Artist interview: Lilli Carré

Cartoonist and animator, Lilli Carré (Chicago USA) is the writer and illustrator of the books Nine Ways to Disappear, The Lagoon, and Tales of Woodsman Pete, and has contributed comics strips to anthologies such as MOME. Lilli also creates the most wonderful moving drawings. I love the way her mind operates, and the amazing illustrated work it creates!
{interviewed by Melanie Maddison}

Lilli Carré

Animations: On Vimeo

You were recently in Sweden for the Small Press Expo in Stockholm – how was the trip, and how was the expo?
It was really fun! I was glad I was able to make the trip, because the volcano in Iceland prohibited a fair amount of people from being able to fly into Sweden for the expo, but I was able to get there after zigzag bus trip from Oslo. I enjoyed exploring Sweden, and the comics show itself was great. There was a lot of great self-published work and many more international publishers and creators than I get to see at shows in the US. I was exposed to a much larger range of styles and formats than I I’ve seen before, it really got my juices flowing to see and talk to these other creators. It was interesting to notice differences such as how many comics from Sweden were completed purely in pencil rather than pen, and some of the different inventive binding techniques and storytelling styles and things like that.

Lilli Carré

What links does your illustration and comics work hold to that independent/DIY culture and community of alternative press and self-publishing?

I think of myself primarily as a cartoonist and an animator. I started making comics by printing them at school and self-publishing short stories and collections of my comics work and trading them and putting them out in stores and mailing them to a few people. I still try to self-publish, and I love to seek out and stumble upon other self-published work that excites me. There’s something very unique about ideas going directly from one person’s head and hands straight to paper with nothing else to taint it. That’s what I enjoy about experimental animation as well, that it feels like you get to be inside someone else’s head with nothing to interfere.

You debuted some new silk-screened books in Sweden that you’d bound yourself. I hear that this project was a result of your residency at Spudnik Press.

Could you tell me more about how you’ve been getting on with bookbinding, and how/why you got into making your own editions of books in this way?

I wanted to experiment more with screenprinting and playing with the overlapping of different transparent colors, so I decided to work on a small batch of stories that I could draw in a more graphic style, allowing me to play with these techniques. Like I mentioned above, I wanted to make a little batch of handmade hardcover books because I myself love the feeling of holding a handmade object in my hands that has some straight from someone’s head and hands and is completely unique, so I wanted to make something like that and experiment in the process. I had never really bound hardcover books before, so making 45 of them really pounded it in. I’d like to make more small editions of books this way.

Lilli Carré

How has your time at Spudnik been for you? How important to you has being there been, in terms of being a part of and receiving-and-contributing to: creative community, collective working, and skills sharing?

Working at the print shop for 3 months was a really good experience. Especially in contrast to how I usually work on projects, which is holed up in my work room in my apartment, staring at blank pieces of paper! Having to be at Spudnik for a certain amount of time each week was very helpful. It made me print and pull ideas out of my head that otherwise I might not be as active about working on. It was also really fun and helpful to be around the other regular printers in the shop, witnessing how they worked, what they were working on, and having good company while doing an otherwise pretty labor-intensive project.

The one trip I’ve ever made to San Francisco was the period when your book ‘Nine Ways To Disappear’ was being released by Little Otsu, and their storefront featured an amazing window display of your illustrated sculptures (that I presume you’d made?

Yep! I made the silhouetted cut-outs here in Chicago, and then mailed them to their SF shop, where they installed them. One of their workers skilfully reproduced the tea pot image from the cover of Nine Ways).

Lilli Carré

Lilli Carré

How was the experience of doing that?

And how important to you is working with and collaborating with independent companies like Little Otsu? What does working with independent companies allow and afford your artwork and publishing ventures?

Little Otsu has been very supportive of my work and wonderful to work with. My stories can be on the bizarre side, and it’s really important to me to work with people who I feel really get what I’m trying to do with my comics and images. They didn’t try to change the stories at all or shape anything in that sense— we worked together a lot on the look and feel of the finished piece, so it was a good collaboration. The other publishers I have worked with to make books of my comics, Top Shelf and Fantagraphics, have also allowed for my work to stand on its own, and have helped immensely with good book design and promotion and having faith in my more off-beat sense of humor and story.

What illustration projects are you working on at the moment?

I’m usually juggling a handful of different things. I just finished a piece in comics form about how the city of Chicago raised its own streets and buildings in the 1850’s, and now I’m working on a book cover, a series of animation loops for a website, and an illustration to be printed on a tin box.

Lilli Carré

How long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?

What a question! I suppose I’ve been embracing my creativity since I was a little kid— A major activity throughout my childhood was when my parents would roll out a big sheet of butcher paper on the apartment floor, and my sister and I would amuse ourselves quietly for hours by drawing images and stories all over it. So since then.

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.

I don’t look at it as a high-pressure thing. I just make the work I want to make, and if there’s a venue out there where I can share it then I’ll go for it. I still work a part-time job at a bookstore and make the work that I get excited about making, I’m not lunging at making a big career for myself. I need the outlet of making the work and drawings and stories, otherwise I’d feel very expressionless and ready to explode. So it doesn’t seem like some big choice or anything about confidence, it’s just a thing I have to do for myself, and if I have the opportunity to share it then that’s an added excitement.

Which artistic techniques do you employ most often within your work, and enjoy using?
I like trying out different styles and techniques all the time. I don’t feel that I’ve mastered any single one, so I like to switch between media for whatever I think might suit a certain story or idea. I really enjoy the feeling of using a nib pen, I find it very satisfying to draw with one even though I feel like I have less control than with a regular pen. I like playing with different printmaking techniques, and seeing what types of looks I can get with coloring things in photoshop, too. I’m pretty all over the place when it comes to styles, though I think that my work still looks like it came from the same person even though it’s made with lots of different tools.

*_What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on so far?
My story The Carnival that was in the anthology Mome vol. 14. I just put a lot of myself into that story._*

Lilli Carré

One of the things that strikes me over and over again about your work is the ‘mood’ or ‘atmosphere’ of your pieces – part, I feel, to do with the folk-arts visual style, part to do with your work’s poetry, and partly due to the fact that your illustrations often highlight the everyday, arbitrary, or unfair aspects of life that are nonetheless part and parcel of the vibrancy of life.
Would it be fair to say that there is a unique atmosphere about your work? And is it something that you have worked to maintain consistency over throughout your different work in different mediums, or does it naturally work out that way?

Certainly. Coming from studying experimental animation in school, I think that I try to convey a mood and a pace in my comics that comes from thinking about how to do so in a moving picture, where sound and time are an element. Sometimes creating a mood is one of my main objectives of a comic, equally alongside the artwork and the story.

Lilli Carré

Thinking about mood and atmosphere, your own personal experiences must influence what you create. Do you find it difficult to create and paint when in particular moods due to how it may influence the ‘feel’ of a piece?
Yeah, sometimes I find it hard to sit down and work on something if I don’t feel like I’m in the proper head space to do so. My book The Lagoon, which is very mood-driven, took me about 3 years to finish, because I had a lot of starts and stops when working on it. This was partially due to still being in school and working at that time, but also because it was hard to always be in the right mindset to work on such a moody piece and figure out the trajectory of the story. The setting of the book is in a southern swampy area, and I made the first 8 pages of that story while at a summer class that took place at a small lagoon, but once I returned to the city to finish it, it was harder to get into the same momentum.

Speaking of the everyday nuances of life that your art depicts, it is often a curious, surreal life that is shown; perspective, space, size, direction, and expectation are often played with [for example, tiny, miniature coughing men crop up in your work. As do people who are hiding under chairs, upside down, with fish in their mouths. Not to mention the giant proportions of the character Paul Bunyan, or girls with wide-set eyes, or a boy who shrinks to the size of a button.)

All of the above is also perfectly observed within your moving drawings. Does working with animation allow you with a further tool for depicting the more curious nuances of your characters everydays?

Sure, I mean there are different things you can do with both mediums to bring out nuances of characters and the everyday. I wouldn’t say it’s a further tool but a different one. Timing and little movement ticks and sound are expressed differently through animation than comics or single images, and can present a different kind of humor. The moving drawings I make are usually of something who’s humor I think would be suited for movement, and that I just want to animate it to create a tiny funny little moment in a way that I feel a single drawing couldn’t.

What is your favourite thing about being an artist, and working creatively?
Being able to draw the things I imagine and put my observations and thoughts into a form that articulates them better than I ever could through talking or singing or running. There is catharsis for me in being able to put bits of my mind and life to paper.

Artist interview: Laura McKellar

This week’s interview is with Laura McKellar, an artist living in Melbourne who has an amazing series of work – digital prints on fabric, which she then hand-embroiders. There’s more to this crafty lady than meets the eye, so read more about her in this interview with Melanie Maddison, our chief interviewer on Pikaland!

Laura McKellar

Online Shop:
Zine blog:

Hi Laura, could you tell us a little about yourself, and what are you currently working on?
I am a freelance graphic designer living in Melbourne, Australia. I’m currently working on artwork for exhibitions, album artwork, illustrated ceramic brooches, some logos and thinking about my next issue of my zine Okay.

How long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?
As a little girl I was encouraged to be creative. My sisters and I would spend a lot of time drawing and painting and using mum’s Derwents.

My uncle and grandfather were both photographers and I was influenced at an early age by them. I collect film cameras and use my photographs with illustrations. I am drawn to images I find in old 50s & 60s pattern books and have collected many which have had a significant effect on my work.

I studied graphic design for 5 years at college but I’ve been making things for as long as I can remember. Learning to use design programs on the computer has definitely influenced how I design my artwork.

Laura McKellar

How did you first learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and gain the confidence to make art your career?
I grew up in a very creative environment. My aunt is a professional illustrator so from a very early age I learned with a lot of hard work and dedication that it is possible to make art your career. I also learned at school that I could make a living from being creative and have since pursued it!

Why do you create? What is it about being creative that makes it something important for you to do?
Creating is a natural occurrence in my life. It makes me feel good and it is the best way for me to express who I am and how I think. I love making pictures whether they are for a job or an artwork, it is the most fulfilling time I use.

Laura McKellar

Where did your interest in collage, retro/found images, and mixed media come from, and how has your art developed over the years to incorporate it?
I have been collecting second hand picture books and dress pattern books for two reasons: 1. To use in my design + art work and 2. Because I can’t leave an op shop without one! I like the desaturated colours, detailed illustrations and the dreamy landscapes. The photographs in pattern books are so classic and I like the beautiful handmade clothing.

Although my work looks nothing like his I was influenced by Fred Free’s use of found images. Through making my own zine ‘Okay’ I have experimented with ways to use these images and right now am really enjoying using the found images with embroidery.

Laura McKellar

Where and how did you learn of your skills and interest in textiles and embroidery, and come to use these techniques within your work?

How do you actually construct each embroidered piece – do you sew directly onto paper?
I learned about sewing at a young age, my mum used to make all of our clothes and we were given hand-embroidered singlets for birthdays as children.

I have collected a lot of second hand sewing reference books and embroidery was something that appealed to me. You don’t have to be a master at it to make it look special. I transferred my drawings onto fabrics and started embroidering small details and have continued working like this.

Laura McKellar

Do you enjoy the processes of ‘handmade’?
As a child I received handmade birthday and Christmas presents which always felt so special to me. They had this very unique quality and aesthetic that felt so personal. I don’t think you can have the same emotional connection with another bought object that you can with a handmade present you receive from a loved one. It holds a much higher sentimental value that cannot be replaced. The time someone puts into handmade work is very precious and I value that.

How and why do you self-publish your artwork within your handmade zine, Okay?
‘Okay’ is a personal project that I can have total freedom over everything! I love putting together in their special order. I send it to people I admire and people who are special to me. It’s also a great self-promotional piece.

Laura McKellar

Does each issue allow you to follow a unique theme?
I base the issue on something I am dreaming about. The theme of the last issue was Exploring and it is made up of pictures of places in my dreams and things I will do when I go exploring.

What is your history in independent self-publishing? Is Okay your first zine?
‘Okay’ is my first attempt at self-publishing my own work. With the evolution of the Internet it is continually becoming easier to market yourself online and reach a broad audience. Through my zine I have connected with other people who self-publish from all over the world.

Laura McKellar

Do you think zines are a good way to share art, to display art, and to reach (new?) audiences or artistic communities?
I think putting together a zine is a personal experience because you put in so much time and effort with the content and then to go ahead with printing and publishing. In Australia zines are becoming popular and lots more people are starting to make them using their own artwork or featuring other artists. It’s very easy to get your work out there through online art and social communities. Okay has been featured on some respectable websites and blogs, it has allowed me to connect people who may have never seen it in a specialist zine shop.

Laura McKellar

Have you employed skills learned via self-publishing/ DIY publishing (skills perhaps of networking; working independently – utilising the skills and talents you have; creating/printing things yourself, from scratch; working in a handmade way; honing your skills, interests and ways of working outside of mainstream constraints; approaching interested and interesting parties yourself; exhibiting in communal ways, on collaborative projects and exhibitions, etc) in your everyday artistic practice? Do you find the worlds of art and DIY self-publishing intersect in such ways?
Through self-publishing Okay I have learned to push the boundaries and experiment with different stocks and printing techniques that I can do myself. It has influenced my approach to materials I use for my artwork. I learned to print on fabric this way.

I like to hold craft days with my friends in my studio. We make our own creative environment to inspire each other when we’re working on our projects.

Laura McKellar

Amelia Gragory, recently interviewed on Pikaland was asked, ‘What do you think is the biggest challenge for illustrators today?’ to which she replied: “There are just so many illustrators out there that the biggest challenge is getting your work seen and known. There isn’t a massive market for commercial illustration – at least not of the type that most illustrators enjoy creating.”

What are your thoughts on this, from your own experience, and how do you personally approach this challenge?
I do agree with Amelia, she is right that it can be very tough. I have personally dealt with clients who take advantage of my skills and expect me to work for free. They think they’re doing me a favor by letting me do a job for them, to get my name out there. In the past I have done the work purely because it will look good in my folio, but to be honest it was the start of a bad reputation.
The thing about being creative is you never stop using that skill, it is inbuilt and if you are motivated enough you can focus on personal work to send around, put up on an online shop, and keep on your website.

Laura McKellar

Nature and fauna, alongside the human form often intersect within your work, (I’m thinking here of the animal mask portraits, and of your images of humans with animal heads -and visa versa.)

Is this as an exploration of identity? A comment on animals and humans sharing the same earth? Or, like me, do you just think people look funny, beautiful, and rad with animal heads and animal features?
Anthropomorphism (animals adopting human characteristics), humans with animal features and human interacting with animals are reoccurring themes in my work. I grew up watching Disney and more recently Studio Ghibli and reading picture books like Beatrix Potter stories which show similar concepts. The way children have relationships with the animals with no inhibitions and with free imagination, they live in harmony together. I am very interested in the relationship and I very strongly believe animals should be given a voice. This is the reason I express these concepts in my work. It does make me smile looking at an illustration of a Hare wearing a cable knit jumper or a gorgeous girl with a bird nest for hair!

What’s your favorite art project that you’ve worked on so far?
My favorite project is collecting and making images for my zine. I’ve taken Polaroids in Indonesia and Japan, found some beautiful second hand picture books in op shops, made stickers on my typewriter. When I have no jobs on I like to sit on my computer and play with pictures and compositions, combining different papers for the pages and putting them in a perfect order.

Artist interview: Katy Horan

Katy Horan is a painter, drawer, crafter, and maker-of-things. She loves all things folky, spooky and crafty. Originally from Texas, she now lives in Austin.

Some of Katy’s work features in The Dazzle, a group show at Narwhal Art Projects in Toronto, Canada, which opens Sept 9th and runs until Oct 17, 2010.
{Interviewed by Melanie Maddison}

Katy Horan


Hi Katy, how are you? What are you working on at the moment?
I am great, thanks! I’m experimenting quite a bit these days. I am trying to balance the tiny details with more texture and looseness. I am hoping to make some large scale figures that incorporate ghost and widow imagery…should be pretty spooky.

How would you describe your art?
I would say I make bizarro lady monsters out of tiny lace patterns that make my hands hurt. That’s the casual version.

Here’s the formal version: I intuitively combine fragmented visual references with imagery from my own memory to create something that is both ambiguous and familiar. I do this to filter images from my own subconscious while raising questions of what we visually identify as feminine.

Katy Horan

What are your daily inspirations?
I get a lot of inspiration from things I read, listen to and watch. I like to use my work as a filter for all the tiny pieces of inspiration I absorb in my everyday life and that remain from my childhood. Folk and ghost stories are a source that I return to regularly.

I am also really into history, so I like to incorporate visual details from the eras that interest me. Right now, I am really into Victorian mourning customs, so there is a lot of widow imagery floating around my head and studio.

How did you first get started in art, is it something that you’ve always been interested in and excelled at?
How long have you been creating art, embracing your creativity, and working towards developing your current style and output?
I always drew. As a kid, I did all kinds of other activities….dance, theater, piano….but art was the only thing that I never got bored with. It always felt more natural to me than anything else.

I always wanted to do something visual. I went to college initially to study costume design, but became more interested in children’s books than theater. I then transferred to RISD to study Illustration. After I graduated, my work gradually began shifting towards fine arts, so when galleries began showing interest and publishers weren’t, I decided to pursue a more fine art sort of path. Since then (around 2006) I have been pushing my work and process, trying to find deeper concepts and create more dynamic imagery.

Katy Horan

How did you personally learn to access your creative and artistic talents, and gain the confidence to make art and creative expression your career?
My work is at it’s best when I work completely intuitively. I have always sought that place where the conscious mind shuts up and the work becomes meditative. I listen to audio books to distract the nagging, judgmental part of my brain, so that I can work without thought. It’s been a lot of trial and error to find the best way to get around my neurosis and ADD, so that I can just work and not worry about it!

As far as confidence goes…I am not sure how I kept that up. I am just so self conscious about everything else that it was a natural choice to pursue the art instead of another career.

And, what daily things give you the incentive/confidence/push to continue?
My work suffers when I remain attached to preconceived notions of what each piece should be. It is scary, but when I allow an image to go into unfamiliar territory, exciting and surprising things happen and I feel good about what I have made.

My studio is the safest place for me and I feel the most peaceful when I am engaged in the work. It’s my need for that peace that keeps me going. That said, it really is a hard road and many of us as artists seek some form of success or validation. I have been blessed with some great opportunities, but there have also been a lot of rejections. To keep myself grounded and my work honest, I try to keep everything in perspective, and focus on the enjoyment I get from making the work as opposed to any idea of artistic glory that I may have.

Katy Horan

I have read of your work that you really value the connection between people and nature – hence why your art shows characters often performing ‘traditional’ tasks within their everyday environments.
How important to you is referencing ‘the everyday’ and ‘the personal’ – those simple everyday nuances of life that perhaps connect us all?
That was a central theme in my older work. I was living in New York City at the time and I think I was reacting to my extreme urban environment by creating extremely natural worlds for my characters.

My current work focus much more on singular characters. I went through a big change last year and decided to simplify my compositions so I could develop a new method of working. These characters allow me to explore historical and mythical ideas of femininity which is something that intrigues me everyday.

You have created work in many different ways, from acrylic and gouache painting on wood, to pencil drawings and work on paper, to brown pastel paper and tiny brushes. How liberating to your work is the ability for you to work with different materials and explore many different mediums?
It’s very important. It keeps me interested. All mediums have their pros and cons, so eventually with each medium, I get tired of the limitations. It’s refreshing to find a new way to execute my imagery and let go of the hassles of other medium.

I worked for a while on stained wood with acrylic and gouache. When I started exploring a new process, I turned to paper because it is so immediate and allowed me to experiment more freely and quickly.

Katy Horan

Magic, domesticity, and femininity are all main focuses in your art; is this a direct influence from your love for folk art, and interest in what art and history can teach us about culture and heritage, or is there a more contemporary aspect and comment being made of current society through your depictions?

Honestly, I think it is because I want to escape reality. I have always been a sucker for anything that allowed me to enter another world. I totally indulge this need with my work. I have never really been interested in cultural or social commentary. Even when I am investigating ideas of femininity, it is not overtly critical. It is in part my love of feminine beauty and decoration that my work explores these themes. I think in the end my motivations are purely personal. I just want to connect to the things I find beautiful and magical!

How important do you think it is to include and represent traditional ‘folk’ art forms in contemporary artwork like yours?
I think it is very important. All these art forms that at one point may have been considered outside or less than by the contemporary art world can make our work so much more interesting and dynamic! There has been a noticeable acceptance of (for lack of a better term) “low brow” art forms such as illustration and folk art lately, and I think it’s a very exciting development for the art world.

Speaking of the nature and culture of folk art, how important is the role of ‘story telling’ in your artwork – I ask this, as I think the centrality of ‘the everyday’ in your work adds story to your images.
Story telling was very important in my older work. That stuff was extremely narrative and literal in a way. It is still important to me, but I am trying to use it in a much more abstract way. My hope is that the viewer comes up with their own narratives when looking at my current pieces.

Katy Horan

Your work primarily contains female subjects. What is it about femininity that draws you to capture its many guises within your work?
I grew up in Texas and although the pressure to be a feminine female is everywhere, Texas excels at it! I grew up wanting to be like the pretty women in the magazine, but I was also aware that the pressure to conform to preconceived notions of what women look like was wrong. I always felt at odds with the idea that most of the pressure on girls was related to their physical appearance. I think my current work is a direct result of this. I think am trying to reconcile my personal issues with this and my visual attraction to certain feminine aesthetics.

How much fun do you have creating and painting costumes? (I’m thinking here of my favourite work of yours, the incredibly intricate lace ladies in the ‘Lady Monsters’ series)
Um, I completely love it! I have always been drawn to costume and decoration. I actually wanted to be a costume designer for a long time. From childhood to high school, all I drew were ladies in crazy outfits.
You have said that it is comforting to you to reference ‘old fashioned’ “women’s work” (quilting/sewing/sacred ritual/gathering/domestic arts and crafts/etc) within your art. Why is this?

There’s something about the gathering of women to make something for a home that is both beautiful and comforting to me. They developed these art forms as a means to express themselves when they were expected to maintain a home. I love the intricacy and humility in all of it.

Katy Horan

*_Your work is incredibly intricate and precise, and you are very particular about the muting of colour and the role that that plays in your images. On the flipside, I read that you are fond of experimentation and a relaxed exploration of ideas.
What role, therefore, does the notion of ‘perfection’ play in your artwork?_*
Experimentation allows me to discover new imagery. I then like to filter my discoveries through my ridiculous, perfectionist process. I like to see just how precise I can be with my line work, it’s a fun challenge and it can also be pretty meditative, which is nice.

That said, I am trying to be less of a perfectionist. I worry that the evolution of my images are limited by my need for precision. I want to see what I come up with if I experiment more with the finished pieces.

What for you are the most enjoyable or rewarding aspects of working as an artist?
Being alone with my thoughts and interests are probably the best part. In my studio, I am free to explore whatever pops into my head. If I want to learn more about the Civil War, for example, I can just research it and incorporate it into my work…Not that we need excuses to learn something new, but I love using my work as a platform to explore random interests.

1 3 4 5 6