Wednesday, February 25, 2009

an interview with Kelly Lynn Jones

Kelly Lynn Jones is a painter who not only makes amazing work but also runs a website which sells the work of over 100 artists and collaborators. Until recently Kelly's work has centered around dynamic magical spaces, architectural and inhabited by jumbles of organic and man-made materials which resonate with mystery. 

Kelly's newer work uses organic abstract forms in paint and mixed media to explore concepts of escape and wilderness through a series of visual translations which distill her impression of spaces into what she describes as a "residue" and "an essence" of the original thought.

In this interview she tells me that her work is changing a lot these days, and hopefully soon we can see some of her new work on her website:

Kelly's website, feautures carefully selected affordable work by tons of amazing artists in a variety of tempting formats minicomics, apparel, prints, stationery and then some. In this inyterview she talks about how littlepaperplanes came to be, working with galleries and lends us some insight into her creative process.

Q: When did you start Little Paper planes? and why?
A: I started LPP in December in 2004. At the time there wasnt a huge internet art presence, there wasn't an Etsy and very few blogs. I think Poketo and Tinyshowcase were around but that was about it. So I thought it would be fun to start a site to sell the stuff I was making (zines, silkcreened shirts and bags, etc) and to also sell my friends work. We all had just graduated from art school and needed to make money to help support our art careers.

Q: When you started LPP did you have an inkling that it would grow into the amazing site that it is now?
A: I NEVER imagined it would become what it is today. I am completely grateful it is what it is. I have learned so much and have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people. And mostly I love helping out other artists. It feels good when I get to recommend artists to magazines, newspapers, art directors, publishers and of course sending out monthly checks.

Q: How did you find all of the artists that you work with?
A: Well like I said it started off as friends and then friends of friends and now, its a combo of people submitting and me finding someone.

Q: You've had some great solo shows, how did you start working with those galleries?
A: Aw you are sweet. Well that is a tricky one and I am still learning it as I go and its been 7 years since I have been out of undergrad! When I first got out of school I got a website up and just emailed people all the time keeping them updated and eventually I would get noticed even if it was years later. Every gallery is different and approaching a gallery has to be done in a right way since most do not want you to just send images. I think you have to know your work and where you fit in and at what level of showing. I think there are a lot of factors that go into getting a show.

Q: what factors come into play when you cook up a price tag for your pieces?
A: I am horrible at that! I have raised my prices slowly. It isnt good to just raise them super high, since once you are at a price bracket you can never go down.

Q: have you ever been burned by a gallery or shop? i mean they took the art and disappeared without paying you?
A: Sadly yes, but this was years ago when I was still new and eager to show anywhere. I am extremely selective at this point when it comes to showing. Though through the misfortunate experience of having someone take advantage of my naivety, it taught me how to be a good business person and I ALWAYS pay my artists on time and email them right back if they have any concern.

Q: How do you avoid working with sketchy galleries? how can you find out or guess if they have a good record of paying their artists in within a reasonable time frame?
A: I dont think there is a real way of avoiding "sketchy" galleries. Sketchy people exists in all levels of galleries from the store/gallery hybrid to the top of the line galleries. I have heard a handful of stories about galleries who I would have never thought would be bad at paying. With that said, its good to ask around before committing to a show, and if you are signing on with a gallery for representation it would be good to read their contracts and ask a lot of questions. I think there is a lot of trial and error and hopefully all your experiences end up being good ones.

Q: sometimes galleries can be really slow to cook up a paycheck. how long is too long to wait for a check for sold work? how do you tactfully send them a nudge?
A: I usually email at the end of a show asking when they are sending out payment and depending on their answer I decide my next move. If it is up to 3 months I start emailing alot. I think you have to figure out what is the best solution for each situation. It would be a good idea if you dont have gallery representation/art dealer (who would help protect you from galleries from not paying) to send a legal contract with the work stating this work belongs to you and give a time frame on when payment should happen after the show comes down. That might be something you would need to talk to a lawyer about but I think could be very important especially when working with a new gallery. I think artists get screwed over so much and usually do not know much about business or how to protect themselves and are just eager that someone is interested in their work. However with that said, many artists lack any professionalism. So it also starts with the artist treating their art as a business and acting the way anyone in a business would which will help them when dealing with galleries.

Q: what has been the biggest unexpected challenge for you in terms of being an artist?
A: Well I could list all the random things that have happened in these years but I think the biggest challenge is trying to navigate through the world as an artist; finding your place, staying true to a consistent studio practice, keeping yourself engaged in critical thought, just always reminding yourself that you are so lucky to be an artist and view the world through the lens of a creative person, even when money is tight and things get stressful. I wouldn't change my life for a second.

Q: what made you want to go to grad school? how is that experience going?
A: I felt it was time. I had learned how to be out of school for 6 years and I was ready to take my work to the next level. Wow grad school is amazing. I never want to leave. My work has changed so much and I am around so many intelligent, creative people. It is completely stimulating always. I mean just tonight I will be going to a lecture here at school where the co-curator of the Whitney is lecturing! Yay!

Q: you mentioned a little bit of you philosophy on being an artist before, about it being a sort of constant work in progress, can you elaborate on that?
A: For me, I am always in flux. I am always thinking of new concepts and ways to create something. I feel that it is really important to work in your studio as often as possible and experiment. Even when you don't know what to do and are frustrated, I feel that is the time to keep working. Make bad work, make lots of bad work, and then all of a sudden something clicks and you have a moment of clarity. I strive for those moments, they are what drives me to create.

Q: what are your favorite materials to work with? do you work on paper? what kind?
A: Well my work is changing so much but right now I am doing a lot of collage so I would say I love, paper, the newspaper, inks, scissors, glue, string, wood, and photocopies.

Q: any exciting projects coming up?
A: I have a 2 person show coming up in April at Parklife Gallery in San Francisco. I also will be having the second curated LPP show opening in July at Rare Device also here in San Francisco. Other than that, just making stuff everyday.

above is one of Kelly's older pieces

these are 2 of Kelly's newer collages

Thursday, February 19, 2009

my first interview (!) with jason shiga

this is the cover and a page spread from the self-published version of Meanwhile
you can click on the images for a close-up

Jason Shiga is a cartoonist living in Oakland, California, a graduate of UC Berkeley and rubic cube guru. Jason's alternative comics might tell a story through a linear narrative, be a choose-your-own-adventure comic or a puzzle comic that makes your brain do loop-d-loops. Sometimes Jason offers little prizes for folks who can solve his brain boggling puzzles. I have seen dedicated fans crawling back to Jason for hints and clues. Jason's comics are always fresh and full of adventure, you can see his work here:
In this interview Jason and I talk about publishing, working freelance, and what led him to creating  nontraditional comics.

Q: how long ago did you become a full time artist?

A: August 2008.

Q: what happened in your art career that allowed you to feel comfortable quitting your day job?

A: I got a book deal with Abrams. The advance was more than what I made at conventions, freelance for newspapers, my gigs for Nickelodeon and French translations of my works put together. So basically I made more in one day than in the previous ten years as a cartoonist. The day after I returned home from New York, I gave my two weeks notice and have been working on comics full time ever since.

Q: when and how did you self publish your first comic?

A: I made my first comic for a class in college called, "The Graphic Novel as Literature". I thought it would just be an easy 4 units but it turned out, I really liked the comics I read and once I started making my own, I wanted to continue. Adrian Tomine was also in this class and I remember thinking, "If this nerd can do it, why not me?"

Q: when did you get your first comic published by a publisher? how did that deal get put together?

A: My first comic published by a publisher was Fleep. The publisher Dylan is my longest friend and mentor in comics. If I recall correctly, I didn't even submit Fleep. I think Dylan just called me up one day and told me he was starting a publishing company and that he'd like to publish Fleep. Of course I said yes!

Q: do you ever have publishers wanting you to make serious changes in your stories or in your aesthetic? ever have to change things because of printing limitations?

A: Dylan's never asked me to move a single pixel. With the stuff i do for Nickelodeon, the piece is more collaborative. It usually goes through two or three separate rounds of revision before it sees print. Sometimes I feel like the editor is almost the co-author for my Nickelodeon pieces.

I don't think printing limitations ever stopped me from creating a comic. Even if I dream up some crazy impossible project with moving parts on celluloid that slide around in a trough, I can still make at least one of it. Nobody says I have to mass produce everything.

Q: tell me about a rejection from publishers...

A: I was pretty lucky with my first book, Fleep in that I didn't even have to go through a submissions process. When I finished Bookhunter, I wanted it to be a Sparkplug book but Dylan encouraged me to try and go for some bigger publishers. I think I submitted to six different publishers. At first I just submitted to my first choice and then waited 3 months for them to get back to me and submitted to my second choice and waited like 6 months for them to get back to me. Then I submitted to 4 different publishers at once. I included a note in the
submission package letting them know it was a simultaneous submission. After being rejected by everyone, I came crawling back to Sparkplug. 
As for "Meanwhile..." I've basically been trying to get that published for almost ten years. The tricky thing with "Meanwhile..." is that every page has tabbes cut into them so producing the book would be extremely expensive. For a while Highwater was going to print it at a loss but then they went out of business. Sometimes I just felt like giving up. And it's so difficult to produce by hand. It takes about 20 minutes to cut and assemble each copy. Anyway about two months after handing it to my agent, he got me a book deal with Abrams.

Q: tell me about working with nickelodeon magazine...

A: The comics section at Nickelodeon Magazine is run by Chris Duffy who is very alternative comics friendly as you may be able to tell by their selection of comics. I think Chris orginially picked up my comic at a convention. Then he looked me up in a phone book and called me. I've been working with them for about 7 years now. Typically, Chris will send me an email asking if I'd be interested in a particular assignment. Then we sort of hammer out the details in a very collaborative process. Nickelodeon Magazine has some of the highest page rates in the industry from what I hear and thanks to Chris, they've essentially been subsidizing the alternative comics community.

Q: tell me about your most exciting publishing deal and how that came about.

A: I'm really happy about "Meanwhile..." being picked up by Abrams but for me the most exiting moment in my career is when Sparkplug published Fleep. It's one thing to be making comics on your own. But when someone is ready to risk their money and time to try and put your work out into the world, it's a very special feeling. And being able to hold that finished book in your hands is indescribably awesome.

Q: how did you get your comic translated into french?

A: I just got an email from a French publisher who expressed interest in translating Bookhunter. And I agreed!

Q: how do your publishers pay you, meaning do you get one check as an advance or do they pay you quarterly or how does that work? do you get royalties?

A: With Abrams, I get an advance split into thirds. One upon signing the contract, one upon delivering the manuscript and one third when the piece is printed. The way an advance works is that you're basically paid the royalties in advance so even if the book doesn't sell well you still get to keep the advance. If the book earns more than the advance, you get paid the difference.

Q: any favorite tools or materials to work with?

A: I do everything with a Windsor Newton 222 brushes on copy paper. For panel borders I use a thicker felt tip pen. And for lettering I use a micron 08.

Q: Can you mention any special resources that have helped you get your work out there?

A: The Bay Area comics community, Dylan Williams. Basically my friends who I can show my comics to and ask for suggestions. At Art Night, I can go and ask other cartoonists about brushes or paper and use their brush pens to see if I like them. If I had to do that all on my own, it would take forever!

Q: Do you think attending the Alternative Press Expo regularly as a vender has helped people discover your work?

A: I think so. But maybe there's someone in Florida reading this and thinking, "I must attend APE every year so that people can discover my work. Otherwise, my comics will never become discovered." Except for the kid in Florida, it would be an undo hardship for her. So to her I would say, it's really not necessary but it's fun to check out and visit another city.

Q: how do you structure your work day to find a balance between working too much and working too little?

A: I try to treat it as a regular job. It's always tempting to work more and put in 12 hour days. But I've found it's not good for your body. It's important to be healthy. You only have one body.

Q: you have a BS in math from berkeley, how does your math background influence your artwork?

A: I don't know that it directly influences my comics. But I do try to think through a premise pretty rigorously before I start drawing it. I think I'm a pretty analytical person and it always bothers me when authors don't fully explore every corner of a premise. For example I saw a science fiction show recently where there are malicious cyborgs that look like humans in every respect and people weren't sure who to trust. But when the cyborgs had sex, their spine glowed red. Everyone who watching the show with me was like, "Ooooh! Isn't that sexy?" but I was thinking, "What happens when they masturbate? And can't they just get everyone aboard the spaceship to masturbate in front of a doctor and determine who the cyborgs are?" I think this mode of thinking is something that comes naturally to children. For example if you tell a kid about the afterlife then maybe he'll ask if cavemen go to heaven.

Q: what inspires your puzzle books? They're so totally unique in the world of comics. where do those ideas come from?

A: They are mostly inspired by the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series. But because they are comics, I wanted to present the choices visually. Every interactive comic I've made has a different choosing mechanism. Sometimes, they literally unfold certain flaps or you have to follow the panels around like a maze. I had one idea where the panels were printed on a circular wheel that could rotate a short distance to reveal windows in the wheel so you could see panels on the wheel behind it. The whole thing had 5 layers of wheels but it kept jamming. So far, I think the layout in "Meanwhile..." works the best.

Q: list a few of your favorite inspirations from pop culture...

A: Choose Your Own Adventure books, the interactive fiction of Adam Cadre, The Simpsons, puzzle books by Raymond Smullyan, early Disney and Warner Brother's animation, Lat, Quantum Leap, The Lost Room, various sci-fi authors like Asimoc and Arthur C Clarke, Cornell Woolrich, Memoirs of an Invisible Man and legos.

this is a page from Jason's newly remodeled Meanwhile which will be published by Scholastic Books soon.

this is a spread from Book Hunter, a action thriller involving the library police
you can click on these pictures for close-ups

Friday, February 13, 2009

trying to find out the secrets

as a full-time freelance artist, i find new york to be an oddly lonely place, full of folks who ride the subway out to their office jobs and also full of freelancers who move on independent tracks and don't seem to connect much with one another. i don't know many other folks like me here, the self-supporting, non-day-job kind of artist.

i realized that i missed the sort of camaraderie, support and advice that i got in San Francisco from a group of artists and cartoonists who met twice a month for Art Night. Art Night was the jam, a time to share tips about materials, the technical stuff stuff i never learned in my wimpy college art program. friends shared tips about their favorite pens, how they got jobs, gave advice on improving my wonky drawings and we could peek into each other's sketchbooks and see the newest latest greatest projects.

in a way i'm hoping this blog creates a space like Art Night. the plan is to interview as many talented and interesting full-time artists as i can find, hopefully once every week or two and get at those kinds of questions. this isn't so much an art appreciation blog (there's a lot of good ones out there) because i wont be asking much about themes and meanings within an artist's work. although this may be a lot less fun, hippogriff's paintbox is a place to discuss the crafting of art, the business of art, and how each artist makes it work uniquely for them. i want to know how other artists manage to stay afloat in this often competitive, corporate, visually conservative and homogenous culture.

Hippogriff's paintbox is an ongoing document of my quest to find the terribly elusive  self-supporting full-time, freelance artist and explore the mysterious alchemy of succeeding in the vocation of artist. i hope these interviews can turn the mythology of the starving artist inside out and upside down, shake it and see what spare change and magical trinkets fall out.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

what a hippogriff is...

A Hippogriff is a mythological creature I've heard of once or twice ever. It's half horse and half griffin. This mash up makes an animal with head and front legs of an eagle and the back legs and rear rump of a horse. Back before science as we know it some folks thought they lived in the highest mountains of the far North which probably puts them in Lapland, the upper reaches of Scandinavia. They were said to love ice and snow so I imagine them up there frolicking in snowflakes under the aurora borealis.