Interview With Autumn Whitehurst
By Dorian Denes
Can you briefly tell us how you got to where you are now...?
When I graduated from art school, I was really burnt out. I wanted to sort myself out before commiting to a big career choice, so I was hellbent on just having a good time and being happy and learning how to live not as a student but as a productive member of society. Then not but two years ago I was in a diner with my boyfreind, reading British Vogue and in it was an article about illustrators. I said “I want to do this” and my boyfriend said “so do it”. Now that's what I do! And it's a lot of work but I can't imagine doing anything else right now because there are a lot of ideas that will take me years to work into my portfolio.
How do you usually work? What is the first and the last thing you do on a project?
Well, when a client calls me with a job, I briefly obsess about it. Not much of the work that I get is conceptual so I usually just obsess until a my head locks onto what feels very sound, and then I get started. I've found that if I approach an idea without my intuition, that the idea is an utter flop, and is much less enjoyable to work with. So it's really just like playing... I put together sketches with various color schemes and basic line work to present the idea. That's actually the most difficult part because I get anxious waiting for the client's response to each sketch I send them. When I'm working on the final image, my main concern is to try to make the image “sing”.
You have a very distinctive illustration style: a clean combination of line and depth effects. Is it possible for you to describe how you developed it? Was it a natural development or a result of experimentation?
The initial images that I had put together for my portfolio were very simple, being mostly line work with just a bit of rendering in some minor details. At the time I was using Illustrator's gradient mesh to accomplish this and found it to be limited in that it was a total memory hog, not to mention that it was not condusive to working intuitively but at the time it didn't matter much as I wasn't rendering very much of the image. I was really just seeing what I could do with the programs. When I received the commision to do a piece for Ecko Red, in which I had to reinterpret an image of a model that they had sent me, everything changed. I wanted to make her skin glow and was obliged to find an easier method...that being to just go ahead and use the brushes in Photoshop. I had a great time working on that image, and have been using said method since.
Are you happy with your style as it is, or are you trying to push it somewhere further?
I'm so glad that you asked this question! I do get some satisfaction working on my illustrations as I have been but it has it's limits. I've found that rendering the skin tones so heavily sets a speed in the image that must be maintained throughout, and it can be very labor intensive. I don't ever want to sacrifice thinking creatively just to maintain consistency, so I'd like to put together a portfolio of work that will go in a different direction, something in which I'm just playing with lines and color and new textures. I have to keep things spicy for myself otherwise I'll just be going through the motions, which will certainly compromise my enthusiasm for working.
Human figures. What do you base them on?
I have to use a photo reference to comprehend how light falls on a three dimensional form but the figures in the illustration rarely look anything like the photographs because myself and my friends are not such lean sleek glowing forms. It's one of the biggest challenges but is also really enjoyable and is probably the bit that I have to get most creative with. I plan to completely abandon photo references for the work in which there is no rendering at all, and it'll probably result in something a bit wild.
Most difficult project?
There isn't really a particular project that I could say was the most difficult, though I can tell you that that I've learned not to spread myself too thinly as it ends up compromising the quality of the work and it's hard to recover from a month of sitting in front of the computer with no play time! All work and no fun makes me a dull dull girl so my resolution this year will be to learn how to balance my work ethic with playtime, which I've realized is completely necessary.
A standard, yet necessary question: what are your influences?
Anything refreshingly beautiful is inspiring but I have my old standbys...the things that for so long have been an influence, I know they're deeply engraved into my psyche though I have yet to see them manifest themselves into my work. I love the drawings of George Grosz and Hans Bellmer, as well as Hokusai's sketches and woodblock prints. I'm also taken with the glamour of the Biba aesthetic and Yves Saint Laurent. I like to read old fiction as well, it's helps to shape that other reality in my head. I read not too long ago A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes just because there's a Henry Darger painting on the cover, and it ended up being one of my new favorites. And lastly, I have to give credit to my family and my boyfriend. They have high esteem for good craftmanship and I'm strongly influenced by their diverse interests in all things meaningful, beautiful and tasty.
Can you see a connection between those influences and your work? Or are you trying not to think about it...
I don't think about it so much as the influences just become a part of me. They set standards which I hope to someday meet.
Do you consider yourself a pessimist or an optimist?
I'm blindly optimistic but strangely, I worry about the things I can't change. And I'm incredibly grateful all the time, for everything. In my life I have good friends, good music and good food so I'm not sure what more I could really ask for.
You also paint. Is this your "non-commercial" work? Are you deliberately keeping the "commercial" and the "non-commercial" separated? Can you show us some of your paintings?
I haven't painted in a couple of years because I've been working quite a lot. When I do return to painting, I'm going to really enjoy teaching myself a new visual language and working with a wet medium will be refreshing. The only reason that the paintings would be considered non commercial is because they'll be done purely for the pleasure of doing them, not because they're commissioned. I'd like to indulge my need for total unhindered self expression without the parameters of a client's expectations.
Generally speaking - or - in your case: is what's "commercial" not art then? You choose the aspect...
I totally believe that commerial work is artistic. Sometimes something is created for commercial purposes and it just so happens to transcend itself, it loses it's ephemeral quality and becomes timeless and it's awesome when that happens. I don't think any of my pieces have achieved this and it's not a goal that I try to achieve but if it should ever happen, I'd be overjoyed.
What do you think you'd do if you were not an artist?
I'd be living in a sod house on the coast building (very badly) a boat so that I could go fishing and explore the nearest island so that I could start a new garden there and build another sod house.
Anything I forgot to ask you?
No, but thanks for asking ;)
Interviewed by Dorian Denes