Autumn Whitehurst interview
We’ve featured Autumn Whitehurst’s vector art many times over the past few years and checked in with her recently about work and play in New York City: ‘It’s dandy, thanks for asking. I’ve lived here for about a decade and I don’t get out into the city as much as I used to, don’t oblige myself to go see all the newest cultural happenings because there’s always something new going on, and yes I totally love that, but I’ve committed the last five years to my work and it’s made me a bit of a homebody’.
‘They say that you spend the first three years here partying, which I think is true because you’re really sensitive to the city’s energy — which is amazing — but then you get down to the business of doing whatever it was that you really wanted to do here in the first place. I’m trying to go out more these days, though, because all work and no play makes me a really dull girl. I think I’d started to realize that my well had gone dry and that I was working too much and not living enough’.
How would you say that your illustration style has changed over the years?
‘Well, some of my incentive for evolving my work into something more simple was so that I could have more time to do other necessary things. It was within the first year of my career that I adopted a very realistic style of illustration due to my client’s interest in that portion of my portfolio and I worked that way for a few years. It’s a really labor intensive technique. But I always had an issue with how close to photography the work was. It really didn’t allow me much room to play with the potential of illustration. So I’m stripping back much of what seems unnecessary to give myself not only some time but also some creative space’.
How receptive are you to new approaches to illustration? For instance, do you enjoy seeing people trying new things regardless of whether you think the illustrations themselves are particularly strong?
‘Absolutely. You can really sense when someone is enjoying what they do. There’s too much work out there that lacks the artist’s personal vision, stuff that’s being done because it’s a popular style used in marketing, but the pitfall in working that way is that they’re taking part in a trend which will eventually die off’.
What’s your favourite work of yours?
‘That’s a tricky question! I’m not pleased honestly with the majority of what I do which is my incentive to keep working, because like most artists I’m striving to communicate something in a way which clearly conveys my original intent, but I lose some control over what happens between my head and my hands so the image which results has happy and unhappy accidents in it. I guess that the way I’d like to answer your question is to say that the image that I have the least issues with would be an illustration that I did for the London Telegraph in which a woman is wearing a wide brim fedora hat, or Sweet but Sugar Free, which I did years ago as a promo image for my agent’s promo cards’.
Do you find that you constantly look at things subconciously with a view to how they would translate to being drawn? Is this draining for you or inspiring?
‘Most of my waking hours, my head automatically translates everything I’m looking at into planes of color, textures, and lines. There are times when I’m working so much that when I do finally get around to sleeping my mind is pulling bezier points around random shapes. Working as an illustrator has really changed the way I see things, and as a result what inspires me has changed, too. Part of me is tapping into the visual information that I can use in my work, but I’ve become more responsive to things that are entirely fresh to me, that have nothing to do with visual information…like the unexplainable exchange we have with animals, or that choked up feeling that you get when you watch a ridiculously sad movie, or how lucky you feel when you witness something that rarely happens. Those experiences make me feel three dimensional. It’s been a dense few years of work, and those basic things have come to mean a lot, so yeah, I’m easily moved’.
What do you enjoy doing outside of illustration?
‘I love reading, especially because I have a hard time articulating myself effectively so a good writer is very exciting. The last good book I read was A High Wind in Jamaica, though the ending made me throw the book at the wall. And I also have a garden in which I like to grow unusual plants. I love going to live shows. I saw the Walkmen last year and they were above and beyond fantastic. And I really enjoy drinking and then having a good inebriated debate amongst friends, especially if there’s a devil’s advocate in the mix. I like going out and seeing something mind blowingly beautiful, which might be a fine foggy evening, or an exhibition by some crazy young artist, for example. And when I have the opportunity, I really enjoy traveling. The last trip I took was a month spent in Vietnam with my mother’s family, and that was so fantastic I don’t think I could do it justice with words. I think my next trip might be to New Zealand, or Nepal. And if I had more time, I’d take up jewelry making or start painting again, which I haven’t done in a while’.
Where can you see yourself being and what will you be doing in ten years time?
‘I’ll probably be figuring out how to do what I do and raise a family at the same time. Kids are so raw I can’t imagine a life without them. And maybe I’ll have taught myself how to play the drums by then, and we’ll go on the road as a Missy Elliot drum and fife cover band. Maybe!’