★ MEET N‘ GREET ★
Jess Wheaton interviews Julia Rothman.
1. I read on your site that you grew up on City Island in the Bronx, which you say few New Yorkers have heard about. I definitely know nothing of it. Can you tell us about your experience there? In a general way, how did you get from childhood to where you find yourself now, in terms of being an artist, living where you do, and leading the life that you lead?
City Island is a weird place. It’s only a mile and half long and half a mile wide. It’s filled with seafood restaurants and it’s catch phrase is "the seaport of the Bronx". Most people know City Island as the place they ate good seafood once. Many people are surprised to hear that people live on the island. My husband likes to tell the story of what I said to him when we first met. I told him it was funny that we both came from a small town. He came from Tabor Iowa (pop. 900) and I came from City Island- in the Bronx in NYC. But I always did think of it as a small town because everyone knew everyone and there was a real sense of community. I went to the small public school on the island from K-8. When we started getting older it was exciting to take that trip to Manhattan or what we called "the city."
Since I grew up in New York and all of my family still lives here it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else. Now I live on the outskirts of Park Slope Brooklyn. I love the over stimulation I get walking down the street and the variety of cultures around me. The only problem is it’s expensive. And I live in a tiny apartment surrounded by clutter. Somehow I think all of this contributes to my work in a good way.
2. How do your ideas for a work come to you, and what is your process for getting a work made? Does this differ depending on what kind of project you’re undertaking? Do you perceive any difference between creating an illustration, a surface design, or a painting, all of which you do?
Well if it’s commercial work, the client usually has something in mind so I don’t have to come up with an idea as much. When I am making patterns on my own, I usually think of things I might like to draw. I like things with a lot of details. I try to picture something in all lines and imagine if it will be interesting. I really like drawing different versions of the same thing- a sort of cataloguing. The same goes for my current paintings. Although with some of the paintings I have recently made, I started out with the frames. The frames sort of dictated what would look best inside them.
3. What’s it like knowing your work is riding around the world on wallpaper, handbags, stationary, milk bottles, bedding, mugs, placemats, etc? Was this the plan all along or is the Surface Designer hat an unexpected acquisition? How did you transition from school to becoming a working artist?
I had no idea I would be making patterns. It all started when I got hired to make patterns and graphics for My Little Pony Style Guide a couple of years out of school. I had a great time and Hasbro was happy with the results. They kept asking me to make more pattern designs for their other products: Secret Central, Littlest Pet Shop, Tonka Baby, Furbies. I became really good at making patterns. But I was making patterns that were mimicking the illustration style that already existed for the characters. When I finally tried making patterns with my own style of illustrations it felt amazing. I loved making them so much and couldn’t stop. After getting press about my patterns from Design Sponge, things started happening pretty fast. One of the first things that got made was this mug for Urban Outfitters. I remember being so so excited and buying so many and taking pictures at the store. And I still get pretty excited when new things come out. I always wind up buying a ton of whatever it is and try to find uses for it in my apartment. For example, we sleep on little boy’s rock and roll bedding I designed for the Land of Nod.
4. I imagine you must do a lot of project juggling. What is a typical day for you like? Do you ever have to search for the drive to continue making new imagery, and if so, what’s that source? Also, what do you think contributed most to your success?
On a typical day I wake up with my husband and walk him with my dog to the train. Go home, read blogs, start working. I work long hours like 7 or 8 in the morning to 7 or 8 at night. But I take long dog walking breaks in the middle. The day always goes really fast for me. I’m always surprised by what time it is. There are days where I feel stuck with ideas but usually I can count on Jenny and Matt (my Also co-workers) to help me brainstorm. They are such a huge influence on all that I do. Everything I make goes through them first, like a filter. I think having them and also being pro-active about promoting myself has made the biggest positive effects on my career.
5. I’m really interested in learning more about your three person, two city design company Also. How do you all know each other and what inspired you to band together? How did your first projects come about? Can you speak about the nature of collaborative work and how you go about jointly working on projects with people who live far away?
We all went to RISD together. After graduation I immediately started doing illustration work where ever I could get it. One of my first clients was a dog clothing company. I did illustrations for their catalog. Then they asked me if I could knew anything about making websites because they needed one. I thought of my friend Jenny who helped me with my own website and called her up. Matt and her live together and he was an animation major, so we all sort of teamed up and made this crazy animated dog clothing site together. It came out super cute and they did really well. We loved working together and decided with our three specialties- Jenny, graphic design, Matt, animation, and me, illustration, we could make one heck of a team.
The distance thing is really no problem because of today’s technology. Jenny is virtually on my screen all day using the isight videophone. It’s as if we are in the same room. If I want her to look at something, I just drag and drop a file onto her face.
6. Lastly, what are you most excited about right now? Is there any advice you would offer yourself if you could travel back in time to your years as a student at RISD?
I am most excited about my new wallpapers with Hygge & West. The Nethercote design was made from pieces of the prints I made for LPP actually. They are silkscreened and available on rolls. I am also working on this big book project with Matt and Jenny. We are organizing a collaboration of 100 artists based on the ideas of the exquisite corpse. This is still in very beginning stages but I think when it’s finished it will be amazing. My advice to myself would have been to trust myself more. I had a hard time believing I knew what I was doing. I still do.
Thanks again Julia for being a part of Little Paper Planes with your letterpress print.
Julia Rothman is a illustrator and pattern designer located in Brooklyn New York. You can find her designs on various products for Urban Outfitters Artist Series, on stationery for Hello! Lucky, and on a new line of wallpapers for Hygge & West. Her illustrations have appeared in The New York Times, Details magazine and on a line of puzzles for Kid O. She is also part of an award winning three person design company called Also. For fun she has a blog about art books called Book by its Cover.