Meet Jenn Liv, a freelance illustrator and comics artist based in the greater Toronto area. Jenn graduated from OCAD University in 2013 with a BFA in Illustration, and is recognized for her colorful characters, humorous and narrative illustrations, and playful style! In the past several years, she has worked on projects and with clients such as 1001 Knights, Pyrite Press, Jenn Woodall’s recent FIGHT! Zine Round II, BOOM! Studios, and many more. We have also had the pleasure of working with Jenn on Light Grey projects such as Great Personality Exhibition and choose-your-own adventure dating game and the current Botanica Exhibition.
This week, we had the chance to talk with Jenn about her artistic practice, studio collective and love for complex storytelling! You can read the interview below and see more of Jenn Liv's work on her website here.
What does your workspace look like? What creates the perfect creative space for you and your practice?
I mainly work from home, which is pretty average for the most part. However, starting this year, I've been working in a shared studio space called Lunchroom. Lunchroom is a workspace hosted by Toronto-based photographer Gabriel Li. The culture is based around sharing meals together in a family style setting while having a comfortable space to work in. I usually visit the studio about 2 days a week and the relationship I've developed with my other studio mates really does feel like family. We share info and insight coming from our respective backgrounds, and keep each other updated on any projects we might be working on at the time or bounce off future ideas. As of now, we haven't collaborated on anything creatively yet, but we have discussed a few prospective things we'd like to try together as a collective.
For me, the best creative space is one with a relaxed setting and large windows with lots of natural lighting— to remind yourself of what the outside world looks like! Being surrounded by other like-minded individuals is also ideal, so you don't lose touch of what it's like to interact with other human beings! Also, preferably with a cat for an animal companion and of course lots of munchies. Food is the best mind fuel (or just anything fuel, don't forget to feed yourself no matter how busy you are).
Can you tell us about the piece you created for Botanica? What kind of research did you do? What drew you to your subject? What was your process like?
Lunchroom was the main inspiration for my Botanica piece because of the sheer amount of plant life Gabe has at his place. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to draw the studio because plants have a healing factor to them that helps to soothe any indoor space. I was really fascinated with the idea of bringing in exterior elements to transform an interior environment and I think Gabe's done a great job doing exactly that with Lunchroom. When you're working indoors for hours on end, you want to relieve that tension off your mind by surrounding yourself with natural things. For this piece I wanted to diverge from my usual style of focusing on detailed line work and tried using a more 'painterly' style, going back to traditional roots such as perspective, light and shadow, and drawing subjects from real life. My process involved spending a day at the studio to draw the space observationally, with my fellow studio members Pam Lau (a photographer) and Justine Wong (an illustrator) present in the piece. And of course, Russell the Kitty.
What is your typical process when approaching a piece? Do you have any favorite resources or materials?
Whenever I start a piece, I approach it with the mindset of wanting to try something new or slightly different than the last piece I worked on. This could mean using a new technique I've been wanting to try out or incorporating part of a topic that's been on my mind recently. While I was in school I wanted to become an illustrator who painted all of her illustrations in acrylics and oils. After graduating, I made the conversion to working completely digitally in Photoshop (like many do in our industry) because of the time constraints and so my mother could rest easier knowing I wasn't in constant contact with chemical painting substances. Thanks to Kyle T Webster’s brushes, there are a lot of amazing effects that can be recreated in the computer these days and I actually quite enjoy painting digitally using my tablet.
I also dabble in risograph printing every now and then, which is a nice change of pace when thinking of how to create an image that's restricted to only 2 or 3 colors. Colour Code Printing is a local risograph printer that has done an amazing job with printing my work in the past --Jesjit always delivers the best results!
A lot of your work seems to depict powerful women of both fiction and reality. Who are some of your favorite fictional or historical figures?
I am drawn to powerful women in all kinds of media and I always appreciate when they are portrayed in a positive light. However, a lot of my favorite female characters are quite the opposite and I wouldn't necessarily call them “ideal” role models. The anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, for example, has a really intriguing cast of female characters with a diverse range of profiles. Despite their talents and intelligence, by the ending of the series they are all broken down and psychologically unstable due to their impossible task of defending the Earth from alien forces and the top brass of their organization. It's their weaknesses and human complexity that make me so drawn to them in the first place.
Harley Quinn is also a recent female character I am very fascinated with for similar reasons. It's easy to dismiss her as a childish yet violent criminal on the surface, but her backstory as an academic individual and her abusive relationship with the Joker just adds so many layers to her character. In short, my favorite kind of characters (not just limited to women!) are the ones that have a 'dark side' or a conflicted state of mind. I love imperfect characters because they feel the most human and realistic to me. Not surprisingly I am also a HUGE Game of Thrones fan and my favorite character is Cersei Lannister.
You also work in comics, what kind of stories do you like to tell? What draws you to sequential narrative?
I've read manga ever since I was young, so that was what attracted me to the medium in the first place. Telling stories is a craft that is so difficult to do well which is why I love studying how others create them, not only in comics but also in film and TV shows as well. I've always approached comic making in a very experimental way both in narrative and visual style. The first title I published was called Beanstalk, which was a wordless black and white comic that was very surreal and abstract. MUAHAHAHA was a brief action comic that featured a female heroine fighting meaningless violence. Moth Bride is a short horror comic I'm putting on hold for now about the time my house was infested with moths for weeks and how it affected me psychologically.
For future comics, I would like to create a full-length narrative with interesting character dialogue and a thoroughly thought out storyline. There are so many genres I want to try out such as sci-fi, horror, adventure, comedy, and slice of life. Ideally, I want to create a story that invokes some kind of powerful emotion in the reader and explores what it means to be human. If I can achieve that in my lifetime then I think I'll be able to rest easier in my grave.
Does the natural world play a significant role in your practice or your life in general?
I would say my earlier illustration uses a lot more flora and fauna imagery compared to now. Recently I've taken a dive into fantasy and pop culture for inspiration, but nature helps ease my mind whenever I need it to. There is just so much visual content and inspiration to be drawn from nature, especially with plants. It just amazes me how many varieties of shapes that plant leaves come in, which makes them endlessly fun to draw. I have a humble collection of succulents in my room but I am not a huge plant person to be honest. I would love to try my hand at farming something one day though (nothing illegal of course).
Who are some of your favorite artists right now? Do you draw inspiration from any other forms of media?
Rebekka Dunlap, Sophia Foster-Dimino, Natalie Andrewson, Kris Mukai, Rebecca Mock, Wesley Allsbrook, Eleanor Davis, and Jillian Tamaki are currently the people I look up to the most, as other female illustrators who also make comics. Dadu Shin, Richie Pope, and Gracia Lam are also artists that I look at a lot because their concepts are just too darn good. I also draw a lot inspiration from Japanese illustrators that come from a manga or anime production background. My favurites are Tatsuyuki Tanaka, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Yusuke Nakamura, Inio Asano, Taiyo Matsumoto, and Seiichi Hayashi.
Can you talk about any of your upcoming projects? Anything you’re working on that you’re really excited about?
I'm hoping to publish a short novel comic this year that would debut at SPX Expo! I would like for it to be light hearted yet very emotional near the end. If it causes some tear-jerking responses then I will be very pleased.
Do you have any dream projects that you’d like to work on, either personal or commercial?
I've always wanted to make my own cartoon or work on making one with others. That's always been my one big dream in life ever since I was a kid and I do have second doubts about not going down the animation path from time to time. As I get older, however, I'm starting to wonder how feasible that goal really is. But I haven't given up hope yet! Despite how difficult a career being a freelance illustrator sometimes is, I do love being one nonetheless. I have recently downsized my goal to publishing a novel length slice of life/human drama comic sometime in the near future. I have quite a number of story ideas swimming around in my head. The dilemma is being able to find the time in between projects to sit down and materialize these thoughts into fruition.
Anything else you’d like to add? Where can people find your work?
Never give up your dream but don't destroy yourself in the process, e.g. Andrew Neiman Whiplash style. That's my take on the movie; I don't believe you need to push yourself to the limit in order to achieve greatness. But dedicating your life to a passion you really care about is a very admirable thing, e.g. Jiro Dreams of Sushi style.
You can find my portfolio and social media links at http://www.jennliv.com.