Register

Illustrator Profile - Eleanor Davis: "Feel your feelings and draw them"

By Robert Newman   Thursday January 28, 2016

Eleanor Davis is an illustrator, artist, and comicscreator who lives and works in Athens, Georgia. She makes vibrant, graphic illustrations and very original and brilliantly artful comics. Davis has published one short comics book and several graphic novels for children. She also illustrated the memorable poster for this year's ICON9 conference. Although Davis switched from full-time cartooning to illustrating several years ago, she explains “I love comics. They're in my blood.” Davis's says to young illustrators, “Figure out how to be happy and have fun,” advice that is strongly reflected in her work.

MY LIFE:
My father has an arts background and my mother is a writing teacher. We always had a lot of art and art stuff around, and my dad was always building things and making things—sculptures, found-art lamps, jewelry, the house that we lived in—stuff like that. My folks were also both really into comics, especially old comics like Little Lulu and Pogo and Little Nemo. I started drawing comics when I was very young.

My parents were shamefully indulgent. I also went to a hippie school growing up. They let you get school credit for making zines about fucking the establishment.

I went to art school for a sequential art major and illustration minor.

I’ve worked as an ice cream scooper, children’s comic book creator, and produce supervisor at a nice Co-op.

I did a stint as a full-time cartoonist from 2007-2009, then switched to illustration, which I’ve done full-time since 2012. I live in beautiful Athens, Georgia.

MY WORKSPACE:
I have a home studio. It’s small and bright with two big windows looking out. I can watch neighbor kids walking by to school and neighbor cats stalking neighbor chipmunks. I like that a lot. My neighbors also say they sometimes watch me while I’m working, which I like less.

HOW I MAKE MY ILLUSTRATIONS:
Either pen-and-ink, watercolor and gouache, or fully digital.

MY FIRST BIG BREAK:
Aviva Michaelov wrote me out of the blue, like an angel from heaven. I had only just gotten an illustration portfolio online— before that I had only done comics. The article Aviva wanted me to illustrate was about Spring allergies, which gave me the chance to feature my two favorite things: flowers and light body horror. After that I just kept getting jobs, slowly but pretty surely. It’s been extraordinary.

MY INFLUENCES:
My mom and dad. My best friend since high school, Katherine Guillen, who got me into minicomics and taught me to paint. My husband Drew Weing, who is also a cartoonist. Tove Jansson, Yazawa Ai, John Porcellino, Lynda Barry, Wanda Gág.

MY MOST ADMIRED CREATIVE PERSON:
I’m going to say Lynda Barry. Her work is extraordinary, but also her attitude towards her work, and to life, is important to me. She is positive and kind without being fake or stupid. She has kept going with her art through good times and lean times. She doesn’t compromise.

MY CREATIVE INSPIRATION:
Plants. People.

THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF WORKING ALONE:
Loneliness! Prioritizing personal work. Saying no!

A MEMORABLE ASSIGNMENT FROM THE PAST YEAR:
I’ve had a really fun year with a lot of good assignments! The most memorable might be my portrait of the Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsberg [Editor's note: pictured at the top of this interview]. I get very nervous doing portraits, but Justice Ginsberg liked it so much she asked for a print of it and wrote me a thank you letter thanking me for my artistry(!!!).

DREAM ASSIGNMENT:
Oh, there are so many assignments that sound wonderful! And I’ve already been lucky enough to work with many of my dream clients. It would be fun to do band posters for bands I love, or book illustrations for authors I love.

MY FAVORITE ART DIRECTOR:
I really like everyone at The New York Times! Aviva Michaelov always picks my favorite thumbnails, which are often the weirdest. She also took a chance on me with the Ruth Bader Ginsberg piece even though I didn’t have many portraits in my portfolio. Alexandra Zsigmond is also a great art director who brings out the best in me. She keeps me working until the piece is perfect, which can be agonizing at the time but I always appreciate after the fact.

SOME OF MY FAVORITE ILLUSTRATORS:
JooHee Yoon, Lisa Hanawalt, Vanessa Davis, Jillian Tamaki, Sophia Foster-Dimino, Carson Ellis, Sandrine Martin, etc. etc. etc.. Too many to list!! It’s a very exciting time!!

ON MAKING COMICS:
I grew up reading comics—classic American comics and then manga and then minicomics and alternative comics. I majored in Sequential Art just because I wanted to make mini comics for the rest of my life. I’ve done some comics for kids, but I’m better at comics for adults—mostly dry emotional stories about inner turmoil etc. Making comics is very, very hard, mostly because it feels so important. Illustration is like a fun game or a puzzle—I love doing it, but I don’t get too emotionally invested. I risk more with my comics work, so failing feels scarier. But I love comics. I don’t know why. They’re in my blood. They’re what I’ve wrapped my whole life around.

OTHER WORK:
I’ve done book illustration, animation, ad campaigns, and a lot of comics. [Editor's note: Davis also created this year’s ICON9 illustration conference poster, pictured above.]

HOW I STAY CURRENT:
I still feel pretty new to the industry— I only started doing freelance full-time in 2012. I’ve tried to prioritize doing my personal work, which is comics. I do a lot of zines and minicomics; last year I put out a book called How to be Happy, which was a collection of short comics, with Fantagraphics Books. I’ve found the more personal work I do the more commercial jobs I get—art directors see my comics and they think they’re interesting and they reach out.

HOW I PROMOTE MYSELF:
I focus on my personal work. I’m also on social media a lot. I don’t know how much that helps and how much that hurts my career. I’m on Twitter a lot. I post to Tumblr and I keep my website updated. I submit to American Illustration and Society of Illustrators. I’m too busy (and lazy!) to do postcards and mailers, but I feel horribly guilty about it!

ADVICE FOR SOMEONE STARTING OUT:
Work incredibly hard.

Get a professional, simple, easy-to-navigate website.

Figure out how to be happy and have fun. There are easier ways to get love and money, so if you aren’t having a good time you should try to rearrange your life and work process so you are having fun—or you should quit.

There’s no shame in getting a part-time job. If you aren’t strong and developed as an artist and you’re trying to make a living right away, you’re not going to make the work you want, you’re going to make work you think other people want. And that work will not be very good. If you focus on making the work that excites you and that is important to you—that will be your best work. And then, hopefully, if you hustle, you’ll get jobs. You might need to buy time to focus on that, and in that case getting a pleasant low-key job that will get you out of the house and around people will take a lot of the pressure off.

Don’t try to imitate another artists’ voices. Find your own voice. And don’t go looking for your own voice. Just draw and think and draw and think. Don’t harden your heart. Don’t avoid pain. Feel your feelings and draw them. Your voice will come out on its own. Then, when it comes out, trust it.

See more Eleanor Davis illustrations, new work, and updates here:
Eleanor Davis website
Tumblr
Twitter @squinkyelo
Sketch Blog



0 Comments

No comments yet.


Profiles