Off the Page is a regular interview series featuring National Magazine Award winners. In this interview, we catch up with Lauren Tamaki. Lauren is a Canadian illustrator who currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. At the 41st annual NMAs, Lauren won Gold in the category of Illustration, for “Get the Scissors,” published in The Walrus. Read on to learn more about her creative process, use of acrylic ink, and future projects.
The visuals you created for this comedic piece balanced perfectly with a harsh reality for women everywhere. You bridge the gap so seamlessly between the text and visual and you and Scaachi perfectly complement each other to appreciate humour all the while documenting hardship. The story challenges cultural codes and conventions of femininity—did you consider the social undertone a privilege or a responsibility to represent in your work, and what were the most important story arcs in Scaachi’s editorial that shaped your work?
When illustrating an article, I feel responsibility to the author! Because Scaachi’s book (the piece was an excerpt from her book One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter) is about the experience of a woman of colour and women’s bodies, it’s inherently political. The STRUGGLE was what I wanted to communicate in the illustration; you feel the desperation mount as the story progresses!
The projects featured in your online portfolio experiment with a lot of watercolour. Do you like to be variant with your use of media choice and do you strategically chose particular media for each project you do?
Everything you think is watercolour on my site is actually coloured acrylic ink. I think choice of medium and the application of that medium plays a big part of a final piece—black ink can be swooshy and fun or very precise, for example. I chose to go with frantic pencil vibes for Scaachi’s story because it suited the mood perfectly (tornadoes of scribbled hair, etc).
On your website, you have completed illustrations under the subject ‘Runway’ in your Fashion and Beauty category. In comparing these two projects from the ‘model’ to dealing with body image and identity, how did you shift gears into “Get The Scissors” to offer a distressing dressing room experience instead of a glamourous one?
It’s a joy and a responsibility to depict women of all shapes and sizes. It’s not a hard mental shift for me to go from fashion to something more realistic. The story did not call for a glamourous vibe—it details something SO many of us have gone through, so I wanted it to be grounded. Even though Scaachi is a pretty glamorous woman, she keeps it real, as the kids (used to) say.
In 2017, you sketched the Bill Cosby Trial for The New York Times. In 2009 you graduated in Fashion Design and in 2011, you went on to graduate with a second Bachelor of Arts in Design. What initiated the transition from fashion and design into editorial art?
I always knew I wanted to be an illustrator… my fashion design degree was a way of putting it off, to be perfectly honest. I worked in the fashion industry only eight months before I went back to school for Visual Communications at ACAD, which was the best decision of my life! All I’ve ever wanted to do is draw.
In the future, in what area and for which platform to do you want the focus of your work to be in?
More fashion please! I know I’ve been downplaying the whole fashion thing, but I do really really love it. I was never meant to make clothes, but I sure do love drawing the visions of fabulous designers. I’ve also always wanted to do a series for an opera (COC, looking at you) or a series for a theatre season!
You have worked with an extensive list of clients and your ‘bragging’ section online is an archive of recent awards, including your NMA award. What does your Gold Illustration Award mean to you as an artist?
It was quite a surprise! The Walrus submitted the illustration, which meant I forgot about it, so when I got the email about the nomination, I was like… neat!!! When I walked into the awards show and saw the scale, the time and care that had been put into every aspect, then I started to get nervous! Winning the gold was very unexpected. The Scaachi illustration was simple and the other nominees had really involved, detailed pieces! I was blown away. The fact I made an illustration in a style I care about won something? Incredible.
Which Canadian publication is on your radar to work with next?
I would love to illustrate more books and there is no shortage of incredible publishers in Canada—Tundra, Drawn & Quarterly… In terms of magazines, there are so so many beautiful Canadian publications… and they all should call me! Haha! Also, 48 North just released a stunning magazine called Latitude that I’d love to work on.
In addition to her National Magazine Award, Lauren has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, Society of News Design, and American Illustration. Her most recent project involved illustrating Caroline Paul’s book, You Are Mighty: A Guide to Changing the World (Bloomsbury, May 2018). You can read more about Lauren’s work here.
Interview conducted by Bethany Browne.
The call for entries for the 2019 National Magazine Awards opens on December 17, 2018. Click here for more information on submissions.