q&a

What is most important in your work?

A sense of delight and the ability to tell stories. People and characters and worlds fascinate me-- and I want to engage people to come visit my worlds for a little bit and make them happy.

What were you like as a kid?

Shy, nerdy, a total bookworm. I colored in library books before I knew you weren't supposed to, built tiny twig houses in the summer, saved earthworms from drowning in puddles, and caught hermit crabs using my toes as bait. Instead of being an astronaut, I wanted to be a Muppeteer or animator.

How long have you been a working artist?

I started my practice right after graduating from college in 2005.. Time flies!

Where did you go to school and why? What was it like?

I went to the University of Connecticut with a dual track of printmaking and illustration. I went there because it was the only option financially for me-- and I didn't even get into the art department when I started! At the time I kept thinking about transferring to art school (SVA was my top choice, but I couldn't afford the tuition so I didn't go) but in retrospect I'm really glad I stayed. I met some of the best people I know in school and was lucky enough to get three mentors- Cora Lynn Deibler, Gus Mazzocca, and Laurie Sloan. It was their help that made me figure out what I was really interested in.

The program was small but cohesive. We were interdisciplinary so I think that helped me a lot to explore and play in my own work even now. Looking back, I don't regret going to a public university instead of an art school.

Where are you from, where have you been? How have those spots influenced you?

I'm originally from New London, CT. I lived by the beach for nineteen years, up in the forests of Connecticut for four, and then moved to a suburb of Phoenix for another four. Now Portland, Oregon has become my home.

I think growing up in Connecticut really influenced my love of nature and animals-- I wouldn't say I was the most outdoorsy kid but I did love exploring and making up stories about secret worlds. Arizona really changed my color palette to a degree, and I think stepped up my love of pattern and shape. Now that I'm in Portland, everything is so lush and alive that I want to make so much that I'm overflowing with ideas and not enough time to do them all!

How is Portland treating you?

Pretty wonderfully. There's a sense of community here that I hadn't had in Arizona, almost to the point of surrealness! It's really awesome to have creative friends again, and be a part of a progressive, walkable city. For years I pretty much did nothing but work-- it's nice to have more freedom and explore my surroundings more. I'm really excited for the future.

Where do you get your ideas for your art?

I'm like a sponge, I think. So this question's kind of hard to answer entirely-- but I get a lot of ideas while I'm making and dreaming, but research and knowledge has really opened up what I know and the stories I am interested in telling. I love reading, so I try and jot down ideas to explore later. I listen to a lot too-- podcasts, overheard conversations, and music-- they all help to get ideas brewing.

Favorite podcasts?

I listen to a mix of factual, productivity and comedy podcasts-- I find a lot of overlap between art and comedy. In no particular order, here's a list of some of what I listen to: My Brother, My Brother & Me, Thrilling Adventure Hour, The Allusionist, Being Boss, Sawbones, You Made it Weird, RISK! The Indoor Kids, The Dana Gould Hour, The Nerdist, The Moth, Back to Work, Your Dreams My Nightmares, Lexicon Valley, WTF with Marc Maron, Harmontown, the Bugle.

How has your work evolved?

I think it's evolved so so much over time and that excites me; both in refinement/sophistication of tools (I'm a better drawer than I used to be, and a better draftsman) and in ideas. I've kind of moved away from working mostly digitally to emulate screenprints, and instead work more with texture and subtle color using methods both in and out of the computer. I like both though and need to bring back the limited palette love! The love of natural tools and texture means that I'm trying as best I can to move away from a wholly digital feel; the more I make and think outside the computer, the better usually.

What are your favorite tools?

I use a lot of tools. If you sit with me while I'm drawing you'll note me hopping back and forth, so there's a lot of thinking about what tool will make the mark I want for a given spot. Currently around my desk are 0.5 mechanical pencils in red, blue and graphite, a whole slew of Japanese brushpens, a bottle of Masquepen superfine frisket, Pilot Color Eno mechanical lead, a couple of tubes of watercolor, colored acrylic inks, sumi and walnut ink, cut paper supples and rubylith, Japanese erasers, Viarco ArtGraf water-soluble carbon block, watercolor and colored pencils, waterbrushes, spray bottles, Peerless watercolor sheets, Caran d'Ache Neocolor II wax pastels, sponges... The list goes on. I draw on a variety of papers depending on what effect I want. Usually medium-weight drawing paper, but sometimes vellum, cut paper, marker paper, watercolor paper, etc etc.

I also noodle with other tools. I sometimes paint on tissue paper a la Eric Carle, I draw with powdered graphite and I've been playing with pastel and gouache together. The more I work by hand, the more I prefer it to purely digital work, although Photoshop will always be a vital tool in my arsenal.

When I work with screenprinting, I like to draw my separations by hand and carve Rubylith, as well as use Createx Lyntex medium mixed with pure pigments instead of your standard inks. 

In short, I use a lot of things but my favorite tools are my heart, brain and hands.

What is your process?

I get this a lot from students especially, particularly on how I get my images to look the way they do with Photoshop. Since I switch things up all the time, I'm not going to go into super-fine detail, but sometimes I'll draw in black and white with pencil, brush, and graphite very complicated line and texture-heavy things. I also paint or cut paper or do underpaintings that I will scan together and cobble together in Photoshop, taking other scanned elements that I'll set as separate layers set to transparent overlays, and then I color my lineart on a separate layer with transparency locked, knocking away certain lines and making many of them subtle gradations. The before and after often looks kind of crazy and often only would make sense to me because it's a lot of separate pages, elements that come together to the final result.

But in a broader context, it's more like this: experience > think > dream > sketch > refine > draw > untangle > color > step away > review > DONE.

How long does it take you to make things?

Way longer than I'd like, but I do all right. Drawing/working analog can take anywhere from two to ten hours on average, and coloring things takes at least eight for a sizeable image, typically. But it really depends how complex the project is. I wish I could do things simply but it just doesn't work for me-- simple feels unfinished. My drawings are often really complex so bringing them into harmony with color is often time consuming, so I try to be patient.

Do you have things for sale?

I do! My main shop is currently offline for a little bit, but you can find my Inprnt shop here.

Do you offer internship positions?

Not currently; I have in the past and I'd like to once I'm in a more dedicated workspace than a home studio. I'm especially thinking about hiring on a 'printern', because printing is so important to me but I've had to let it sit on the back burner. An assistant would be wonderful though, but I also want to be sure I can give back and help an intern as best I can.

Do you ever talk to classes or other events?

Sometimes! I have done a bit of classroom visits and critiques, and it's a lot of fun. I also was lucky to get to speak about my work and my story at an event called SketchXchange here in Portland in February 2013. If you're interested in having me come talk about my work and illustration, or help critique work/judge/etc, please let me know. 

Do you teach/host workshops?

I have been teaching illustration at the college level since 2011 at Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA); my classes in the past were geared towards sophomores learning mixed media techniques and illustration concepts, but now I'm teaching an entrepreneurial class for juniors and seniors. I've also taught digital illustration at Portland State University. In June 2012 I teamed up with Light Grey Art Lab to host an intensive Illustration Bootcamp weekend and that was fantastic! I also have mentored with Motivarti. If you know of other residencies or workshop opportunities, do let me know. I think there's a lot I can share with people, and it's always hugely gratifying.

How did you get a rep?

I wrote to a few reps, got some rejections, got some interest that later fell through. After a few of these experiences, I had a very enlightening conversation with Scott Hull, who liked my work but wanted to see a bit more direction, and invited me to work harder and refocus. I took it to heart, worked a lot and reconnected the next year. He signed me on and it's been an enlightening partnership thus far. Reps aren't for everybody and they're not a magic source for amazing work and money, but it's helped my business a lot so far.

What are some of your inspirations?

Tough question to answer because there's just so much. Shadows and light, advertising, nature and architecture, manmade and natural things. I was hugely inspired by National Geographic as a kid; the world fascinates me. I'm inspired just as much by attitude as by technique, so while I can list illustrators such as Charley Harper, Mary Blair, the Provensens, and so many of my contemporaries (not to mention illustrators and animators from other countries), I can also list folk-artists, stylish people I see on the streets, and people with the spirit that I love, like Jim Henson, Sister Corita, Kurt Vonnegut, and countless musicians and comedians. 

I'm missing a whole bunch of people and things (there's just so much!), but you get the idea.

How do you pick your colors?

Very roughly. When I mix for screenprinting, I only have a rough idea in mind; I'll mix plastic cups of ink and sit them next to each other, dabbing bits out on a piece of scrap to see if I like them. For my illustrations, I'll sometimes have an idea of one or two colors I want, but that can totally change. I notice trends of color-- peach often seems to show up, for example. But it's really a matter of laying colors down and seeing what connects. When it's right to me, it almost hums.

What is your favorite kind of client?

Ones that challenge me but also give me freedom because they know I'm going to knock it out of the park. Ones that work with me again because they know fun things will come out of it. Ones that give me new experiences or allow me to see my work in a whole new way. And of course, ones that faithfully pay on time are pretty special indeed.

What is your biggest frustration when making your work?

There's always a bit of a disconnect between my mind's view of what work will be like and the finished work, so sometimes it's a little frustrating wanting my work to look like something I can't replicate yet. But I'm getting closer and the only way to bridge this gap is to make more!

What is the most challenging part of being an illustrator?

Being self directed and keeping yourself honest as your career evolves. There is a lot to distract away from your practice, who you are as an illustrator and what your voice is. Sometimes it's hard to focus-- but you're your own boss, and you have to keep up with business and the evolution of your work. Especially the business/professional practice side of things-- it's easy to think that an illustrator should just make beautiful and engaging art, but business is a key part of the career. It's tricky to balance, but rewarding if you can get it right...

What advice do you have for a starting illustrator?

Work hard, but that's a given; don't be too dependent on the internet to inspire you or be your sole source of reference; bring the world into your work and really think about who you're making the work for and what you want to say with it; and I think there is a sense of misguided faith you have to employ in yourself in this profession. I greatly admire stand-up comedians because they put in their dues and there's this twisted kind of mindset you have to employ to survive; that even if you go on stage and bomb, you have to keep going and think 'That went well!' It's sort of a Don Quixote, windmill chasing frame of mind, I suppose. But even when things seem like they're going nowhere you just have to keep trying, if it means enough to you to do it.

What's your studio like?

Some people keep really beautiful workspaces, but that's something I can only admire. I tend to be more of a tornado-wrangler! I share a small space with my husband (we both work from home), and my space is filled with scraps of paper, inspiration, started projects, snippets of rubylith, tons of notes, art supplies and products galore, ink and paint marks, blankets and coffee cups.

Do you feel your work is rewarding?

Totally. It drives me nuts half of the time because I'm always trying to get better and I don't have six more hands to make things, and in quiet times it can be unnerving, but I can't imagine doing anything else. I love making things that make people happy, and hearing happy clients makes my day. It's my hope to do even more so that I can make more folks happy in more aspects of their lives.

Where are you headed/what do you want to make happen in the future?

I am trying to really push character and narrative in my work-- I'd love to get more into visual development and so that's a definite fascination of mine. I definitely want to push more book cover work too-- more opportunities to push the intersection of word and image. Creating b. I also have loved my experiences teaching and hosting workshops, so I'd love to do more of that, as well as work on some travel opportunities as well. Any way that I can experience the world and bring it into my work, and then put my work back out into the world, I think will help me push and grow!

What else do you do besides working?

I play with my dog, hang out with the mister, try and travel when I can, go for lots of walks, experiment with cooking, go thrifting/exploring shops and museums, play video games, visit with friends and talk shop, try to read my weight in books, practice my ukulele, write, listen to music, and noodle around on the internet. When I need a break from working I host one person dance parties. It's quite fun.

What would you like to learn to do next?

I'm hoping to get the hang of stop motion animation; I'd like to learn some animation along with some basic wood-working, as I'd like to start building screenprinted wooden toys and objects. More patterns, more character design for animated projects, more products, more everything!

Can I ask you more questions?

I've had to put a moratorium on responding to personalized questions anymore-- sorry! Between teaching and illustrating, my time is pretty strapped. However, if you would like to submit more questions for the Q&A, you can always ask me on Twitter!