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Illustrator Profile - Gina Triplett: "Success means going the distance"

By Robert Newman   Thursday January 25, 2018

Gina Triplett is a Philadelphia-based illustrator and artist. In addition to extensive editorial illustration, Triplett has created imagery for books and book covers, packaging for Whole Foods, a poster for the New York City MTA, product design, and much more. Her bright, vivid illustrations are made with pen and ink and paint, and then “cleaned up” digitally. Triplett also works in partnership with her husband Matt Curtius on both illustration and fine art projects.

MY LIFE: 
I’m an illustrator living in Philadelphia, PA. I’ve been at this for 19 years, and have worked for clients that have included Target, Apple, and Chronicle Books.   

My dad used to paint a lot when I was a kid. He worked as a high school math teacher during the day and then stayed up painting at night. In the mornings, I’d come down and he would have the painting sitting at the breakfast table. It made a big impression on me.

After graduating from MICA in ’97, I worked as a studio assistant for Joyce Hesselberth and Dave Plunkert at Spur Design. They mentored me through a breadth of subjects: running a business, maintaining creative integrity, and being a curious and caring person. http://spurdesign.com

Nowadays I’m raising a family with my husband and studio partner, Matt Curtius.


MY WORKSPACE:

My main studio is on the third floor of my Philadelphia row home. I gave a studio outside of the house a shot for a bit. While it was great fun and good company, I find that I can get into the zone more when I’m on my own. A home studio also amounts to easy access for odd hours. I’m a workaholic, so it lets the day flow into night time if I’m feeling it, or if a deadline demands it. My space has a bookshelf full of inspiration and reference. It has a few computer stations and a Cintiq. It has a painting desk, and a very important giant homosote wall. This is where I can have personal pieces hanging. Sometimes I’ll have a piece finished 90% of the way and then I’m just stuck. I find if I can have it hanging around for a while all of a sudden at the most random time I’ll know exactly what to do with it. 

Matt and I shared or had adjacent studios for nearly 20 years. Then a few years back we mixed it up. Now his studio is a few blocks away in a converted industrial space. We work on illustrations and art together, so I’ll hop over there if I need a change of scenery. Even though I’m a homebody, it’s nice to have the option of being around people and in a space that doesn’t have my kitchen and bed in the same building. 

I suppose the city is important in this regard too. No matter which studio I’m working in, I love having the energy of Philadelphia around me, so I can vibe off it between working sessions. Sometimes this means meeting up with friends for lunch, but sometimes it’s just seeing people as I walk to pick up groceries or the kids.

HOW I MAKE MY ILLUSTRATIONS:
My line work is done by hand with pen and ink, scanned, and cleaned up on my Cintiq. My more painted-looking illustrations are, in fact, painted most of the time. Although sometimes the best workflow is for them to be a combo of acrylic and Photoshop. 


MY FIRST BIG BREAK:

This is a toughie because the trajectory of my practice has been a long series of steady forward movement. Early on, getting into American Illustration was a big thing, or having solid mentors was a big thing. In the early 2000s it was a big thing to get my first product jobs that helped give me a counterpoint to what had been a primarily editorial practice. Then illustrating the rebranding of Whole Foods and their in-house brand 365 was a big thing when I was a new mom. At that time, I needed one job to carry me through the work week in a different way than the fragmented deadlines of my usual illustration gigs. Thing is, even these touchstones leave out the little moments of epiphany brought on by jobs and really important to me at each and every one of my stages of developments. I’m hoping for more big breaks to come.  

MY INFLUENCES:
Folk art, outsider art, abstract expressionists, vintage fabric, nature, travel, family, friends.

MY MOST ADMIRED CREATIVE PERSON:
Patti Smith serves as a real inspiration for her work and the way she’s lived her life. She has navigated each phase of life with such integrity. I’ve looked to her at several points to see how to handle whatever comes next in life.


MY CREATIVE INSPIRATION:

Social media, although that search often ends up unsuccessful or frustrating. I go to museums and flip through books, although I can never do enough of either. I look inward to my sketchbooks and how I’ve recorded ideas or processed experiences over time. 

THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF WORKING ALONE:
I really enjoy working on my own and making my own schedule. Right now my biggest challenge is trying to figure out how to boil down the most productive art-making time into a 9-5 work day. Before having kids, there was more of an organic flow that involved procrastinating (the healthy kind)/coffee breaks/ walks around town/ internet worm holes/ working at whatever hour I wanted—even the middle of the night. This was all part of my process. I feel like this type of meandering allows the space for artistic epiphany, and I’d come to rely on it. It doesn’t really fit in with the type of structure I’ve had to adapt with family though. I’m trying to figure out how to make space for all of it and haven’t quite figured it out yet.

A MEMORABLE ASSIGNMENT FROM THE PAST YEAR:
I loved working on my poster for the MTA Arts & Design program with Amy Hausmann, a truly wonderful art director. It was fun to see it in subways and I loved getting emails with people’s sightings of it. While it’s been years since we lived in NYC, I still feel really connected to the city and all my friends there. This project was a chance to remember my love of the city’s garden spaces and how wonderfully they juxtapose the structure of the city. 


DREAM ASSIGNMENT:

I’ve been fortunate enough to work on many assignments that were beyond my wildest dreams of what an illustrator can/could do. I’ve really enjoyed working on licensing work that allows me to more directly translate my personal work to paper goods, housewares and other products. Looking forward, I guess new dream assignments would be more of that.

MY FAVORITE ART DIRECTOR:
Greg Klein is an art director/designer, and old friend from art school. Maybe it’s because he knows me so well, or maybe it’s because we share a lot of the same aesthetic disposition, but he often pulls off the amazing feat of making my work look better than when I sent it off to him. We recently collaborated on a line of cycling apparel for Pactimo and I love what he did with my illustrations. 


OTHER WORK:

Matt and I have shown in galleries, and that’s always been an alternate format for inspiration (lots) and income (some). Licensing has found my work on a number of things for Urban Outfitters, BlueQ, and a bunch of others. I have a line of fabric I designed for LoomSource based on my illustrations. I like seeing the work I did for Whole Foods every time I go grocery shopping, and I’ve done other packaging work for wine and foodstuffs. Then there’s the signature line of wallpaper Matt and I designed for Glamora

I still love when folks come to me with the right article, and I always love books. Really though, it's been more of the other stuff and less of those editorial and book things for years now.

HOW I STAY CURRENT:
I try to stay motivated through things that don’t have the pressured outcome of an illustration job. This could mean a body of work for a gallery show, or filling pages in my sketchbook. Both of these things have let me explore new directions with my personal voice, and I think that’s the key thing with many of the new formats I’ve explored. In the current market, the paradigm has shifted from the content of the written text or art direction, and toward the content coming from the artist. I suppose the clients look for that sense of personal voice to be in place before they approach, and that’s what the personal work allows me to develop.


HOW I PROMOTE MYSELF:

Promotion’s important, but if anyone has it figured out, please let me know. I feel like things have just been additive. All the stuff I did upon graduation is still needed, and then so is everything else that’s come about since then. So that means it’s a mix of mailers, annuals, website, social media, real life socialization, and a bunch of other stuff. I’ve been with my rep, Frank Sturges, for a long time now, and together we try to stay on top of things.

ADVICE FOR SOMEONE STARTING OUT:
Everyone says to be nice, but that’s because it’s true. I think the other thing is to be tenacious. If you are an aspiring illustrator, it will probably take time. If you’re already a practicing illustrator, your career will likely be tested. Success means going the distance, and that requires a long burning work ethic coupled with a resolve to stay inspired.

See more Gina Triplett illustrations, new work, and updates:
Gina Triplett website
Instagram: @ginatriplett



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