Summer Pierre (Brooklyn, NY, USA) is a talented artist and illustrator (plus writer and musician to boot – Her creative energy makes me dizzy!)
I am so thrilled to be able to share this interview with Pikaland readers as Summer has a great deal of goodness to share both within her art itself, and through her eloquent and moving responses to the interview questions.
If ever you needed somebody to give you a push in the right direction, I think Summer’s your lady!
Hi Summer, how are you? Could you tell us a little about yourself and your art/illustration work? Are you working on anything at the moment that you could tell us about?
I am an artist, writer, and musician, although right now I am doing way more art and writing than music. I am the author and creator of two books, The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week and Great Gals: Inspired Ideas for Living a Kick-Ass Life. My hobbies are yearning and soul searching.
I am currently working on several illustration projects and a bigger life project I call 100 Things in 2011, where I am trying to do as many items as possible from a list of 100 things I want to do/experience in 2011.
I thought I’d begin by asking, since inspiration and ‘the everyday’ seem to me to be a huge part of your work; what is your art/work space like, and what images or objects keep you company on the walls/surfaces?
I used to have a narrow studio in our apartment, but then my son came along and now his crib is where my desk used to be. So now I have a corner of our bedroom where my desk, which is an old door on filing cabinets fits perfectly. I have a clothesline of pictures and objects that hang above it—including a sign I made for myself that says SUMMER PIERRE HEADQUARTERS. I have old photos, my own prints hanging, and I collect vintage looking food packaging and surround myself with it.
How do your surroundings/environment, and your attention to the details of them, affect your art and creativity?
How do they NOT affect my creativity? My home life, as in my apartment, is pretty colourful and lively and I love that it feels like an ever-evolving extension of my creativity. Where I live in Brooklyn is really becoming more and more a part of my visual language—I love the many cultures and how it shapes even what our grocery store is stocked with. I love the different streets and the architecture. I have always been a very visual person—and this can be wonderful and stimulating as much as it can be overwhelming and exhausting. Right now, it feels wonderful.
What is your artistic history? How did you get started, and how long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?
Well, I’ve been drawing since I was very very little. This part isn’t unusual, but I guess the unusual part is that I just kept going. Then I started writing as a kid and in college I started playing music and writing songs. I would say that even though I have been doing it a long time and identifying myself as an artist, it has been a long and rocky road of finding my voice and sticking with it. Creating the books changed my output considerably—they were valuable teachers in trusting my vision and it’s just kept coming and growing since then.
How easily did learning to draw come to you?
Do you think drawing, and art in general is something that becomes easier the more you practice and the more you do?
Like I said, I’ve been drawing since I was very small and I was always good at it, but there have always been people better than me, so I never felt REALLY good at it. I went through a long phase of drawing on the side while I wrote & played music, then I kind of came back to it like an old friend and the more I did, the better I got. I am a STRONG believer that the more you do, the better you get. This has been true for me with all three of my mediums, but none more striking than drawing. I have actually been toying with doing a blog entry about this very subject—showing some of the earlier drawings I did when I got back to drawing vs. the more current ones—just so people can see you can grow, you just have to keep at it. Honestly, part of doing is gaining trust in yourself. The more you do, the more trust you will have in your abilities.
What techniques and materials do you employ most often in your art and illustration work?
Journal, pencil, pen. Then I use the scanner and design software to color in.
I know that you have a background [and to some extent it is still a current medium for you] in zine making, and self-publishing (e.g your zines such as ‘Artist in The Office’, and ‘Forgive Me: One Page Stories’, and your self-published calendars of great women.)
What is your history in independent self-publishing and zine culture – how did you get in to it?
I always made homemade books when I was a kid and the desire to make zines is the same desire I had as a kid—to see my ideas take form in something real that you can hold. I stopped doing this for a long time until I started making one-page stories as a thing to do in a creative slump. I had 30 of them and then made them into a zine. I got that feeling of seeing something of mine outside of me again and I was hooked. Whoever invented the copy machine, my hands to you! I love reading other people’s zines for the same reasons I love to make them—they are personal, arty, and real. I always feel less lonely when I read a zine.
How and why did/do you self-publish your artwork within zines and other self-published ventures?
Because I wanted to make something “real” and I wanted to see it immediately. Also, I didn’t know how else to produce anything.
As an artist what role did (does?) self-publishing hold for you, your ideas, and your art work? And do you think zines are a good way to share art, to display art, and to reach (new?) audiences or artistic communities?
Oh my golly, how much time do you have? I think zines are more important to me than ever. I love publishing books and will never sneeze at a chance to get my work out there in the formal way of publishing, but zines are powerful, simple ways to make one’s work real and outside of your head. It’s also something you can make without a sales team, editorial committee, or anything else that might curb your vision or idea—all things that you do encounter when working with a publisher. No idea is too small for a zine and no one is going to tell me, “there just isn’t a market for this,” or “you don’t have a name, so who cares?” I will continue making zines as long as there are copy machines! I absolutely think they are a great first step to going from idea to book. Zines will teach you how to do it! Then you get to trade them or mail them to other people who get to read them and share their ideas. I can’t say enough good things about zines.
Based on your original zine, a book has now been published, The Artist in the Office: How to Creatively Survive and Thrive Seven Days a Week collecting together interviews with working artists and artists working. It has been described as, ‘An inspirational, interactive book for any artist living in the real world […] encouraging small acts of creativity and a simple shift of perspective to help readers bring their artistic selves into the workplace and thrive in all aspects of their lives.’
Either from your own experience(s), or those of your interviewees, what would your top tips be for people struggling to juggle their daily commitments/day jobs with their creative endeavours?
Give yourself a break from the pressure and think small. Write a page, not a novel.
Consider your art a legitimate job and that you are in fact juggling TWO jobs.
Always keep in mind what you ARE doing, and don’t focus so much on what you aren’t. Acknowledge the work you do, the life you have, the reasons you work, etc.
Also, Ayun Halliday said this in my interview with her, which I think is so right on:
“Remember that it’s ultimately your fault if you end up frittering away those precious non-job hours. Don’t spend them all on the internet, or in front of some video. Take your work to a coffeehouse (and forget about your facebook page while you’re there). Then, when it’s done, don’t let timidity, or other people’s indifference consign it to a drawer. Self-publish and sell it yourself too. Hang it on street signs. Provide free entertainment on a busy corner. Even though I spend a lot of time wishing that I had cohorts, handlers, yes men, and fairy godmothers, I do derive enormous satisfaction from looking back and realizing that the finished product wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t participated so fully.”
More recently you have published ‘Great Gals: Inspired Ideas for Living a Kick-Ass Life’ which is based on the illustrated calendars of great women that you produced for six years.
As well as being packed with optimism, affirmation, ideas and inspirational figures for (predominantly female) readers to hopefully take something from, the main crux of the book is a series of portraits of women that you find inspirational.
In creating such a visual documentation and celebration of women’s lives, and in bringing womens history and female achievement to life, how important to you is the project in terms of activating and connecting us with the past, the present, and helping to make sure that there will be a future which contains such creative and pioneering female action and activity?
I do hope the book introduces people the readers might not have known about before and connects them with a larger sense of being part of a long tradition: the human condition. I am not so worried about women continuing to be powerful participants in the future. I am more worried about how much we, as women (and let’s face it, men too), lose our current lives to worry, to overwhelm, to a sense of inadequacy so that we don’t participate in the NOW fully.
In an interview you once gave the following advice to others wanting to pursue their creative goals: ‘PLEASE DO IT NOW. You will never be adequately prepared, or have time to get ready to live your dreams. Start now. Also, if you work to create the world you love, people will respond.’
How did you first learn this lesson yourself?
I can’t remember the first time I learned the part about doing it now and not later—there have been so many times! I think one of the first inklings to this idea is when I took a writing class with a long time idol, someone who I had worshipped a far, and I secretly hoped she would anoint me into whatever magical world I believed she inhabited. It was a 5-day class and she never once learned my name! It was devastating, but powerful. It was the first time I got it: no one is going to anoint you, you’re never going to hit the perfect time to start, or meet the right person to give you permission—whatever it is you are hoping for to happen so that you are ready is not coming. You should consider yourself ready now.
The world you love part came to me with The Artist in the Office. Once I acknowledged what I was living and loving, it turned out there were so many people out there who were also living it and would love to know about. Coming from a place of THIS IS WHAT WORKS is so much more powerful than coming from a place of lack—and most of us do come from a place of lack. Shifting it to the positive can be a profound way of shifting perspective and a way to feel more able to do what you want to do.
By making statements such as the above quote, and by producing books such as Great Gals it maintains my belief that in your work there is a strong idea of us as individuals building our own existences ourselves everyday, and taking or forming individual ownership of our own worlds.
How do you think creativity and artistry can promote this idea?
I think creativity and artistry at its very basic level can often give voice to things we didn’t know how to say elsewhere. It has the potential to speak truths about ourselves and the world in profound and direct ways. With that in mind, it can only help us understand and name our experience. So much of life can be quietly passed without a thought or urgency—but it’s all we have. Creativity is the exact opposite of this—it wakes us up and engages us with our very lives.
In relation to the above question, something that I find and feel in your work is the overwhelming positivity, hope, inspiration and affirmation. Whether this be passing on positive messages and ideas, the sharing of your own creative journeyings and plans, the encouragement of individuals, or the sharing and belief in the notions of ‘doing’ and ‘being’.
Why is it important to you to pass on these good vibes?
Well, I try to come from a place of creating what I most want to find myself. This is especially true with the blog and my two books. My compulsion to share whatever it is I am learning myself is out of a need and a hope to find it myself.
The work that I respond to the most is work that is honest and true and that’s what I hope I come across as. If people find comfort in that, or see themselves in that experience, I am utterly grateful. I will say that a theme I have in my work, which I hope people do pick up on, is that I think its not enough just to be comforted or to be inspired by someone else—it can get you only so far. Eventually, if you want real change you have to acknowledge yourself and your own experience as valid, as worth your attention and your inspiration. You are your own catalyst.
Have you always had people in your corner to support your artistic ventures and to tell you it’ll be ok?
Yes and no. I’ve always been seen as an artist by both friends and family, which has been great, but that hasn’t always meant being supported. Like everyone else I have had to manage expectations, challenges, and sometimes outright discouragement.
Like a lot of people, I have found the people who mirror back to me not just my artistic worth, but my worth as a human—and that has been more valuable to me than anything.
*_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 making art their central focus.
What is your personal relationship with confidence?_*
Oh, THAT. I have struggled MIGHTILY with confidence and thought that if I just had x, y, or z I would be confident. Nope. It didn’t work. I think I am just now realizing that confidence is really self-trust. If you trust yourself, you are confident. I am feeling and learning this every day more and more these days—it’s a new experience for me, but I want to recommend it to everyone! Trust yourself, people! You’ll just feel better if you do!
From illustrating your favourite cakes and your favourite books/cook books, to illustrating all the things you love about your city at the moment, it seems that there is a strong desire for you to put at the centre of your art all the things that you love. By doing this, and by focussing on your favourite things could you imagine your art ever becoming a chore, or by doing this does it become a delight for you?
I can imagine it becoming a chore because it has been a chore in the past—-so why not the future? The thing is about the creative life (and I am going to forget this as soon as I write this down) is that there are times you are full of love and ideas and flowing like the Mississippi river and then there are times when you are in a drought so bad, that anything presented to you is just HARD. WORK. Each time either of these things happen, you are convinced that you will never feel otherwise again. Just you wait! Love always helps, and I am overflowing right now with creating from all the lists of what I love, but I also know this is the rainy season and the dry season will come again.
I read you say recently that ‘There is SO MUCH I want to capture, draw, investigate visually on any given day’. As testiment to this, over the years you have produced many voracious one-a-day style illustration projects, and have created lists of creative goals you wish to achieve that are ticked off as you are successful.
Do you think there is a power in making art everyday, finding creativity in everyday things, making our every day creative, and allowing people to see the creative potential of their lives?
Yes, absolutely. I am a big yearner—I am always pining for the far away & the yet to be attained—so creating from a place of what’s in the now, what you have has been a powerful spell breaker to my tendency to yearn. Also, I am a big procrastinator, so doing something quick and in the now is a powerful way to create more impetus to show up again and again.
I know this is the sort of question that ‘Artist In The Office’ hopes to provide answers to; but personally, how do you manage your time in order to devote as much time as you’d like to your art, especially since you have a young baby?
I think small. What can I do in the next 15 minutes? What can I do with the time I have? That’s also why I work from lists—I never have to think about ideas or ask, “now what was it I wanted/needed to do?” I always have something to work from. Thinking small, putting away the computer, having a running list are ways that I get things done. Having a baby has dried up a lot of that I just need to get in the mood—I have time now, so I am doing it now whether I feel in the mood or not. Having a baby has been a hard adjustment, but in some ways I fantastic task maker.
You seem to maintain a pretty prolific outpouring of ideas, projects and creativity. Other than your obvious love for making art everyday, 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?
I have a truism that goes like this: acting on your ideas creates room for more ideas. This is totally true for me. The more I do, the more I want to do. This is why lists and the crossing off items works for me. I see progress and I just want to do more. As far as wanting to be an artist—love. I love creating, I love engaging with the world. I love dancing with experience through drawings, writing, and music. It is the most profound and long lasting relationship of my life.