I’m really excited to launch our latest zine for Pikabooks! Evergreen Jim & Tulip: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is the brainchild of Ana Benaroya, and what better way to celebrate than to interview the lady herself? Melanie Maddison gets down and dirty with Ana, so read on!
Ana Benaroya is an illustrator, designer, typographer, and screen printer making adrenaline-fuelled, energizing, insanely bright, bold, loud and colourful work that smacks me in the face with how joyously unashamed it is. I don’t think I have enough adjectives to describe it!
Her illustrated zine, Evergreen Jim & Tulip: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough has just been published and released by Pikaland’s book imprint, Pikabooks imminently, so we thought we’d catch up with Ana to ask more about the zine, and her other artwork.
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Hi Ana, how are you? Could you tell Pikaland readers a little about yourself?
Hello! I’m doing pretty well. I am a freelance illustrator and designer working out of Jersey City. I love eating, drinking coffee, and drawing.
Could you tell us a little about Evergreen Jim & Tulip, both about the project came to be, and also the story within it?
I came up with the idea for this story while on a trip to the Pacific Northwest (Portland, Seattle, Mt. Rainier, Vancouver). It was my first time to this part of the country and I was amazed at the difference in trees and nature…and the mountains. My surroundings inspired my story…I wanted to create a romanticized version of the people who inhabited this part of the country. And of course, insert my own ridiculousness and sense of humor. I love writing love stories.
What is your history in independent or self-publishing? I’m guessing Evergreen Jim & Tulip isn’t your first zine?
I don’t have a huge history in self-publishing…though I did self-publish a newspaper with a good friend of mine called “Egg on Bread.” It was a satire on what a newspaper typically is, containing the weather, horoscopes, an advice column, etc. I also self-published a book called “Men Eating Fruit” which is a collection of paintings of nude men eating fruit, along with a short story about each of their lives. I like self-publishing because there’s no one telling you what you can and can’t do, or warning you about the marketability of something.
Do you think zines are a good way to share art, to display art, and to reach (new?) audiences or artistic communities?
Yes, I definitely think so… though the tricky part is getting the world to know that your zine exists. But there is something very magical about discovering a zine that you love… because you know it was hand-crafted and purely made. A zine represents true creative freedom and expression.
What appealed to you about working with Pikabooks?
I’ve been a big fan of the blog for a while, and how could I say no to the offer of a story of mine being published? This is my first real opportunity to have my writing and my art appear together and I’m very excited about it.
Do you think that there is a freedom, a power, and potentially fewer barriers to our creativity and opportunity due to the Do-It-Yourself and Do-It-Together nature of zines and self-publishing?
Yes, definitely. I think big publishing houses have something to learn from zines and self-publishing. Gone are the days where the public only knew what large companies decided to feed them. Now people have access to any sort of music, art, writing, or poetry that they want. And yes, that isn’t saying that everything out there is quality, but, the public isn’t stupid, and they could stand to be given a little more credit.
People more and more crave authenticity and originality. And self-publishing offers exactly that.
What’s your artistic history? How long have you been creating art? And, how did you first get started?
I have always been drawing, since I was a little girl. I was always obsessed with superheroes and collected action figures…and this is mainly what I drew. Later on I became intent on learning all the muscles and the anatomy of a human body. I would copy drawings straight out of anatomy books.
Could you share with us your progression as an artist — compared to when you first started out, how has your work changed since then?
Really the only thing that has changed is I am more open-minded now and have more experience drawing. I think the same things drive me and my subject matter hasn’t strayed too far off from what I was drawing when I was five. It’s funny, I feel like I never escape the things that I was interested in as a child.
How did you first learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and then gain the confidence to make art your career? I ask as I’m very interested in how and where people gain access to their own confidence, and self-belief — especially in terms of how they are able to produce and create what they do. Confidence is such a slippery fish. A lot of people struggle with knowing that they’re ‘good enough’ to create or make their own art, and are left unable to access their creative and artistic talents.
I pretty much always knew that I wanted to be an artist, though I had no idea how to go about doing that…or how I might be able to support myself. I always had (and still have) fears and doubts and worries…they never seem to affect me deeply enough for me to stop doing what I do. I just know that if I give up on myself as an artist, I probably would become really depressed. Drawing and painting are so entwined with my identity – I really don’t know who I would be if I didn’t have that ability to express myself through art.
And I know everyone says this, but if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. I shamelessly promote myself and put my work out there. I’d rather fail and be rejected a million times than never try at all. I never want to have regrets.
I’d like to ask about the sorts of stuff and aesthetics you like. For example, where do you work from, and what images/artefacts keep you company in your studio / place(s) of work?
(Also, I’m really intrigued; is your house or studio painted as vibrantly as your work? – That’s something I’d love to see!!)
I work from home (currently my bedroom). Ideally I’d like a separate room for my studio, but for now, this is all I can afford. I have a separate studio space that I use mainly for painting and personal work…but the funny thing is I find myself often just working at home instead. I think I just like being home.
My walls are covered in paintings and posters and drawings by other artists and myself. I like to look at art over a long period of time and see what new things I discover. If I didn’t have a roommate, I’d fill ever section of my apartment with crazy colorful things…but for now it’s all contained in my room. I also have a bookshelf filled with books…the one thing I consistently have collected over the years.
Are you a collector/coveter/admirer of other artists’ work? And, which contemporary artists and illustrators do you currently love?
I definitely am. If I could afford it, I’d collect art like a crazy person! This past year I’ve started spending some money on buying work from other people…and I really enjoy it.
I love the work of Ray Fenwick, Seripop, Jillian Tamaki, Gustavo Eandi, Brecht Vandenbroucke, Henrik Drescher, Balint Zsako… the list could go on forever. One of my all time favorite artists is Jean-Michel Basquiat.
It was only when I closely looked at your website and all the different examples of your work that I realised that without consciously knowing it was by you, I’ve seen your artwork all over the place over the past few years. That said, I once read you say that, ‘I do not fit easily into any one category, though there are similarities that appear across all my work. This might be why certain art directors choose not to work with me, they can’t predict exactly what I’m going to do. But if you can predict exactly what an artist is going to make and how they are going to interpret something… what is the point? I think you should hire someone for their mind, not their style.’ You make a very convincing point!
There seem to be many projects taking their chances on you, and I know that you self-promote yourself, so how easy is it to get in there and gain work when many people are blinded by ‘style’ and preconceptions of your work?
It is not easy, but it is not impossible. I think people either love my work, or hate it…maybe it can grow on you…but maybe not. The key is to find people who appreciate me for who I am. I pretty much plan to keep doing what I’m doing and hope it continues to interest people beside myself, haha.
Is there any neon or fluorescent paint or paper left in New Jersey? – I think it’s all in your work!! What draws you to using such vibrant, bright colours, and did it feel odd to produce black and white images for the majority of Evergreen Jim & Tulip?
Hahaha… yes, I know…what can I say I love bright colors! I guess I just feel like why be boring and bland when you can be bright and exciting? At least I feel that way in my artwork, which is much louder than I am as a real person. Maybe my loud work is a way for me to compensate for being so quiet. I’m sure someone could psychoanalyze me and provide me with some sort of explanation.
It didn’t feel too odd to draw the comics in black and white…I actually enjoy taking a break from color sometimes and just focusing on making a cool drawing. Plus, I think I was thinking more about story-telling when I made Evergreen Jim & Tulip…less about other things.
There seems to be an urgency and immediacy in your work, the images jump out and pop out and demand attention. Is this similar to how the images come to you and come to be drawn in the first place?
Yes, definitely. Usually an idea will pop into my head and then I will just make it. I make drawings pretty quickly…once I come up with a concept I just do it. I am not big on revisions I like to just keep moving forward.
What puts you in the best mood for drawing? And, what keeps you motivated?
It is unclear what puts me in the best mood for drawing. Though I am definitely a morning person and feel happiest and most productive during that time. What keeps me motivated is the fear of wasting valuable time.
What techniques of illustration do you most prefer to use, what are your favourite tools and materials to work with, and, what role does computer technology play in your art work?
I always start with a drawing… usually pencil first, but sometimes I’ll start straight with ink. I use either a pen or brush and ink. Then I will scan my linework into the computer and digitally color. For my personal work I will just paint…no computer. But it varies.
How important are narratives to your artwork, I ask this as I find that your work is very often involved in story-telling, or introducing fantastic characters.
I don’t often have long expansive narratives in mind, but I definitely do think about the personalities and “stories” of the characters I draw. I want people to wonder what kind of person is this? Why are they doing what their doing? And what are they thinking? I try to make my characters expressive and emotional.
What’s the art and/or self-publishing scene like in New Jersey? Are there any New Jersey artists, events, galleries, or projects that particularly excite you right now?
There are a ton of artists living in New Jersey…particularly Jersey City, where I live. I share a studio at the Jersey City Art School where a wide variety of classes are offered. It’s a small and close creative community here and I feel like it is way more down to earth than New York City. I enjoy living close to NYC, but not in it. It’s madness and if I don’t escape to someplace more quiet, I think I’d get depressed.
How important to you (both artistically, and personally) is a local/national/international artistic or creative community?
I think being part of a creative community is important, whether it be people you see everyday, your best friends, or people you find through the internet. I like to see what’s going on around me and find a lot of inspiration in that. But at the same time, I think the most creative work is done in solitude…and I need a lot of that.
What are your top tips for others who wish to be creative but feel stuck, don’t know where to start, or feel like they aren’t ‘good enough’ to make ‘art’?
Just keep making stuff and put it on a website. You’ll never know what will happen if you don’t try. Would you rather take an artistic journey, discover things about yourself and about the world around you and possibly face “failure” (if you consider trying, failing)… or would you rather reach the end of your life and realize you’ve never done anything you wanted to do and you’ve squandered the one life you had?
Harsh…I know. But it’s the truth! Failure sucks but it’s better than regret.
What are your thoughts on the nature and exclusivity/inclusiveness of ‘art’ — Do you believe everyone can be creative in their own life?
I do believe everyone can be creative and can benefit from having creativity and art in their life. I don’t mean everyone has to be an artist…but everyone can appreciate art and benefit from ways of thinking that aren’t so linear and black and white.
Your work has been described as being, ‘full of full lips and hair and tattoos and bulging muscles, and always lots of sexual tension […] Every mark she makes draws you into her crazy, hormonally-charged, adrenaline-fuelled world’.
I know that this is a self-created fictional world, but how representative of you is your work? Ha ha- I just realised that this makes me look like I’m asking you if you’re hormonally charged and riddled with sexual tension! That’s not quite what I meant!
Haha, I think my work IS representational of me…because I made it. But, if you’re asking if my work is like my personality…it is not. I mentioned before that I am actually a very quiet, calm, person on the outside…who has a spicy interior.
What are your plans for the rest of 2012?
To keep making art and to continue trying to figure out this thing called “life.”
You can get a copy of Ana’s limited edition zine, Evergreen Jim & Tulip: Ain’t No Mountain High Enough over at Pikabooks!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melanie Maddison is a zine writer and former postgraduate Women’s Studies student from Leeds, UK. Her main zine, Colouring Outside The Lines has been going since 2004 and interviews contemporary female artists. She’s our resident chief interview lady, and you can read all the interviews she has conducted for Pikaland here!