Thursday, 12 November 2015

Illustrators Arise: Erin Vaganos

What's up, creative crowds? Hope you've been having a dandy morning. And it's just about to get better: it's time for another edition of Illustrators Arise! Woohoo! In case you're unfamiliar with it, it is where I introduce my favourite illustrators from all over the world every month through an interview so you guys can read along and get to know them too. This month our special guest is a lady so immersed with nature, she transfers people to a different world through her artwork. Please welcome Erin Vaganos! To be honest, I've been following her work for quite some time now that I don't rightly remember where and when I found her work anymore, although I think it may have been through tumblr, which is where I find any inspiration these days. Erin grew up in the woods of New York, which explains her love for nature. Nowadays, when she's not busy tending to her family and work, she spends her days gardening with her husband and two beautiful children.

Hello, Erin! Let's start from the beginning: when did you start drawing and why do you keep at it?
Hi, Bivi. Like a lot of artists, I started young. My mom has a scrap of paper on which my dad drew one of his motorcycles - very structurally accurate - and next to it is my rendition - a little out-of-whack, but showing potential. Underneath the drawing I signed it and put my age (three). I keep with it because it's a continual learning process, it's challenging, it's surprising. I really never know how a piece is going to turn out, and sometimes that can be frustrating, but most of the time, it's exciting and maintains that desire to keep going and experimenting. If I don't like how a painting finishes up, I look forward to starting a new one, with the issues I had with the last in mind.

Did you study in an art school? If so, what have you learnt there, aside from art?
I studied at Tyler School of Art, part of Temple University, but instead of studio art, I majored in art history. Having a knowledge of art history has definitely influenced my style and subject matter. Browsing art books is a way of brainstorming and where I get a lot of ideas for new pieces. I took a lot of studio classes in school as well, including an illustration class that really inspired me to take up watercolors again (I started learning watercolors when I was 12 in the 7th grade; my mom sent me to private lessons).

What materials do you usually use?
My signature medium is watercolor; I have a ton of Grumbacher tubes and just recently started working with Da Vinci paints and Dr. Ph. Martin's liquid watercolors. Paper-wise, I love Arches. Every once in a while, I like to switch it up and paint with acrylics, and I like to paint on wood with these.

Nature is an apparent inspiration on your paintings, what with their constant appearance. Aside from it, where else do you draw inspiration?

I grew up in a rural area, not just near the woods but also amidst a lot of farms. I think this accounts for the various folk art elements in some of my paintings. I also really love fairy tales - Grimm's, Andrew Lang, Perrault, and Hans Christian Andersen - especially the dark ones (like Bluebeard and the Singing Bone), and the stories are frequently my subject matter. I love patterns - William Morris designs and medieval herbals are a big influence when it comes to foliage rendering in my paintings. Presently, I really love the work of Frances MacNair, Anna Pugh, Charley Harper, John Bauer, Kay Nielsen, and Eyvind Earle.

Congratulations on the new addition to your family! Hope everyone is well. How has being a mother influenced you and your career?
Thanks! I have two kids now, and the first one taught me how to be more organized and how to better utilize my free time in regards to my art objectives. The second one, who was born only three weeks ago, has given new meaning to the saying "everything in its own time." I'm not always able to do all that I want to right when I want to do it, but when I do find time to paint, I don't feel the pressure to make a perfect piece of art. Having less time to pursue painting has allowed me the freedom to experiment and try new things and not worry about the outcome; I think this has had the wonderful effect of further enhancing my style and honing my skills.

I hear you are currently working on a tarot card set. How is it coming along? What inspired you to do it?
I have about 13 pieces out of 78 drawn and inked, so I have a long way to go still. When I started this, I had an idea that it was going to be a long-term project - something of a challenge for me because one of my personal shortcomings is starting but not finishing big ventures that require persistence and dedication. I wanted to make a Tarot deck for that reason and because I love the symbolism involved in the design.

Aside from illustration, it seems gardening is another passion of yours. Do you think it has any influence on your illustrations?
I do think it has influence, especially with the botanical elements in my paintings. Gardening is also very soothing and relaxing and a great activity to do to get the mental cogs turning in terms of ideas. I love growing flowers from seed, and the whole family takes part in the vegetable garden. We just recently moved and have had to start all over with our garden, but for me it's just another creative outlet and another way to disconnect from craziness and reconnect with the present and Mother Nature.

So far in your career, you have illustrated four children's books and your paintings always seem to tell a story. Are you interested in writing (and illustrating) a book of your own one day?
Funny you should ask - I have several in the works! I'm nearly finished writing the picture book I want to start illustrating now. I've been writing now for over six years, not just children's books but adult novels as well. I've written over 50,000 words of a historical novel in progress that I recently considered chucking into the can so I can start over again - haha. Like painting, writing is a tremendous learning process.

How does the future look like for Erin Vaganos?
I've had a lot of changes in the past three years - two babies, a house that should have been condemned but saved and did all the renovations on ourselves, a move across the country, another house. I'm looking forward to a period of quiet and stability. When baby #2 gets a little older, I'll be focusing more on my art, hopefully selling prints and other merchandise within the next two months. I'm also studying biology in the hopes of becoming a teacher.

What would you tell all the newbie illustrators out there (including me) as a word of advice?

Developing a style is one of the most pressing concerns for a new illustrator. I remember taking my first illustration class and personal style was the ultimate goal, so there was a lot of pressure directed toward approach and technique. I suppose I would encourage newbies to experiment as much as possible, practice the formal elements of drawing and painting, find out what artists you like, what about them you like in particular, practice some more. Then, focus solely on what you like to draw and draw it - don't concentrate on the results of these exercises or try to emulate anyone, just keep drawing, and eventually, you'll discover yourself in strokes and colors and patterns. Also, if you really want to be successful as an illustrator, learn the business side of it and take that just as seriously as the creative side. Get some books on starting your own books or research agents who represent artists similar to you to see what you need to do to prepare submissions. And don't take rejection personally; keep trying.

A little note from me

There is a constant use of playful patterns and soft colour quite apparent throughout Erin's works. With whimsical forms and characters, she transfers the viewer to an alternate universe, with tiny fairies, lovely-shaped animals and tons of dreams. What captured me from her works, most definitely, is the minimal use of outlines yet she still manages to create sturdy and contrasting shapes in the process. The amazing amount of details and asymmetry in her paintings also add a playful and soothing feel to everyone who sees it. Her courage to paint overlapping forms, even without the help of striking outlines, is one to be applauded for. Even without words, her paintings deliver a certain story, which may differ to each person. The soft shade of every object also seems to create a peaceful feeling to the whole scene. Certainly an incredible work of art!

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