For a lot of young readers with active imaginations, books can truly transcend. Worlds beyond our own exist and feats that are seemingly impossible suddenly become possible. Katie Gamb of Katie Gamb Illustration and Poppy and Fox has an amazing talent. She can truly illustrate these characters and their magical worlds. Her work, will be among all of the amazing makers at the upcoming Maker Market. As the selected and featured artist for the Maker Market poster series for June, she took some time to answer a few questions about her work, her reads, and whether or not to follow Prince’s lead.
Maker Market: When and how did you decide that you would like to focus on illustration?
Katie Gamb: In the back of my mind, I think I always wanted to. I read and drew a lot as a kid, and really gravitated towards anything with big, fantastical pictures. Growing up I dabbled in a lot of different creative outlets, and briefly considered a million different careers librarian, archeologist, librarianarcheologistadventurer, chemist, fashion designer, professional clarinetist but never thought drawing was a job that I could have it was just a fun thing to do during my spare time. Graphic Design seemed as good an idea as any after high school at least more realistic than anything else I could come up with so I went to MIAD with the intent of doing that. Upon enrolling, I still wasn’t 100% sure what to major in, but the work coming from the Illustration Department always spoke to me the most. I probably would have ended up illustrating no matter what my major was. It’s the one thing I know of that combines all of my different interests. One day you can indulge the part of you that wanted to be a fashion designer by sketching pretty dresses for a painting, the next you might need to do historical research for a piece that’s inspired by the Tudors, or spend a day studying the different sorts of carriages and when and how they were used. Being an illustrator is great for expanding your knowledge of useless trivia.
MM: Are Katie Gamb Illustration and Poppy and Fox two separate entities? What separates the work that you do for each?
KG: Um, they’re sort of different? When I started doing craft fairs, it felt too weird to just have a giant banner with my name on it, so I decided to have a “shop name” to kind of hide behind, that was different from just me. How I have it right now, freelance work is just Katie Gamb Illustration by default, because I’m Katie and I’m illustrating stuff. But the jewelry, greeting cards, prints and other stuff that I sell as a shop that falls under the Poppy and Fox umbrella. And really, I’m constantly wrestling with what to do namewise. Should I change it? Should I do everything under one name? Should I not have a name? Should I just go all Prince and use a symbol? I’m probably just way overthinking it...
MM: How has your style evolved and where do you see it headed?
KG: I try not to think about style too much. In school I spent a lot of time trying to emulate other styles that I admired, but didn’t find anything that clicked. Jen Corace, Edward Gorey and Carson Ellis were all inspirations at different points, and my attempts at copying them were miserable failures as art, but good practice for learning different media. A lot of what looks like my style is just me trying to learn how to paint I started out using (messy, inconvenient) chalk pastels, and have spent a good chunk of time trying to capture their softness with acrylic. I finally feel like I might be getting the hang of it, and I want to explore creating looser, more ambient atmospheres. Color is an important element in everything I do, and I’m working on simplifying the palettes that I use. I’ve also been using my Wacom tablet a lot, and am starting to experiment with digital drawings, especially for freelance stuff (the Maker Market poster is one of my first all Photoshop pieces!) Cartoonish stuff is fun, too over the top adorable things like dancing cupcakes and bunnies, and I’m exploring that stuff too. I don’t want to feel like I have a specific style to stick to, but everything I make invariably ends up looking like I made it anyway, so it all works out.
MM: Within your illustration many of your characters are shown with an open book. Did your love of illustration come from reading as a child?
KG: I’ve always read a great deal, but especially when I was younger. Reading represented a way to explore the world, and I guess when I show characters with an open book, it’s a metaphor for that solitary exploration. And the pictures seemed like they were almost magic I would sit stare at the details, making up my own stories for the other people in that world. Little backstories for the peripheral characters. I wanted to create my own little universes.
MM: What were some of your favorite books as a child?
KG: The Wrinkle in Time series was a biggie, as were Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials, Anne of Green Gables and anything by Roald Dahl. The Borrowers, Beatrix Potter, Grimm’s Fairytales, The Wind in the Willows and Goosebumps. Nonfiction too I read a lot of insect and bird guides, for some reason. And my mom had this Mysteries of the Universe book which I read over and over it was just this dumb collection of “unsolved mysteries” attributed to ghosts, UFOs, chupacabras and the like but it was so terrifying. I’d read it in the basement by myself to enhance the spookiness.
MM: How do you think reading shaped your aesthetic?
KG: Well, the fairytale aspect is pretty obvious. But beyond that, I find that aspects of books I’ve read years ago still pop up consistently in what I draw. The little people from The Borrowers, sentient animals from Beatrix Potter’s books, insects I’ve studied in nature guides. And the inclination to tell specific stories I very rarely paint or draw anything that doesn’t have some sort of plot, even if it’s never written down.
MM: When you are conceptualizing your next illustration, do you create the story you want to tell prior to starting? Or does the illustrating write the story?
KG: It sort of happens at the same time I’ll have a rough idea of what I want to convey, then the sketching process crystallizes it you see all these facets that you didn’t think of while you were forming the idea. I’ll rarely start a final piece without a fullyrealized tight sketch and lots of color - studies, so there’s a lot of time to create the story.
MM: You have a very fantastical style. Do you envision the world that your characters live in before they are created or is it vice versa?
KG: I almost feel like the world exists without me. So, yeah, I guess that part is envisioned first. Because, if you know what kind of environment the characters are in, then you can start adding details what they need to live in that world. How did they get there, and was it by design or mistake? Do they have a rucksack full of supplies, or nothing but their nightgown, a lantern and a copy of Faust?
MM: What can shoppers expect to see from you at the upcoming Maker Market?
KG: There will be a lot of new jewelry I’ve tried to have more fun with this new batch. I kind of got bored with it for a while, as I was just repeating a lot of the same popular designs. I’ll also have more original art small graphite drawings and mini paintings on wood. Smaller, affordable stuff. It’s my goal to have more one-of-a-kind items this year. And cryptozoology greeting cards, if I can get them to the printer in time.
MM: What is currently inspiring you? Books? IG accounts? Blogs? Artist? Music?
KG: I’ve been really inspired by comics, lately. I just read Emily Carrol’s Through The Woods (cannot recommend it highly enough) and it really expanded my idea of what an artist can do in that format. It resonated that you can create a horror comic that takes place in some imaginary fairytale time period, and still make it feel really fresh and relevant and terrifying. Some other comics I’ve been inspired by lately: Beautiful Darkness (its like The Borrowers/meets Alice in Wonderland/meets Lord of the Flies) Alone Forever by Liz Prince and Ashley Ronning’s sweet little zines. So, between reading those and working on illustrating a book right now (it will be published in fall) I really want to start doing some storytelling in longer formats.
To see the many worlds that Katie has created and the jewels to go along with them visit her booth at the upcoming Maker Market on Sunday June 7 in the parking lot of Colectivo in Bay View.