What kind of paint/brushes/paper do you use?
For the most part, I work in gouache- a kind of opaque watercolor-ish paint. My favorite brands are Winsor & Newton (for their great deep blacks and bright whites) and Royal Talens (an excellent menu of basic, easily blended colors). Since I paint every day and do a lot of "scrubbing" with my brush to create texture, I run through paintbrushes really quickly- I usually wind up buying a bunch of whatever's on sale!- though I'm almost always using a size 00, 0, or 1. For paper, I like to paint on smooth illustration board or bristol. I also often use Neenah Paper's "Classic Crest" recycled content cover weight paper. It's awesome.
How did you learn to paint/ how did you find your illustrative style?
My first painting teacher was my dad, who taught me how to use watercolors when I was really little. I always loved art class in school, and I was lucky to get to go to several summer art camps growing up. I fell in love with specimen painting in a series of classes I took at the Minnesota School of Botanical Art, and though I definitely don't work in the precise style of a true botanical illustrator, I still look back on my classes there as an integral part of my path to where I am now as a nature illustrator.
I never went to art school, but I do have a B.A. in Visual Communications from Loyola University Chicago (I also have a B.A. in Sociology). After college, I worked for a while as a production artist for a publishing company, but I continued to explore my illustrative style on the side. I eventually found gouache, which was the medium that really allowed me to express myself fully with my painting- and also the main medium I chose when I made the move into full time freelance illustration. I'm self taught with gouache, but I pull from all the techniques I've learned in other mediums, and now I've finally settled into an illustrative style I feel is mine.
Where do you find reference material?
I usually start by searching the internet, looking at any photographs I can find of a specific species. I'll also check for written descriptions. Arkive, National Geographic, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology (for birds) are some of my favorite starting points. I'll also look for video or documentaries related to the species I'm illustrating. I have a small collection of animal and plant reference books that I use from time to time as well. In really ideal situations, I sometimes get to visit museums with taxidermy exhibits for reference- or even better, I once in a while get to observe a plant or animal in real life, but that doesn't happen nearly as often as I'd like!
Do you have any tips for aspiring illustrators and artists?
I've wanted to be an artist since I was a little kid, but I didn't quite know how to get there. No one around me really knew what it was like to be a professional illustrator. I clung to the idea anyway, because I always loved the feeling of painting- especially when I got to choose the content. Even though there didn't seem to be a really clear career path in front of me, I was able to carve out a space for myself as an illustrator by making tons and tons of work that I loved and sharing it with the world (thanks Internet). So my biggest piece of advice is to dig your heels in, figure out what you're passionate about, and make as much art as you can, and the best art you can, for as long as you can. That's what works for me- it's how I find paid work, and it's also how I find fulfillment as an artist/illustrator/creator/whatever it is that I am. And the awesome thing is that I get to make work I love- so even when the paid contracts and commissions aren't pouring in as quickly, I still get so much out of what I'm making because it makes me happy.
What's your studio like?
I work in a spare room in my house. All my walls are covered in pictures I like, feathers and flowers I've picked up outside, deer and elk skulls I've gotten as gifts, and pictures of some of my idols, like David Attenborough, Grace Bonney, John Green, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I work at a big desk, between a computer screen and a printer/scanner. And I'm usually either watching a nature documentary, or listening to dreamy pop music (my current favorites are Chvrches, Stepdad, and Tove Lo).
What's your favorite animal?
Obviously this is an impossible question to answer! But I love talking about it, so here we go: my favorite kind of animal to illustrate is a mammal- I like whales, deer, and primates! My favorite animal when I was a kid was a sea otter. My favorite animal I've seen in the wild is a silver fox. My favorite animal I've seen in a zoo is a emperor tamarin. If I were an animal, I think I would be a bongo antelope. If I could see one animal up close in real life, it would be a bird of paradise!
What else do you like?
Okay, I know I like animal a lot. And I DO spend a LOT of time reading about them, watching documentaries about them, and talking about them. But I also like going on long walks, backyard campfires, cooking and eating healthy food, cooking and eating unhealthy food, knitting sweaters, and spending time with my friends and family. I'm trying to learn to garden, too- my husband Nick is handing down some much-needed knowledge about growing vegetables and fruits (I'm kind of bad at it, but lucky for me he's made a pretty awesome garden in our backyard. I like hanging out back there too).
Can I get your work tattooed on my body?
Yeah, probably! Contact me directly to find out more.