This month we have the privilege to share our first artist interview with Erin Fitzgerald, Illustrator and Designer. As a west coast born gal now living in Savannah, GA, she takes us through what inspires her work, a bit about her process and how to get the creativity flowing again during those not-so-productive-times.
Can you tell us where you grew up and where you live now?
I grew up in Corona, CA. It’s this weird little city in Southern California that is composed primarily of Born Again/generalized new-agey Christian churches, cookie cutter housing tracts, and shopping centers. It’s somewhere people go if they need to commute to L.A. or Orange County for work but they can’t afford to live there. It’s safe and clean, but it’s about the most creatively stifling place you can imagine. I’d happily never live there again.
Now I live in downtown Savannah, GA, where I went to school, and I love it. It’s got more green space than it even makes sense to have in a city and it’s achingly beautiful on almost any street corner. It’s bike friendly, there’s very little traffic, and there’s this lovely small town feel that really makes it homey. After being here for the last five years, I can’t imagine a city that would suit me better.
The journey of an artist is always an interesting point of discussion. When did you know a creative life was right for you?
I think I always knew it, since I was a kid, although my first love was writing. Drawing came later on, but once I took art classes it was all over. I would stay during lunch at my art class in high school because I preferred painting to the company of my peers. I still kind of feel that way most of the time. I’ve wanted to be a part of something inspiring and different for as long as I can remember.
What kind of stuff influences and inspires your work?
My work’s primary purpose is to tell stories. I love books and animation and comics – anything narrative, fantastical, imaginative and not too serious. I’m definitely influenced by Pop Surrealists like Brandi Milne and Jeff Soto (who I had the awesome opportunity to learn to paint from in community college) but I’m also drawn to the more classical illustration of Arthur Rackham and Charles Dana Gibson. Recently I’ve really fallen in love with two lesser known artists – Kit Mizeres and Leszek Kostuj. They deserve way more credit than they have, I encourage anyone to give them a look. Outside of other artists, nature is my biggest inspiration. The complexity and majesty of the natural world always informs my work.
We love your fun animal characters, they seem alive with a lot of personality. Is there anything particular you hope people feel from your work?
I hope they see something magical and whimsical in it, but also believable. I want the images to be convincing – more of a window to another world rather than a design.
Tell us a little bit about your process. Has it changed a lot or do you have a favorite part?
I have a pretty traditional process for illustrators. I start with thumbnails to narrow down my composition. Once I find a visual arrangement that I like, I take it to a large drawing stage. I might redraw an image 2 or 3 times before I’m fully satisfied with it. This stage is one of the most important – I had a teacher that always said, “No amount of rendering can save a bad drawing.” I’ve definitely found this to be true. I also always use photo reference, but I use it simply to inform my drawing, not copy part of it directly.
After I get a drawing I like, I make copies of it and do a value study to decide where my lights and darks go to most effectively frame the main subject. Then I do a loosely painted color study and alter it in photoshop to see what colors work best. By the time I am painting, every major decision is made and reworked so that I can focus on tiny details and embellishments and subtleties in lighting. This is my favorite part. I can just throw on some music and be a human printer and give my thinking mind a break.
Also, in case it’s not obvious, I work in acrylic paint, but I handle it more like gouache. I like to thin it down so the consistency isn’t too much like toothpaste and layer from back to front and dark to light, so I’m almost sculpting my images. I also don’t like the texture of canvas so I paint mostly on illustration board.
Do you have a favorite subject?
I like animals in little clothes (Beatrix Potter and I have this in common). I also love drawing the man in the moon reacting to whatever’s going on down below.
Do you have any upcoming endeavors—professional or personal?
Well I just graduated last June, so I’m sort of just getting started in the professional world. But I am working on a children’s book centered around an animal band in Louisiana that retells Cajun folktales. My mom and I are writing it together, so it’s really coming from a place of passion and love, which is really what making art is all about.
We all have days where our creative fuel is low. Do you have any suggestions on how to get motivated and inspired?
Thumb-nailing helps, even though I hate it, to be honest. Sometimes all it takes is discovering a new artist that brings something fresh to the table. I’m also big on gesture drawing, so if my drawing hand feels stiff I’ll just pull up a gesture drawing website and practice animal drawing. Occasionally I’ll just lay down a couple simple shapes like a sphere or a cube and my imagination takes it from there and suddenly I have a space cat, or something weird. It’s all about getting into your groove.
Can you share a quote that resonates with you?
I had to read this book called “Art and Fear” for one of my senior classes (it was one of those pre-class assignments that everyone hates). I got so much out of it though. One of the quotes was “Until your ship comes in, the only people who will really care about your work are those who care about you personally. Those close to you know that making the work is essential to your well-being.”
Many would read a quote like this and see it as harsh or depressing, but I have this stubborn streak that makes reading hard truths exciting. It was ground-breaking and simultaneously stupidly obvious for me to realize that no one actually cares about my art even a fraction of the amount that I do, and there’s no reason that they should – unless I give them a reason. Unless the work is good enough or recognized enough to encourage a complete stranger to care about the fact that I like to make pictures like so many others do. This kind of attitude takes my ego out of the equation and forces me to just go at it – hard. To make the kind of work that would make an impact on people that have no personal attachment to me. That is the ultimate challenge.
We find that artists often surround themselves with things they love and inspire them, almost like sacred objects. Do you collect anything and why do you like to collect it?
I do actually! I collect succulents, graphic novel series, and just recently I’ve started collecting prints from other artists. I definitely believe in contributing to other creative’s income, since without our contributions they can’t continue to fill the world with their beautiful visions! I also have come dangerously close to collecting pinned insects, but I realized I enjoyed pinning them more than I enjoyed their decorative features, so I try to keep that hobby to a minimum.
What do you like to do for fun?
Well, art kind of serves as my income and hobby – it’s a full lifestyle that doesn’t leave much time for other things. But I enjoy the simple stuff – sitting in the park when the weather is nice, drinking wine with my friends, taking care of my plants, cooking a yummy meal. I am the most satisfied with some quiet time and simple pleasures – I would much rather stay at home and bake and do a jigsaw puzzle than go to a noisy, crowded bar. I’m kind of old lady-ish in that way. Oh, and the kid side of me loves reading fantasy series and graphic novels.
Can you tell us who some of your heroes are and why?
I’m kind of a nerd so most of my heroes are my professors. My animation professor and mentor in community college, Will Kim, is my biggest hero, second maybe to my parents. This guy puts everything he has into teaching and clearly loves it. He’s one of those instructors that stays evenings and weekends just to give students extra time to work. He invests time into helping students go where they want to go if he sees true and concerted effort on their part. He hand-edits around 60 or so films every semester just so that students can make their visions come to life, and even remains excited about it almost the whole time! He even continued to cheer me on from afar when I moved across the country for art school. He was my major source of inspiration when I started studying art for real, and I admire his tireless passion more than he knows.
Lastly, do you have any advice for other artists?
In my opinion, the most important character trait you can have as an artist or creative is discipline. Not talent, not passion, not inspiration, though all these things play a part. Discipline is the singular character trait that will carry you through creative blocks, tough deadlines, through the inevitable failure that you will occasionally experience. It won’t allow you to give up when the road gets long and hard and it really becomes questionable whether anyone knows or cares about your work. The great thing about discipline is that it can be honed and developed and improved upon each day. If you are making a concerted effort to wake up a little earlier, to draw a little more, to put in hours and practice no matter how you feel each day, that will separate you from the masses. This is not only true for your art, but for your entire life.