by Adam Callaby
With a meticulous illustrative technique that is both fine-tuned and mesmerizing, Teagan White is one of those artists that you can’t help but feel jealous about. The imagery and style of her work uses both colour, shading and layout to blur an impossible line between what is dreamy and what is dark, Working alongside subjects such as decomposing Deer and skeletons, to children’s animal characters and woven tapestries of vines and branches. Having managed to talk, we ask her what it is that inspires her to create such pieces, her life as an artist, and what the future may hold.
1. Before we dive into the more probing questions, could you quickly explain to our readers who you are, and what it is that you do? Perhaps touching upon a few things that you’re interested in?
Sure thing! My name is Teagan White, and I’m a freelance illustrator working in St Paul, Minnesota. My work typically focuses on nature, plants, and animals, and ranges in style from intricate, realistic drawings, to more colorful and decorative work, to whimsical children’s illustration. My interests outside of illustration tend to be very similar to what you might guess by looking at my work – I spend all my free time exploring & taking photos of forests, lakes, rivers, fields, and swamps, collecting animal bones, picking wildflowers, browsing antique stores and garage sales, and getting very excited about weather and seasons changing.
2. Have you had any educational training in art? If so, what and where have you studied? And if not, why not? What is your personal opinion on the education of arts, and do you think it’s more important for an aspiring creative to seek out some form of education program, or work their way up the creative ladder?
I graduated this past spring from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design with a BFA in Illustration. My feelings about a formal arts education are mixed. I don’t think that going to school is necessary at all to pursue a creative career (unless the specific field/position requires it – like most graphic design positions may), I think that different paths work better or worse for different people. Many people who earn arts degrees might not even want their area of study to become their primary means of employment; many might want it to, but not have the right personality or work ethic to maintain a freelance career; many self-taught creatives end up being just as successful as the ones who went to school. I think at worst, a formal arts education can be a complete waste of time and money and leave graduates in massive amounts of debt and with no job prospects; at best, it can give them a plethora of opportunities in a wide variety of creative fields, help direct them towards a career that they might not have considered on their own, and teach them skills and practices they need to succeed. I will say that from what I have witnessed personally, students who start out with tons of motivation and at least a fair amount of talent are the ones who succeed during and after school, and students who might not be as self-driven or are hoping for school to teach them to draw and put them on a somewhat traditional career path tend to be disappointed.
3. A simple browsing of your website, brings up a list of impressive clients. When it comes to being approached by job propositions, what do you take into consideration when accepting or deny a job request? Are there certain kinds of clients you prefer to work with? Are there subjects that you would not agree to take on?
I try to take every job that I can – the most common reasons that a project doesn’t work out are me having another project with a conflicting deadline, budget limitations, or I don’t feel that the project is a good fit for me. If I don’t feel it’s a good fit, it’s usually because the proposed style or subject matter is at odds with what I would usually create, or is not my taste. If I think a project sounds stupid or tacky, my opinion might interfere with the project being done as well as it could, in which case there is probably someone else out there who would do a better job with it. This situation is fairly rare, though. I also would never work on a project that strongly conflicted with my ideological or political views.
4. Picking out a couple of pieces that you’ve created, it’s apparent that the kinds of work you take on vary in their nature. What is it like working for such a well known corporate brand such as Nike, or Coca-Cola? When compared to working for someone like Egocomplex or Anrthopologie?
The working relationship with different types of clients varies a lot based on the size of the company and the field they work in. Some corporations might be my client but I may never correspond with them directly because I’m working on the project with an ad agency or design studio. In other cases, I might be working closely with in-house staff or just one art director from Nike or a magazine or a publisher. When I work with small businesses or on personal commissions, my relationship tends to be more informal (depending on what seems to be called for). Smaller jobs sometimes need to be shunted around if I have a big project with a pressing deadline come in unexpectedly, or I might once in a while end up friends with the client on facebook and twitter and pinterest. But I still treat any work we do together as a a business arrangement with contracts, work schedules, invoices, and so forth. I can’t say that I prefer one type of client over the other – they are both wonderful and at times frustrating in their own ways. There are art directors who bring me amazing, inspiring projects with whom I share mutual respect and whose feedback and criticisms I value immensely, and there are are small business owners who drive you crazy with revisions because they can’t visualize their ideas or don’t know what they want. Likewise, there are big companies with poor project management and unreasonable expectations, and there are individual people who you feel understand your work on a very deep level and want to work with you on the coolest, most fun project ever. So when it comes down to it, I think individual people effect working relationships much more than the size of the company or the budget. I used to think that if you paid me enough for a project I wouldn’t care how many revisions you asked for and whether you did it politely, or that there are budgets too low for me to feel respected and able to do a good job – over the past year or so, I’ve learned that neither are absolute truths, at least for me.
5. From your own perspective, is there a certain project or piece of work that you’ve completed, which you are most proud of? Could you give us a step by step guide on what led you to creating such a piece, what it was for, how you researched it, drew it, created it, finalized it? Then, could you tell us about your favourite parts of it and why you’re proud of it?
I’m not sure about proud, so I think I will go with “fond”. Out of everything I’ve ever made, I think that I am most fond of two pieces, “The Last Acorn of Autumn” and “Harvey the Greedy Chipmunk”. I don’t think they’re necessarily my best work, but I love them because they so easily could have never happened, but they did and the entire children’s illustration part of my career grew unexpectedly from them. They were both for a class assignment where we had to make something based on an incredibly stupid and abstract prompt, I don’t even remember what the project’s requirements were. I ended up doodling the two characters even though I had never developed or even thought about developing a children’s illustration style prior to that assignment. I know they were inspired in part by illustrator Carson Ellis, but otherwise, I don’t know where they came from or why I drew them. I do recall feeling guilty as I worked on the finals, like I shouldn’t be allowed to turn in something so cute and self-indulgent for an assignment, that I wasn’t taking things seriously. I only created the two and no more, but it was enough to make me sign up for a Children’s Book class for following semester, and my style for anthropomorphic animals grew from there. My favorite thing about them is that they are expressionless – to me there is nothing better than loving something dearly for it being adorable, while it sits unresponsive and unemotional. I’m not totally sure why I find that dynamic to be so appealing, and I actually tend to shy away from it a bit in other works, for fear that others will not find it to be as charming or relatable.
6. How do you handle criticism?
I do my very best to respect it and not take it personally. I really like reasonable criticism that I think will make the piece better and am always very happy to receive it. The criticism that bugs me is that which I think will worsen the piece, which generally I get from the type of client that is not especially good at picturing a final product, or just has different taste than I do. In either case I try to present a few options and be clear about my preference and reasoning behind it, in hopes that they will understand my perspective.
7. Despite the nature of clients, and the variety of work you have done, your illustrations seems to contain a more continuous style. If you could describe it, how would you explain that style? How do you go about creating them?
I am always very happy when people say that my style has continuity, because I sometimes feel so all over the place with a illustration and totally different children’s illustration portfolio. I think that subject matter (nature), mood or feeling, color palette, level of detail, way of arranging decorative compositions, and scale of objects on the page tend to unify my different works, all to varying degrees – so I guess most of that all just comes out of my very specific, nitpicky aesthetic preferences, rather than out of any conscious choice.
8. In an ideal world, we’d be able to do any job we pleased. So if given the option, is there a client, a company, an artists or designer or musician, who you wish to one day work with? And why?
Well, I’d like to design absolutely everything Anthropologie has. That, or help art direct the sets of Wes Anderson movies.
9. Sticking to the theme of other artists, are there any that you personally feel inspired by, or continue to watch to this day? Are there certain art movements or genres that you tend to follow?
The artists who inspire me most consistently are Andrew Wyeth, Carson Ellis and Meg Hunt. I tend to be most interested in contemporary illustration and design, but specifically that which references graphic mid-century illustration, antique botanical and anatomical illustration, and vintage colors.
10. Is there any advice you could give any of our readers that are aspiring to become professional illustrators, such as yourself?
Use the internet! It’s absolutely everything you need, except talent and a useable style, but even those things only kind of. If you’re good and you upload your work all over the place and keep at networking and self-promotion, then slowly but surely you should be able to break into the field. It’s vastly easier than I’m sure it could have been before the internet, so feel blessed!
11. And to end our interview. Do you have any future goals, projects or pieces of work that you are planning on doing, or are currently working on, which you can let our readers in on? (So long as it doesn’t get your into trouble, mind.)
I think it’s okay for me to say that I’m just wrapping up an ad campaign for Honda, and that I am about to sign a contract for a picture book with a well known publisher who has to remain nameless until after said signing. I am working to open an Etsy shop as soon as possible, and am also happy to announce that I am now being represented by artist management agency “&Reach” who work with some very talented people that I am proud to be among!
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Writing by Adam Callaby