The Lion, the Witch, and Thickblackoutline’s Wardrobe
Have you ever thought of a thick black outline as sexy?
Like I did, until I was caught and put to work writing this interview.
Mystical cats, queenly but sinister geishas, dessert-loving dragon chefs, and hungry, hungry hippos turn a mundane human torso into a hypnotic canvas that will have heads turning and eyes staring.
All finished, of course, with a thick black outline.
Mastermind behind the popular Bubblerock series, winner of the 100% RedBubble T-shirt Competition, featured illustrator in Blanket Magazine, Design Federation, and The Age’s Creativity Corner, and most recently, one of the winners of the Melbourne Fringe Festival’s 25 sacks for ya back exhibition – it should come as no surprise to learn that thickblackoutline creates some of the most popular and memorable t-shirts on RedBubble.
Thickblackoutline was kind enough to talk about her inimitable style, her coveted t-shirts, and what it is really like to “live the dream” that is freelance illustration.
Which came first, thickblackoutline the style, or thickblackoutline the name?
The style came first. I noticed that everything had a better vibe to it with a thick black outline around it. It gave it that certain something, it made it pop, so I ran with it.
It’s different, and it’s something that I’m passionate about – that is, having bold designs that are colourful, which pack a bit of punch.
When did you first decide that you wanted to be an artist?
I think it was when I had enough of the 9 to 5 job. I really wanted to pour my energy into my passion, instead of doing something I silently hated.
What were the stages of your journey to freelancer?
I worked in the wine industry, and really loved it, but had the chance to move interstate, and took this as the perfect opportunity for a career change.
I did two diploma courses, and then managed to pick up a bit of work via the people at the college – people approach art colleges all the time.
I had done a little bit of 9 to 5 grinding, but it really wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I decided to go full-time freelance, as well as writing and illustrating my own children’s books.
At present you work from home?
Yes, that’s right. There is no escape from work, unfortunately – so you really have to love it, to live with it.
How do you do that without going crazy? And do you wear your pyjamas all day? Because that was one of my childhood dreams.
Yes, I wear pyjamas all day, company rule – and I’m quite crazy, you have to let the craziness guide you, or else I think you’d be a curled-up, crippled mess.
Which pieces on RedBubble are you most proud of? Which is the child you would trot out to play the piano at a party, so to speak?
I’d say The Tea Party would be way up there. That was my first attempt at something as intricate as that. It was basically me for 6 days thinking, “But it needs more stuff!”
Death Becomes Her would be another, it was a dark time for me when I did that one, I’m proud of it for a lot of reasons – it came together as I had hoped, and also I’ve recently taught myself to pour more emotion, good and bad, into my work.
I remember when you put up Death Becomes Her. I just thought, “WOW”.
Thanks, around the same time as Death Becomes Her was Seppuku – another powerful time for me also.
And more recently Yakuza Babe on a Tee – I’m REALLY proud of that one.
Ah look, I’m proud of them all.
The Japan influence is certainly prominent in your work. When and how did you get bitten by the Japan bug?
To be honest I couldn’t really tell you. I’ve always felt some sort of a connection to it –
you could say it started with my love affair with sushi from a young age, and it took off from there.
Sometimes it really feels like a past-life connection, and I have done some pieces on the Bub, where they’ve truly “just happened” and I was sort of left at the end thinking, “Just who did this?”
A classic example of that is the Geisha DJ in Osaka Nights.
How do you decide which pieces will become t-shirts?
Well, in the beginning, it was all about not being able to find a t-shirt with sushi on it that I really liked, and then there were also things that were in the retail market, which I just didn’t like, let alone would spend money on. So I felt it was time to take matters into my own hands.
A lot of my t-shirts have elements of my cards and prints anyway. Something just clicks; someone turns the light on.
What kind of music do you listen to when you work? Is music important to your illustration work?
I listen to all types of music, it’s crazy.
Without it I’d go (even more) insane, and I use it to push me through those jobs that are painful. Sometimes it inspires some art too.
When I really have to concentrate, talk-radio is the best! I’m a Podcast Junkie.
The new album listen-through while working is always good. I like how there’s always a song that really grabs you, and shakes the art out of you.
Sales are a topic that always seems to be cropping up in the forum. Do you think sales on RedBubble are slow? Are sales on the Bubble meeting or exceeding your expectations?
Quite simply, I just think there are more artists uploading than buying.
As for my own sales, I’m pretty happy with how my stuff travels along, for sure. Whoever bought three of my tees needs to stand up, so I can shower them in thanks and affection!
I’d really like to see who is purchasing. There was talk about that a while ago; the customer should have the choice to remain anonymous or not, of course.
Cards have been really good – the bulk of my sales. I haven’t sold a print as yet.
I tend to think the prints seem to be a big thing for photography though – the illustrators need to step up and unite!
Since we’re hanging out in your wardrobe, let’s pick some tees and you can tell me about them.
1) Icy-Snow – a buyer’s booth winner
Icy-Snow – it’s a pretty “old” design, which wasn’t accepted on another Australian t-shirt site. It would be nice if it indeed snowed icy poles.
I guess I was a bit inspired by that Simpsons episode where Homer leaves the parallel universe (with the toaster time-machine), not knowing it rained donuts – heaven!
2) Have You Got Some Change? That’s the t-shirt that started it all, isn’t it?
Sushi Gumball Machine or Have you got some Change? – yes, this is the one that started it all, in a way. I had been kicking around that gumball machine for a while, it has had fish and paintbrushes in it as well.
It’s all about some of the things we want … one of them being sushi.
It’s going to have to be Bloody Mary.
It started with me taking an illustration brief for some pro-bono work for this magazine the wrong way. The brief was about interpretations of Bloody Mary.
They were actually talking about an urban myth called Bloody Mary. I hadn’t heard of it, it was something about saying “Bloody Mary” three times in the dark, into a mirror, and all hell breaking loose.
In a way, you could say that was when the “geishas on a t-shirt” were born. That was my take on a Bloody Mary, what with the impending slaughter of the lamb. The kanji is Destiny, of which the lamb’s Destiny is death.
My work usually has a bit of darkness behind it, whilst looking sweet and innocent.
If you could go back in time and tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
Oh wow! Um … that’s really hard.
I feel like Michael Parkinson.
What your art does for you on the inside, is exactly what you need, and when you discover that, it’s such a beautiful thing.