Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Super Star Interviews: Emily Balsley

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I’m pleased as punch to be chatting it up with the fantastic Illustrator, Emily Balsley. I’m a big fan of Emily’s graphic style and unique characters! Emily lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her sweet, creative daughter and loving, yogi husband. When she’s not drawing or hanging with the fam, she loves riding her bike, doing DIY house projects, perusing Instagram and chilling with her friends. You can view more of her artwork here!

I totally wanna hang with this hilarious bunch! Don't you?!

 Q: I can’t get enough of your AWESOME characters!! Seriously cute little guys with seriously distinctive details! Give us the scoop on your inspiration and influences.

A: Aw, thanks! I really do have fun coming up with my characters, so I'm glad you like them! Inspired by mid-century illustration, my characters start with basic shapes and minimal color palettes. Sometimes, depending on their position, I add sharp angles and long lines to accentuate certain movements. When it comes time to add the features and details, I layer my lines and patterns on top, trying to find a good balance of minimal line work, but with the most visual impact. I am often inspired by the work of Swiss-American illustrator Roger Duvoisin—the way he created amazing textures and environments by layering line over shape—but in a thoughtful way—it blows my mind. I also love geometric patterns (in design and life in general!), so I tend to incorporate a lot of stripes and polka dots into my characters' outfits. 

10,000 Thrills indeed!!!

 Q: You are masterful at creating collections—sets of art including standalone graphics, main patterns and coordinating patterns. I particularly adore your 10,000 Thrills collection. Take us through your process from inspiration to sketches to final art and how you developed the overall look & feel.

A: Thank you! For 10,000 Thrills, I wanted to find a theme that wasn't gender-specific, incorporated animals and bright colors, and would be able to showcase my love of geometric shapes and patterns. A circus theme seemed like the perfect fit! Plus, the different acts would offer a lot of opportunity for fun little vignettes. In fact, I started with those vignettes: I filled pages of my sketchbook with them - trying different positions and angles. Once I had a handful I liked, I fleshed them out a bit more. My goal was to incorporate several different characters performing several different activities. I knew my hero pattern would include most of them—but thinking ahead to the rest of the collection, I would have an opportunity to zero in on specific sub-themes. For example, when sketching, I was really enjoying drawing the performing dog. We have a dog, who is a silly brown hound mutt, so I loved the idea of making her the star of my tightrope pattern. Dressing her up in different outfits as she tip-toed across the tightrope just made me smile. Yet, it still fit with the circus theme! 

Regarding the colors, I've always loved the combo of pink and red. Pink COULD be seen as feminine, and as I was going for a non-gender-specific collection, I decided to go with a bolder "hot" pink as opposed to a bubble gum pink. It seemed to have a harder edge to it. Plus it would pair well with the white and black that my color schemes usually include. 

Circus sketching awesomeness!!

Q: You exhibited for the first time at Surtex 2015 with your art collective Happy Happy. During the year that has followed, how would you say that that experience has influenced: your artwork? your client list? your promotional efforts? And are you planning to return again this year? Why or why not?

A: Yes, after walking the Surtex 2014 show, I thought exhibiting in 2015 would be a great experience and a good way to gain more exposure. And that it was! Creating work and collections to show at Surtex was a first for me, as I hadn't ever licensed my work. It was interesting building a portfolio of work that wasn't for a specific customer. I created work that made me happy and hope that it stuck. I had some success at the show, but generally speaking, I learned that licensing probably isn't for me—at least at this point of my career! I really like to work with clients closely to create work that best represents their brand. On the other hand, though, I met some amazing people and made some fantastic contacts. It was so nice being able to talk to people in person and show them my work and ask them about their needs and start developing relationships. My client list has definitely grown since showing at Surtex—as has my confidence. The experience allowed me to build an extensive portfolio of new art which has gotten a lot of positive feedback and the validation that I can do this. All the work and stress and sleepless nights over the last few years is paying off! That said, I will not be returning to Surtex this year. I have been busy busy with lots of new work (including working with dream clients!) and just don't have the time! 

"Take me out to the ball game! Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks..."

Q: Dish with us about your MOST favorite illustration projects: one from the past & one from the present.

A: Ooo—that's a tough one! I have to say, I love my job so much and I put my heart and soul into each and every project, so it is REALLY hard to narrow it down. I can tell you why each project is so special to me. Ugh! 

...Okay—I just looked through my entire site, and I responded the best to my "Women in Baseball" illustration. I created it for Wisconsin Storytime, a 2014 collaboration for Project Wisconsin. My assignment focused on the inception of the All-American Girls Baseball League. As a former softball player, I have very fond memories of throwing the ball around with my dad as a kid. In preparation for this project, I re-watched A League of Their Own, and fell in love with the movie and story all over again. I had a blast doing research, poring through old photos of these female baseball players and then drawing them was even better! This piece was one of the first times I started incorporating my new shading texture technique and the color palette is so "Emily". All of it—the nostalgia, the female empowerment, the drawing process—made (and makes!) me so happy. I feel it really exemplifies who I am as a person and artist. 

How awesome is Emily's mural?! Fantastic!!!

 As far as present-day projects go, I have to say, I am getting into more mural work and I am LOVING it. Being able to incorporate my art into a space and environment is very exciting to me. I'm still learning the ins and outs of the mural process, but it has been a really fun experience. I especially love being out in the community, talking with people about my art and my job. This is what I do; I am so lucky!

Q: What do you know now that when you first began your design & illustration career you wish you’d known about: art licensing? business? self-promotion?

A: Gosh, I feel like I'm learning something new every day! In a broader sense, way back when I first started freelancing, I wish I knew more about the business side of my art, specifically talking about money. Like I said earlier, I love what I do. I still can't believe that I get to make art every day. But this means that because I love something so much, I often de-value my art. It was hard for me to charge what it was worth because I found so much joy in creating it. And then common sense started kicking in and I realized that my love and joy in creating my art wasn't paying the bills. So I had to figure out how to charge more and have those money conversations with clients that made me feel so uncomfortable. Today, I see that it goes hand-in-hand. I know what I'm worth and I can talk about it. It's not always easy, but it is a necessity. 

So cute! So charming! So fun!

 Q: Describe your most perfect day.

A: My perfect day would start with sleeping in to about 7:30am. I would have breakfast with my family and then go for a long walk with the dog and Stella on her bike. Then I would want to make some art! Drawing on the front porch while my family hangs out sounds awesome. We would then grab our bikes and ride downtown for lunch by the lake and play a couple games of UNO. In the afternoon I would work on my computer for a few hours, followed up by a grill out on the back deck. After dinner we'd veg out a bit on the couch while I work on a weaving project. After everyone is in bed I'd head out for a drink with my friends and toast my amazing day! 


Thank you SO much, Emily! We had a hoot chatting with you here at Bird Meets Worm and can’t wait to see what you create next!

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