Being able to commission new work from creative people I admire is one of my favorite things about being a book designer. When the result is as pitch perfect, the process as easy, and the personality as sweet natured as when you're working with Julia Rothman, I totally love my life. Julia recently illustrated a new jacket for the Storey classic 500 Treasured Country Recipes, as well as the jacket and interior art for Storey's upcoming book 250 Treasured Country Desserts. In this interview for Inside Storey, this superstar of illustration and surface design shares a bit about herself and her work.
Describe the types of work you do, maybe even beyond commercial illustration. Besides books, where does your work appear?
I usually call myself an illustrator and pattern maker. I do editorial illustration for magazines and newspapers. My most recent illustration, for the Travel section of the New York Times, was about how so many travel tours have been canceled due to the economy.
I also make pattern designs for a variety of surfaces. I have a line of wallpaper, stationery, and office products. My designs have appeared on bedding and magnets and mugs. I recently did a pattern for Victoria's Secret that will appear on the packaging for a new line of beauty products.
I am part of a three-person design company called ALSO. My two partners are in Chicago, and I am in New York, so we have a "virtual office" via the video phone. We create Web sites for small creative businesses. We redesigned the popular Design*Sponge blog and made a handdrawn animated site for a gallery called Charmingwall. Currently, we are working on a new site for the incredible event planner David Stark.
For fun I have a blog called Book By Its Cover. I write a short review and show images about a different fine art, design, comic, or handmade book every weekday. One of my favorite parts of the blog is sharing a look into an artist's sketchbook.
Sometimes I do my personal artwork, too. Once in a while I participate in a show. In October I'll be doing a two-person show with Jennifer Judd McGee at Nahcotta gallery in New Hampshire.
How is the personal art that you make different from your client-based commercial work, or is it different at all?
My personal art is much less restricted than when I am working for clients. Working for someone else can be challenging — I am trying to please them, and sometimes I am forced to make artistic decisions I might not have preferred. Other times clients make very constructive criticisms that I might not have thought of, and my piece is improved!
How long have you been making a living as an artist?
I graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 2002 and started illustrating soon after. So that means it's been about seven years now!
What are the influences that have informed your style?
There have been so many! I grew up loving the Sweet Pickle book series [see www.book-by-its-cover.com/childrens/sweet-pickle-books]. The 1970s stylized illustrations by Richard Hefter are made with lines and flat color. The characters and surroundings are so wonky. When I saw the books again recently, I realized how similar our styles are and wondered how much these might have influenced me. I have been slowly collecting the entire series again through eBay purchases and yard sales.
Who are your favorite artists or designers working today?
Oh, the list could go on forever . . . Jenny Volvovski and Matt Lamothe (my partners!), Lauren Nassef, Caitlin Keegan, Takashi Iwasaki, Marcel Dzama, Matt Leines, Evah Fan, Anders Nilsen, Deanne Cheuk, Carson Ellis, Mel Kadel, Harriet Russell, Ward Zwart, Carmen Segovia, David Shrigley, Henrik Drescher, Camilla Engman, Leif Parsons, Esther Pearl Watson, Ray Fenwick, Mike Perry. . . .
What would your dream job or dream commission be?
I haven't really worked in fashion at all yet. I would love to work with an apparel designer on a collaborative line of clothing where I can make patterns for all the fabrics being used.
Name five words that evoke an image of your philosophy.
Playful, nostalgic, handdrawn, crowded, imperfect.
Julia's work can be found at juliarothman.com and also-online.com. Her blog is at book-by-its-cover.com.
Alethea Morrison, Creative Director