Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Super Star Interview: Barb Zuckerman Chotiner

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. (Psst! Bonus news: Bird Meets Worm is debuting a NEW diverse children’s book review feature next month!! Look for it on the second Wednesday in June!)

This month I’m pleased as punch to be chatting it up with the fabulous Designer/Illustrator, Barb Zuckerman Chotiner! I’ve been a fan of her gorgeous artwork for a longtime and was so excited to finally meet her in person this past February at the SCBWI NY conference! Barb studied graphic design & illustration at Syracuse University and later received her MFA from the University of the Arts in book arts + printmaking. Through analog and digital methods, Barb combines textures, color, shapes and abstract forms. Inspired by the fusion of rules & repetition (math) and fluidity & freedom (English), she spends her days drawing, making monoprints, scanning and taking out excessive amounts of children’s books from the library. (Only a few of which are actually for her two medium sized children!) You can view more of her artwork here!

So super cute!! Let's totally go on a story adventure together!

 Q: Your artwork presents as stunningly layered, textured, collaged gorgeousness!! Dish with us about your rich art style and how you create such beautiful color, depth and texture in your final art.

A: Oh gosh. Thanks! I have a background in graphic design and illustration, as well as printmaking and book arts. My art kind of combines all these areas that I am passionate about. What I truly love about graphic design is its problem solving nature. When I’m creating new work, I usually try out a bunch of different mediums and then see which one is working for the project. I love cutting shapes and making monoprints. My favorite art materials are caran d’ache crayons - though oddly these don’t typically end up in my finals. (I feel like I now need to figure out why that is!) I always do some pencil drawings and sometimes use gouache or whatever paint is near my desk. Then I take all these random pieces that I’ve created and scan them into the computer. Then the fun starts—figuring out the composition. I really enjoy getting lost in the process of making and not necessary knowing where something is going to end up. (Though it can be a bit nerve-wrecking at times if it doesn't seem to be working.) Sometimes I feel like I’m a conductor and all my scans, and prints and drawings are my little orchestra and I have to make things loud and soft and big and little to make the piece work. In a sense, I design my art. It’s a lot of trial-and-error and happy accidents. I have many files with painted textures that I like to try out. I am trying to be more mindful of starting with a set color story otherwise I can to go a bit overboard with colors and have to tone it back. But yes, I do love to mess with color!

What a wonderful under-the-sea dreamscape!!

Q: You are an art licensing super star! Give us the scoop on your most favorite art licensing project: one from the past and one from the present. (And don’t leave anything out: we want to know everything from how the client connected with you to how you created it to where the finished product ended up!!)

A: My first (and therefore a favorite) licensed art was this whale art. Initially, I had it posted in an online forum and I got great direct feedback from a creative director I admire and respect. She had commented “this is what the world needs” or maybe she actually said “this is what the market needs” but in my heart I heard “world” and it inspired me to send it out to companies. It immediately got licensed to Oopsy Daisy as wall art and it seems to be something that people really like. This piece was actually 1 in a series of 6. Some of the pieces are on Oopsy Daisy and the others are licensed to DENY designs.
For the present, I am so excited to announce that this month I will have 2 pieces of wall art debuting at TJ Maxx/Marshals/Home Goods. I reached out to a frame company that works with retailers and luckily they presented and liked my work. I am drawn to birds and wanted to create a bunch of prints based upon bird silhouettes. (You can see I enjoy working with silhouettes and layering.) Only 2 of my 3 pieces made the final cut, but I’m glad two of the “siblings” will remain together. I call the series Fly Away. The piece on the left is a homage to a place I used to visit called “the Marine Nature Study Area.” It’s a large nature preserve in the town I grew up in on Long Island. I like using memories as a base for ideas.

Can you say GORGEOUS?!

This is how the magic happens!! Fabulous!

 Q: Now it’s time for one of my most favorite questions: In what ways do you balance your work as a professional artist with your role as a mama of two active kiddos?

A: I’m not sure I have this answer. As far as balanced...some days are in better alignment than others, but I can say there is never a dull moment! I have a lot of “Jewish guilt.” I feel guilty if I’m not constantly working or creating, and I feel guilty when I’m not downstairs hanging out with my kids and husband. It’s a no-win situation—yet on the flip side I feel so blessed that I have 2 amazing kids and a supportive husband and that I am a creative person with a need to make things. I knew I wanted to be an artist since I was a little girl and am so thankful I get to live this life.

Things are getting easier now, as the kids are a little bit older (6 & 8). They can entertain themselves, but I am now finding myself driving to a lot of places for activities and they are still at the age where I usually still have to stay with them. I try to be productive with that time. Sketching...Pinterest research on my phone. I’m planning to get an iPad pro next month (when the new ones hopefully come out!) and am looking forward to being able to sketch and play digitally when I’m waiting at gymnastics & soccer & baseball & juijitsu... To balance the sports, sometimes after school I will draw or collage with them. I love watching what they come up with. They don't think. They just do. They just create. And THAT is inspiring!

I also try to keep in mind that they are only this little once. My husband recites the quote “the days are long, but the years are short.” I know I will have many hours to draw in the future when they are grown, so I remind myself to be in the present and enjoy their funny conversations and not feel guilty for that. They really are such amazing, funny little human beings.

Adorable with great design details! What more could you ask for?!

 Q: What is a typical workday like for you? Set the scene (workspace, materials, accessories) and describe your responsibilities (art making, business stuff) and creative juju (rituals, inspiration, process).

A: It ALWAYS starts with coffee. Then I turn on WHYY (the local NPR station) & make breakfast and pack lunch for the littles. Once their bus pulls away at 8:35, I tidy up and make my way upstairs. Occasionally, I go for a run, but it doesn't happen as often as I’d like. My workspace is the 4th bedroom at the top of our house. It’s convenient, but I do hope to one day again have a studio outside of my home. I used to share a studio space with an amazingly talented illustrator, Brian Biggs (mrbiggs.com), but once I became pregnant the space (though artsy and cool) was not very conducive to having small infants. (It was also across the street from a gun range.) I soon moved out to the “burbs”.

It’s hard working in solitude all the time. However, now I talk pretty much every day with my “virtual” studio mate, Terri Kasuba. (kasubadesign.com) We met at an art event in NYC, but actually only live 10 minutes from each other. It’s so great having someone nearby to chat with about art, illustration, licensing as well as work/life balance and being an artist while being a parent of 2 kids. We try to meet up once a week to talk shop, give and get feedback, or sometimes go on inspirational field trips to places like amazing gift stores (puccimanuli.com), Anthropologie, and Longwood Gardens.

I work from 9-3 till the kids come home. I check my weekly and daily to do list and figure out my day. Usually it is some combination of design and illustration jobs. At 4, depending on my workload, I either stop or keep going. I try to do something that is not on the computer every day—if even only for 10 minutes. At least one of my kids usually has some sort of activity, so I go there and try to be productive either in my sketchbook or by bringing trend research or books. I also do a daily project online, so I have to make sure I fit that in at some point. Right now as part of the 100 day project, I’m doing 100 days of happy. That was inspired by my ever smiling 6 year old and her need to draw smiley faces on everything!

I used to be a night owl, but not so much anymore. (Unless I need to for a work deadline.) I try to go to bed by 11. I usually fall asleep to a podcast. (I like listening to Rachel Maddow and 99% Invisible in the evening and Creative Peptalk, All the Wonders, and The Jealous Curator while I work.)

Oh, yeah, baby!!

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

A: Perhaps that things come full circle and things happen for a reason. After college, I was a graphic designer, for many years. (Though I always kept a sketchbook as an outlet) I lived in NYC, then Boston and back to NYC. I began to have an interest in greeting card design and licensing. I signed up for a class at the School of Visual Arts in NYC and the following morning, after the very first class, was 9/11. My life changed course. I left NYC for what I thought would be a temporary move to Philadelphia, but then a few years later I found a newfound interest in and love for print-making and making books and went back to school for it. While finishing my MFA I also met my husband. Fast forward a few years, and after a few art classes I was able to find my voice and finally combine my graphic design, with my illustration, with my printmaking and begin to earn income from making/creating/designing art. Last year I was fortunate to illustrate a few picture books. I feel very fortunate I can make art that brings a smile to peoples faces as well as be able to “create” for a living and get paid for it. From my early days of being a junior art director at an direct mail ad agency in NYC, never would I have imagined being where I am today, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. (Though I do miss living in NYC!)

Q: Describe your most perfect day.

A: I wake up. It’s sunny. Drink delicious coffee. Go running. Have a great run. Come back to find my children playing together having sweet, innocent, and hilarious conversations amongst their Lego figures, Shopkins and magna tiles. The NY Times has been delivered and I can lounge on the screened in patio for a bit. An over-medium egg and fresh avocado toast appear on my table. We all go someplace as a family and everyone agrees on where we should go for lunch. Its 81 degrees and I can wear a t-shirt, jeans and flip flops. At some point, I make a drawing (or 12) and they all turns out amazing! The kids go to bed without too much drama and I get to watch a show on Netflix with my husband before going to bed. I also snack on pretzels. I love pretzels!

Thank you so much, Barb, for catching up with us here at Bird Meets Worm!! You rock!