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The DART/ICON9 Q&A: Lauren Simkin Berke

By Peggy Roalf   Monday June 20, 2016

Editor’s note: With ICON9 The Illustration Conference just three weeks away—four days of art, discussion, performance, and plenty of talk in Austin, TX—the current roster for the Q&A is peopled with many of the exceptional artists making presentations during this biannual artfest. Work by Brooklyn-based artist/illustrator Lauren Simkin Berke will be included in the one-night pop-up Roadshow marketplace on Thursday, July 7thInfo

Q: Originally from Manhattan what are some of your favorite things about living and working in Brooklyn?

A: I love New York City for its coexistence of diverse cultures and people, for its layers of history, and its vernacular architecture. I love that Brooklyn neighborhoods function like small towns, that I have longstanding friendships built on bumping into people on the street, that I’m often surrounded by fellow New Yorkers speaking languages other than English, and I especially love being able to see the Manhattan skyline from across the river.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between art you create on paper [or other analog medium] versus in the computer?

A: I've always kept a sketchbook. I use them for a daily practice of drawing based on found vintage photographs, for daily to-do lists, rough sketches, to plan out projects or exhibits, brainstorm ideas, and sometimes to do final linework for illustrations.

My illustration work is created in pieces, in analog processes, and assembled in Photoshop. I draw line work in ink, color in watercolor, and sometime include bits of scanned papers. In my non-illustration art making practice I work in completely analog processes: ink on paper, paint on canvas and wood, photocopy transfer, assemblage, collage, screen printing, and photopolymer etching. I'm often learning how to work with new materials. I just took a wet plate photography class at the Penumbra Foundation, mainly to learn how to make tintypes.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: I work in a home studio, but I carry around a traveling studio wherever I go, in which the most important item is a case containing my current sketchbook, a stack of old photographs, and a variety of pens. In my home studio the most important item is my library, housing books, family photos, collected found photos, and old schoolwork I still use as reference.

Q: How do you know when the art is finished?

A: I usually I know a piece is done when there's no longer anything about it bugging me. If the piece in question is an illustration with a tight deadline, and I find myself unable to get to that place, I create a few versions and choose the one that bugs me the least.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: My favorite book (acquired in childhood, yet still my favorite) is The Alien Diaries by Maris Bishofs. It's the notebook of an alien visiting New York City to studying human culture. It starts with a section of snapshot formatted ink drawings, surrounded by notes. The alien walks over the Brooklyn Bridge, goes on the Barbara Walters show, and strolls through Central Park with Yoko Ono, who teaches him about the art of haiku. The middle is mostly drawings of buildings and galleries, and the final section is a "ping pong appendix" with glorious surrealist ping pong match diagrams.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: As a lover of Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea books (which were a trilogy when I was growing up, but are now a longer series), I don't tend to read other books about magicians set in magic schools, but I happened upon Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, and I really loved it.

Q: If you had to choose one medium to work in for an entire year, eliminating all others, what medium would you choose?

A: Ink.

Q: What elements of daily life exert the most influence on your work practice?

A: Probably solitude; having time to myself to create natural creative rhythms. While in these rhythms, from the outside, it seems to others that I'm doing a lot of things, and being super productive, while from the inside I feel like I'm in slow motion, almost as though I’m not doing anything.

Q: What was the [Thunderbolt] painting or drawing or film or otherwise that most affected your approach to art?

A: I saw How to Draw a Bunny, a documentary about collage artist Ray Johnson, when I was in my late 20s. The film’s influence on my work was like a permission slip to approach art in the ways that make sense to me. Ray Johnson’s entire life seemed to be a performance of creation and creativity. While I don't think of myself as performing art making, I tend towards having little distinction between art making and living in general. There's also a levity to Johnson's work I greatly admire. I feel it’s important for humor and play to be integrated into a healthy studio practice. Lastly, seeing Johnson’s work reawakened my interest in collage, which had been dormant for about a decade.

Q: Who was the [Thunderbolt] teacher or mentor or visiting artist who most influenced you early in your training or career?

A: My 6th through 8th grade drawing teacher, Michelle Borre, was the person who taught me the foundations of observational drawing, and my high school 2D art teacher, Daphne Taylor (daphnetaylorquilts.com), facilitated an amazing studio environment, fostering exploration, observation, and play. I was very fortunate to study with both of them.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Fried zucchini flowers, southern fried mock chicken drumsticks, purple sticky rice with coconut cream and sesame seeds, and a vegan chocolate peanut butter milkshake.

Lauren Simkin Berke is an artist and illustrator who identifies primarily as a drawer (of the ink on paper variety). Lauren is an avid sketchbook user, book binder, coffee drinker, and cookie baker, drawing for clients such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Advocate, Family Circle, and RémyMartin. Lauren has self-published art books and zines under the name Captain Sears Press since 2012, and sells a variety of merchandise on Etsy, and at Brooklyn Collective (http://brooklyncollective.com/), a boutique in the Columbia Waterfront District of Brooklyn. Lauren is represented by Riley Illustration and Accola Griefen Gallery.

Website: simkinberke.com

Rep’s website: rileyillustration.com

Etsy shop: simkinberkeshop.etsy.com

Instagram: @lsberke

Twitter: @lsberke

Upcoming events:

Lauren will be exhibiting at the ICON9 Roadshow, a one night pop-up marketplace on July 7th, at Brazos Hall in Austin, selling books, buttons, tote bags, a bunch of new zines, and a series of new blank notebooks.

Also, Lauren will have original work for 6 cover illustrations included in an upcoming exhibit at The Delaware Contemporary (http://www.thedcca.org). The show is called "Grand Vocabulary: Contemporary American Illustration," and will be up August 5th through October 16th.

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