Conceptual Illustrations That Combine Multiple Mediums

Lauren Simkin Berke’s illustrations utilize papers, ink, watercolors and digital scanning to great effect. The conceptual nature of their style invites the viewer to study the lines and textures of the often simple objects and scenes. 

How did you get started in the visual arts?

I’ve never not been making art… I’m pretty sure that’s not unusual. The unusual part is more that I never stopped.

How did you get to where you are now?

I always knew I would be making art throughout my life, but I grew up with a lot of anxiety about what I would end up doing to make a living. In college I studied anthropology, worked in an arts dorm, spent two college summers in intensive art programs, and one summer as a junior art director at an ad agency. In my last year of college the idea of illustration came up as a possible field to go into. I decided to apply to SVA’s Illustration as Visual Essay MFA program, and thankfully got in. That is where I was introduced to the industry of illustration, and learned the foundation of how to run a business as a commercial artist (whether that be in fine art, illustration, both, or something else entirely). It took me a few years after I graduated to start getting regular illustration work, which was in large part due to getting a rep (which was in large part due to getting into American Illustration). On the fine art side of things, I was always making work. In the early years after grad school I submitted work to open calls, fellowships, and residencies as much as I could. I was a A.I.R. Gallery fellow in 2007/2008, and that allowed me to have my first solo show in nyc.

How would you describe your work?

I do a lot of different kinds of work, but I think of myself primarily as a drawer. I work as an editorial and book illustrator, and that work is representational, line based, and has become increasingly conceptual. My illustration work is a combination of ink drawn lines and color created with digital collage of watercolor, ink separations, and scans of aged papers. My personal work is based in drawing as well, but branches out into painting, assemblage, etching, book making, and most recently puppet making. My personal work comes out of two places: an exploration of found and family ephemera, looking at how people create mythologies of self and family, and a serious belief in both futzing and play.

Who else’s work has influenced or inspired your work?

Some of the people whose work has influenced my own work include Alice Neel, Egon Schiele, Alexander Calder, Charles LeDray, Ray Johnson, Agnes Martin, Ursula K. Le Guin, Roland Barthes, George Perec, Maris Bishofs, Henrik Drescher, and David Hughes.

Can you tell us about your creative process?

I draw line in ink, do watercolor layers and ink color separations on separate sheets of paper, scan them, and combine them in photoshop. Sometimes I include scanned found papers for color and texture. When in the studio, or in another safe environment, I use a dip pen with india ink, but when out and about I use Sakura micron pens and a Pentel brush pen. I don’t do pencil underdrawings, but I have a beloved light box, and make liberal use correction fluid pens.

What advice have you got for other freelancers?

I’ve said this many times before, but I think it bears repeating:
Work in a process you enjoy. Make a website, preferably not just a blog or profile on a portfolio
Site. Get business cards and always carry them with you (and unless you specialize in lettering, please put an image you’ve created on at least one side of your card). Submit to as many competitions as you can afford to. Submitting series will often allow you to submit more images for less money and is a good way to get more stuff in front of the judges. Make personal work, whether or not you use it in your illustration portfolio, because it will inform the direction of your commercial work, allowing you to control the direction your work takes.

Your style is very original – how did it develop, and how do you tailor it for each client?

I believe what is thought of as style, in its most authentic form, is the hand of a particular person working with a particular material. My mark making looks different in different mediums. I decided to focus on ink soon after grad school because it was the most immediate and fluid material for me. It became clear early on that clients needed to feel secure in what kinds of images they would be getting, and I had started out showing too many options when I didn’t have enough published work to back it up. Over the years I’ve slowly added samples of other kinds of work; a simple doodle character named Guy who has a secret area of my website; a cast of stop animation puppets I started building a couple years ago; and most recently looser ink drawings done in brush pen.

What interesting projects have you worked on recently?

I recently had the pleasure of creating illustrations for The Writer’s Chapbook: A Compendium of Fact, Opinion, Wit, and Advice from “The Paris Review” Interviews, the second volume from Paris Review Editions (exclusively available here, through The Paris Review’s online store). These illustrations are black and white ink drawn portraits of mark making tools.

What areas of your work are you hoping to explore further?

I am gearing up to explore the puppets I’ve been building in stop-motion animation. So far I’ve mostly done what I’ve been calling micro-animations, as they are usually less than 10 seconds long. The pieces I’m planning to work on will be longer format and will likely start to include audio, which I had completely ignored in my initial tests.

Also, I would really love to teach college level drawing or illustration courses.

See more of Lauren’s work at: www.simkinberke.com

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