Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman
Happy New Year! We’re excited to kick off 2014 with Andrea Kalfas, an extraordinary Illustrator living in Baltimore. She stuck around Charm City after earning her BFA in Illustration from MICA, but now she teaches classes there that students beg to get into. Her illustration technique is reminiscent of a pre-digital age; Mary Blair and M. Sasek (who she mentions) come to mind. Her often futuristic and pop culture influenced subject matter is the main clue she’s a contemporary artist. The only way I can sufficiently sum up her flawless dry brushing is to quote Lil Wayne “shit, get on my level, you can’t get on my level, you would need a space shuttle or a ladder that’s forever.”
SHANON WELTMAN: Who and what are your favorite inspirations, or where do you find your inspirations?
ANDREA KALFAS: The things I’m inspired by these days actually are a lot of the current new cartoons that are on TV. I was kind of obsessed with the cartoon modern style in college and that continued afterwards as well. I was in love with “Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends”, for instance, which has a lot of that style going on throughout the show. I’m really into shows like “Gravity Falls”, things that have really strong character design and a lot of weird twists to them. I think that that stuff, kind of imagining the characters and writing really influences a lot of my thinking with my work. Even if I’m not writing or doing a comic each time it kind of helps push me towards thinking of things in a playful way.
SW: So it’s mostly cartoons?
AK: A lot of it is, yeah.
SW: What about your color palette?
AK: It comes from a lot of different places. I really like the work of M. Sasek and other children’s book authors as well. One of my favorite illustrators working today is Marc Boutavant who is a French illustrator. He’s done a number of children’s books as well. He uses a lot of incredibly vibrant and really attractive color in all of the environments and characters he creates, so it really kind of helps me push it a little bit more when I look at his work. I’m inspired by a lot of French illustrators… a lot of them are in the comic crowd, which is odd I guess because it’s not really how I work or a majority of the work I do is not comics. It’s mostly editorial, it’s barely even got a narrative, but that’s the stuff that I geek out and really love.
SW: Are you surprised to find yourself in a teaching position, or is this a path you dreamed of?
AK: I wouldn’t say I dreamed of it really, I am a little bit surprised. I kind of always was involved in teaching to some degree. I was a TA [teaching assistant]; I did the Pre-College program at MICA as a TA and RA for that. It’s kind of something I had been doing for awhile and I kind of slipped into teaching a little bit actually, but it’s totally, totally a different beast. [Laughs] I actually got the job in a bar which is kind of unexpected in that way. I didn’t expect to be teaching Digital Illustration, I definitely feel a bit more comfortable traditionally, which is where a lot of my training was focused. But in the end, I think that that informed the way I work digitally really well. I think a lot of students can benefit from a strong traditional background before moving digitally in programs like Photoshop. It kind of became a natural transition for the style that I work in and also from what I have to offer as a teacher in that class. It’s a happy thing that’s happened.
SW: That’s a good lead in to this next question. Can you walk us through your favorite way to work? Don’t divulge any secrets you don’t want to, but, like, how many layers and everything are there, etc?
AK: Oh yeah, well I still get to work, working in gouache. I don’t get the chance to work with it too often in editorial jobs with a quick turn around, but when I do get to work in it, I’m sure you know… when you have that special medium and style of working it becomes a little meditative. Any painting with gouache is definitely that way for me. I’ve given several demos in gouache and one thing that I always say is the way that I paint with gouache is not the proper way to do it, or maybe not the best way. I paint graphically, I don’t work in any kind of under painting for what I do, which actually I started working that way because gouache is so expensive. I was kind of spare with how I apply the paint. I kind of apply colors to the page like gouache was used originally when graphic designers and poster designers would layout a page. I kind of lay in flat areas of color that describe whatever it is I’m doing and then I work into those shapes with dry brushing and sometimes line work, mostly dry brushing to describe my form, which is such a lovely part of the whole thing [laughs].
SW: That’s very, very you.
AK: Sometimes I have to pull myself back from it a little bit… because I’ll get too far with it. I always try to be a lot more graphic than I end up being in gouache, but I get too involved with those little dry brushing marks [laughs].
SW: Mmhm [laughs].
AK: I have a lot of little favorite things about gouache, my favorite color by far is Opera pink.
AK: It’s the brightest of day-glo blinding fuchsia hot pink… [laughs]
SW: So, wait do you use acrylic gouache or just gouache?
AK: I’ve never made friends with acrylic gouache. How it mixes and how it lays on the paper… it doesn’t jive for me. I don’t know, I like the regular stuff. It’s tricky in it’s own right. Especially when you work with several different brands which I do, because I go out for sales [laughs]. Every now and then, there are ones with weird consistencies. For some reason the Winsor Newton Cobalt blue is crazy oily, I don’t know why, but it always always is. Mixing that with other ones becomes weird, so, there’s definitely problems with regular gouache, that I guess acrylic gouache wouldn’t have at all, but still I’m weird about it.
SW: I know what you mean about that, how the paper reacts, for sure.
AK: It has such a soft, lovely, chalky feeling that I enjoy.
SW: What are your favorite subjects to make art about?
AK: Right now I’ve been really into a lot of kind of ancient wizard characters, just put out a book last year about witches, wizards and familiars and it’s kind of taken off into a kind of personal obsession with drawing fantasy creatures and characters like that. Which is insanely indulgent [laughs], and not something I’ve really shared too much of, but I’m really into that right now.
SW: The notebook series you did with the constellations on the front, how did that project happen?
AK: That happened because I had worked with my art director, the editor at Scout Books, whose name is Francois Vigneault. He had contacted me a little while before I worked on those notebooks to do a series of illustrations for classic American short stories that they had illustrated by a number of illustrators. They get released in pocket sized books which were the same size as notebooks are. I had done a story called The Isle of Voices by Robert Louis Stevenson. That went really well, we developed a good relationship and he was nice enough to follow my work and saw that I had been creating a bunch of kind of self-indulgent related pieces, which were personal work, and asked me if I wanted to do some notebooks. He was leaning towards a space theme and he had some other suggestions, but in the end I was like ‘oh no, definitely space and stars and constellations.’ It was an awesome project because I got to do whatever I wanted to.
SW: It came out awesome!
AK: Thanks so much! [Laughs] I know you’re into constellations, astrology and everything like that so I’m glad that you like them. The characters in the constellations, actually were kind of my tiny little attempt to touch the weirdness that is [Jack] Kirby’s New Gods, especially in the kind of tricky armor they were wearing. It’s not everyday you get the crazy self-indulgent assignment where you have such free range. I wanted to go all out with it.
SW: That’s so exciting!
AK: It was a lot of fun.
SW: What do you think has really worked the best for you — your talent, communications, networking? What would you tell your younger self to focus on.
AK: I would definitely tell myself to be weirder than you think, to not be nearly as safe, to not be as preoccupied with the universal audience more so than being able to impress yourself with the things you can come up with. Maybe that’s a little bit vague, but one of the things I found in school was pushing myself, as far as concept, and thinking outside the box with ideas was something that I held back from more than I wish I had. I think one of the things my younger self, and maybe those students would benefit from is just being stranger than they think they should be. Really pushing outside their own boundaries.
SW: That sounds like pretty good advice.
AK: I think that also, generally, just work constantly [laughs]. Don’t stop drawing, for anything. Especially, because when something that you love is a job, it becomes hard to find the love in it, like you would any other hobby. As long as you can make it a habit to keep working all the time, to keep changing all the time, things will go well.
SW: Okay, I’ve got just one more question. Did you make any New Years resolutions?
AK: [Laughs] Maybe you’re going to be a little sad? My New Years resolution, the only one I made was to not be hard on myself.
SW: That’s a great resolution!
AK: I’m a big critic, in the highly judgmental way to my work. The only resolution I felt I could make and really try to stick to: Lay off myself a little bit [laughs].
Print by Rob Reynolds