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An Interview with Grace Miceli

Oct. 2, 2017
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When Grace Miceli picks up the phone, her voice rings out with enthusiasm. 

Time flies by as we talk about everything from ‘70s Italian horror movies (which I learn are called “Giallos”) to social media’s effect on young artists. Her personality completely shines through the barriers of the phone receiver; during the entire conversation, I feel as though I can see Grace on the other end with her raven black hair and smattering of tattoos.   

Grace Miceli is making waves in the world of illustration and digital art. Her art is part trippy cartoon, part pop culture, and amazing amounts of fun. But on top of that, she’s done campaigns for Nike and has collaborated with JumpFromPaper, all while hosting a few art exhibitions on the side.

Want to meet the talented woman who is currently inspiring myself and other young artists (and will continue to do so for years to come)? 

Read on. 

How did you get into illustrating? Were you a drawer as a child? Did you take any classes?

I definitely drew a little when I was a kid, but when I started to call myself an artist when I was a teenager, I strictly did photography. Then, when I went to college, I studied photo and video and I made pretty serious work. When I was about to graduate, I just woke up and kind of realized that I was making serious work because I thought that’s what artists were supposed to do, and I wasn’t really making work that I actually enjoyed or had fun with. So I started drawing and just kind of having fun with it. I took a few painting and drawing classes in college, but I kind of struggled with them because I don’t draw realistically. Because I hadn’t done it for very long, my work looked messy and amateur, but it was fun! So I guess that’s how I started.

What was one moment that you can remember when you realized that you could make a career out of your art? 

I mean, I don’t know if I’m there yet. I’ve only been working as a [full-time] artist for a year and a half now. I still kind of feel like I’m always asking myself, “Hey, can you do this?” and I’m doing it and I’m confident in that, but I feel like part of me must have always believed that. When I graduated college, I was always working a full-time day job and I wasn’t necessarily making art and doing exhibitions and connecting with other artists because I wanted it to be my career; I was just doing it because it energized me. What kept me stable and happy was always making art and talking about art. The more I kept trying to make stuff happen, slowly, by putting in work, [the more] opportunities began to present themselves. I started to have two full-time jobs.

I always try to be really realistic about it, you know? You can’t depend on that. Being a freelance artist is really difficult because you have to force yourself to be creative all the time and you have clients and you’re on a deadline. I think I was always really hopeful that it would happen but I really tried to not have high expectations.

So did you find that you were scared to put yourself out there and be a freelance artist?

Totally! I’m still scared! I’m still always questioning, “Can I actually do this?" "Can I sustain this?” "How do I evolve what I’m doing?” I think that’s really important. I think it’s problematic to be confident to the point where you’re like, “I’ve got it! I’m good!” You always have to be questioning and challenging yourself. But of course I keep myself in check, and it’s important to remind yourself of the things that you have accomplished. I still battle daily with the confidence of “Can I keep making this happen?”

When you set out to create a new illustration, what’s your process like? Do you have a specific “goal” or image in your mind?

If I’m making work just for myself, I have a journal that’s just a stream of consciousness where I’m writing down phrases or imagery, objects, things that are quick. So I have these pages of stuff that is just nonsensical. So I write all these things down, and often I’ll watch a movie to try and inspire [myself]. That’s definitely a big part of my process. If I’m not watching a movie, I’m looking at film stills online or just looking for inspiration in the places I know inspire me. So I’ll make lists in my notebook and just go through and star or highlight things that I think I could use, and then I start drawing. I draw things in pieces, all separately, and then I color everything in and I scan it and then I spend a good amount of time in Photoshop. When I draw, it’s just all these pages of scribbles and crossed-out things. Every page I draw only has a few objects that I end up keeping and working with. It’s very messy, and then the computer is where I clean it all up.

What are you currently inspired by? Is there a specific feeling you’re trying to convey in your art right now?

For work this year, I’ve been lucky enough to have gone to Tokyo a few times. That city is a huge inspiration for me. I’m really inspired by Giallos; they're a specific genre of '70s Italian horror film. I spend a lot of time on Tumblr and Instagram, looking through other artists' work to see what inspires me. I’m definitely inspired by early net art. Whenever I’m feeling stuck, I go to look at these things that will sort of spark something in me.

I definitely make work that’s trying to be funny. Sometimes I’ll start with “Okay. What kind of joke or funny sentiment do I want to make a piece about?” and then I go from there. I’m also inspired by pop culture and the things we use, whether it’s beauty products or board games that have become iconic to us through consumerism and advertisements.

Art around brands is such a cool concept to me!

These days, it’s cool that brands are realizing that it’s cool to hire young artists to be in campaigns or create campaigns. The internet, specifically Instagram and social media, kind of allowed there to be less of a distance between them. I also think that brands will hire artists to make work for them because then it allows artists to communicate with the audience on a scale that never would have happened before. 

So, what are you most proud of? Personally and in the context of your work?

Personally, I am proud of the fact that I have had younger artists reach out to me and tell me that my work has inspired them and encouraged them to keep making work. I’m definitely very proud that I’m able to do that for people.

I’ve done two jobs with Nike this year, and that was so sick to me because that’s definitely something that years ago was my dream collaboration. Even though I said that I have anxiety and am always worried about sustaining my career, I think it’s important to check myself and be proud that I’ve been able to do this. I’m not working a day job right now; I’m just drawing as my career. I think I need to remind myself that that’s a big accomplishment.

What are you listening to right now? What are your music recommendations?

I really like this woman named Anna of the North. She’s probably around my age, and she’s a Norwegian electropop singer. I really like the new Miguel song. I love pop music, too. I love Justin Bieber! Not going to lie, [he's] on my Spotify playlist and I’m not afraid to say it.

In your opinion, what is something that everyone has to do once?

I would say trying or doing something that scares [you]. Do something that’s outside of your comfort zone.

What are you doing in the future?

I don’t have actual plans to do this, but I do really want to work on movies. I’m definitely interested in moving my work to other media that it hasn’t existed in yet. Whether that’s animations for a TV show or a movie, I think I’m very interested in somehow incorporating my work into a film!