Students considering careers in the arts, single men and women prepping for a date with a creative type, parents with imaginative children – they should all read You Might Be An Artist If… by artist Lauren Purje. Truly, this new hardcover collection from Top Shelf Productions, an imprint of IDW Publishing, perfectly captures what it’s like to be (and know) an artist.
Reading You Might Be An Artist… wasn’t enough, though. AiPT! wanted to know more about the creator behind this series of refreshingly honest comic strips, so we reached out to discuss a range of topics, including her artistic inspirations, social media and the end of modern civilization.AiPT!: How did your series of comic strips originally come about?
Lauren Purje: When I moved to New York, I gradually started painting less and drawing more, it was way easier with the space that I had. Paintings can really pile up quickly, drawings are easy to file away though. Plus, I’ve always admired autobiographical comics and wanted to do some of my own. In college, I did a strip, but it was never based on my personal experiences – it was always disguised somehow. Back then, I was using the characters from Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon, as my “voice.” I’ve always found that play very relatable.
AiPT!: Did you ever or do you currently read any comics?
Purje: Besides your typical Sunday newspaper comics, I was really late to discover any comics I liked. The first I stumbled upon were Jeffrey Brown’s, so he opened the door for me. But, admittedly, I still don’t read enough. I’m digging Adrian Tomine right now, I just picked up his old Optic Nerve mini-comics the other day.
AiPT!: How did the You Might Be An Artist If… collection come about?
Purje: It grew pretty organically. I’ve always surrounded myself with artists and creative people, and I’m extremely fascinated by the creative process. I read a lot of artist biography kind of stuff, too. So, when I started doing these, I felt like I had a ton of material to put on paper. But, once Hrag (chief editor of Hyperallergic) “discovered” them and hired me to be a contributor, it had a whole new audience. And deadlines, which helps. And, by new audience I mean, I suddenly HAD an audience. That all gave me focus. I knew that I was speaking to other artists, so I boiled it down to what I wanted to do most, which is the same in my other art endeavors; to draw something relatable and comforting. Being an artist doesn’t necessarily make you different from any other professional person, but the struggles we go through are kind of unique, I think.
AiPT!: Do you have a favorite comic strip you’ve done, or is that a crazy question I should be ashamed of asking?
Purje: Haha, no shame. I generally start to dislike everything I make after a certain amount of time, but if I had to choose one in this book, it would probably be one called “Not Alone.” It came about as one of my friends was dealing with another friend’s suicide. Pretty heavy, sorry! But, it’s a reality many of us face, either ourselves or someone close to us. Rarely do I get messages from strangers, but that one brought a couple emails that made it felt like I had done something to help another person. Which is all I could ever hope for as an artist, or as a human being.
AiPT!: Who are some of the artists who influenced your style?
Purje: Jeffrey Brown, for sure, influenced me. Don Hertzfeldt, too. Both simply drawn, but poignant. But, I was consciously trying to mimic the proportions of old cartoons in the beginning, Betty Boop-ish without any of the gender identifiers. My style kind of reads like they’re children, but I thought that just added to the sincerity. Now, it’s a habit to draw characters that way.
AiPT!: Your comics have a lot of bite to them, but so too do many of your paintings. How important is it for you to inject humor into your art?
Purje: Humor is essential! If I was straightforward about what I thought or wanted to say, it would be way too depressing and whiny, which I think is useless. Humor is a coping mechanism after all. If I put new stuff out into the world I don’t want it to add to the mess we’re in, I want it to be a tiny bit of relief.
AiPT!: Your illustrations seesaw between being hyper-detailed and cartoony. Do you prefer one style over the other?
Purje: I love looking at scientific illustrations and prints from yester-century, by artists like Durer. I will always try to expand my skills to draw that way. I find it really relaxing, and challenging. But, the comics I’ve done thus far have been the opposite of that, at least in my mind. I feel like they communicate better if they’re simple. It really boils down to what I’m trying to do on each particular page, if it calls for more detail, I’ll add it. I feel like in the future, it’s going to get more and more intertwined in the comics though.
AiPT!: In my review, I compared your strips to tweets. I feel as though the way we consume content is changing at a rapid clip. Are you feeling the effects in the art world, the same way journalists, videographers and so many other artists have to adapt to rapidly shrinking attention spans?
Purje: See, I don’t know if I buy that our attention spans are shrinking. I feel like media is now catering to a shorter attention span based on that assumption, though, but our brains are adaptable. How many people binge hours and hours of a single TV show in one weekend? The attention is there if the quality is there. I don’t personally feel the pressure, I think the pressure to “brand” yourself is much more scary and damaging to creators. It forces you into a corner. If you base your worth on likes and shares, at the end of the day, you’re not going to be very happy with your work, and how do you progress? There should be a bit of everything though, long and short form comics, articles, videos … all of it. Maybe we should all be pushing back a little more and stop believing our attention spans are fish-sized.
AiPT!: What are you currently working on that you’re excited about?
Purje: Speaking of attention spans, ha, I’m trying to learn how to write longer comics. Not specifically with this series maybe, but I’ve been working on something about Charles Darwin that I’m really having fun with at the moment. I don’t know if it’ll see the light of day, but I’m pushing myself to do some more storytelling in general.
AiPT!: It’s likely many aspiring artists can relate to your comic strips. As a major comics publisher is putting out a book of your work, I have to ask – what advice do you have for those who dream of a career in the arts?
Purje: Man, I feel extremely lucky to have gotten this gig and basically all of the other experiences I’ve gotten so far, too. Don’t get me wrong, there’s been a lot of disasters along the way, but that’s life. I think just following your gut goes a long way. As an art student, you’re kind of told what the “path” to success is, but honestly, just doing what you love will eventually gain it’s own traction. I stuck to my guns not doing a lot of things, certain commissions that made me feel queasy, things like that. You don’t have to paint a bowl of fruit or your friend’s hamster if you don’t want to. Just keep your day job, money comes and goes.
AiPT!: At any point, did you ever think about throwing in the towel? What advice do you have for those who may be having the same thoughts?
Purje: Hell, I think I did throw in the towel. I was a mess a year ago today. I quit my job, stopped talking to a lot of people, went home to Ohio for a couple months. I still drew, though, just not as much and I wasn’t sharing it either. But, being a mess got me to get my shit together and send my comics to Top Shelf, on a whim. “Giving up” (by someone else’s standards) may just be a turning point for you. So, here’s some terrible advice, give up if you want to. The urge to create stuff doesn’t quit if you’ve been bitten by that bug, it just takes different forms. Do what feels right to you.
AiPT!: What inspires you the most?
Purje: A lot! But, the most? Music. It gets me up in the morning and gets me through the day, it’s the best thing humans do/ever have done. Which is why I can never study or try to create it. I will ruin it.
AiPT!: What distracts you the most?
Purje: Internets. So many Google black-holes. So many. And, cats. Both together, oy, a whole day gone.
AiPT!: Modern civilization is wiped out – probably within the next four years – and 1,000 years later, the inheritors of the Earth gain an appreciation for art. They find a single piece you created before the apocalypse. What’s it of?
Purje: Oh god. Anxiety rising. You’re making me think. I should draw a life-sized sketch of my insides, so they can compare and contrast what’s evolved and what’s not. Soak that in resin for them… I’d like my work to be reference material to a missing link. I’m infinitely jealous of those old ancestor skeletons. So valuable. Is that art?
To learn more about Lauren Purje’s work, visit her website.