meet the artist :: charrow
i first saw charrow’s work at Joe, an independent coffee shop with five locations around manhattan. the chalk-drawn squirrels on the outside blackboard, meant to entice passersby, had a hard-edged, snarky charm. inside the 13th street location, just southwest of union square, charrow’s work is displayed on the walls: light-hearted yet critical, colorful yet muted. her subjects, mainly animals, are whimsical. it makes waiting for the morning espresso tolerable.
the paradoxical nature of the illustrations, wholly intentional, pairs well with charrow’s choice of medium: gouache, an opaque paint that’s similar to the watercolors most people used in grade school. what differs, gouache’s less binding nature and the addition of white, makes it easier to fix and better for scanning. “it’s for people who are stressed out by watercolor,” charrow said, adding that the paint can also take on the appearance of acrylic depending on how it’s mixed.
prior to grad school, outside the occasional highlight, charrow worked in pen and ink. she didnt know how to use color; her disastrous experience with oil paints was far from encouraging, not to mention her hostile feelings towards acrylic. both were too heavy and any attempts at thinning them out ended in a soupy mess. it wasn’t until a professor introduced her to gouache that she realized working with color could be enjoyable. now whenever she thinks about what to draw, she first wonders how it will look in color.
charrow, now living in brooklyn, got her start in academia start studying art history at Smith College. “it gave me a more analytical eye,” she said, paying homage to her degree in spite of it not having been necessary for the jobs she’s had so far. she continues, ” it helps give you the language, for sure; i definitely have a language to describe what i’m seeing.. . . but,” she says of art critics, “they attach and apply all this language to what people were doing. they dissect their inspiration; dissect what it was they were accomplishing; and i was like, you can’t actually know what that person was trying to accomplish.. . . language is useful when used properly,” she concludes.
“they’re words. if people pay for art and hang it up on their wall, that makes it fine art in my opinion.”
as her education progressed, charrow came to investigate the conventional labels art uses to define itself—especially within the realm of art history. school had taught her about color, introduced her to a life-altering medium, and gave her language to explain art, but it also made her hyper-aware of that same institution’s distinction between fine art and illustration. “i’ll never be able to be an artist because i’m an illustrator,” she’d think. although it’s since been worked out in her head with illustration validated, she still feels that, minus a few superstars, illustration and comic book art is not yet taken seriously within the art world. “when talking about late-20th century artists,” she said, “they never reference [Robert] Crumb,” the underground comic book artist now in his late-60s. “he’s an artist.”
most artists know that the pressure to create can hang like a weight around one’s neck. “when i don’t have any ideas i will try to find assignments,” charrow said when asked about her process for collecting ideas. illustration friday, an open online forum for artists, has been instrumental in helping charrow break out of stale moments and has rescued her from burnout. the site posts a new word each week and whoever participants has 7 days to create something based on that one word. although artists compete for “pick of the week,” charrow finds that using it to keep the creativity and artwork flowing is reward enough. charrow, however, does submit her work competitively and has recently been chosen by they draw and cook, a website devoted to illustrated recipes, to be a part of their illustrated cook book coming out in the fall of 2011.
[interview] :: back from her tour of coffee and graffiti in western europe, charrow sat down with me to discuss campy new york pets, the status of the city squirrels, and the varieties of aqua:
[bonus audio] :: listen to charrow discuss the illustration industry from an artist’s perspective:
5 random questions for charrow:
- top 3 children’s book illustrators:
Emma Adbage (Swedish), Oliver Jeffers (British), and Arthur de Pins—but he’s really for adults so as an
bonus, Jay Ryan. he does amazing poster art that looks like a children’s book.
- cause for your last great burst of inspiration:
The Wrong Place by Brecht Evens. It’s really amazing.
- in rotation on your iPod:
Florence+Machine on repeat mixed with a little Le Loup
- favorite coffee drink to make: Large Latte in ceramic…it allows me to show off latte art the best…but I enjoy drinking cortados.
- what you should do more of but don’t:
laundry and proof reading
in addition to churning out art, charrow currently teaches coffee classes at joe on 13th street
charrow’s official website
charrow on etsy
they draw and cook :: forthcoming cookbook with charrow entry
joe: the art of coffee :: take coffee classes the 13th street location with charrow
the ispot :: illustration portfolio site
illustration friday :: for artist’s block and inspiration