Tagged: illustrator

Schoolin’ Life: Gisele Jobateh

In the final installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet illustrator Gisele Jobateh.

Gisele Jobateh

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?
Being a queer person of colour society left me feeling generally negative about myself. Add on to that a bunch of body image issues and it was a rough couple of decades for me. My skills were usually questioned or downplayed, as well as my intelligence. Thankfully, I did get to meet some people who helped me through these stigmas: high school teachers and the few long lasting friends that made sure I knew I was valued.

What was your first job like?
It was fast-paced and tiring. I worked as a camp assistant for local art summer camps for children. But this summer job did teach me patience, to an extent, as well as being around minds that engaged with things with complete earnestness and interest (if you could keep their attention on the task at hand, of course).

In what ways did your friendships change?
Over time, I stopped making friendships based on social survival and instead on actual common interests. The amount of abusive friends I had diminished greatly when I started to recognize my worth and dropped anyone who tried to diminish it in my eyes through “playful” bullying and name calling, especially of the racial kind.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?
I learned that I don’t like cis men, and that I am decidedly gay. Also, that I would rather be alone than with someone who I didn’t like out of some sort of romantic necessity.

How did your relationships with your family change?
I’ve become a little more open to understanding them and recognizing that they have their own private lives. As I grew up, I saw them more as individuals who are learning and growing themselves, instead of as a unit that I was also a part of. I am still close to my family, but there’s also a comfortable distance between us.

How do you feel society viewed you?
Generally negatively, considering the demographics I am a part of. I feel you can gauge your place in society based on how grating you find advertisements, and I’m pretty much the mirror image of the kind of customers most corporations want to appeal to, especially since I no longer desire to change myself to fit that image.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?
I think I’ve become calmer. I still have bad days where I get anxious, but it’s no longer to the point that I’m incapacitated by it. I also like to think I’ve matured emotionally.

How did you change intellectually?
I’ve shifted away from book smarts and more towards people smarts. I’ve gotten better at interacting with people socially, sometimes even volunteering to meet new people and even do public speaking. In the past, I’d much rather be the person doing the behind the scenes work, mainly research, or nothing at all, just watching and learning.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?
In many ways. I feel more self-confident, as much as the world around me tries to bring me down. I’ve gotten out of the habit of asking for permission to seek out my ambitions and happiness.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?
As much as my inner confidence has grown, my confidence with the outer world has diminished. I feel slightly more jaded than I did when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I still have some hope for the future, but it’s becoming more and more apparent to me that the people in power got their power by cheating, and they will keep it with more cheating. It’s frustrating to think about.

Who was your biggest influence and why?
There wasn’t just one influence on my life or my drive towards success. My mom is a big one, of course. I’ve known her all my life, and although we’ve had a couple of rough patches, I still see her as an inspiration.

My former Media Studies teacher from back in high school, who taught me the foundations of critical thinking, was also a big influence. Her classroom was always open and she let me hang out in it during lunch because I preferred quiet, secluded places to eat. She leant me a lot of books and even gave me a couple, believing in my intelligence. I would return most of them thoroughly read and we would have short book club meetings about them.

And then there was my high school English teacher, who was a black woman and helped me connect better with one half of my race. She taught me about the past and present civil rights movements, and although I didn’t understand the importance of these lessons at the time, looking back she gave me a very important foundation upon which I am now building myself up.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?
I often tweet about my regret of going to university at all and wasting all that money on tuition, considering that I’ve been developing a skill that can be self taught and is my main source of income. But even though I feel silly for sinking 30K and 5 years of my life into two degrees, I can’t fully regret it, considering it is what has made me the person I am today. I like what I had become.

Schoolin’ Life: Fiona Smyth

In today’s episode of Schoolin’ Life, we meet illustrator/painter/cartoonist Fiona Smyth.

fiona smyth at 24 and now

Quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m a feminist artist whose practice includes drawing, painting, illustration, and cartooning. I’m into zine collecting, comics, and snacking! I teach illustration and cartooning at the Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) and the Art Gallery of Ontario. I’m the illustrator in collaboration with writer and sex educator Cory Silverberg for the picture book What Makes A Baby and the newly released follow-up Sex Is A Funny Word from Seven Stories Press. My first graphic novel, The Never Weres, was published by Annick Press in 2011.

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

I graduated art school in 1986 but I was already exhibiting my paintings the year before. My expectations were to spread my work internationally and live off my art. I managed to establish myself as an artist, illustrator, and cartoonist in Toronto and get a bit of a reputation beyond Canada.  Sometimes there were day jobs and there was a brief stint on welfare.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I was inspired by what was happening in New York City’s Lower East Side’s art scene- fast creators and ever present artists like Keith Haring. Toronto was a real boys’ club in art and comics. I knew as a woman artist (in Toronto and beyond) I was an exception and so was the content of my work/what I had to say. I was creating sexy, in your face, colourful work. I was driven to show my work often, and also outside the gallery system through posters, murals, clothing, and zines.

What was your first job like?

My very first job ever was when I was 15 at a deli/café named Sweet Gallery but later in my twenties my day job was working the candy counter and ticket sales at a repertory cinema. I was doing illustration commissions, painting clothes and murals, and making comics during the day. I worked with Reactor Art & Design for illustration, Vortex Comics, and Weller-Potovsky Gallery in Toronto.

What was your first apartment like?

I lived in the basement of a student rented house. There were at least 4 other roomies. I had a studio at the time that was shared with 3 other artists. At some point I decided to get a cat, which the roomies were not psyched about.

Did you experience any big life changes?

My family moved to Nova Scotia and I was on my own for the first time in Toronto. It was a much bigger adjustment than I realized- freedom but also dealing with emotional issues.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I knew a lot of people but had a handful of close friends. I got into a bad habit of finding “surrogate parent” friends, or troubled and depressed folks like myself. There were many bad decisions in relation to friends, living situations, and partying during those days.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

There weren’t romantic ones until I met my partner (of now 23 years) when I was 28.  Before Craig Daniels entered my life, it was drug addicts, alcoholics, and genuine jerks- territory that was familiar.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Distance and time helped me build healthier boundaries and self-esteem (plus the stability and support of my relationship with Craig, and therapy).

How do you feel society viewed you?

As a woman artist society tends to judge your work in relation to what you look like in a way that doesn’t happen to male artists. When I was younger, folks were often surprised by my demeanour in relation to the sexy, violent, outrageous content of my work and they also made assumptions because I was a punk rocker. I find now as an older artist, folks are surprised I don’t look like a punk rocker. I can’t win!

Also you can be pigeonholed as a particular kind of artist- for example for years I’d have art directors say something like: “We love your work but we don’t want erect penises or flaming vaginas in this kids’ illustration” –well, duh!

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

At the time I was making bad decisions and acting out in ways I wouldn’t understand until years later. I’ve gained understanding and empathy for my younger self since then.

How did you change intellectually?

When I first made a name for myself as an artist I was afraid of the F word. I would call myself a humanist. That didn’t last long, I am a feminist artist and fiercer about that stance the older I get. Personal experience and feminism opened my eyes.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I discovered my art acted like an alter ego and that was an okay way to deal with being in the world.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

My worldview was becoming more and more fatalistic, especially with the occurrence of family illness.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Apart from not calling myself a feminist for a time? Being 15 minutes late for a friend’s wedding for which I was the “best man”.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

There was a chance I might have gone to NYC as part of a studio residency. For many years an established artist teacher/mentor of mine would bemoan the fact I hadn’t gone but in retrospect I often think of it as missing a bullet not an opportunity. I needed the stability and slowness of Toronto to discover my healthiest self and my visual voice. I think I would have been burnt out on drugs and the fast pace of NYC, I don’t think my 20’s self would’ve survived.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Punk rock and hip hop DIY culture (this was pre-Riot Grrrl and Queercore) which taught me to be wary of the establishment, not give a fuck, and promote and disseminate my work outside the gallery system. Keith Haring showed the way in creating populist iconic work fast and effectively, and including social justice themes. He taught me the personal is political, and can be accessible and universal.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

The murder of 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989: I remember hearing the news, being in denial thinking they were murdered because they were engineering students- and having the nauseating realization they were murdered because they were women.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

I wish I’d done more comics- I pursued art more fervently but comics travel in the world better.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

I had some adventures in Detroit- showing art, and visiting with Craig and his band, The Leather Uppers. The grit and rawness of this dystopic American city was juxtaposed with an amazing music scene (The Gories). This culture was at its most punk and resilient, grounded by broken glass and burning cars.

Schoolin’ Life: Mildred Louis

In today’s Schoolin’ Life column, we catch up with illustrator and sequential artist Mildred Louis.

Mildred Louis

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

I was fully expecting to have my whole game together! I think growing up there was this idea that once you’re 20, you’re an official adult, and being an adult meant that everything was going to fall into place. Definitely didn’t work out that way though, hahaha.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I think I had a lot of skewed expectations of myself growing up. It took a whole lot of effort and work to rework how I saw myself and to detach the weird expectations I had being a WoC growing up in this society.

What was your first job like?

I worked at a bakery in a slightly well off part of the city. It was okay. In terms of first jobs, it was about as predictable as you can get. Getting by on tips with below minimum wage pay, a lot of intense people who want their coffee a very specific way and/or their cakes made immediately even though they put in the order last minute. It was… a learning experience for sure, hahaha.

What was your first apartment like?

My first apartment was at college and I didn’t even have a door for my bedroom! It was a complete stereotypical experience with three other roommates in a two-bedroom (and one office) apartment. We eventually became one of the party apartments on campus which was pretty cool and made for a lot of entertaining memories.

Did you experience any big life changes?

I feel like the answer to this question is kind of complicated. I did in some ways but not like as if there were any major moments that suddenly happened to trigger these changes. It was more like a number of things happening, me learning from them and subsequently growing and changing from them.

In what ways did your friendships change?

Being at the end of my 20s,my friendships have changed a lot. I used to be friends with a lot of people who just kind of fed off of my insecurities. I spent a lot of time trying to feel accepted by people that I ended up letting myself become attached to, people who, at the end of the day, really weren’t that good for me. On a brighter note, I have some of the absolute best friendships I could have ever imagined now in my life, so that was a major plus side!

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I learned to definitely not settle, hahahah! I thought I had incredibly high expectations for a very long time and dated some people who weren’t quite up to par. When you’re in college, there’s a lot of expectation and pressure to date and hook up with people, so you end up rolling into whatever to keep up with people around you.

How did your relationships with your family change?

We talk a whole lot more now than we used to. I think now that everyone’s grown up and doing their own thing, it’s easier for us to connect since we have a greater sense of independence.

How do you feel society viewed you?

In a lot of ways I felt invisible. It always seemed like there were a lot of attempts at erasing myself or my identities because I wasn’t packaged in the way that society was saying I should.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I’ve become significantly more secure in myself! I feel less like I need to go looking for someone to help fill a hole in me or to help reinforce how I feel.

How did you change intellectually?

I became a lot more aware of the things going on around me and even more aware of just how much I do not know.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

It became more secure and defined. I feel more like I’m me instead of being someone that I think a lot of people around me thought I was or expected me to be.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

It’s become in a lot of ways more cynical but also weirdly stubbornly optimistic. Being so connected into the internet means that it’s hard to not be aware of the things going on not just in your own country but internationally as well. It’s hard not to feel like things are getting worse and worse because of it, but I think in a lot of ways, it’s caused me to feel very steadfast in holding on to hope that things can get better.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Hahaha… I’ve had a lot of those but I’m not sure if I’m over them enough to share!

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

I don’t know if I had one singular experience was the biggest disappointment. But I think overall, they just taught me how to avoid being in those situations again

Who was your biggest influence and why?

I didn’t discover her until my slightly mid 20s but ever since then and to this day, it’s probably Janelle Monae. I just really admire how true to herself and her vision she is, as well as how incredibly aware of what kind of impact she can have on her surroundings she is. It’s something that I really hope to embody as I develop my career further.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

I think there’s been a lot of moments that have happened. It’s like the world is finally at this point where we can’t actively sit and deny a lot of the travesties that are happening. The internet has made it hard to ignore and there’s active dialogue happening to hopefully try and change the current state of things.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently? You know, I was a person full of so much regret for so much of my life but I’ve finally gotten to this point where I’ve accepted the things that have happened and, in some really weird way, am grateful that I went through them. I don’t know how things could have been any different but I do know that what I went through got me to where I am today.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

Oh boy… I feel like there are a lot of things that have defined the last decade. I mean, the decade has had events spanning from the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement to the Curiosity landing. This decade has been full of incredibly impactful events that I’m not sure you could boil it down to one single story.

Schoolin’ Life: Ayun Halliday

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we check in with illustrator, author, and performer Ayun Halliday.

Ayun Halliday

Photo credit:

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of The East Village Inky zine, a freelance illustrator and the author of seven books, including No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late and the graphic novel, Peanut. She wrote and performed in over 500 short plays and several full-length solo performances as a member of the Neo-Futurists and has a bottomless appetite for creating theater with teenagers. She will be performing in the world premiere of her play, Fawnbook in New York City this fall. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Greg Kotis and their son, Milo. Her daughter, India Kotis, just headed off to college in Chicago, and will turn 20 in less than 2 years.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

In my early 20s, I thought I’d be doing a lot of theater, but despite a degree in it from Northwestern University, I wasn’t quite sure how. Shortly my 25th birthday, I was cast in Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, the NeoFuturist’s long-running, late-night attempt to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. Being an ensemble member gave me plenty of opportunities to write and perform, as well as a professional identity that I took with me into my 30s.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

My expectations were forged in opposition to society’s expectations. In my teens, I learned – to my surprise – that I was a bit of a misfit, at least at the preppy school I’d attended since 2nd grade. Generally speaking, it led me to developed a distaste – some would call it a chip on my shoulder – for anything society deemed popular.

What was your first job like?

My very first paycheck job was extraordinarily undefined. I had just turned 16. It was at Ralf’s Deli in Indianapolis. I think I was a hostess – I didn’t get an apron or a paper hat –  but I also had to clean all the gunk out of the sink traps, which created a phobia I have to this day. A meat slicer in his 20s named Yuri thought I was cute and called me at home, which freaked me out. I knew my mom would not be down with that. I didn’t know that a hostess or whatever the hell I was wouldn’t be allowed to take two weeks off to go on a long planned family vacation, three months after she started work. That was the end of that. What a ding dong I was. I have since made it a policy to try to really train people in what they’re helping me do… I was at such loose, loose ends!

Sad to say, my 20s were full of jobs like this – impermanent, poorly conceived, a bit . I wrote about them in my third book, Job Hopper.

I guess the defining job of my 20s was waiting tables at Dave’s Italian Kitchen, just because the place itself had such an identity. I was proud to be considered worthy of slinging spaghetti there. It was definitely the best waitressing job I ever had, and I had a lot of those in my 20s.

What was your first apartment like?

Wonderful! I shared half a house in Evanston, Illinois, with two guys from the theater department. It had a big front porch, a backyard, a big kitchen for all my hippie cooking experiments, and my giant bedroom had a king size bed left behind by the previous tenant.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Yes. I traveled to Europe, Africa, and Asia on a shoestring budget. I went to massage school. I moved to New York City nine months before turning 30. I got engaged to my friend and fellow NeoFuturist, Greg Kotis —married him just a few months into my 30s.

In what ways did your friendships change?

Mostly they deepened. Many of us who’d been together at college remained in Chicago, and joining the NeoFuturists provided me with significant links to several other ragtag theater crews, notably Theater Oobleck, Cardiff Giant, and the Curious Theater Branch. We would go to each other’s’ shows and parties. I kept in touch with many of those who moved by writing letters – I just unearthed 100s of the ones I received in reply in shoeboxes under my bed. It’s a true time capsule. I encourage those of you in your 20s to print out some of your favorite emails and text conversations. Is it possible to print out texts? Clearly, I’m not in my 20s anymore.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I came out of my 20s with the understanding that my pattern of skipping out on relationships that weren’t officially over, to revel in a new love, was not the way to go. From the inside, it was quite easy to view myself as a victim of circumstance, gripped in the jaws of a desire I was powerless to deny… From the outside, it’s pretty tawdry…petty, not sweeping.

How do you feel society viewed you?

I doubt it was much interested in me. I was not a threat, just kind of an oddball. If society stopped to consider me, it probably thought, “She should lose ten pounds, cut her hair, wear makeup, shave her legs…” Actually my boyfriend’s agent told me that when I was 23, kindly adding, “But I don’t think you want to do that just so we can send you out for young mommy roles.”  That was the death knell for my commercial career.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

Gosh, did I? I gained experience, but I think the emotional make up remains the same. Keep reading, maybe it doesn’t. I’ve got no perspective here…

How did you change intellectually?

I had to stay abreast of the news to pull my weight with the NeoFuturists. George H.W. Bush was president, and there was a real sense that women might lose their right to safe, legal abortions. I wrote a lot of plays about that. I listened to NPR and read the Utne Reader, read the newspaper every day.

I was much better informed in my 20s than I am now – then I was only responsible for myself (and the world). Now I have a family and the Internet blowing big holes in my attention span.

I also lived in fear that I might be called upon to do improv, and I would be too ill informed to act intelligently upon an audience member’s suggestion. Actually, that happened to me just last winter. My audience member’s suggestion was “Bernie Madoff” and internally, I was like…hmmm…uh…oh yeah, that guy who screwed people out of their investments…I think he maybe went to prison…hmm…he was in the news a lot but the financial industry is so boring to me. Needless to say, hilarity did not ensue.

I think you meet a lot of people in your 20s, who’ve gone to different colleges, and have this whole other set of references than you do. I began to get a feel for what they were teaching over at Oberlin, the University of Chicago, etc.

I was a voracious reader, then, as now. Lately I’ve taken to rereading some of the books I loved in my 20s to see how they hold up. Grapes of Wrath and Ship of Fools definitely do. Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms, not so much…

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

My ongoing work with the NeoFuturists let me claim to be a professional, without the need to behave like one. Since we almost always played ourselves,  people who recognized me in the subway, felt comfortable coming up and starting conversations, a recognition I enjoyed for the most part. I liked feeling accessible, and sought after. My 20s definitely gave birth to my voice, even though my first book didn’t appear ’til I was in my 30s.

I also got a lot less guarded. I was shy when I was little, and didn’t know much beyond the conventional expectations. I would rather hold my pee for hours than have someone see me walk into the bathroom, because then they might know that I – gasp!- actually used the bathroom. Menstruation was kind of a horrorshow of embarrassment.

Interestingly, I was pretty uninhibited when it came to romance, but I think that was because I was so down to be loved and cherished. I still didn’t want those guys knowing I peed! Even when we lived together! I think a combination of massage school, the NeoFuturists, and global travel on a shoestring are to thank for that… I realized there’s little profit in being uptight, particularly when the people who gave you these hang ups in the first place aren’t part of your daily life anymore.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

You can’t travel the way I did without expanding your worldview. Obviously, I was very familiar with the Save the Children, Concert for Bangladesh, South Asian, and Southeast Asian countries before leaving home, but traveling, I met many happy, multigenerational families, living in the equivalent of an American garage. Really. They’d roll the door down at night, then roll it up again in the morning, their lives exposed to the street for most of the day. I was impressed by the way the entire family would coalesce around the baby. The baby was always king. The furniture might consist of a couple of plastic stools and a plastic bag of mangoes hanging on a nail, but there would be this giant, blown up photo of the baby hanging in a place of honor. And the baby was invariably so well behaved!

My college sweetheart was the youngest of eleven children – he always said that his feet never touched the floor. Those babies were like that – so adored that their feet never touched the floor.

I saw that people were able to live and be very happy without a lot of stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever been particularly materialistic in the designer handbag / pristine interior decoration sense, but I do have a lot of things…souvenirs, books, little indicators of personality. Traveling, I saw a model in which personalities could exist free of stuff.

And it’s definitely an experience to travel around a place like Rwanda a year before civil war or some other catastrophe befalls it. It makes you appreciate what you have, and also come to the sobering realization that knowing your complaints are comparatively petty does not necessarily mean you’ll stop making them. I’d be scribbling in my journal about how someone hurt my feelings… meanwhile, back in Rwanda, neighbors are slicing each other to ribbons with machetes.

This is probably how I arrived at my conviction that very few people would have actually stuck their necks out for Anne Frank, the way the heroic Miep Geis did when she was barely out of her 20s. All children get a pass from me, if they say they would save Anne Frank. Most adults do not. I think most adults are like me…horrified when they read the news, quick to express that horror over social media or cocktails, but just as quick to post a photo of our dinner or our vacation. We’re most of us in a position that makes it very unlikely to disrupt our lives, to take the risk that might save someone else. But I think, even if we were to strip away those responsibilities to job and family, we’d still find a reason to steer clear.

It gives me respect for what others go through, and respect for the people who do move mountains to help strangers.  It also makes me a bit impatient with certain American anarchist acquaintances’ knee-jerk “Fuck America” rhetoric. A lot of us, myself included, are guilty of inaction. Send money or give time. I guess I better send some money somewhere tonight.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

So many to choose from! Most of them wound up in my first four books. Fortunately there is a difference between “embarrassing” and “shameful”.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

Hmm…there was no one crushing one, more a number of small lumps in the throat, mostly having to do with being passed over for some part or another, prior to the NeoFuturists. That probably contributed to me not pursuing auditions very vigorously…thought it could also be a temperamental thing. Either way, I wound up making a lot of opportunities for myself, a thing I continue to do, though these days I like to include others.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

The late performance artist Spalding Gray. Something he said in an interview in Tricycle magazine really resonated with me, that the reason he started performing his autobiographical monologues was because he got “sick of waiting for the big infernal machine to make up its mind” about him. It’s become a personal motto.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

I did have the distinction of answering the phone at an alternative newspaper in Chicago when some random person called to report that Kurt Cobain had died…I ran into Editiorial to break the news to the music editor and the rest of the staff. That was my big scoop. That said, that event defined others’ decades much more than my own.

(Let it also be said that I, a 20-something receptionist, put the great Art Spiegelman on hold for like, 5 minutes, while I finished my salad, or whatever the hell it was I was doing. I fell all over myself when I finally got back on the horn and he told me his name. The arrogance of youth!)

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

Of course! See all of the above! But to quote Don Marquis’ alley cat, Mehitabel, “Wot the hell, Archie, toujours gai!”

Schoolin’ Life: Maelle Doliveux

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet and get to know illustrator, animator, fabricator, puppeteer Maëlle Doliveux.

MD_headshot-bw_150225-web

 

Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m ¾ of the way to 27. So I’m sure that next 3-4 years will be another host of interesting life revelations. But so far in my life, I’ve gone by the name Maëlle Doliveux, and I’m a French and Swiss illustrator, animator, fabricator, puppeteer living and working in New York City. I spend my days making things, all kinds of things, for different people. I’ve worked for Newsweek, The New York Times, Sesame Street, Motorola, UCB and others. Almost every day I walk my little dog to and from my studio space in Greenpoint in an old rope factory.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself for the decade? In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I should start this by saying that I’m still in my 20’s! My expectations were definitely far too high. I think I read somewhere that anyone ‘successful’ already created some kind of ‘masterpiece’, or at least was well known before the age of 24. And I read that Craig Thompson (one of my comics heroes) published Good-bye, Chunky Rice by age 24. I had this notion that unless I got a comic book published by the time I was 24, I would never make it in the industry. In the end I didn’t get a comic book contract, but I did get published by the New York Times, which meant a lot, and of course I’ve also come to realize that people’s trajectories take different amounts of time, and giving yourself no-pressure space to be creative is vital for the actual creation of ‘masterpieces’. Nobody sets off to create a masterpiece and then accomplishes that.  And obviously, being ‘successful’ is not necessarily being published, and definitely not being famous.

I thank my parents and my international school teachers for never having imposed expectations on me about who I was as a person or my career – I always felt like I could be anything and do anything I set my mind to, if it’s what I truly wanted and I worked long and hard enough at it. This is an extremely privileged way of looking at the world, and I’ve been very fortunate that it has worked out for me. I think I’ve been insanely lucky that I haven’t been confronted with sexism more in my life (apart from catcalling New Yorkers).

In terms of romantic relationships, I had very false and dumb thoughts about how they worked, and about what kind of woman was considered attractive. I assumed independence and wit intimidated men, so I deduced that nobody was really interested in me for a long time. Also, I think that we are told there are these ‘rules’ to dating, when in reality, all relationships are different, whether friendship or romantic interest.

What was your first job like?

First ever ‘real’ job was as an architectural assistant in a small architecture firm in Lausanne, Switzerland. I’d just graduated from Part I of my British architecture degree and had to do a minimum of six months as an apprentice. It was the first time that I realized that most of architecture in practice was not at all what it was like academically. The amount of time spent on concept and design is probably less than 10%, with most of the time being spent on technical detailing, administration, negotiating with a client and the contractors, researching materials and so on. The people I worked with were very friendly, and these things are important, but I personally found it all excruciating after 6 months. It made me want to try something other than architecture. In a big way, having a job that I disliked so much is still a big motivator for me as a freelance artist. When there are moments of doing something I’m not completely enjoying, I always think “well, at least it’s still better than sitting at a desk for 12 hours a day drawing technical details of suspended ceilings”.

What was your first apartment like?

The first apartment where I lived alone was a tiny little apartment in Lausanne. The kitchen was a small sink and a foot of counter space and two burners, and I could practically brush my teeth, shower and cook all at the same time. Sadly, someone broke in during the time I was away over Christmas, and stole the only few precious things I had, including some family jewelry my grandmother had left me, and my mother’s beautiful coat, which she had bought with her first ever paycheck as a young woman. Bizarrely enough they also stole my dishwashing liquid. I was pretty sad and worried about the whole thing, so I moved back in with my brother soon after.

Did you experience any big life changes?

A career change and a big recent (ongoing) romantic relationship. After this experience in Lausanne, I wanted to take a year to figure some things out, and thought that taking some improv classes and studying ‘illustration’ in New York sounded really fun. I had no idea what illustration was. But my feeling was that I’d do that for a year and then figure out my ‘real life’. Of course this very quickly became my ‘real life’, because I was having a lot of fun.

I realized illustration was exactly what I loved the most in architecture – concepts, visual problem solving, storytelling, drawing, sculpting/model-making, working with your hands, making something beautiful. I did several wonderful internships with some great mentors who encouraged me to switch into the Masters program at SVA, which was a really great move for me. After that I knew this was the right career path. I also got a dog in my early twenties! It was definitely a way to commit to illustration, because I didn’t want to have a dog and work in an office and get a dog-walker all the time. I didn’t think that was fair to a dog. But I knew that if I worked as a freelancer I could be with my dog all day, and she would give me a better rhythm to the day.  

In what ways did your friendships change?

Since I was a kid I’ve moved around quite a bit, so I’m now somewhat sadly used to the ebb and flow of friendships. But I know that with true friends, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend apart – when you see each other again it’s like you saw each other only yesterday. I hope to be better at spotting those friendships now, as opposed to the fleeting ones. But I’ve never really been into having a mass of friends- I like selective friendships that know me well and bring me joy and energy.

How did your relationships with your family change?

I came to see my parents as people, and to love them just as much, but as people, not just as all-knowing, all-powerful superhumans. Kind of like the first time you see a high-school teacher outside of school.

How do you feel society viewed you?

As a stereotypical French artist girl, with a dog and ukulele and an artist’s space in Brooklyn— wait a second, that IS what I am. Am I a stereotype?

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I’m much more confident and less intimidated than I used to be. I remember that making a professional phone call or email when I got my first job as an architectural assistant was absolutely frightening. I kept on thinking I wasn’t doing things right, or faking it. When I interned with some incredible illustrators, and they admitted the same feeling to me, I realized that that sensation never goes away, for anyone in any field.  And also that everyone was their 20’s at one point, and didn’t know things and was learning. It would be insane to get angry or upset with someone for something they weren’t aware of. When I started seeing other people as also ‘faking it till they make it’, that made me much more confident in myself.

How did you change intellectually?

My tastes have broadened, and I hope to be more open-minded now than I was, particularly in terms of visual art. I think I’m more able to recognize and analyze what I like and why I like it, and also to be understanding and admiring of art that I like, but isn’t necessarily to my sensibility.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I think my identity is more defined now than at the beginning of my 20’s, probably because I’m very passionate about my career, and present myself to others as ‘an illustrator’. I think wandering and figuring things out and being open to things and not defining yourself is an important part of your early 20’s. (And one should stay open to new things later in life too!)

Though my career doesn’t define me entirely, I think working as a creative person merges your personal and your professional life a lot.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

Having grown up with a very international education, I think I’ve always been aware of how countries’ boundaries are non-existent, and how interconnected we are. Also how we as human beings are essentially the same at our core, and that culture is all the different ways that humanity can become specific. I don’t think my worldview has changed in that sense, but I hope that I’m more informed and more interested than I was as a teenager. I listen to the news on the radio now and try to keep in touch more.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Hmmmm… I feel like I’m a fairly hard person to embarrass. I’ll usually try to spin it to make it funny, or embrace the embarrassment. That was my high school survival tactic that’s stuck around. Last year I created a 13ft long dragon costume and performed as that dragons’ talking anus and threw a whole store-bought fish and multiple chocolate and rice pudding cups out of said anus. That didn’t embarrass me in the slightest. I’m only embarrassed when I don’t stand completely behind the work I’ve done.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

When I came to New York to study illustration I also chose SVA because it offered cartooning classes, which I was very curious about, but knew that a full-on cartooning degree would frighten my parents. I’d grown up with comics and in my university years had discovered American indie comics, which completely opened up what I thought the medium could do.

So I took a cartooning class, and loved it, but immediately tried to be like the artists I admired, and to make an opus that would “stand the tests of time”. It was ridiculous and entirely unfeasible. Anyways, I started working on this huge graphic novel when I’d barely had three little short stories penciled, and outlined this very intense noir/sci-fi dramatic epic. Very kindly, the wonderful, talented and extremely generous Tom Hart sat down with me to look it over, and about halfway through the conversation asked me, “Have you read Osamu Tezuka’s Road to Kirihito?” I replied that I hadn’t, and he suggested I read through it. When I did I realized that Tezuka, the legendary master of long-form comic storytelling, had basically created a version of my story that far exceeded and surpassed anything I wrote or could have written.

I realized his was successful because he was passionate and knowledgeable on his subject matter, while mine was juvenile and only half-studied because I felt like it was what I was ‘supposed’ to do, rather than what I was actually interested in doing. This was a pretty discouraging event, which made me falsely think that I wasn’t cut out for comics for a while. Only later on, when some grad school friends recommended me for some short-form comics projects, did I pick it up again. And by then I was far more confident with what I was interested in and the kind of art I wanted to make, so the work reflected that and was far more successful when I wasn’t inhibited by what I thought ‘good’ comics were, or wasn’t trying to cram in everything into one story.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Sam Weber, Brian Cronin and Richard McGuire have been three huge influences. I interned and worked with Sam and Richard, and Brian was my thesis advisor for my final MFA project. Not only do I admire their work, but they are also exemplary in their professionalism, and really showed me how to be successful as an illustrator. I interned with Sam and his studio mate Chris Silas Neal for over a year, and they showed me everything including how to file taxes. This sounds simplistic, but I had absolutely no idea how to do anything like that, and they were true examples for me to know that it was possible to make a living and work full time in this field.

Brian and Richard helped me be more comfortable with my voice, and I’ve always admired the breadth of their work in terms of style and form. They never limit themselves because they think ‘this isn’t illustration’ – they will make the work they feel is interesting to them, in the medium they enjoy at that moment, and then find the right place for it. As someone with a wide range of curiosities and who gets bored fairly quickly, it was a godsend to see that this was also a way to make a career.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

Probably Facebook? Not sure it’s a ‘moment’, but it probably will be seen as one in the future. For all its’ glory and awfulness.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

It sounds cocky but I don’t really believe in regrets. I think if I were presented with the same set of opportunities I would always make the same choices. And I believe that ‘mistakes’ are just as valuable as ‘successes’. Maybe even more important because they provide opportunity for learning and changing.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

I very recently and very briefly met Amy Poehler, who complimented me on my work. I’d just done several posters for the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre annual improv comedy marathon, and as a founding member of UCB, Amy attends almost every year. At the end of the weekend, I was walking home from the wrap-party, when I bumped into the artistic director of the theatre, who quickly turned around and introduced me to both Amy and Matt Walsh. I was very flustered, and giggly and excited, and tried not to make a fool of myself.  
To me it sums up this decade well: work hard, do things that interest you (improv comedy) without overthinking it, make friends, interesting projects will come along from all of that, and if all goes well you will make some people happy. And maybe that makes you happy. Which is an ego trip that I probably have to address… still not sure how healthy this is mentally. But right now, making art makes me very happy.

 

Schoolin’ Life: Cecilia Ruiz

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet author, illustrator and graphic designer Cecilia Ruiz.

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Who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I am a 32 year-old author, illustrator and graphic designer from Mexico City. I moved to NYC in 2010 with the purpose of getting an MFA in Illustration at the School of Visual Arts and ended up staying. I now live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with my husband and no pets.

I like sad stories that make me laugh and I spend my days working (or trying to) from home while drinking strong coffee. You can see my work here.

What expectations did you have yourself over the coming decade?

I don’t really remember having any clear ones. I think I was just (pathetically) excited to feel more like a grown up even though I pretty much still looked and behaved like I was 14.

What was your first job like?

My first job was what I had always thought would be my dream job. It turned out it wasn’t.

Right after graduating from college, me and some close friends decided to start our own design studio in Mexico City. Without any upfront capital or the slightest clue on how to run a business (for some reason, we didn’t consider any of those things as that important), we managed to survive three years at a shared office that, among other things, had a ping-pong table on the roof top.

I think we all had a very romantic and idealized idea of what it would be like to have our own company, but that was soon overshadowed by millions of decisions we had to make on things that had nothing to do with design/art making—which was what we were really interested in.

Looking back, I feel nostalgic of that era. It was exciting, unstable, stressful, but most of all, it was FUN. It was a complete mix of very contrasting things: being able to come in at noon wearing pajamas if we wanted to, going to business meetings at fancy intelligent buildings, with fancy non-intelligent clients.  Working non-stop without sleeping for 48 hours, designing beautiful websites for clients like Coca Cola, talking to lawyers and accountants, implementing rules that we didn’t follow, and having ping-pong breaks that would turn into day-long tournaments was all part of the experience.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that we needed way more than design skills to run a successful business, but three years of daily struggles had to pass before we came to the conclusion that what we didn’t really want, was to own that kind of business.

I still consider that first job a success story; we learned a lot, we didn’t lose any money and most important, we remained good friends.

What was my first apartment like?

In Mexico, in your twenties, you don’t usually leave your parents house until you get married or move to a different state/country. That was my case. I went to Barcelona to do one year of college and that was the first time I rented an apartment (with my parents’ money, of course). I shared a three-bedroom apartment with other four Mexican friends and I was the lucky one who didn’t have to share the room. My room was tiny and so incredible dark, that if I didn’t set my alarm,  I would wake up at 2 pm feeling extremely guilty and confused.

Did you experience any big life changes?

I think the biggest life change I experienced was leaving Mexico City in 2010.

When I was 27, I moved to NYC to pursue an MFA in illustration at the School of Visual Arts.

At that point of my life, I was pretty settled and comfortable with myself . I had a full time job that I was happy and good at, and family and friends that would laugh at my jokes.

Moving to a different country put me in touch with parts of myself that I had forgotten were there. It reminded me how painful shyness and self awareness can be, especially when you have to interact with strangers in a different language.  

That first year in NYC was the most intense of my life. It is the year when I can say I became an illustrator and it is the year when I met the love of my life.

In what ways did your friendships change?

My old Mexican friendships, the important ones, survived the distance. Even though we don’t see each other that often, technology has helped us to stay close.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

One of many things I learned is that being in a relationship where you fear to say something stupid or make a fool of yourself is not a good place to be.

How did your relationships with your family change?

I feel like being away from my family brought us closer in a way. I don’t know if it is just growing older, or if it has to do with the distance. I just feel like I share more with them now and I feel like we have more meaningful conversations. I am more open to take advice from my parents now, too. We fight less and we are more appreciative of each other when we get to visit.  

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I have always been emotional but, from the second half of my twenties up until now, it has just gotten out control. I used to make fun of my teary mom and aunts, but now I am just one of them.

How did you changed intellectually?

I think most of my intellectual growth (if there’s such a thing) has been through literature and film. More through film than books, though – I am a better watcher than I am a reader.  I think a lot of the books and movies that I was exposed to in my twenties; they really shaped the way i think and have been a huge influence and inspiration in my artwork.

In what ways your identity changed?

I don’t think there were major changes. I just think I have gotten to know myself better hence it has become so much easier to identify what I  like, think and believe in and I what don’t. And most important, I’m able to articulate why.  

What was the most embarrassing moment?

This one happened in my mid-twenties, in a time when having multiple chat windows opened while working was common practice. I wrote something pretty horrible about a person, clicked SEND, and realized that I had just sent it to that very person. I then crowned my stupidity by saying: hahaha, just kidding! I felt so terribly ashamed, that later that day, I drove to the person’s office just so I could apologize to her face.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

One big disappointment was getting a rejection letter from the University of the Arts London when I applied for their Master’s degree in Illustration. Even though I was pretty bummed when that happened, just a couple of months later I was in New York realizing that that rejection letter was the best thing that had happened to me.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

Not really, though I know there are plenty of times that I wished I had listened to myself earlier.

Schoolin’ Life: Sarah Klinger

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know illustrator Sarah Klinger.

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Illustration by Elizabeth Baddeley

When you were in your 20s…

 What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

I’m still not clear on my expectations for myself, but I was especially frantic in my early 20s. I saw what looked like two clear paths emerge before me. The first was to find a steady job at a company where I could work my way up, doing something I could stand. This is what most people I knew did, and it seemed like a sensible and realistic expectation—to be comfortable and somewhat unsatisfied existentially.

The second option was to pursue something I was passionate about, which I assumed would mean a very unpredictable and stressful existence.

 In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

As per my answer above, I think that society tells you that as an artist you must either suffer, sell out or give up art to be financially successful. Why can’t we have it all?

What was your first job like?

My first “real” job out of college was very much along the first imagined career path because it had little to do with my passions or interests. But I got to work with a lot of really smart, interesting and compassionate people, and that counted for a lot.

What was your first apartment like?

My first apartment was kind of shabby and not terribly functional, but I am still kind of in love with it. Kind of like most things in my 20s.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I didn’t expect my friendships to grow closer in my twenties—I figured that we would be too distracted by trying to carve out our places in the world. But, as I should have realized, that struggle makes having close friends even more important.

How do you feel society viewed you?

It feels like society views young people, young girls especially, as reckless consumers. In every sense. But I admit that didn’t try very hard to prove them wrong. Actually, I still feel that way.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

It’s such a cliché, but the more I see of the world, the less it feels like I understand it. I love to speculate and generalize about other people’s feelings and motivations all over the world, but my own experiences have been so narrow that I don’t have a good perspective at all.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

My collective family and friends were my biggest influence. Who else can you trust?

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

In my early twenties, I remember telling my mom that art wasn’t important because nobody ever died without it. Even if I could admit that art brings happiness to people and makes the world fuller, I wasn’t talented enough to make a difference.

But the more I traveled, the more I started to feel the obvious thing that people have been telling me forever, which is how lucky I am. I felt it more than ever when I took a trip to India with my brother. Another cliché, I know!

Most people (and women especially) don’t get to decide what they do in their lives, but I do. What an arrogant waste it would be to throw away my chance to do what I want. Does it even matter if art is important to the world? I’m responsible for what art means to me, and I’d be an idiot to let the opportunity pass me by.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

Of course I wish that I had really felt this urgency to go into the arts when I was in college, or even high school. I might be much further along in my career by now.

But another part of my counters that maybe starting out in art would mean I didn’t want it as much? Ruminating on what I ought to have done is pointless because nobody grows in a perfectly straight line. Things just get better and better.

Schoolin’ Life: Eleanor Davis

For today’s edition of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know cartoonist and illustrator Eleanor Davis.

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Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

My name is Eleanor Davis, I’m 33 years old. I am a cartoonist & illustrator. I like talking, eating, and riding my bike. I spend a lot of time at my desk.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

Oh God. I was a mess for a lot of my 20s. I had a lot of expectations and not a lot of them did me much good. I was torn between making art and making money and “making a difference,” I thought I somehow had to become perfect in every way. But in the meantime, I didn’t even know how to, like, feed and bathe myself. So of course I was miserable. Classic!

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I think society contributed to my idea that I had to be perfect, and probably to the certainty that I was not. Not sure why or how exactly. A lot of women seem to struggle with that idea, though.

What was your first job like?

My first job in my 20s was working at an ice cream shop. My co-workers and boss were all really, really nice. The customers were usually nice too, although they were mostly tourists. I ate way too much ice cream. In the winter, it would get extremely slow and one of my co-workers made me watch the whole first season of Sex and the City in the back on her laptop.

What was your first apartment like?

My first apartment in my 20s was kind of a pit. But it was on the second floor and you could climb out my bedroom window onto the porch roof and eat dinner and smoke cigarettes. When you jumped up and down in the kitchen, the whole building would shake.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Oh man, these questions are tough. I mean, yes! My husband and I moved from Savannah to Athens where we live now. We got married. I worked really hard at getting good at art, and I basically did, to everyone’s surprise. I decided to quit making art and work at a co-op, and that was good too, because then I figured out that I liked making art after all. I made some friends. I fell in and out and in and out of love, and in again.

In what ways did your friendships change?

I started to have closer friendships. Friendships were hard for me when I was younger, especially friendships with women, for some reason. I don’t think I really understood what being friends with someone meant; I thought it just meant “people who like one another.” Now I think it has something more to do with communication, trust, and showing people who you really are. I used to have a very hard time letting myself trust other people enough to be open with them. I also wasn’t good at letting other people know they could be open with me. Now I’m braver and my friendships are stronger.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I’ve been with my husband, Drew, since I was 19, so I learned a lot about what it’s like to be with one person for a long time. We both have. We’ve learned that it’s really, really hard. We were co-dependent for a while and then we learned to be our own people a little more. We were distant for a while and then we learned to connect a little more. We communicated badly for a long time and pushed stuff down and then we learned to talk it out. Drew is very, very different from me: he’s quiet, and stable, and patient. I’m emotional, impulsive, and loud. We learn a lot from one another for that reason.

How did your relationships with your family change?

I’ve always been super close with my family, to the point that I couldn’t imagine wanting to be alive after my parents were gone. After I started getting better at making friends, I also started to be able to imagine a future where my parents were dead but I hadn’t offed myself. So I guess that’s a positive change.

We are still navigating the weird shift between parents-with-kids and parents-with-adult-kids. I hope I’m easier to be around than I used to be, but I suspect I am not. They are slightly harder to be around. They’re both retired now, & it’s like they’re developing their own arcane language just to use with one another.

How do you feel society viewed you?

A weird, spoiled, abrasive, wimpy, nerdy, asexual woman-child? Which is fine! I am cool with that.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I got a lot stronger. I started going to therapy and learned that self-hate wasn’t a good motivator. I learned to be kinder to myself, which strangely helped me get stronger, and helped me support other people more. That was good.

How did you change intellectually?

I got dumber! This is a really irritating thing for me. I’ve gotten a lot lazier, intellectually. I used to read more and stay more engaged with current events, partially out of guilt. When I stopped being motivated by guilt, I stopped doing a lot of things that really were good to do, like listening to the news. I’d like to change that. I don’t like willful ignorance, and I worry that my brain is getting soft.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

Simultaneously more masculine and more feminine. Weak and okay with it. More comfortable with considering myself “an artist” (although still – that word, yick).

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

My feminism got a lot stronger. I’m more okay with the upcoming apocalypse (not sure if this is positive or negative). More into meditation, hippy shit, etc.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Please do not make me think about this!

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

Disappointed that I couldn’t work faster, make more art, make more money. Disappointed I couldn’t be a better person, someone who somehow gave back. Disappointed daily in myself. Those things were bad, and they hurt, but I feel pretty good now, and it’s hard to imagine life having gone any other way.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

In my 20s? Personally or artistically? Probably my parents, and my husband, and my best friend, Kate. Like always, like now.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

Ummmm. Good question. I was really, really excited about listening to the news in 2008 when the market crashed and it became ultra clear that the Republicans really were full of shit. That laissez-faire economics wasn’t just unethical, it was actively horrible policy. Why is anyone still listening to those idiots?

Camping in the Oregon woods with a bunch of wonderful kids’ book authors and illustrators I’d met over the internet was also really something.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

Oh, Christ. I don’t know.

I wish I hadn’t signed the two-book contract for my first kids’ graphic novel. I wish I’d started going to therapy sooner.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

America elected Obama (good, great) and decided that meant we’d gotten rid of all racism (obviously horribly untrue).

Schoolin’ Life: Anna Raff

In today’s edition of Schoolin’ Life, we chat with New York-based illustrator Anna Raff.

A photo posted by Anna Raff (@annaraff) on

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

I expected to reach a certain level of success in my career as a graphic designer. But what that benchmark was, I’m not really sure, and I didn’t consciously set goals. What I most cared about was doing creative work that I found interesting and challenging, and making enough money to support my travel addiction which I’d honed during and right after college.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

Because of my family background, my friends, and the creative industry in which I worked, I was surrounded by a group of very open-minded people, who weren’t necessarily adhering to any one set of norms or expectations. Even if they were, they weren’t forcing it upon others who didn’t fit in—this was New York City, after all. Also, I never pictured myself as a parent, so perhaps that eliminated a big element of societal expectations for a young woman like myself.

What was your first job like?

My first job out of college was designing corporate brochures and presentations at an architectural firm in London. I had travelled there with some friends, after enrolling in a work exchange program which got us to get 6-month work permits in the U.K. Before leaving home, I had sent out a few résumés, but this architectural firm was the only place listed in the program guide that was remotely related to my main interest at the time, graphic design. My résumé had this logo I designed in school at the top—I still have a copy of it somewhere. The logo is okay, but the rest of it is crap! Based on that, and their random needs at the moment, I got the job. Ironically, here I was, an American kid, so happy to be working in London, on Oxford Street, surrounded by all this fantastic, historic, architecture, but working for a firm that designed the most hideous, god-awful, American-style shopping malls. Also, this was all before desktop publishing, and despite taking a few design classes in college, my knowledge of manual typesetting was minimal, so I mostly got by on my wits and earnestness. Kindly, they offered to do the paperwork to extend my visa, but I knew I was done. The nice thing was, the job paid pretty well, and enabled me to do a significant amount of traveling afterward to perpetuate my postponement of looking for a “real job” back home.

What was your first apartment like?

The flat my friends and I rented in London was basic, but more spacious than my first New York apartment. We even found 400 pounds in an empty drawer when we moved it—that was a good day. We knew it most likely belonged to the previous tenants, but the jerky landlord would just pocket the money if we told him, so we used it against our rent. My first place in New York City—where I moved shortly after returning to the U.S.—was a small, railroad apartment in the West Village that would have been fine for one person. The landlord had put a thin wall down the middle of the bedroom to create two rooms, so my roommate and I could basically fit a twin bed into each, and not much else. Being the West Village, it was super noisy, especially on weekends. I remember motorcyclists tearing up the street several times into the early morning, setting off car alarms as they went. That was pleasant. Oh, and that was the first place I saw a water bug fly. Gross.

Did you experience any big life changes?

In my mid-20’s, I moved into another apartment by myself, which was incredibly liberating and empowering. Also, my best friend came out to me. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t figured it out, but it made everything make so much more sense. It really affirmed that he was (and still is) my best friend. This was during the AIDS crisis, and I remember the first thing I said to him was, “Be careful!” Then I think I told him how proud I was of him…at least, I hope I did. I’m still very proud of him.

In what ways did your friendships change?

Certain friendships that seemed very important in high school and college fell away, while others only got stronger. I came to terms with all that; it was okay for friends and friendships to evolve, and not always toward the same destinations. It’s better to let go, if it’s not working anymore.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

That I was completely naïve.

How did your relationships with your family change?

I’ve always been quite close to my family, so I think the only difference was that I was relating to them more as an adult.

How do you feel society viewed you?

As a geeky-looking, somewhat athletic, artistic, straight girl who didn’t really like girly things, some people probably put me into a box of some sort.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I started to learn about what was really important, but to be honest, I made much more progress with that in my 30’s.

How did you change intellectually?

By the end of my 20’s, I’d learned the complete suite of Adobe products…oh, and Pagemaker and Quark. That’s probably not what you meant.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

Through work, travel, and play my confidence got a boost. I played softball for my publishing company’s team, and that was great fun. I hadn’t played at all since junior high, and I’d always been quite good, but somehow in my teens, felt it was too “butch” —a very ignorant assessment, I might add. Once I joined this work team, I realized how much I missed playing, and how I identified myself as athletic, and that that was okay. It was also great fun to get up to bat against these teams, where the men would see a woman at the plate, and come closer into the infield. Then I’d proceed to whack the ball over their heads.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

Travel really made clear the isolation many Americans experience, having never stepped into another country and out of their comfort zone.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

Drinking too much, and barfing into two plastic mugs while on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. The most amazing thing is that the guy, who is still my best friend, carried the two cups through a moving train to the nearest toilet to dispose of them. In the middle of Siberia! And he’s still talking to me 28 years later. Now that’s friendship.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

I had a few disappointments at work, like not getting a promotion as I thought I should have, but I chalk that up to not asserting myself enough. These moments also spurred me on to seek out the next thing, the next challenge. And at some point, I realized I really didn’t want to supervise others at work, so I had to seek out positions that allowed that. By my early 30’s, I’d landed a job as a one-person design department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I worked for ten years, until I returned to school to pursue a career as an illustrator.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Oh, definitely my parents. They’re just really lovely, interesting people who always made (and make) me feel like I can do no wrong…within limits, of course.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

When I landed a job doing design at a children’s book publisher. I had found the industry where I belonged, and it’s where I work now, albeit as an illustrator.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

Perhaps I could have drawn more in my 20’s. At some point, I stopped making handmade cards, and other projects that involved illustration. It took me almost a decade and a half to figure out that I really should be doing that as a career. But perhaps I needed the time, I don’t know.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?

I think that one about barfing in Siberia is a pretty good one.

Schoolin’ Life: Nilah Magruder

In this week’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we get to know cartoonist and author Nilah Magruder.

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Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’m a storyboard artist, comic creator and soon-to-be children’s book author living in Los Angeles. I’m very much into creating stories. My job’s pretty great; I draw and watch movies, then go home and do more of the same. On occasion, I go out to hang with friends or my coworkers, but I’m kind of a shut-in who likes to stay home and lie around with my roommate and my roommate’s cats.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

I was sure I would be an investigative reporter by now. Or maybe a business-savvy agent at a PR firm, wearing sleek business suits, living in a cool apartment with a massive kitchen in DC. Last thing I expected to be is an artist schlepping around Hollywood in jeans and hoodies.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I figured I’d go to college, get a degree, get a job, and that would be it. Step 1, step 2, step 3, profit. You know, the American dream (I guess?). I’m actually not sure what my endgame was. In school, starting your career seemed like this textbook, step-by-step process, and I believed that when I hit the right milestone that everything would fall into place and start making sense. I never hit that milestone. Eventually everything started making sense, but not in the way I expected.

What was your first job like?

I’ve been working since I was sixteen. My very first job was server at a restaurant, and I only stayed four months, enough time to make a bit of spending money. It was what could be expected: a bunch of kids goofing off too much while serving food to families and retirees for $5.25/hr. Some nights were fun, but I never missed the place. My first career-related job was freelance journalist for a local paper. I started my junior year in college (I’m still in awe that they gave a college kid a steady paying gig). It was a lot of fun; I wrote for the arts and entertainment section and got sent all over the county to speak with artists, writers, singers, dancers, and to cover events. I covered verything from fundraisers, to art exhibitions, to community theatre. I kept that job as long as I could, until I found a full-time position as a marketing writer and I didn’t have time to drive to Frederick anymore.

What was your first apartment like?
My first apartment was the one I lived in while I was attending Art Institute of Washington, in Arlington, VA (just outside of Washington, DC). I shared it with three other girls, and it was fine at first. Drama quickly set in though: lots of dumb roommate meetings and passive aggressiveness, and there was a cranky guy who lived under us that complained any time we so much as breathed or, y’know, existed at all. Writing about it now, it sounds like stereotypical apartment living, haha! It was tough, though, because I wasn’t working, I didn’t have any money and I didn’t like asking my parents for any, so there were times when I had no food and I didn’t know what I was going to eat. And I was lonely, so I took the train home pretty much every weekend. But I loved the city, despite all that.

Did you experience any big life changes?

Going to college was big. Studying in South Korea for a month was big. Starting my career was big. Going to art school. Interning at a large film studio. My aunt died in 2010. Those are the moments that stick out.

In what ways did your friendships change?

The friendships I have now run very deep, and most of them I developed in adulthood. I’ve never been the type that needs a huge social circle. I’ll cut off a relationship quick if I think it’s become toxic, but at the same time I’ve become more accepting of people. A lot of my friends are people I’ve shared important moments with, like the friends I made in Korea, and my art school friends. Others simply share the same goals and we help push each other along. My friends are all over the place. I don’t know how I’d get along without the Internet. I’m sure I’d be a lot lonelier.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

I’ve never had any! Never had a boyfriend, never even been on a date. That level of intimacy has been a curiosity at best, but I’ve never felt a craving for it. My only boyfriend was in first grade, and it lasted until the following day when we found out we were cousins. ;P

How did your relationships with your family change?

At the same time I got closer to my mom, I feel like I’ve grown apart from everyone else. I talk to my mom every day, and everyone else only now and then. It’s weird and sad if I think too much about it.

How do you feel society viewed you?

I’m not sure society noticed me at all.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

I’ve chilled out, I think. Gotten more confident. I know who I am, I know my strengths and my weaknesses. Being aware of those things has made me more comfortable in my own skin. In my twenties, I was a lot angrier, a lot more prone to flying off the handle or falling into depression. I have those moments now, but for the most part I can manage them. I’m a little more flexible, more ready to accept whatever happens in my life and roll with the punches.

How did you change intellectually?

I feel like I’ve gotten dumber sometimes, haha. Like I knew more when I was younger. But I’m savvier now, less apprehensive of change or new experiences. I think a lot of my book intellect’s been replaced with life experience.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I’ve always been “the artist.” That hasn’t changed much. I’ve always been a fly on the wall, too – it’s what made me a good journalist!


How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

I’ve become much more aware of oppression and hypocrisy in government policies, of the struggles that people face across populations. Growing up black, female, and lower class has exposed me to a lot of prejudice, but it’s made me more compassionate, too, so I’m glad for that. Funny enough, I was cynical when I was younger, but these days I’m more optimistic.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

I’ve had so many, how can I be expected to choose only one? Once I was riding a bus in Seoul and wasn’t prepared for the hard stops it made. I fell back and stepped squarely on this woman’s foot. She screamed loud enough for the whole bus to hear, of course. The worst is I didn’t know how to say “sorry” in Korean, so I feel like I never fully conveyed my regret.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

I didn’t win some award in art school. Well, that happened a lot in art school, haha. I was so determined to succeed and prove myself, but for the particular accolades I’d set my eyes on, my work was never quite good enough. I was good, but not the “it” person I wanted to be. These days, it feels silly that I was so stressed about it, but I cried a lot of bitter tears over it at the time.


Who was your biggest influence and why?

My mom, I think. I didn’t really have role models… no one I wanted to emulate. My dad’s an alcoholic, and there’s not a lot I care to remember about growing up, but my mom did everything to give me and my brother a somewhat normal upbringing. She was the person I had complete and unshakable faith in.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

9/11, perhaps. There aren’t a lot of moments over the decade that I remember with clarity, but I remember that day. I lived three miles from the Pentagon. I was walking to class that morning and a fire truck sped past me, and I thought, “Whoa, where’s the fire?” Next thing I know, I’m at school and students are scrambling because the city’s about to go on lockdown. It was also the year I turned nineteen, and it’s around that time that I was starting to think about the world around me and my place in it.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

Still wish I’d done a semester abroad in Spain. I was a transfer student, already overloading on credits to make sure I graduated on time, and study abroad would’ve thrown off my schedule. I didn’t want to risk graduating a semester late. I’m glad I got to go to Korea, though – I almost chickened out, so I’m really glad I stuck with it.