Artist interview: Olivia Mew

Olivia Mew is an illustrator and textile designer based in Montreal, Canada. She is also the brains behind the wonderful Stay Home Club website, an illustrated home textiles and print range designed by a heap of amazing artists, including Olivia.

I’m so grateful for the grounding and honesty that Olivia conveys within this interview. Look at what can be achieved with such realism!

Check out all of Olivia’s art projects at the following links – there’s so much to explore!

Website |  Stay Home Club |  Facebook |  Instagram |  Tumblr  |  Twitter  |  Inspirations Blog

Hi Olivia, how are you? Could you tell Pikaland a little about yourself, and an insight into what you’re currently working on?

Hi! I’m doing well, thanks. I would describe myself as a sort of creative businessperson. I love to draw and design and sell things. I’m currently spending lots of time developing products for my website Stay Home Club and starting to explore areas of illustration that are new to me.

 

Has art always had a place in your life?

Yes! I was always the kid at summer camp who bailed on sports and spent every day at the “arts and crafts barn”.

How did you first learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and gain the confidence to make art your career? A lot of people struggle with knowing that they’re ‘good enough’ to do that.

Etsy and the general idea of selling online were hugely helpful to me – the first sale I made was enough to convince me that my work was good enough that strangers would pay money for it. That’s a huge confidence boost.

 

You have a BFA in Fibres. Do you think that you could be or would have been doing what you’re doing now, were it not for studying art in this way?

Do you think an art education is important or imperitive for anybody wishing to be an artist?

My own degree didn’t really contribute to what I’m doing now. My school placed fibres within a fine art context with a real emphasis on concept. There was little technique taught (some teachers were obsessive about one technique: weaving or dyeing, etc but I somehow never wound up with those teachers!) I do love textiles very much, and certainly getting better acquainted with them throughout my university years might have prepared me on some level to work with them in Stay Home Club. Most of the work I do now is on the illustration/design side of things and I leave the messy work to others. I like hanging out at my computer drawing things better.

That said, I sometimes regret never going to school for illustration. I’ve come to this path somewhat by myself and I’m definitely lacking in knowledge. I never took a drawing class or learned about proper composition or colour theory – I credit the internet with most of the techniques and skills I’ve developed. For the past few weeks I’ve been listening to this illustration podcast out of New York and I’ve been totally surprised to hear how much weight professionals in the field place on what art school they went to, what teachers they had, who they graduated with, etc. It’s a whole other world for me. I’ve made most of my illustration contacts and done my networking online. So no, I don’t think it’s imperative, but I’m sure it’s the right way to go for some people.

Since leaving University, you have been working a lot with illustrative and surface design, designing and creating printed textile products; notably illustrated canvas patches and silk scarves, and previously craft work such as hand-stitched stuffed felt dolls (which I adored).

Why did you wish to focus on making and presenting your work in this way, over, say conventional paper-based work? What is it about textiles that you enjoy so much?

So yeah, I do really like textiles even though I’m often not physically printing or sewing them. I love the idea of beautiful things that are also useful rather than solely decorative. I also love the fact that woven cloth (or non-woven cloth – love me some wool felt!) isn’t fragile like paper. You can generally play with it, lie on it, stick it in a washing machine, etc. The durability makes me feel like I’m creating something substantial.

I really loved those felt dolls too and I’ve heard the same from others many times, but in the end they just weren’t able to make money. I would hand stitch them for 6 or 7 hours straight and then sell them for $35. When it came down to it, my biggest goal in life was to support myself without having to work a day job, so I had to go towards something that could be more profitable. I reckon that I could have just significantly upped my prices, like many other makers have done (and rightly so!) but at the time it just didn’t cross my mind.

 

What print techniques do you use on your textile work, and how did you first learn these print skills?

Do you enjoy the hands-on approach of printing, having a hand in everything you make?

These days nearly everything I sell is digitally printed or screen printed by professionals. I still feel that I have a hand in everything I make, as the design is arguably the most important aspect of the finished product. As far as hands-on printing, if I’m being honest, I don’t like messy work. I have serious admiration for those artisans who create stunning hand printed pieces but that’s not me.

What is the art community, or ‘scene’, like in Montreal, Canada?

Which particular  Montreal artists, events, galleries, projects, magazines (etc) excite you right now?

This is always a tough question because I’m not so much a local community kind of person. I’m big on alone time and not so big on going out (hence Stay Home Club). I do have a group of amazing, creative pals in Montreal, most of whom I probably first came across on the internet. Eep!  They’re mostly fashion designers, photographers, jewellery makers, vintage shop owners and there are a few illustrators in the mix. So here are a few of their endeavours that I think are extra amazing:

My friend Audrey Cantwell designs the fashion line Ovate (www.ovate.ca) which is seriously badass. She’s been gaining a devoted following and her stuff is incredible.

My friend Elizabeth Hudson designs Ursa Minor (www.ursaminorstudio.com) and her clothing is divine. I bought a dress from her last year that is maybe my favourite garment that I’ve ever owned. Elizabeth’s husband Raymond Biesinger (www.fifteen.ca) is a hugely inspiring illustrator who has actually been a big help to me with advice, etc.

I’ve met a lot of the great folks I know through events like Puces Pop and Smart Design Mart which happen once or a few times a year and bring together our community of makers.

 

You run Stay Home Club, a wonderful site featuring some really exciting illustrated, printed textiles, from bed linen, to totes, to patches, and beyond.

Where did the idea come from, and why did you wish to make it a collaborative project, featuring, highlighting and working along so many other artists and illustrators in your ranges?

I’d been working on small items like patches and scarves using my own illustrations for some time, so I had the contacts and knew how to get these products made. Even better, I had avenues to do nearly everything locally with the exception of some digital printing in the US. It struck me that I had so many online friendships with people doing fantastic things and I wanted to make something of that. The idea of doing something with a broad audience consisting of the fans of each individual artist was appealing to me. I like how you can be a fan of, say, Rik Lee and come over to the site to check out his pillow cases. But then you might navigate to a patch by a lesser known artist and that’s an awesome discovery. As the collaborative work did well I started bringing more of my own aesthetic into the site, and now most of my design effort goes towards products for Stay Home Club.

Which artists have collaborated with you, so far, on Stay Home Club products?

How have these collaborations come about – were the artist already friends and aquaintences, or were you simply an admirer of their work?

There are too many to name here! Here’s a full list: http://stayhomeclub.com/pages/artist.

Many of the artists were people I knew either because I’d met them here or we were friends online. A few were just people I admired who said “yes” when I approached them, those absolute diamonds! Since starting I’ve also received lots and lots of submissions, some of which have made it onto the site.

 

Do you have a dream-list of people that you’d like to have involved?

I do, but it’s secret! 😉

 

A lot of the people you have worked with and featured in Stay Home Club have been women – is this at all purposeful?

It’s not. I don’t believe that women have to be given special treatment.  I choose artists whose work I’m aware of and that I love – the fact that many of them have been women is purely coincidence.

What do you enjoy about collaborative working, and getting many different people’s ideas feaured with Stay Home Club?

Definitely the idea that artists with a bigger fan base bring in eyes that then discover the work of others. It’s also just nice to know I’m not in this alone even though sometimes it feels that way when I spend entire days packing orders! It’s so amazing having the support of all these people whose work I respect so much. Knowing that your favourite artists are on board with your pet project is a pretty great feeling.

 

Do you feel like you are developing a sense of community with Stay Home Club? How important to you is ‘community’ (artisticly or otherwise)?

Maybe Stay Home Club is a bit of a selfish community – like I said, I love the support that I get for this endeavour from all my amazing collaborators. I love sending out dumb tweets and getting replies from SHC pals. I know for sure that some of the artists I work with have become friendly with other Stay Home Club contributors and that’s awesome. Having an online sense of community has always been important to me – strangely, more so than being part of a local one. We probably shouldn’t talk about the Livejournal days…but it probably all began there. I also somewhat credit the fact that I sell anything online to Neopets.com. So yeah..the internet. It’s a crazy place.

 

Is there particular reason and importantce of the emphasis of the project being a ‘Club’ rather than just a regular website (I know from being a purchasor in the past, that everybody who buys something receives a Club membership card); is it important to you that this project inspires a sense of community?

There’s a dichotomy inherent in the name of Stay Home Club that I think is representative of the way I feel about community.  For me, being part of our “club” is more of a personal thing than a group one. It’s about embracing your inner recluse and not having to feel guilty when you don’t want to go out and party. I always felt pressure in my late teens and early twenties from friends who didn’t understand that I wanted to go to bed at 10 PM on Friday night after an evening spent hanging out on the internet. This is a club you can be part of without leaving your house. So I guess the kind of community that’s important to me is the network of people who don’t necessarily have to hang out together, but maybe feel the same way about certain parts of life and who’ll be there to say “don’t worry dude, I like cats more than people too”.

You regularly draw angsty girls, and a recent patch released by Stay Home Club is the ‘Angst Gang’ patch.

Is angst and anxiety something that you personally experience, whether regarding your art, or life in general?

How do you think we can overcome our angst or anxieties in order to live creative lives and do all that we want to do?

My experiences with angst were more of a teenage thing for me, but that’s a part of my life that I’m fascinated with now. The things that seemed devastating to me 10 years ago are hilarious to me now. I guess it’s kind of cathartic being able to laugh at myself and at the problems I used to think would ruin my life. I do really love sarcasm and self deprecating humour, and I think being able to laugh at your flaws and insecurities is really important. Things like angst gang are part of that for me.

 

Similarly, 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 do so?

This is tricky for me, because I’m kind of a pessimist/realist on this topic but I don’t want to bum anyone out or trample on their dreams. I guess I would say that if it doesn’t come naturally, maybe it’s worth thinking about whether it’s worth your time. For me the point of what I do is being able to support myself doing something that I love (most of the time). If you’re having more of an unpleasant and hard time, struggling through it, maybe it’s not for you.

Have you always had people in your corner to support your artistic ventures and to tell you it’ll be ok? 

I’ve always had supportive people in my life, but for me that doesn’t mean them telling me “it’ll be ok”. I like brutal honesty. My parents are both lawyers and I knew from day one that choosing to go to art school would leave me in a very different financial position than the one I grew up in.  They’ve both been supportive, but realistic. They were the ones who nagged me when I was making dolls and said “how much are you paying yourself hourly?” when I didn’t really know why that should apply to me. Similarly, my boyfriend is supportive and proud but not afraid to tell me when something I’m doing isn’t working. He’s a great second pair of eyes for my work.

 

What are your tools and materials of choice when illustrating?

Generally my computer, wacom tablet, Photoshop and Illustrator. Lately I’ve been trying to do more non-digital work and experimenting with India ink which I love.

 

Why do you create? What is it about being creative that makes it something important for you to do?

I can’t really put it into words – I just do it. When I stop for a while it feels bad, so I start again.

 

Do you have any top tips for overcoming procrastination, or optimising opportunities?

(I ask this as I (as many others are) am a huge sufferer of procrastination, and not always pushing myself to the front, and I’m left with endless ‘still-to-do’ lists, and ‘wish-I’d-done’ regret lists as a result).

In my experience, you need to have a big motivator that keeps you productive. I guess my drive comes from never wanting to go back to a day job – I worked as an assistant at a law firm for 5 years and the day I quit I vowed to do everything in my power to never do something like that again. So  for me it’s  a matter of needing to make stuff and sell stuff in order to keep living this life that I really like. Having a financial motivator like needing to pay the rent is a pretty solid reason to keep working!

Where do you make your work? What’s your studio or making-space like?

Aesthetically, what sort of things have you filled your studio with in order for it to be as motivating/inspiring/workable/engaging as possible?

I recently moved my studio from a room in my apartment to a second apartment in my building. I finally have the space to keep each task separate – a sewing & drawing table, computer table, packing table. Each one is set up to be used really easily so tasks go as smoothly and quickly as possible. For example, the packing table has my packing materials lined up in the order I use them. Little details like that make all the difference in keeping me sane. I have a cork board that I change up every so often with new stuff that’s inspiring and informing my work and a bunch of books that I use for reference on a regular basis. Other than that the focus has been keeping it uncluttered so there’s not too much on the walls. I save that part of my style for my living space.

 

 

How do you manage your time in order to devote as much time as you’d like to your art?

I try to keep consistent work hours. I go down to the studio at 9 AM every weekday and finish by 6 or 7. In the evenings I try to relax, spend time with my boyfriend and sometimes work on non-art tasks (like answering these questions!). Same goes for weekends, I used to work all the time but moving the studio out of my apartment has really helped me establish a regimented work week. As far as each day goes, when I get to the studio I jot down all the tasks for the day in my agenda and tick them off as I complete them. If I didn’t do that I’d get too carried away on tangents and never finish the work at hand!

 

 

Which people, projects, or artists have made the biggest impact on your personal life or shaped your artistic vision?

Oh man, I feel like is such a huge question! I lived in England for a few years as a teenager and would just wander around the V&A with my jaw dropped – historical artists and crafts people have had a huge impact on me. I namedrop William Morris a lot just because I can look at his patterns for hours. Then there’s a group of contemporary fine artists whose work I always gravitate towards in a gallery setting – people like David Shrigley and Marcel Dzama whose works are illustrative, clever, a bit dark. Then there are the folks I’ve come across online who have blown my mind and influenced me in one way or another– some whose work I’ve followed for a few years  (Fumi Mini Namakura, Ghostpatrol, Sam Weber, Kozyndan…I could go on for ages) and some whose work I’ve been following recently and am obsessed with (Kristina Collantes, Laura Callaghan, Hellen Jo…ad infinitum). I love looking at other peoples’ work so much. It fills me with equal parts jealousy and overwhelming inspiration. 

 

What’s your favorite art project that you’ve worked on so far?

Ahhh I really don’t know! Just recently I’ve started working on a personal project consisting of large letters and numbers made up of lots of different elements in a limited colour palette. It’s fun. I guess that’s just what’s at the front of my brain right now!

 

What gives you the incentive/confidence/push to continue making your art?

If/when I stop I feel like crap. That, and needing to pay the rent.

 

You seem to juggle so many ideas, projects and creativities. 

What puts you in the best mood for creating, what keeps you motivated, and makes you want to continue being an artist and juggling all your projects, even when it feels overwhelming?

I definitely have some kind of creative ADD! Small successes make everything worth it. When you bust your ass developing a product, working on the designs, orchestrating the making of it, and then it sells well? Yeah. That rules. I’m a self-centred creature in many ways – getting compliments on work and/or happy reactions from customers often makes my day and puts me in a kick-ass mood. I’m also fiercely competitive and when I get a good idea I want to put it into action immediately before someone else does!

 

Do you believe everyone can be creative in their own life?

Sure. Go for it, dudes.

[box icon=”heart”] 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! [/box]

Artist interview: Mab Graves

Mab Graves  (Indianapolis, USA), makes some of the most wonderful paintings.

I first became aware of her work when my girlfriend bought me some of her prints and paper dolls as a birthday gift a few years ago, and I fell in love.

Mab has previously described the paintings she makes as, ‘My creations, my obsessions, my darlings. My waifs and strays. To inspire you, capture your wall, hold it hostage and not let go.’

Mab was a dream to interview; punctual, articulate, interested and interesting, and above all else, super-friendly and approachable. To get a sense of why, you need only step into her world via her artist bio: ‘Inspired deeply by fairy tales and old classic literature. She has powder pink hair and is at least 7years old. Her dream pet would be a yellow fruit bat, or a nice old hedgehog with an eye patch.’

Every time I got an email from her in my inbox, I knew it’d be friendly, unique, charming, and as if it were written in glitter before I’d even opened it; elements and traits which show up in her artwork too, such is Mab’s ability to imbue the girls she paints with character and life.

Website |  BigCartel Shop | Blog |  Etsy  |  Facebook Page |  Flickr site |  Pinterest

Mab-Graves---Little-Valentine-and-the-Crabby-Heart

Hi Mab, how are you? Are you currently working on anything you could tell Pikaland readers about? 

Hello! I am doing rather splendidly.

Yes! I just finished several really cool projects – a paper doll book with Dover publishing (due to come out later this year), character designs for an independent stop-motion film (in production!) and I’m working on 2 big shows that will be coming out in the fall – one will be debuting at Gallery Nucleus in CA, and the other will be opening in the gallery my partner and I own (Monster Gallery) here in Indianapolis!

Much has been said about your work, in descriptive terms, but how would you yourself describe your art?

I tell people I am a Dreamchild Neverist. It’s a totally made up term for my painting style though.

In reality I am a Pop Surrealist.

Where did your interest in art and creativity come from? Is it something you’ve held from an early age?

Oh I’ve always been a creative. When I was little, my mother told me I would come home from preschool and sit at our little table and draw for hours. She says she never had to worry about where I was – I’d been obsessed with drawing since I could grip a crayon. I only discovered painting 5 years ago- but we’ve been passionately in love ever since ^_^

I hear that you’re a self-taught artist. 

How easily did learning to draw and paint come to you?  Was it a case of just *start* and see where it goes, and then practice, trial and error? Or did you have a better plan than that?

Do you believe it’s something that has become easier the more you do? (And thus, important not to give up on if it wasn’t right first time)?

My first painting was 5 years ago now (I had always been shy of paints – too fluid and out of control). I was in a very dark place and I just sat down with an old canvas, some dreadful gift-set paints and a sumi brush. It took me an entire month of painting hours and hours every day to finish it. Sumi brushed are designed for Japanese ink painting. They have bamboo handles that suck up tons of water (so the ink travels). I was painting acrylics so I would be bent over working on some tiny detail when –whoosh!- a puddle of water would seep out from the brush and wash everything away. It was really frustrating. The brush also had quite a thick end, so I had to get pretty creative to achieve the kind of detail I wanted. I learned a lot about little turns of the wrists and tricks with the brush.    When I finished the piece, I went out and bought some real paint and a whole set of brushes – and it was like I had been running with a pack of rocks and had just taken them off. It was like discovering I had wings.

I learned SO much about brushwork with that first piece.

I think it’s a good idea to tie one hand behind your back so to speak, and challenge your limitations.

And yes – you get MUCH better at it over time!

Do you think that being self-taught has freed you up to try new things free from the constraints of having to do things the ‘correct’ or ‘expected’ way? 

Would you have wanted it any other way?

I would not want it any other way! It was definitely “the hard way” to learn without any help or guidance, but I can be a very proud single-mother of my little creations.

As long as the end result is what you wanted – it doesn’t matter how you got there.

Being self-taught, and initially developing your work yourself without much external ‘schooled’ validation, where did/does your motivation and confidence in your work come from?

Oh I think I must be the most selfish of painters ^_^ When I paint, I paint for me. I have never really needed external validation. As long as I purely love and am thrilled by a piece I created it never mattered to me if others liked it too.

My motivation comes from the fact that: I am an addict. I simply adore creating. I know it’s the reason I was put here on this earth and I get an exhilarating sense of peace when I paint.

I love it.

Mab-Graves--Elphaba-and-the-Flying-Moneys

I interviewed somebody recently who had been self-taught, and who was doing just fine with that. Then they discovered a different way of doing something via a friend who had been taught various techniques; she was totally bummed out because if she’d had known about that technique years ago it would have saved her so much time and labour.

Is this something that sounds familiar? 

What are your thoughts on sharing your ideas, skills, and knowledge with others? 

No, not really. I’ve never been bummed when I discover something new – I’m just thrilled!

My biggest “mind blowing” (as I call them!) discoveries have come from experimenting with new mediums.

I think that every medium has something that it is particularly good at – something that no other medium can do quite as well. For skin, I love to use oils –you just can’t get the luminescent glow with anything else. For details I use a fine Japanese gouache, I love using inks for shadows and for expansive backgrounds I like to use acrylics because they dry faster and allow me to continue working sooner! I am not a medium snob – I love them all equally.

The more opportunities I have to explore and play with new materials, the more I learn.

The one downside to never having gone to school for art is that I didn’t have the opportunity to try every medium and see what fit. It can be very expensive to go out and buy a set of a new medium just to try – without knowing you will like it!

But I love every new discovery I make and never feel ashamed that I hadn’t known it sooner. Life is all about learning.

From your own experience, what would your top-tips be for anybody wishing to teach themselves to draw/create art?

Play. Don’t attempt to do anything more than have fun. Don’t put expectations on your pieces, they are fragile and could cave under demands, crushing you both. Paint for fun and love whatever comes out of your brush. She may be a little lop-sided or have light coming in at her from two suns, but she is yours and you created her.  The less pressure you put on yourself, the more freedom you will have to experiment and learn!

Similarly, 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 do so?

Again – just play! Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you find yourself in a block – just stop. Leave it. Don’t push it. Immerse yourself in a fabulous new book series, get out of town for a road trip, or mess around with a totally new project. The worst thing you can do is keep pushing when you are stuck. Be patient and come back to it later. It may be months – it may be years – but don’t push.  It’s like letting a wound heal and knit back together: if you pick at it – it’ll only get worse.

Mab-Graves---studio-walls

Where do you make your work? What’s your studio or making-space like?

What sort of things keep you company in your studio / place(s) of work, for inspiration?

Oh heavens I work in chaos. They call my studio “the Forest” because it is wild, untamed, and probably full of wolves. I have a beautiful collection of hundreds of picture books (predominantly fairy tales!), cute and creepy old toys, cabinets with scores and scores or drawers filled with bits and bobs, and my walls are hung ceiling to floor with art – mostly other insanely talented artists I love, but a few of my biological paintings. It’s my own little sanctorum and the absolute happiest place in the world for me. Being in my studio is like stepping into my own skin.

What stages, from start-to-finish does a typical piece of your work go through, and over what time frame?

(I ask this, from a practical point of view, to guide others who may be seeking further understandings of creative processes. But, I appreciate what you have astutely written in the past, that, ‘Every piece I create is a culmination of my whole life’s experiences and mistakes’).

Before I even begin a piece I do hours of research. I research flower symbolism so every plant and tree means something. Every colour and gesture has a purpose. Then I start to paint. I don’t sketch beforehand or really do any planning. That painting is inside me already by then and knows exactly who it wants to be. I just absorb the information then let my body do the rest.

A painting for me could take anywhere from 2 days to a week – some longer. It depends on the size and scope of the project. I do all my detail work with a brush that has only one hair so it can be very time consuming!

You seem to maintain a pretty prolific outpouring of ideas, projects and creativity. 

What puts you in the best mood for drawing? And, what keeps you motivated, makes you burst with energy, keeps you inspired enough to keep going, and makes you want to continue being an artist?

I am always in the mood. I am a paintophile.

My mind is constantly teeming with tiny keening voices waiting (usually most impatiently) to be brought to life. Painting keeps me sane and brings me a shocking amount of peace.

Being an artist is not a choice to something I decide to continue being. It is my entire being. If you took the artist out of me I would be wisp of pink hair and green tea that would surely evaporate quickly.

How do you manage your time in order to devote as much time as you’d like to your art?

I will NEVER be able to devote as much time as I would like to my art! The sad part of being able to survive as a professional artist is you are running a business – you are the business – and painting is only about 20% of what you have to do!

The best advice I ever got about how to be a successful freelancer was:

Do the things you don’t love.

I was not thrilled to receive that advice.

People always tell you “do what you love!” and I liked that much better.

But doing what you don’t love – the emails, inventory, taxes, lectures, social networking etc. – is REALLY important. It’s not nearly as much fun as shutting myself away for weeks and painting my heart out (what bliss!), but these things must be done. It’s taken me a couple years of being hideously overwhelmed to find a happy medium in my days, but I have found it.

Mab-Graves--Claudia-Cameo

I read on your blog your comments about living with arthritis, where you say:

‘I know I can’t do this forever. I know this. These poor little hands won’t hold out. I am so grateful for every minute that I have to paint. Even though every minute of my passion hurts me, I couldn’t possibly be happier when I paint. A lot of us have complications. Restrictions. People who tell us that we have unrealistic career choices. There is no dream you shouldn’t follow. Ignore the odds’

This positivity, hope, inspiration and affirmation is infectious… that idea of passing on positive messages and ideas for keeping on going, the encouragement, and sharing your belief in notions of ‘doing’ and ‘being’.

Why is it important to you to pass on these good vibes?

I know I have been given a gift. Being able to paint is not something I bought or earned – I have no laurels to rest on. It is something intensely precious that I have been given and it is extremely important to me that I give back. I have a responsibility not to squander it. Art and love are both things that need to be shared. I don’t think there is enough of either in this world – and you’re right, they are infectious. I plan on doing as much good as I can with the time that I have. Let’s start an epidemic ^_^

I’ve been reading and hearing so much recently from people whose art has been plagiarised or copied (almost without changes) by others for financial or personal gain. It seems to be a growing problem for artists.

What are your personal takes on inspiration vs imitation?

And, on the flip side, do you think it’s possible that there is no such thing as ‘original thought’ in art, that everything has been ‘done’, and that the very nature of being inspired by others’ work leads naturally into using that influence and it showing in our own creativities?

Yes, I have had people steal my images and sell prints, shirts and jewellery with my paintings on them. It is surprisingly hurtful actually. I have a very good lawyer who sets them straight pretty quickly, but it still leaves a feeling of violation.

I think that education on image rights is a big problem. With most of these people when you write them and tell them that they have illegally stolen a copyrighted image and are liable for a huge lawsuit – they are totally shocked! A lot of people actually think that if an image is online, they can have it and do what they want with it. I’m not sure what we can do about re-informing this kind of ignorance.

As far as Original Thought goes – well I suppose that depends on the style of art you are painting. As a Pop Surrealist painter, “original thought” is a bit moot because, well – it’s pop surrealism. The subject matter is inspired largely from retro 60’s and 70’s culture (big head and eye art) but also from current events, books, films and popular subjects. Someone always thought of it first. We are re-inventing it. That’s the point!

I think as long as you are true to your own style, interests and paint purely from your own inspiration then don’t worry if some other artist is inspired by the same things at the same time.

It is 2013 so creating something completely new and original would be tough, I agree. I’ve seen a lot of emerging contemporary artists scrabbling desperately trying to create a NEW art – and it mostly involves bits of string hung in places or jars of bodily fluid. I think we should be less concerned with creating completely new things and just create completely beautiful things.

Mab-Graves--Page-of-Pentacles

What fascinates you most, and fires your imagination?

What do you think the power of ‘imagination’ is? Both for artists, and everybody more generally.

I read. I love old fairy tales and folklore. My childhood was webbed with storybooks and I love falling back into the familiar comfort of unquestioning awe they inspire in me.

Imagination gives us limitless and unending possibilities. It’s the most beautiful tool you can harness yourself with.

Best advice: Never stop being six years old.

What about your work gives you the most satisfaction?

Oh that’s easy. It’s looking down into the little soul I just put on canvas – seeing her eyes look straight back into me and hearing her tiny voice inside my heart. Bliss.

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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!

Interview: Ana Albero

 

Ana Albero

I adore Ana Albero’s work. Looking at the worlds she creates and the people she depicts, with her unmistakably brilliant illustration style, is always time well spent in my view. Ana is a Berlin-based freelance illustrator with a dizzying client list. She is also one third of the Edition Biografiktion self-publishing collective. Despite not being a big fan of giving interviews, Ana was kind enough to find the time to talk to Pikaland about her work and her processes here. Thank you Ana!

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Edition Biografiktion

Hi Ana, how are you? What are you up to today?

Hi! I am fine thanks! Today I am finally answering a lot of emails after my late summer vacation, cooking my secret salmon recipe, baking a blueberry cake and meeting my Spanish girlfriends in the evening so I think I am not drawing today.

Could you tell Pikaland readers a little bit about yourself and the art that you make?

I’m an illustrator, originally from Alicante, a seaside city in Spain. I studied in Paris and Berlin where I specialized in Illustration.
Since my graduation at the Berlin University of the Arts in 2008, I work globally as a freelance illustrator based In Berlin. I also spend my time binding books, self-publishing comics and walking around in Berlin staring at dogs.

Are you working on any projects or art pieces at the moment that you could tell us about?

I am working on some commissioned editorial illustrations and putting together some top secret book projects.

Ana Albero

How long have you been making art, is it something you’ve always been interested in?

Since I can remember, I always enjoyed drawing but I never felt like studying Fine Arts. I wanted to study something creative yet practical, so I ended up studying Communication Sciences and not being very happy about it.
Luckily I got a grant to study abroad. At the Berlin University of the Arts I discovered almost by accident the Illustration class. I always loved illustration but never thought of it as a job. I felt that to study illustration was what I really was looking for so quit my studies in Spain and applied for the Berlin University of the Arts. That opportunity really changed my life.

How did you first get started really pursuing your art career?

I started being more focused about my drawing after graduating. Leaving my much-loved educational “bubble” I realized I had to become more serious and committed about illustration if I wanted to earn my living drawing. So I started working hard on my portfolio to create something visually interesting and cohesive to show.

Ana Albero

Together with the illustrators Till Hafenbrak and Paul Paetzel you founded “Edition Biografiktion” in 2008. Could you tell us a little about Edition Biografiktion, how you came to work together, and the projects that you have created?

Besides my commercial and personal work I am a member of the comic collective Edition Biografiktion which I founded with Till Hafenbrak and Paul Paetzel. Back then we were all still students and attended illustration class together. We became good friends and naturally we decided to come together because we all shared the wish to put out our work. The first zines (Biografiktion) we published were comic stories about celebrities, adding fictional elements. We decided to start a second series called Human News whose theme varies in every issue and which is more focused on Illustration. To produce our artwork we use the printing techniques which are easily at our disposal: silkscreen, linocut and reprography.

Ana Albero

Is it important to you to work within such an art community?

Of course! There are many advantages in working in a group. As we lack financial resources we can’t pay others to do the printing for us. All the processes of the production are also very time consuming. As a group we can work together and share the workload. Even if we do most of the production process by ourselves there are still costs for materials like paper or inks also booth costs on comic festivals can be shared. Another advantage is that working in a group gives each of us bigger recognition and exposure.
We try to motivate each other in our work, also helping each other and offering constructive criticism. The best of it is of course spending lots of time with good friends.

How do you balance your time between working on projects with Edition Biografiktion, your solo work, and ‘life’?

Unfortunately, time management is not one of my strengths. I spend most of my time drawing right now. I prefer to work on two projects at a time to be able to switch between projects and have a little “break” that way. I tend to be more productive under time pressure which leads me sometimes to overwork myself. Nevertheless, I try to keep the pens down on the weekend, it is important to disconnect from work and enjoy some free time.

Ana Albero

Do you have any top tips for overcoming procrastination? (I’m a huge sufferer of procrastination and I’m left with endless still-to-do lists as a result).

Oh, sorry no tips… I also suffer from chronic procrastination!

What’s your work space/studio like? Do you tend to surround yourself with things/images/artefacts to keep you company or inspire/ motivate you?

I tried to work in a couple of shared studios but I ended up working mostly at my studio at home. Maybe it is because I prefer a more cozy atmosphere to work till late in the evening. I live together with my boyfriend who is also an illustrator but you never could tell that seeing our apartment. We own tons of stuff, gorgeous prints and frames to hang but for some reason our apartment is sadly under-decorated. Actually that is one of our perpetual New Year’s resolutions.

Can you disclose a bit about the creative process behind your art making? Also, what techniques of illustration do you most prefer to use; what are your tools and materials of choice, and how did you come to work with them?

I start doing some rough sketches to figure the composition out and then I keep working on that drawing using transparent paper layers until the illustration is ready. When I work on a designed topic I do a research first.
I work mostly with graphite because that allows me to create a lot of different textures. Of course, I also use a computer mostly for digital coloring purposes.
At university I was able to try a lot of mediums and techniques, but at the moment I mostly work with pencil and paper for my commissioned work. I also work on screen-prints sometimes and would love to do some etching again but those mediums are very time consuming so I rather would use them for personal projects.

Ana Albero

Which people, projects, or artists have made the biggest impact on your personal life or shaped your artistic vision?

Other decades inspire me a lot, whether in the past or the future… I like to research how people and things used to look and love to imagine how everything could be someday in a weird future time. I enjoy looking at all sorts of illustrations and vintage fashion magazines. As a teenager I even used to think I was born in the wrong time period. I also find inspiration in common people and everyday life. My colleagues Paul and Till also influence my work a lot.

I find it interesting how and where people gain access to their own confidence, and self-belief. Particularly in terms of how they are able to produce and create with a sense of assurance, belief and certainty, or taking the leap to make art their central focus.
What is your personal relationship with confidence?
How did you personally learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and gain the confidence to make, sell, and exhibit your art, as well as working freelance for various publications? Is confidence over your work something that comes easily to you?

I am quite an introverted person, that means I don’t really enjoy talking about my work, I feel uncomfortable at presentations and I avoid giving interviews. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel confident about my illustration work. In fact, I think I have a strong vision of what I like and dislike, what I want to do and don’t. I am very critical and demanding of myself and I enjoy being professional at my work.

Ana Albero

To get a feel for your geographical location/’scene’, are there any Berlin artists, events, galleries, projects, magazines (etc) that particularly excite you right now? Where are your favourite places to create or be in Berlin?

My favorite place to create in Berlin is my studio at home. I need a calm atmosphere to get things done so you will never see me doodling in a coffee shop, I’d actually be drinking something there. For exhibitions I’d rather visit an old school museum like the Dahlem Ethnological Museum than the latest super hyped exhibition opening in a gallery.

You have lived and worked in a few European countries over the years. How do your different surroundings/environments, and your attention to the details of them, affect your art and creativity?

I enjoy traveling as much as staying at home. When I get to go somewhere I prefer to explore my new neighborhood in order to run around visiting all the possible tourist spots. I really enjoy the illusion of living an everyday life in a complete new environment. I don’t keep travel sketchbooks, that’s not for me at all, I’d rather take some pictures instead. I would probably live every year in a different country if I could. I’ve lived in Berlin for over 10 years now. It is a great city to live in because it is huge but not stressful at all. I would say to live here is important for my work because in Berlin I can stay focused on it.

Ana Albero

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 do so?

Frustration is normal feeling in a creative job like this. Also feeling uninspired or unmotivated… the best tip I can give is try not feeling anxious about that… take some days off, be lazy for a while but then start working hard again. For me it is particularly hard for instance to start working again after a long trip or a vacation away from my studio. The only solution is starting over again and not thinking too much about it.

What is it that makes you burst with energy, keeps you inspired enough to keep going, and makes you want to continue being an artist?

What makes me really want to continue being an illustrator (although it is not the easiest profession) is imagining myself working in a regular 9 to 5 job and being too tired to do something creative when I get home.

Ana Albero

There’s many pieces of your work that are presented as comics strips, with panels of drawings. How interested are you in comics work?

Although I am drawing more often comics right now I still prefer to work in single illustrations because I enjoy taking more time for the composition and the drawing itself. A good illustration always tells a story anyway.

What would your dream art project be? And what do you hope to work on next?

Working with people I admire and creating what I feel like.

Thanks Ana!

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