Jillian Tamaki

Be Interesting

Oct 25th, 2010


Step 2: post exasperated decrees on Twitter! (And get @Drawn to RT you.)

Let me speak a little bit about the background behind this pseudo-proclamation.

Last weekend i was hanging out with Mike Kerr and Renata Liwska. Mike is a former teacher of mine at ACAD and Renata (who also happens to be his wife) was in town collecting a Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators for her children’s book The Quiet Book. Renata’s work is gorgeous, soft, inviting, and has a classic feeling to it. Renata grew up in Poland (a place with its own history of amazing illustration and design). The books she read as a child and her own memories of the place serve as inspiration for her current work. Those influences tinge her work with nostalgia… not “retro” at all, but an emotional connection to memory.

Also last week, I was discussing with my drawing students at SVA the importance of being culturally aware and how it behooves the creative person to LOOK OUT into the world. Beyond your own brain, your classmates, your peers, your teachers, even your heroes. Because as an illustrator, I’ll just assume you one day hope to contribute to the culture and the world. The notion of artists toiling away in isolation is somewhat of a myth. I’m not talking about Community here (I’ll be honest, sometimes I think Community is overrated). I’m talking about isolation in the sense that sometimes I feel students feel like they should magically improve if they simply try hard enough, spend enough time on a piece, or do something enough times. It isn’t enough. Usually.

Art has been created since the dawn of civilization, so I think there’s a good back catalogue of Masters for you to look at, and learn from. People have been pondering the same artistic problems, visual and conceptual, as you are. For thousands of years.

Besides. Aren’t you enrolled in Art School because you LOVE looking at Art?

Looking at the Internet kind of doesn’t count anymore, in my book.

OK, it counts a little bit. It counts because you can see what is relevant in the industry, what is successful, what people are doing. I was being a little provocative in that last statement (I am addicted to provocative statements now because they land you on Top Tweets).

But there is a distinctive thing that is happening in Illustration, and it’s because Illustration is becoming very self-referential. Many students will cite a DeviantArt blogger as their favourite artist. Whole portfolios are based on mashing together two popular illustrators’ “styles”. Illustration is becoming a “style” unto itself, with no connection to context. Everyone’s creating work that’s influenced by Paul Rand or Alphonse Mucha or Edward Gorey… 250 times removed. It’s like looking at a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy.

It’s a little boring.

But that’s OK. In a way, this is a great time for Illustration. It’s popular and a lot of people are doing it. A lot of Illustration is bad, and it’s visible because everything is visible online. I mention all of this because I hope to push my students to create authentic, unique work that is their own– not a pastiche of whoever happens to be topping the Tumblr charts at the moment. Something that speaks to lived experience, experimentation, hard work, and curiosity.

P.S. Yes! I am @dirtbagg. Follow me if you like, but not everything I tweet is pithy or relevant to Illustration!

Shipla Ray + Emily Wells

Sep 22nd, 2010

Two musicians for the New Yorker this week. Super tight deadline on this one… a call Sunday afternoon when I was at the Brooklyn Book Fest, final due the next day. AD Jordan Awan.

It can be difficult to create a dynamic scene within a square, as was necessary here. I usually take the approach of creating strong directional pulls with diagonal lines. It’s a little easier said than done. Dynamic composition, as I see it, is creating something a little off-balance (the opposite of stable and classical) that yet still feels pleasing. The Rule of Thirds and the Golden Ratio explain a bit of this, but I’m not really a fan of distilling such things into mathematics. I’m more in the “Use your Instincts” camp.

Like a wolf.

Or a hippy.

Odd Jobs

Apr 20th, 2010


Here’s a picture of old-timey Catwoman I did at the request of the Doug Wright Awards.  When Brad MacKay, Chester Brown, and Seth ask you to do something, YOU DO IT. It will be auctioned off to benefit the Awards next month. I will mention it again closer to the date. The Doug Wright Awards have been so supportive of my career, so it’s the least I can do.

My D&Q Petit-Livre Indoor Voice, has NOT been released yet, as is proclaimed on Amazon. I will let you know when it is.

I had my final meeting with my SVA MFA Thesis Student, Anat Even Or, today. You can see her final project in the “Comics” section of her website. But really, someone should put it out as a book. Viewing it online doesn’t do it justice.

Such a melancholy and exciting time for students, this time of year. Especially seniors. Us teachers wish you only the best as we kick you out of the nest. If you’ve worked hard and made the most of yourself and your time, you’re ready. I saw two former students on the same day last week and I was unnaturally happy for the rest of the day. I really do grow attached to them!

Hopefully, wherever you are, there are cherry blossoms.


Mar 15th, 2010

(Click to Enlarge.)

A common foible of learning to work in ink is accepting the fact that ink is not pencil. Most of us learn how to draw (“properly”) with pencils, so it’s the implement that we are most comfortable. Ink is obviously much less forgiving.

I held individual meetings with my 2nd year Cartooning students today and recommended to all of them to keep an Ink Only sketchbook over the summer. No pencil or preparatory drawings allowed. Experimenting with the media in a very pure form will help you learn what is and what is not possible. It’s a matter of adaptation and working with the media’s strengths. Very zen.

(I actually stole this idea from Sam, who kept an Ink Only sketchbook in the summer between 3rd and 4th year. He improved dramatically. )

This drawing is from a similar sketchbook I’m keeping now, experimenting with washes and painting.


Feb 28th, 2010

Radio Silence.

Sorry! I’ve been in Florida again. I’m addicted!

Anyway, this isn’t really anything comprehensive… just a few excerpts from a handout on Animal Anatomy I’m putting together for my class tomorrow. I get asked to draw quite a few animals, so unlike some other things we’ve gone over in class (perspective!), I actually feel somewhat qualified to speak on the subject.

There is no formula to trick to drawing animals, or anything else for that matter. Only through observation (ideally from life), and practice will give you a fundamental understanding of structure and form. This might be a bit of a bummer to hear as a student, but I believe it’s the truth and applies to all drawing.

Thoughts on Context, in which The Author rambles on Sloth, Musical Instruments, and Public Television

Jan 31st, 2010

Gourd Drum (Ipu Hula or Ipu Heke), 19th century, Hawai’i

I’ve been feeling shitty about not going to museums lately. I mean, why exactly does one put up with the crappy things about the City if not to take occasionally take advantage of the wonderful things?

And I missed the MoMA Bauhaus show. Boo.

Anyway. I was thinking I might go somewhere tomorrow. This Met exhibit of Oceanic instruments looks pretty cool. They’re something so beautiful about an object for which you intuitively know its use. Sam and I were talking about this the other day when we observed that he immensely, surprisingly, enjoys kitchen supply stores despite the fact he doesn’t cook.

For many of the instruments, you can listen to curators speak about cultural uses and hear audio of them being played. The site is simplistic, but it offered a glimmer of how museums could harness interactivity to reach many more people and, more importantly, deliver a more thorough understanding of the subjects at hand.

Context is important.

I’m currently working my way through a PBS documentary series called Art: 21, about fine art in the 21st century. 3 or 4 contemporary artists are profiled per episode, and the experience is so RICH. You’re brought into someone’s studio, peeking in on them working, speaking to their family, oftentimes their subjects, hearing memories of their childhood. So much more compelling and accessible to hear it from the artists’ mouth versus reading a curatorial text. You realize how much of creativity is simply exploring things that perplex you or that you’re curious about. Didactics come later. Or, perhaps, full meanings are discovered through the process of creation.

On illustration. Illustration has always been a late adopter, often reinterpreting or refashioning artistic “styles” several decades after they were conceived by the art world, and applying them to commercial purposes. It’s kind of a nostalgic form. No judgment on that (that should go without saying!). And yes, it does go the other way sometimes too (see: pop art). But! I think there’s a valuable lesson illustrators, particularly students of illustration, can learn from Fine Art… that work should come from a place of exploration and introspection. To copy a “style” is simply a superficial appropriation of someone else’s context. Someone else’s life experience, interests, travels, tics. It’s just surface. There’s nothing underneath.

Flute (Pūtōrino), ca. 1800–1820

Aotearoa (New Zealand), Bay of Plenty region, Māori people

Society of Illustrators Silver Medal

Jan 9th, 2010

Wowee, what a way to kick off the year. Yesterday I received a Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators for my Newsprint piece.

I feel bad because I never can manage to come up with anything beyond “… thanks!” when accepting things like this. Everyone else just seems so witty and funny and charming. So let me say it here: nothing means more than being recognized by your peers. Rewarding this particular piece, which originated in my personal sketchbooks, is a huge confidence boost. It can be a struggle to retain a sense of creativity and personal vision as a commercial illustrator. I always tell students it’s their JOB to make assignments interesting and engaging for themselves. Because believe me, it doesn’t get any easier when you graduate!

Speaking of students, I was thrilled to see a former student of mine, Lulu Wolf, was also included in the show. Check out Lulu’s lovely work here.

The show for Uncommissioned and Sequential works is on view at the Society of Illustrators in NYC, Jan 3 – 26.

It’s 2010.

Jan 6th, 2010

Hi! I hope you had a good holiday. I hope you HAD a holiday. Or at least a few days off from wherever you toil.

What will 2010 bring? 2009 was a little scary, to be honest. Worked dried up for most of the illustrators that I know. I especially noticed a lag in the summer. It seems to have bounced back, but who can tell? Illustration DID die over 60 years ago, so.

-I have a small book coming out this year. It’s true! Indoor Voice will be published by Drawn and Quarterly (dates forthcoming). I consider it a bit of a blog extension or companion to Gilded Lilies (2006). A compilation of things. You will hear more about it later! And yes, I am working on getting a longer, narrative work going. Fingers crossed.

Skim goes on. Foreign translations are forthcoming in Portuguese and Dutch. Nutso…

-Speaking of! Right-wingers officially hate Skim! Read about it here!

-I’m teaching the 2nd semester of the Drawing for Cartoonists class at SVA. I will be switching to the Illustration department in the Fall.

-I am speaking with Gabrielle Bell and Jessica Abel later this month at the Brooklyn Public Library. Just a tiny thing on Brooklyn comickers. Deets: Jan 28, 7pm, Brooklyn Public Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza, Dweck Centre (lower level).

Half World, the totally awesome book by Hiromi Goto, will be released April 1 in the US (Viking/Penguin). I did the illustrations for it. The book is already available in Canada.

That’s all I can think of now. Bye!

National Geographic Animals

Dec 18th, 2009

This project was definitely one of my highlights of the year. It was completed back in September, but the issue is just out now (Jan2010).

The series was about Asian Wildlife trafficking. You can read the article (and view some very disturbing photographs) here.

Animals, along with Dance, are probably my favourite things to draw. I was very excited when the AD, David Whitmore, suggested a simpler, painterly approach similar to the guy in this post. Thanks, Blog!

This wash technique is a very different one from my typical method… more of a one-shot deal with very minimal digital manipulation. (I still sent pencil sketches, albeit very rough ones.) Some of animals were done a dozen times before I got a few that worked. I would send the AD several final versions to choose from. Here is a picture of (mostly) discards.

It was an exercise in a new way of thinking and a good lesson for me as I try to streamline my illustration work. I have discovered through teaching that the most important thing you develop in school is not technique but PROCESS: a way of working that allows you to operate within the confines of Art Direction but still leaves you psychologically free to create work that is fresh and stimulating.

Heart Running

Nov 20th, 2009

Here’s an illustration for Runner’s World Germany. It’s about running with a heart condition. Usually I don’t use such a “deep space” in illustrations, but this was kinda fun. A little atmospheric interference* goes a long way.

*for students: the basic principle, as it pertains to art and drawing, is that things get more “low-value” as they get farther away. This is due to moisture, pollution, and other particles floating in the air between your eye and whatever you’re looking at. That’s why someone standing 10 feet away will appear crisper and more high value, than, say, the Empire State Building a mile away in the distance. In reality, the image above maybe isn’t the best example, since it’s kind of about fog and whatnot. The example of the Empire State Building is better.