GrimmFest Poster, 2012, Acrylic on Paper

An interview with Toronto-based artist/illustrator Lisa Vanin for Cheap & Plastique #11. See more of her work on her website here.

C & P: Where did you grow up? 
Lisa: I grew up in Bradford, Ontario. It’s a small town just north of Toronto. When I was growing up there it was still quite small, although it has expanded a lot since I moved to Toronto to attend OCAD University. It’s part of the Holland Marsh, so there were a lot of farms, forests and a canal to explore when I was young. Our town mascot is a carrot named Gwilly, and every year people in Bradford celebrate Carrotfest.

C & P: You live in Toronto now, how long have you lived there?
Lisa: I moved to Toronto about 10 years ago. Before I moved here I had only ever been to the city to see bands or visit museums and art galleries every once in awhile, so I it was a bit of an adjustment. I carried a compass with me for the first six months to keep from getting lost.


Generous Friend, 2014, Acrylic on Paper

C & P: What do you like most about living there? 
Lisa: I love the people I have met while living here. I also like that there is always something to do and friends to see. It’s easy to find yourself in a group full of interesting and creative people.

C & P: Least?
Lisa: It can sometimes feel too loud and busy. I miss being able to escape to the woods or a field whenever I would like to. There are some lovely parks in Toronto, but it’s hard to ever feel completely secluded in the city.

C & P: Is there any place you go to in Toronto when you are looking for inspiration for an illustration? Maybe a bookshop? A body of water? A forest? A certain street? A coffee shop? What generally inspires you?
Lisa: Honestly, when I really need inspiration I go home to visit my family and good friends in Bradford. That helps to clear my mind a bit and then I plan a solo day trip to Scanlon Creek (a nature conservatory outside of Bradford). I like to pack up my camera, a sketch book, and a lunch and then wander the trails for a few hours. The experience always differs depending on the season and time of day. I love being there best when the sun rises on a warm fall day, the colours are quite beautiful. When I can’t get out of the city I head to the nearest park, or the rooftop of my apartment building. The building is only three stories high and surrounded by trees, which gives the little rooftop a great amount of atmosphere. It’s a lovely place to sketch, read, write or just do nothing at all.


Trophy, 2012, Acrylic on Paper

C & P: Do you feel that there is a lot of interesting artwork and illustration coming out of Toronto right now?  
Lisa: I am always seeing a variety of great work coming out of Toronto. Not only fine art and illustration, but photography, tattooing and poetry also come to mind.
You studied at the Ontario College of Art & Design. Did you study illustration or fine art at school, or both? 
While I was at OCAD I studied Illustration. I had the opportunity to learn from some of the greatest illustrators in Canada and it was a wonderful experience. While in my third year at OCAD I also started my tattooing apprenticeship, which lead to four years of working as a tattoo artist.

C & P: Did you always know that you would be involved in a creative field as an adult when you were young?
Lisa: There were really only two career choices that appealed to me when I was young. The first was to illustrate children’s books (which is something I’d still love to do when I have the opportunity). The second was to work as a veterinarian, but that dream was crushed as soon as I realized there would be animals that were beyond the help I could provide. So I went with the slightly less dramatic choice, illustration.


Symbolic Animals, 2013, Acrylic on Paper

C & P: What are your favourite animals to illustrate? Do you have animals that you find yourself drawing over and over again?
Lisa: I can’t say that I have any favourites. I tend to illustrate North American animals mostly, but I try to switch it up. My favourite thing about illustrating animals is how different they are from each other. Branching out keeps my work interesting to me and is a great way for me to continue to improve my observational skills. I am always looking to expand my illustrative world and I find the best way to do that is to stylize as many animals, plants and people as I can. It’s really important for me to see consistency in my characters and scenery.


Cheshire Smile, 2013, Acrylic on Paper

C & P: The feminine characters in your illustrations tend to look whimsical and fairy-like yet simultaneously look like they may be plotting another’s demise. Are these girly creatures up to no good? 
Lisa: I like my characters to possess mystery. While they may be up to something mischievous, they could also be performing a kind deed. I like to add a bit of juxtaposition when I can to give the observer more freedom to create their own story.


Vanity, 2013, Acrylic on Paper

C & P: I really love the detail and lush color in your illustrations. What is your process like when creating your work? 
Lisa: I first decide on a concept (sketch or written) and then begin a series of rough sketches of the layout and main elements/characters. I cut and paste these roughs together and then do a clean line drawing of the important subjects. I then transfer my drawings to paper and start painting. My process and techniques vary from painting to painting, but I usually build up my background and main subjects, and then go back and add the smaller details (small animals, plants, etc.). Most of my creativity goes into the sketching process and then all that is left is to execute the painting.

C & P: Do you draw by hand? 
Lisa: Always.

C & P: Do you use a computer when creating your pictures? 
Lisa: I use my computer for scanning, correcting colour, designing products (cards, calendars, textiles, etc) and creating patterns. I prefer to create all of my work by hand and then use my computer for adjustments.

C & P: What medium do you most frequently use in your paintings? Oil? Acrylic? Is there ever an element of collage in your work?
Lisa: I paint with acrylics almost always now. I like brands with matte finishes, as I work on paper and they build up colour quickly. Sometimes I work with inks and watercolour as well, but not as much recently.


The Clear Night, 2014, Acrylic on Paper

C & P: Do you keep a sketchbook?
Lisa: I usually have about 10 sketchbooks on the go, but mostly I prefer to work on loose paper. I have a small folder that I keep current work and fresh sheets of paper in. Sketchbooks can sometimes hinder my creativity, as there is a certain amount of anxiety I experience when I find myself “wasting” a page on a concept or drawing I don’t end up liking. With a folder I just hold on to the ideas I like and recycle the concepts that I don’t.

C & P: Who are your biggest artistic influences? Do you have an all time favourite artist or illustrator?
Lisa: I could never pick a favourite person, but as far as things that influence me artistically, here’s the list: nature, the arts and crafts movement, traditional tattoo imagery, astrology, tarot, medicinal herbs and traditions, information illustration, outdoor living, mythology, fairy tales, homesteading.. to name a few.

C & P: What are your future plans?
Lisa: Over the next year I plan to expand my product line and set up an online shop. Currently I have greeting cards, zines, and pins available, but I am hoping to expand my line to include calendars, stationary and a few items for the home (such as tea towels and ceramics). Beyond that, I just plan to keep producing as much artwork as I can.

C & P: What can you imagine doing if you were not an illustrator?
Lisa: If I hadn’t decided to focus mainly on illustration I would have continued tattooing, I miss it quite a lot at times. If I was to pursue a different type of career, I assume it would have something to do with animals.

C & P: Where can we find you on the world wide web?
Lisa: http://www.lisavanin.com

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