the visual memory of a place more closely resembles an abstract pattern than a straightforward “scene” because its a combination of details and atmosphere. I take photos and create sketches (if possible) on my travels for reference, I then use these as the basis for creating some initial drawings which eventually develop into final pieces. The process is very intuitive, I try not to overthink what I create.  I found with some chapters that I’d see the artwork quite clearly in my mind’s eye, and in others, I would have to draw and experiment for a while until it became clear what the final outcome would be.

Lisa: The book is explicitly not a travel guide. So talk about how you envision or hope people to use the book to explore Great Britain?

Alice: I would be delighted if people wanted to follow in my footsteps after reading my book and I hope that it gives people ideas for travels around the UK, but just as much I would love to inspire readers to engage with their surroundings in a meaningful way wherever they go in the world. I also am a passionate advocate of armchair travel, so I like the idea of my book mentally transporting readers from wherever they are in the world to Liverpool in December, or the mud flats of North Norfolk even if they never actually use it in a practical way.
Lisa: Because you don’t drive a car, you walked or took public transport everywhere you visited and wrote about in the book. What was that experience like for you? Was it difficult to get to some regions or places you wanted to see without a car or did you manage to get people to drive you? How did you manage your expectations on your journey when you were at the mercy of your feet and other modes of transport that you didn’t have control over?
Alice: Having never driven, I’m fairly used to managing without a car. I’m honestly never happier than when I’m on a train, and I also really enjoy taking little local buses, they provide excellent people watching opportunities. On certain journeys I managed to rope long suffering friends and family into chauffeuring me around — for example, in Northern Ireland which would have been very tricky on public transport. On the whole I prefer travelling without a car as it limits your options in a good way, as I think too much choice when travelling can be overwhelming. For example, when I was staying in Patterdale in The Lake District with my mum, we didn’t have a car and we spent our two days there just exploring the immediate footpaths around Lake Ullstwater, which were absolutely stunning. If we’d had a car we’d have probably spent the time driving around trying to see as many places as possible, which I find can be a bit draining and unrewarding. Plus if you’re not driving it means you can go to the pub!
Lisa: Was there a spot or region you visited for the first time that really blew your mind? If so, what was that and why?
Alice: I was very taken by Hull. It is often unfairly dismissed as being a bit of a rough place but I was delighted by it. It has the most amazing grand Victorian buildings, a fascinating maritime history and excellent pubs. People are extremely friendly there and I just felt it had one of the loveliest atmospheres of any city I’ve ever been too.
Lisa: Did you stumble on anything by chance that you hadn’t planned on that made it into the book?
Alice: Yes! On the grounds of Castle Crom near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland, we discovered these astounding ancient yew trees that created an amazing arboreal palace world when you stepped under their outer canopy. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I wrote about this experience in the book and it is probably one of the best surprise discoveries I’ve ever maddwhilst travelling. I think it’s these moments that make travel worth doing.
Lisa: What are you working on now?
Alice: In terms of books: “Ways to See Great Britain” was such a mammoth undertaking so I’m allowing myself to take some time this year to regroup and work out what the next big writing project will be. Alongside working on illustration commissions I’m enjoying playing around with some personal art and writing projects and seeing how things develop.
Lisa: Where can people find you online?
You can find out about my books and look at my illustration portfolio at www.alicestevenson.com. Signed copies of my books and prints can be found on my online shop at alicestevo.bigcartel.com. You can follow me on Instagram,Twitter and Pinterest at @alicestevo and at Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alicestevo/
Lisa: Thank you, Alice! And folks, you can purchase the book here, along with many other beautiful things by Alice!
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Bridget Watson Payne: Part Two

06/08/17

You may remember a few weeks ago, I posted the first part in my two-part interview with author, artist and editor extraordinaire, Bridget Watson Payne, about her recently released book, The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up. If you haven’t seen that book yet or read that interview, head over here to take a look. The Secret Art of Being a Grown Up is one of my favorite books of the year.

Bridget’s second book, How Art Can Make You Happy, was also just released. And guess what? It’s also one of my favorite books of the year! Part of why I divided this interview with Bridget into two parts is because both of her recently published books are really, really entertaining, sensitive and, most importantly, useful.

So I’m back to interview Bridget a second time about How Art Can Make You Happy. To learn more about Bridget, how we know each other (she’s an important person in my life) and her first book, head over here to our first interview. Then come back to this post to read on.

Without further ado, I present to you: Bridget Watson Payne, back to talk about How Art Can Make You Happy.

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Lisa: This book resonated with me on so many levels, and I’m curious to hear in your own words — why a book about how art can make you happy?

Bridget: I found myself having so many conversations with people—friends, colleagues, at parties, over coffee—where, when the subject of art came up, folks would all of a sudden start to express so much guilt and anxiety. Maybe it’s because of my job title? Maybe you imagine that if you’re talking to someone whose job is “Senior Art Editor” that must mean that this person you’re talking to is super-duper knowledgeable about art, makes it out to every big art show and every cool obscure art show, and is looking down on you because of stuff you don’t know or stuff you didn’t go see. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth! I wanted to wave my arms and shout—no, no, no! Art shouldn’t make you feel crummy and guilty! Art should bring joy into your life! Art should make you happy! So then I realized maybe I should write a book about that.

Lisa: As someone who came to a profession as an artist later in life — and with no formal training or connections to the “mysterious art world,” I remember feeling completely terrified when I first started out that I would be found out for being a fraud and that there was some secret society who would certainly kick me out. I have my own theories, but why do you think we have gotten to this place as a society where we are so intimated by not just art but “the art world”?

Bridget: I think it’s kind of this cultural myth. I mean, yes, sure, there are a few snobby jerks out there who like to use their knowledge to shut others out or make them feel small. But for the most part, it’s a fiction. You can walk into a museum on the free day, or into an art gallery on any day, and look at the art there. No one is going to stop you. The art world isn’t actually shutting us out, we’re shutting ourselves out with this cultural story that says, oh, art’s not for normal people art’s only for fancy people. Nonsense! Art is for everyone. Art is for you and for me and for you and for you and for you. That’s not to say that the story isn’t a real and powerful thing in itself—it comes out of some pretty deep-seated societal issues we have around class and culture and intellect and education—and it’s not always easy to throw off that kind of cultural baggage. But we are right to work to try and do so.

Lisa: I also think our perceptions about art are changing because of the internet and because museums, in order to stay relevant, are making great efforts to make art accessible to everyone. Art in all of its forms is becoming more mainstream, and our conception of what is art is also broadening. Art is for everyone, and art can be anything. To be clear, some people (mostly inside “the art world”) find this shift offensive. Why does your book argue this is a good thing?

Bridget: I am 100% egalitarian when it comes to art. Everyone should be invited to the art party. If they’re not then, what? You’re making art some sort of rarefied insider-y thing on a mountain top and keeping this source of joy out of people’s grasp? That’s insane. I really have a hard time believing that we’re still having these conversations about what is and is not art in this day and age—but I know it’s true, we are. Every time I go to a museum show about the work of a fashion designer—which, let’s be clear, have been some of the best exhibitions out there in recent years!—I overhear all these conversations debating whether fashion is art and should it be shown in museums and blah blah blah. And I’m like, seriously? Are we still seriously having this debate in the year 2017? More art—a broader more inclusive definition of art—and art accessible to more people—is only ever a good thing. We would never say movies or music or books or ice cream or vegetables or pillows or bicycles are only for a few special people, so why on earth would we say that about art, this amazing huge source of inspiration, empathy, and joy?

Lisa: When I walk into a museum, despite the genre or period or artist, I am often overcome with emotion. I have been known to cry or to feel overwhelmed, and not in a negative or positive way. I am simply moved. Sometimes I find myself rushing through because the feelings are so intense. I’ve heard a handful of other people talk about this same experience. Why is this happening this happening to me?

Bridget: You are letting art do to you exactly what art does, if we let it. Art is a powerful engine of emotion. When I say art makes you “happy” I don’t mean happy like skipping around in a field of daisies eating bonbons, I mean happy on a deep and profound level. Happy like moved. Happy like awake. Some art is deeply unpleasant—it can shake you up, upset you, outrage you—but those strong emotions can also lead to this kind of deep happiness I’m talking about. If we really let art in, if we open our eyes and let it do it’s number on us, the natural result is feeling. Not every time, of course—some art works for some of us and not for others—that’s why learning to trust your own taste is so important, you have to find the art you like so you can find the art that moves you. Because feeling that feeling of feeling feels good.

Lisa: Why should people prioritize seeing and engaging with art (even if it is intimidating or even overwhelming at first?)

Bridget: I argue in my book that art wakes us up to three profound realities: the reality of the world, the reality of others, and the reality of ourselves. As humans, we tend to be blinkered to the wonder of the world around us—we have to be or we’d be overstimulated all the time. We tend to be self-centered and have a hard time really truly believing that other people are just as real as we are. We tend to get caught up in the mundane day-to-day and disconcert from our own capacity for deep feeling, thought, and pleasure. When we prioritize making time to engage with art, we are prioritizing being our best and our happiest selves. And sure that’s a payoff worth facing down intimidation or overwhelm for.

Lisa: There is a whole section in the book about looking at art without leaving your house. This is important for people who are curious but don’t live in an area with galleries or museums (of which there are vast swaths across the world). What are some of the things you suggest in the book about how those folks can engage with art?

Bridget: Yes. If we’re going to say art is for everyone (and we are!) then we have to get really clear about the fact that not everyone lives near museums and art galleries. Luckily, there are lots of ways that art can come to us. We can order affordable art online and hang it on the walls of our homes. We can pull those art books someone gave us as gifts off the bookshelf or coffee table and actually look through them, slowly and carefully. And then, biggest of all, there is the internet. Going online is your gateway to accessing an almost infinite amount of art. Try art blogs (a few of my favorites are The Jealous Curator and Booooooom), art websites (I adore Artsy.net), and the amazing thing nowadays is that more and more museums are digitizing their entire collections. You can actually see way more art on the website of the Met than you can if you actually go to New York now.

Lisa: When you can, though, why is it different or special or important to go look at art in person? What changes?

Bridget: There’s something magical about seeing art in person. In the same way that seeing a live performance is very different from watching a recording, there is something visceral and immediate about being in the same space with the actual physical object that the artist created with their own hands. Because, let’s not forget, art is a physical experience. You feel it in your body. And you see things in such a different way when you stand in front of them, in person. Not just that you see more details—the individual brush-strokes in a painting, for instance—though there is that; but you actually see the original in a different way than you see the reproduction. Take Impressionism, for example. We’ve all seen certain Impressionist masterpieces, Monet’s waterlilies, say, reproduced so many times—on posters and coffee mugs and mouse pads and in the dentist’s waiting room—that we can hardly see it any more at all. It’s become this boring accustomed decorative background that our eyes and brains tune out or gloss over. But when you’re lucky enough to see it in person, it hits you. The size of it, the scale, the brushwork—but beyond all that: the living magic of it. Suddenly you realize how insanely revolutionary it was, at a time when people wore top hats and corsets, to paint what things felt like instead of how they literally looked. The audacity of it! Wham!

Lisa: I have been a professional artist for ten years, and I am just getting comfortable talking about and having opinions about art for the first time in my life. Why is talking about and having opinions about art so intimidating for so many people? And how can we move on from that fear?

Bridget: Frankly, we’re afraid of looking stupid. We think people are going to judge us for our lack of knowledge, or for having “bad taste” or something. And, yes, overcoming those sorts of fears can be hard. But also? Overcoming those sorts of fears is the real and proper work of our lives as adult human beings. Worrying about what people will think of us holds us back in nearly every arena of human endeavor. And like most things, the way to get good at something—in this case talking about art—is to practice. Start out with someone you trust. I recommend finding a friend to go on art dates with—go to a museum or on a mural walk together and talk about what you see. What do you like? Dislike? Why? Once you get comfortable with your friend, move on to chatting with others. Art is a great topic of conversation for social situations—it gets you away from boring small talk and onto something really interesting. And a great way to get to know people is by finding out about the art they like (and you may discover some new artists this way as well). People worry that others may know way more than art than they do—but it’s usually not the case. The one thing others may have mastered is name-dropping. If you learn the names of your favorite artists then you, too, can drop names into the conversation and start to feel more and more competent and knowledgeable.

Lisa: What was your favorite part of writing How Art Can Make you Happy?

Bridget: It was so much fun to be a writer! Because I’m a book editor by profession, I’m so used to being on the other side of the editor/author relationship. It was awesome and exciting to get to take my editor hat off and just concentrate on writing the very best book I could. And I got to work with a great editor of my own—Christina Amini. I felt like the whole experience gave me a deeper appreciation both of what editors do and what authors do.

Lisa: In one line, describe one message you hope people hold with them after reading it.

Bridget: Art is magic, and it’s for everyone.

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Andy Miller // Creative Pep Talk!

05/31/17

   

One of the coolest experiences I’ve had in the past few years is being a guest on Andy Miller’s brilliant podcast, Creative Pep Talk (you can listen to my episode here). Andy is not only a fantastic podcaster, interviewer, community builder and pep-talk giver, he is also a phenomenal illustrator with a distinctive style that is so delicious I want to eat it. Andy now has a book out — also called Creative PepTalk — and I talked to Andy recently about this amazing new book, what’s behind it, and why it is we all need a pep talk now and again. The book is filled with “pep talks” from 50 different artists (including me, see my spread below, thank you Andy!). It’s colorful, bold, unpretentious and inspiring.

And so, without further ado, I introduce to you Andy J. Miller, this week’s Interview with Someone I Admire!

Lisa: Andy, before we launch into a discussion on this fantastic book, tell us a little bit about you. Who are you? What do you do?

Andy: First of all, SO THRILLED to do this, I just love and support everything you do and have done for the creative world, so I just want to say THANK YOU and thank you for being in this book! You were at the top of my contributor wish list!

Lisa: Oh, thank you, Andy. That means the world to me!

Andy: A little about me: most people know me by Andy J. Pizza these days, and I’m an illustrator who works with clients like Nickelodeon, Google and Converse. I’m also a podcaster, and my podcast Creative Pep Talk exists to help people make a good living, making great creative work.

I’m deeply passionate about sharing the breakthroughs I’m having in my creative career in hopes that it might enable a breakthrough for someone else.

Lisa: How did you get the idea for this book? Why Pep Talks for creatives? Did anything particular inspire the book?

Andy: I can’t remember exactly what sparked this idea but I’ve always loved a good collection / anthology. I kept seeing all this beautifully lettered creative wisdom and realized that it would kind of work as a double whammy as an anthology. On the one hand, it’s just a collection of phenomenal lettering and on the other hand it’s jam packed with the wisdom of a creative self help book of sorts.

I think a lot about why I’m so attracted to the idea of a pep talk. Here’s what I’ve realized: I’m just doing for others what I’d like done for me. Ironically, this pep talker requires LOTS OF PEP TALKS to keep going. A good word of affirmation or fresh perspective from a friend or mentor can keep me going for weeks!

Lisa: Haha, I am right there with you. Sometimes I say to my wife at dinner: I NEED A PEP TALK, PLEASE! There is such a myriad of terrific advice in the book. And so  I found myself saying, “YES!” and “YES!” and “I so needed to hear that today!” when I read it. I think sometimes people think those of us who have been working for years and are the ones dispensing the advice in the book somehow don’t experience insecurity or doubt or challenge. But we do! So this book really is for everyone. What is some of your favorite advice in the book?

 

Andy: I keep going back to Jon Burgerman’s “If You Can’t Be Good, Be Different.” Creative people get so caught up with the surface level metrics like how perfectly something is designed or how technically perfect something is. In my opinion, it’s more advantageous to get out of those races and find your own lane completely. Jon perfectly sums this up with his piece.

Jen Mussari’s page is another I keep returning to. She says “Make Friends, Not Contacts.” I am a MASSIVE believer that often in the long run, nice guys actually finish first. Those who scheme and cut corners might be quicker off the starting blocks, but their shortcuts catch up with them. Jen’s phrase reminds me that getting ahead doesn’t mean using people, and it’s possible to succeed and be a decent person at the same time.

Lastly, I’ll say Andrew Neyer’s “Stop Making Cents”. Andrew is a close friend of mine, and along the way we’ve both been very supportive of one another. We’ve always encouraged each other to charge fair rates and never to sell ourselves short.  I was so thrilled to share this piece of his with the world.

Lisa: There are so many fantastic artists and designers in the book. How did you begin to think about and select all the people in the book?

Andy: The number one criteria for this book was creative wisdom. I genuinely started with a list of people who had made an massive impact on me and had illustrated some of their wisdom visually.   Many of these folks profoundly changed my perspective and in turn my creative career with their work, their writing and their talks.

Lisa: One of the things I love about the book is the diversity of pep-talks, but also the fact that in some ways you can distill most of them down to a few key points: 1) believe in yourself (and your ideas), 2) don’t give up and 3) take risks. Your own advice in the book is about our infiniteness and potentiality when we believe in ourselves and in the power of our ideas. Say more about how that idea has played out in your own experience.

Andy: Looking back it’s very clear to me: this whole life is first and foremost a mind game with ourselves. Essentially, I’ve spent the past 9 years trying to find the right perspective or mental breakthrough that allowed me to trick myself into making progress. I am convinced that we are all infinitely more capable than we could ever imagine, and we can rise to this potential if we can just find the tricks and tips to get out of our own way.

For instance, from age 15 – 21, I was in a cycle of self destructive tendencies. They kept my self esteem low and convinced me that I was doomed to a live a life of defeat and failure. In that time frame I made some friends that pulled me out of this. When these people I respected and admired saw me as an equal, it changed the way I saw myself. This helped me break free of these cycles.

I see it in my creative career too. Every so often someone I look up to or admire or see as an ‘untouchable’ will reach out and encourage me. It always increases my self worth and belief in my own potential. For many of us we had teachers that did this for us, but I think many of us need this kind of mentorship throughout our entire lives! In short: seek these people out!

Lisa: What do you hope people who read your book get out of it? What do you hope they walk away with?

Andy: I hope at the very least they come away with some hope for the future of their creative work and that this hope helps them to make progress. On a deeper level, I secretly hope that this book will act as a kind of mentor in the form of a hardback book! I hope that its wisdom comes to them in the exact right moments to act as a catalyst for real breakthrough.

 Lisa: What is next for you? What are you working on now? (Here just feel free to share anything fun or exciting that you are working on!)

Andy: I don’t think I can say much about it at this point, but I’m working on a book that I write and illustrate that is very in line with the stuff I talk about on the podcast. So stay tuned for that!

Lisa: Where can people find you online?

Andy: www.andyj.pizza instagram: @andyjpizza and twitter: @andyjpizza

Thank you Lisa!! This was amazing. Thank you so much for everything you do for the creative community!!! 😀

Lisa: Buy the book here or wherever books are sold!

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Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh

03/28/17

I met Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh back in 2012 when I began teaching business classes for illustrators in San Francisco. But I really got to know Dawline when she was a “live studio audience” student for my taping of my CreativeLive class Become a Working Artist. I remember recognizing immediately that there was something special about Dawline — a determination and resolve and obvious passion and talent that made her stand out. Dawline has always been an artist, but in the last few years, she has taken her art practice to entirely new places. She is incredibly prolific and inventive. Last year, she left her long-time job as the manager of a popular art supply store in San Francisco to become a full time working artist and art teacher. As a friend of Dawline’s and a follower of her work online, I am continuously impressed by her ability to produce interesting work day after day. Last night on Instagram she wrote, “When I don’t make time to draw, paint or carve a block, I get super cranky. I feel it in my neck and jaw.” She shared an image of a piece she made yesterday that, while she wasn’t happy with it entirely, she felt better, because she had pushed through and made something.

Dawline lives and works in Oakland, California. Her current work is focused primarily on what she calls “the shifting urban landscape,” and she has taken a deep dive recently into work about her family. She is an avid observer and prolific photographer, who employs a vast catalog of visual notes and memories as the fodder for her work in drawing, painting and printmaking. She uses a range of media including relief print making, pen and ink, photo transfer and encaustic. What you will find below are not only images from Dawline’s prolific and diverse portfolio of work, but her thoughts on diving deep into subject matter, abandoning her dream to become a Solid Gold Dancer, leaving your day job to pursue a career as an artist, her love of teaching art, and the grit it requires to make a living as an artist, especially when you are first starting out.

Without further ado, I present to you Dawline-Jane Oni-Eseleh in my Interviews with People I Admire series!

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Lisa: Tell us about you. Where did you grow up, what role has art played in your life? What was your path to becoming a full time working artist?

Dawline: I grew up in the Mid-Hudson Valley region of New York, about 2 hours north of New York City, the third of four daughters. When I was very young I was strongly influenced by the activities of my two older sisters – they were always writing and illustrating little books, creating plays for us to perform for our parents or playing instruments. I remember being a very sensitive, day dreamy little girl who bored very easily, so those types of activities gave me something to focus on.

My parents had reproductions of art on the walls growing up – one of the ones I remember clearly was “Four Studies of the Head of a Negro” by Rubens, and a book of “The Helga Pictures” by Andrew Wyeth. I looked at that book for hours – I couldn’t have been more than 5, but it was the first hint that art was something that someone could do her whole life, and that one could focus on a single subject for years. During my formative years, I was always involved in some visual or performing art program at school, whether it was glee club, school band, creative writing, or art class. As kid who loved to express herself but wasn’t sure how to do it verbally, it gave me a tremendous opportunity to be social and be “heard”.


Lisa: So did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Dawline: I always figured I’d be an artist in some shape or form. Initially, in elementary school, I had designs on becoming a Solid Gold Dancer with regular appearances on Soul Train, but I later settled on the more practical career of architect because I loved drawing houses so much. By the time I got to high school I decided that I wanted to design album covers, and spent hours practicing the logos and portraits if my favorite metal bands in #2 pencil. Art was a constant in my life, and I saw it all around me, but it wasn’t taken seriously as a practical career choice by adults around me at that time. Nevertheless, I persisted and took as many different art and literature classes as I could, applying to and getting into the art school of my choice at the end of my junior year, much to the chagrin of my dad. That was the beginning of a very long battle between doing what was “practical” to support myself, and developing my artistic practice. The rest is history.

Lisa: One of the things I’ve always been impressed with in you is your discipline. I was going to say you have an “insane” work ethic, but I corrected myself because I don’t want to in advertently pathologize any commitment to living a disciplined creative life (though I often describe my own relationship to my work as insane)! So let me rephrase by saying you have an incredible work ethic. You make and share work nearly everyday. You are incredibly prolific. What drives that in you?

Dawline: Ha! It is a little insane, and I think it is part of that now internalized struggle to prove that, yes: art is fun, art is passion, and art is valid as a life’s work. I try to give a little bit to nurturing my career every day, rain or shine. It’s also practical – since this is my way of processing information and expressing things that are on my mind, a day without making art would almost be like a day without talking to anyone. Those periods when I can’t make artwork for whatever reason feel a little bit like solitary confinement. I’m too much in my head without an outlet. It’s both vice and virtue.

Lisa: Tell us about the themes and major influences in your work. How do you come up with ideas for what to draw and paint and make?

Dawline: For the past few years my work has centered around themes of home in all its various meanings and iterations. I used to have these recurring dreams about houses, and I wanted put this imagery down on paper. I started with literal images of houses, much like the type I used to draw as a child – triangular roofs, square windows, rectangular doors, all very symmetrical. As I repeated these forms it evolved into a meditation on place and the stories behind them. As I did more research into the subject and discovered Carl Jung’s theories on dreams and the idea of the house as self, I started to dig a little deeper into my thoughts, and these images became conversations about different facets of my life. I started to integrate different pictorial symbols into my work – clouds, waves, lightning bolts and even Depression era pictographs to compose images that could be taken at face value or examined more closely. In recent months, I have gone very literal with my “home” imagery, and I am currently working on a body of work that depicts members of my immediate and extended family. It’s a story told without a set chronology.

I’m a big reader and researcher and probably watch more television than is cool to admit. A lot of times, if I come across a reference or concept intrigues me or I don’t understand I jot it down or look it up for further reading. In that way, I’m always trying to expand my knowledge base and explore the different ways we as humans seek to communicate the basic themes of our existence – love, hate, hunger, war, procreation, hope and survival. It’s in everything, from documentaries about World War II to Sharknado 4. I would say that popular culture is one on the biggest influences in my work.

Lisa: One of the questions I get a lot is “How do you come up with your ideas?” I am always curious about this question for other artists. How do you decide what to work on from day to day? What role do ongoing projects and bodies of work have in your art practice?

Dawline: Because I’ve been doing this for most of my life, figuring out what to do every day is second nature. I generally have a ton of ideas floating around my head, and I’m tasked with slowing down and focusing on one thing at a time so that there is a cohesiveness and consistency to my work. I usually take a lot of photos every day as a visual diary, which I then organize into folders by theme on my computer. I use the notes section on my iPhone to jot down stray thoughts and refer to them often for those rare times when the ideas aren’t flowing so freely. Because I work in so many various mediums I rely on bodies of work and projects to rein myself in.

Lisa: Teaching has become a big part of what you do. Tell us about what & who you teach and the meaning it has in your work and life.

Dawline: Currently I teach a wide range of age groups, from kindergarten to senior citizens, in both studio and community settings. I find it helpful to be able to step outside of my approach to creating and see things from a new perspective. My approach to teaching is geared more towards skill sharing and developing critical thinking skills, as opposed to “This is the only acceptable way to get this result.” I find it rewarding because I generally come away learning so much about the variety of expression from one person to the next, even when given the same prompts and materials. I’m currently teaching relief printmaking to all age groups, as well as intro to digital photography for elementary school students and leading interactive art exhibition tours to school age students.

Lisa: for years you worked as a manager at a major art store in the Bay Area, but recently you jumped ship to become full time artist. People ask me all the time, “How do I know when I’m ready to leave my day job?” And I always say: “It depends”. How did you know you were ready?

Dawline: When the time is right to leave, you will see a giant flashing exit sign that you cannot ignore. I say that metaphorically, of course, but it’s also very real.

My advice to someone deciding to leave their day job would be this: Be very honest with yourself about your ability to be self-directed, be objective about your work and ability to handle rejection and be graceful and keep moving forward, and think about what you would be willing to do to support yourself during lean times. Another important thing to consider is how good you would really be at being your own boss, realizing that the boss isn’t always necessarily your friend. Working for yourself means showing up consistently and on time, working long hours and making tough decisions. It can take a really long time for you to see returns in your investment in yourself as a business. Before you leave, examine your reasons for wanting to take the leap.

My reasons for leaving were many, and had a bit to do with company culture, but at the heart of it I was working 42 hours or more a week at my day job in addition to putting 4 hours or more a day into my studio practice. That year I had an art show booked every month and was getting good feedback on my work, including exposure from press and online interviews. I did a self-assessment and concluded I had no problem putting in long hours considering I was relatively autonomous at work, while at the same time good at prioritizing my art career. I focused on what I liked about my job – marketing, connecting with customers and the community, and sharing my knowledge of art materials and techniques. It gave me a sense of the different ways I could support myself as a working artist. Once I had that list down it was easy to start transitioning out of that job and focus on a positive and realistic outcome. My one exception to that advice is if you find yourself working in a toxic environment on the verge of burnout. If you find yourself in that situation, locate a lifeboat and leave asap. Once you head down the road to burnout, you put your future productivity at risk, regardless of where you land.

Lisa: You work in so many mediums from watercolor to photography to block printing. Why is working in so many ways important to you? What does your diverse art practice give to your experience as an artist?

Dawline: The simple fact is I really love exploring different materials. Maybe it’s because I tend to get bored easily, maybe it’s a side effect of working in the art materials industry for close to 20 years and having to explain different things to people with some degree of authority. If you think of art as a form of expression, using different materials is like speaking different languages. I like pushing the bounds of different mediums, but just as in speaking different languages, a beautiful poem in one language may not rhyme if translated literally into another. I enjoy the process of seeing how far I can go in one direction and then switching it up into another. It’s like a form of visual code-switching. As a person growing up in an Afro-Caribbean household in the suburbs in the 80’s and 90’s I think it’s an intrinsic part of my experience of trying to fit into two different worlds on a daily basis, that naturally shows up in my work.

Lisa: I know you would describe yourself as a life-long artist but you also readily admit that you are just in the beginning stages of making a full time living as an artist. It’s tough to keep the momentum required to do this full time, especially when you are in the first few years of your career. There is a lot of hard work, hustling, networking and marketing required, and often this is when people give up. What keeps you motivated to continue with such passion everyday? What are your hopes and dreams for yourself as your career evolves?

Dawline: I got through these first few years with the help and encouragement of my close friends and family – especially during the time leading up to and immediately after I left my full-time job. They had my back when things were very tough, and I don’t think I can ever really thank them enough. It’s tremendously important to have people that support you though the ups and downs, because it’s so easy to give up hope at any given time. The “ups and downs” part is key – because the art market can be such a competitive field there are times that feel tense when you have friends trying for the same opportunities. It seems counter intuitive, but even the little successes can be a source of stress at first – people wondering aloud how you may have gotten opportunities when they feel their work is as good or better, or conversely, spending time and money on developing work and having opportunities fall through and facing questions on when you’ll be getting a “real”  job. It all circles back to having a clear direction on where I wanted to see my career and how I wanted to develop my work. It helps me to keep my eye on the larger picture. As my career evolves I’d like to be a little more self-sustaining – as it stands now, I’m still in “work almost every day” mode as I try to find a sustainable flow.

Lisa: Who are your art heroes? Who do you admire and why?

Dawline: Sometimes I get really weary of heroes, because there is always something a little problematic that creeps up (nervous laugh). But, when I think of two people whose careers in expressing themselves I deeply admire, I think of Prince and David Bowie. They aren’t visual artists in the classic sense, but in terms of exploring different avenues of sound, performance, experimentation, and visual representations of themselves, I really can’t think of anyone I admire more. They presented as two people that were always wholly themselves, and that is something I strive to emulate as an artist. In terms of visual artists, I love Jenny Holzer for her use of text and environment to make points that are bigger than the sum of their parts, Alice Neel’s unflinching portraits, Diebenkorn’s use of color to capture the incredible quality of the light in the Bay Area, and Hokusai for his “pictures of the floating world” and the fact that he changed his name more than 30 times to reflect the different periods in his life and work. I also love Jugendstil design and propaganda posters. They fall on opposite ends of the spectrum with the former being highly decorative and the latter being very strait forward in its messaging, but I love the combination of solid color and stylized portraiture.

Lisa: Where can people find you online?

Dawline: My website is www.dawlinejaneart.com, on Instagram at @disfordilettante, on Twitter at @dawlinejane_art and on Facebook at Dawline-Jane art and Illustration.

Lisa: Thank you for sharing your talent and wisdom!

 

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