You’re pretty busy as an illustrator these days, juggling work with Nickelodeon, gallery shows, and so on.
Yeah, it has been rewarding and now I’m much better at organizing my time. I also find time to swing dance, visit my sister and little Natalie on the weekends, and have good cups of tea with friends on most Mondays.
You've recently become an aunt, right? Does this change anything for you?
I think I will probably have more to say about it in the future, but right now I don't want to over-think it. I’m just enjoying seeing Natalie grow up and experiencing what it's like to be an aunt for the first time.
I’ve always loved jazz, ragtime, and big band swing music and wanted a way to express it. So back in 2004 I made a short student documentary about swing dancing and learned a great deal about it. I found that there are original dancers; beginning swing era legends -- like Frankie Manning -- who are still swing dancing today. I think that’s very inspiring. I also enjoy swing dancing because it’s a living art. Swing dancing is still evolving and every week new styles are being created right on the social dance floor.
Interesting. And soup? It’s your drink of choice? [Smiles.]
Soup makes me think of home in a good way. It is nurturing and most of the time nutritious too. I appreciate that it takes time to cook, time to collect all the right ingredients, and time for all the flavors to slowly meld together. One of the best birthday gifts ever was a pot of my sister's seafood hot and sour soup. She made me a huge pot of it so I could freeze it in little containers and have it for an entire month.
Let’s talk about your style. How would you describe it?
People tell me it’s very kinetic. I guess that just means that it has energy and emotion.
And the art making process?
My art process is very organic and messy! I worry incessantly about composition. I think controlled chaos is the best way to describe it. Before moving into my own apartment, I shared a house with two of my good friends, both artists. The joke was if my room was messy with paper on the floor, lining the stairs and living room, then I was having a good creative day. It's true. I sort of just get lost in it. I tear out pieces of drawings to collage together, Xerox transfer to add grain, charcoal pencil and gouache line-work for details and so on...no medium is off limits. It's a fun ongoing process of searching for the right medium to express an idea.
Sometimes, to get started, I will paint loose layers of watercolor blobs and then draw animals or faces or something out of them. This is always fun and I keep these just for me. As far as combinations of processes I enjoy…hmm, I am getting a little bit into pen and ink. I’ve always admired etchings, so I’ve been reproducing that feel with original pen and ink drawings.
Do you do a lot of improvisation then? How often do you have a defined vision?
I improvise when I have time to play and find my way through. Most of the play goes into gallery work because commercial work rarely affords the artist time to experiment and find happy accidents. Typically a client looks at something you've already done and says, "I want that." So it can be pretty specific. But I have also been fortunate to work with clients who let me do what I do, experimentations and all, and trust that the end product will be right for the project.
Have you dealt with any clients that were too specific, to the point of stifling?
I think there are always challenges but I can't say that I have had any clients that were completely stifling. If I had a situation like that I would just stick it out and then use this experience to help me avoid a similar situation in the future.
What was it like working for Nickelodeon and Automatic Pictures?
While working on Danny Phantom at Nickelodeon, I got to basically keep my own hours as long as I got everything done by deadline. It was awesome to have this flexibility. I kept up with creative work outside and never felt like I was holed up at a full time job. The Danny Phantom crew also happens to be some of the nicest people and I have made some really good friends there.
For Automatic Pictures, I work two days a week (weekends) freelancing from
home. The project for Automatic Pictures is based on a book called Looking
Glass Wars, where I take events from Alyss's (the main character) life
and create illustrations for her journal. The creator, Frank Beddor, wanted
something akin to Gregory Colbert's journals, kind of like an artifact of
historic fiction. The greatest part about this project is that I get to invent/illustrate
a world from the point of view of Alyss as a kid. I am basically imagining
what she would have drawn or felt through all her travels from the age of
seven to eleven. Another exciting thing is that this journal will be hand-bound,
which for someone like me who is a big handmade book nerd, is the best way
to package the final product.