Howdie, art fans! Are you ready for this month's Illustrators Arise? Well, let's get started! In commemoration of eco-month, I thought I'd invite the most eco-friendly artist I've stumbled upon, Teagan White. To be honest, I don't know how I found her works since I've followed her for several years now, probably through deviantART as is with most illustrators with me. But I know what got me interested at first was her children's illustration - you know how I am with children's illustration - but it's her style from the other end of the spectrum that really grips me. Originally from Chicago, now Teagan lives in Minnesota where she spends her free time roaming around the nature and embracing its beauty every chance she got. Please welcome Teagan White!
Hi, Teagan! Let’s start with what inspired you to become an illustrator? Has it always been what you’ve wanted to do?
I didn’t always want to be an illustrator specifically, but I wanted to be an artist or some type of creative as far back as I can remember! I just never thought of it as a realistic career path until I learned about graphic design in high school, and then I set my sights on becoming a designer. It wasn’t until my first year at MCAD that I realized that graphic design wasn’t drawing-focused enough for me, and that I actually enjoyed fine art classes the most, so at first I sort of settled on illustration as a middle ground between graphic design and fine art before actually finding my own style and voice as specifically an illustrator.
I see you went to Minneapolis College of Art & Design. What are the pros and cons of going to an art school according to you? Would you recommend people going to one?
Not all art schools are created equal, and I definitely recommend going to one with top credentials if you’re going to take the art school path — look to the types of schools that illustrators you look up to attended as a guide. That said, I don’t necessarily recommend going to art school at all. I loved my time at MCAD and it taught me a wide range of skills that I might not have learned on my own (for example, I may never have developed a children’s illustration style if I didn’t take a class specialized in that), and gave me some insight into the career options available to me. However, art school never taught me things like how to draw, or how to be creative and driven or the details of life as a freelance artist; these are things that it’s sort of up to you to teach yourself if you have the passion to do it, and you can find all the resources you need to do so outside the context of an art school.
Other pros would be becoming part of a local community of creative people, resources available (especially if you’re interested in printmaking or something equipment-dependent), learning a diverse range of skills that you might not choose to pursue independently, learning to work very hard all the time and never sleep, being immersed in a creatively rich environment, and having opportunities constantly thrown your way. Cons might be the absolutely unforgivably insane cost of tuition, tendency for classes to focus on narrow divisions of the industry (art schools seem stuck in the world of editorial illustration and I dunno why?), lack of coaching in practical business matters, and being disappointed if earning a degree does not necessarily lead to career opportunities or the quality of work required to be successful in the field.
What kind of materials do you usually work with?
My children’s illustration is done in watercolor or sometimes gouache on 300 lb Fabriano hot press paper, with minor edits in Photoshop. My other work varies in medium — gallery work is usually done all in gouache in full-color, but my jobs are usually drawn in black & white in gouache, graphite, or ink, then scanned, and I add color and texture in Photoshop.
You seem to be very environmentally friendly and I know you’re a vegan. When did you start becoming one and why? Was it hard at first?
My road to veganism was long, and started when I was a 14 year old goth kid who wanted to offend extended family at holiday functions by saying I was vegetarian and couldn’t eat anything they were serving. I’ve been meatless since, but my reasons grew gradually less absurd and more ethical as time went on, and I went vegan off and on throughout college, finally going fully vegan maybe a year and a half or so ago, extending veganism to all my other buying choices beyond food. Giving up most animal products wasn’t at all hard for me because for the most part I’ve always found them to be gross, but feta and goat cheese, the last things I ever gave up, were hard to let go since they often took center stage in anything I cooked — getting over them has just been a matter of stepping up my cooking with even better flavors. Everything is easier when you realize that it’s a process; it takes a while for your palette to change so that you no longer crave dairy milk or whatever, and it also takes time to learn about all the substitutes and alternatives that are available to you, but once you have been doing it for a while everything becomes second nature. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on any food anymore, and the hardest part of being vegan nowadays is feeling inconvenient when other people are cooking or making plans to eat out. But for me, it’s well worth the inconvenience, because I know that I could never look a cow in the eyes and believe I am entitled to take her milk or enjoy a beautiful fall day knowing that I’m not doing my part to minimize the deterioration of the earth or cook non-vegan/highly processed food for a loved one knowing the terrifying cancer-causing crap it more than likely contains. Maybe I overthink things, but my general rule is to try to live my life in a way that causes as little harm as possible to other living things, and when you start thinking about it that touches SO many different choices we make every day.
Do you also only accept collaborations with eco-friendly brands or companies? If yes, what was your greatest obstacle in this respect?
If that was a strict rule for me I don’t think I’d have much of a career left, but it’s certainly a plus for me when an overtly eco-friendly company contacts me! I guess I sort of judge ethical things on a case-by-case basis. Would I do work for a restaurant that has meat on the menu? Yeah probably. Would I draw a caricature of a pig, to represent pork, for said restaurant? Hell no that’s fucked up! Would I do work for a car company? NOT ANYMORE but I did an ad job for Honda a couple years back before I really thought about how weird it was that I am completely ethically opposed to driving yet I was drawing things to sell cars to other people, and I really regret doing that now — the feeling it gives me to think about that job is sort of like a compass guiding the choices I make about who to work with in the future. I should also mention that it’s very much a privilege to be able to turn down work based on ethics, and know that I can still get by as a freelance illustrator, so while I hope to be able to have better and better standards as time goes on, I don’t want to get greedy about it. “Least harm” is what I try to keep in mind.
You have two very contradicting styles, I would say. How did they come about and how do you feel about them/how do you see them?
My children’s illustration style came about much later than my other work, as a result of some class assignments at MCAD. I think these two different styles developed for me because they are expressive of two different aspects of my personality, or two different ways I see the world. When I go out exploring in nature, I am drawn to everything that is intertwined and codependent and growing and dying, lush and stark, tragic and beautiful, and I want to express all of this in a detailed and somewhat realistic way in my drawings. But there is a secondary experience of my surroundings that is more playful — getting yelled at by woodpeckers, collecting little nature artifacts, making bridges from sticks to navigate across swampy areas of ground, every awkward thing you’ve ever watched a deer do. I tend to interpret things like this comically and that didn’t feel at home with my main illustration style, but it still needed an outlet, so I sort of accidentally found it an outlet in my silly awkward critter characters. I like that they are very separate styles, but both born from being delighted by what nature has to offer, and that no aspect of my personality is repressed. It’s a dichotomy that I really enjoy — like there are collections of contradictions all over my apartment, like little porcelain deer figurines sitting on a shelf beside a beaver skull; the cute and the morbid come together unexpectedly, just because I think they are both totally lovely.
I have seen a lot of your works printed into fabrics, which all look very enticing and perfect to be made into clothing in my eyes. Do you ever think about working with a fashion label in the future? If yes, any dream label comes to mind?
I don’t know anything about fashion labels!!! I wear thrift store clothes and band tees, haha. But something like that would be insanely fun to work on.
Aside from natural illustrations, body ink seems to be another passion of yours. Have you ever made a tattoo design for someone else? Or did you ever personally ink someone?
I’m pretty new to tattoos, I got my first one started less than 6 months ago actually! But I’ve designed a handful of tattoos in the past, for friends and for clients. I don’t really have room in my schedule to take those types of jobs anymore, unfortunately.
What does the future look like for Teagan White?
This past year has been completely insane and unpredictable, both life-wise and career-wise, so I feel at a loss to make any assumptions about the future at the moment! Mostly I want to focus on keeping things settled enough to sit down and make lots and lots and lots of art. I have two new children’s books in the works, a couple of shows at Gallery Nucleus that I’m super excited about, and some awesome workshops with my friends at Light Grey Art Lab. My biggest long-term goal right now is to start releasing screen printed editions in the future, and possibly get into the poster art scene, which is slightly motivated by some of the ethical concerns of working in advertising that I expressed earlier, and partly because I think it would free me up to make work for clients that I am more conceptually invested in, which I think is so important for continuing to grow as an artist. But I have no idea yet if or how that direction will work out! Wish me luck!
Do you have any advice for someone who’s just started out in this field? (including me!)
I think my best advice is to think critically about how your work can be useful in the industry, and make sure that you’re demonstrating all of those ways (or the ways that are important to you) in your portfolio. Part of the reason I’ve been able to get by as a freelance illustrator is that I have two totally different styles, so I basically receive the work of two illustrators. That, and my work has useful applications — children’s illustration for books, greeting cards, and so forth, and then my non-children’s work is mainly (often boring) detailed illustrations and a LOT of typography, because there is a demand for both of those things. In my spare time I draw a lot of dead animals and more conceptual pieces, which is great for gallery work and prints, but I don’t expect to get calls from clients asking me to draw that type of thing, because there isn’t really a market for it. Try to think like an art director and imagine your work applied to real world things, and cater to that! If, for example, your work would function best on clothing or textiles, and you are interested in designing that type of thing, then you should know how to make patterns and should demonstrate it in your portfolio. Your passion as an artist can take you a long way, but you need to be practical as a business person to really shape your talents into a potential career.