I must confess that I decided to put off this latest q&a due to the holiday season until now, I absolutely love Jen Corace's work and I did not want the interview to get lost in the shuffle of all the holiday madness. Jen answered these questions right after her solo show, Our Finest Hour opened at Giant Robot. I've included a bunch of the paintings from the show in this post, as well as images from her latest illustrative endeavor Hansel and Gretel with Cynthia Rylant. It was a pleasure to read about the goings on behind the scenes of Jen's illustrations, process and cooking with whiskey!
What do you love most about being a working artist?
have always loved the schedule the most. There's no beating having a
custom schedule to do what you enjoy most. I am a night owl...I have
always known this to some degree but I have finally come to fully
accept it. I prefer starting work around five or six and then working
until two or three in the morning...you know, with some dinner and a
few breaks here and there.
Can you tell us a little about the mediums you work in? What are your favorites?
mediums of choice are pen and ink...which sometimes isn't ink, but
concentrated watercolor, acrylic and watercolor paint on either
watercolor paper or Rives BFK. I tend to stick to this formula. It
works best for me, I've learned most of their strengths and have found
ways to navigate around their weaknesses.
One of the many things I appreciate about your work is the abundance of animals. As a child did you have lots of animals around you?
Do you start drawing first, or do you develop an idea first?
It's sort of a fuzzy mix. I draw, randomly, over a series of sketchbooks. I usually have three or four going at once. Then the sketchbooks will sit and percolate for awhile, I start staring and thinking... Eventually I will look through old sketchbooks and will pull ideas out what I have drawn months ago, combine it with things I have been reading or thinking about and then make a series of lists to organize my ideas.
inspires me. Water. I am more inspired by atmosphere and any figure
in the piece that finds their way to fit into that atmosphere. I have some
half-finished final drawings that went nowhere because I started with
the person and not the feeling/atmosphere of the piece as a whole. I
have thought of ideas for shows based on a doodle in a sketchbook
where, at the time, my mind clearly clicked with ideas at that moment
with that one image. More often than not I have scrapped those shows
because I didn't set down the foundation first.
Your work often seems to be peering into a child's life. Would you say that your work is autobiographical?
If my work is autobiographical then only distantly so...I think that my life and experience has influenced how I think and what I put out, but I don't think that I have directly translated events in my life onto paper. My images have a narrative quality, but the story itself has a vague quality that I could never pin to an instance or moment in my past.
You have illustrated a few children's books. What's it like knowing that your drawings are subconsciously and consciously inspiring children?
Around this time last year, maybe a little later, I had just finished up work for Hansel and Gretel. I was visiting my dad, his wife's sister and family were there at the same time and we were all looking at the images on my laptop. After I had finished showing the artwork I probably spent another half an hour with my three year old step cousin going through certain images over and over again. He was fascinated by the images of Hansel and Gretel in their cages, the witch and the chicken bone scene. It was then that I understood what was going on and could remember feeling the same way about certain images and stories that I had grown up with...how certain pictures and story lines become internalized and personal and how they stick with you. It was an amazing thing to see happen.
What were your favorite books as a child growing up?
The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle. A lot of stories where someone has a hard lesson to learn or there is some intense self sacrifice. I also have a collection of memories of books of the late 60's early 70's that are printed in two or three colors...I'm thinking of "I Know an Old Lady" illustrated by Abner Graboff. But there were a lot of books that used great line work and this particular shade of red.
I read on your blog that you like to ad whiskey to almost everything you make...what is your favorite recipe and can you share it with us?
I think that my favorite recipe that involves whiskey are sweet potato home fries. I don't have specifics...like measurements or times...I tend to cook a lot on the fly. But generally speaking...onions, garlic, sweet potatoes and red potatoes get diced up and put into a glass casserole, tossed in oil w/ salt, pepper and chili powder. Add whiskey to the bottom of the casserole...maybe 1/4"...sometimes i do half whiskey, half water. Cover the casserole w/ aluminum foil and pop it in the oven (450 degrees) to steam up the potatoes...check in maybe ten minutes...you want them soft, but not mushy. Careful removing the foil because the whiskey vapors can be dicey on the nose. When the potatoes are tender, remove the foil, turn down the oven to maybe 350 degrees and then roast until golden...occassionally running a spatula through them. Re-season if necessary.
I once also steamed some kale with a splash of gin...it was surprisingly good.
Our Finest Hour, your most recent solo show at Giant Robot, features more than 50 framed portraits. They are all of women in fancy dress from eras gone by...who are these fine ladies? What were your thoughts behind this group?
The ladies come from the practice of Victorian or period novels where characters identities are kept anonymous when news or scandal is revealed about them or they are involved in said news or scandal and their anonymity is important to their social character. It's a device I have always enjoyed. I just wanted to create a show that was easy going and and easy fun for me to make. I enjoy all the shows I do, but the sort of work and the toll of the work differs. I also like creating women who have their own identity only it's a mystery to the viewer. It opens up possibilities of invention to who they are and their stories.
What is coming up for you through 2009?
Right now I am working on my next children's book "Mathilda, the Orange Balloon" by Randall de Seve. I created imagery and windows for Craftland...Providence's annual holiday craft show. For 2009 I have another children's book in the wings, a group show at Schmancy in Seattle in early February, a solo show at Art Star in Philly at the end of February and I am planning on taking March off.
To read and see more of Jen's work check out her website and her blog.