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We got to catch up and hang out with one of our favorite local illustrators, Carolyn Suzuki, in her beautiful home. Carolyn is known for her beautiful card illustrations with bright colors, and her myriad of drawings of all types of different women- we talked about all things creative and the challenges that come with being an artist as well as thriving in your art. It was such a wonderful afternoon getting to know more about her and what drives her to do what she does. Meet Carolyn!
Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do
CS: I'm an LA lady. My parents immigrated here from Japan and met here, so I'm a 1st gen. American and grew up in the 80's. I've lived my whole life in greater LA (kind of all over) but finally settled in Highland Park with my family 7 years ago and I love it here and I love my life, it's a full life but there are 3 things that are consistent every day. I draw, I'm a mom, and I'm a partner.
Work wise, I collaborate with other brands and help them design products, I also own a small gifts business that runs out of my home in a studio in the back and I have two lovely ladies Mariann + Ayiko who help me immensely.
Who or what has had the largest impact on your design style?
CS: Hmmm, really hard to pick one thing - I think it's an amalgam of things but if I had to pick I would say it's my childhood. I spent a lot of time in Japan, and being an only child I spent a lot of time with my Japanese parents, so it really influenced how I viewed my American world. I think there is a push and pull to my work, just as there is to my personality. I'm very emotional and can be really loud and boisterous, but there's also another side to me that's reflective and observant, I think this comes from my inherent cultural duality.
What are your favorite mediums to work with, what's one that you're challenged by?
CS: I love to draw - pencil is where I can just let loose and get it out.
I didn't go to art school, so I don't have a practice that I gleaned from any specific mentors, I've just cobbled together my own way of doing things. I often use paint and sometimes markers, but ultimately everything gets edited in photoshop or illustrator.
I think my challenges are rooted in the fact that I don't have a dedicated studio space to just create in.
My desk doubles as a computer desk, which sits in the corner or my living room so I always have to keep things a bit tidier. When it's time to paint, there's a ritual of getting everything out and putting it away at the end of the day...I think this keeps me from painting as often as I'd like.
What kind of music is playing when you're working?
CS: Anything I'm into in the moment. I tend to stay away from anything too intense because I get very easily distracted.
Lately I've been listening to Stereolab, the XX, Solange, Dams of the West
Any resource that you think every artist should have in their tool kit?
CS: I think it's important for any artist that wants to work with others, especially other brands to have a solid knowledge of Photoshop and Illustrator, it's fundamental because when you collaborate with others you are providing a service and helping them problem solve. Understanding how your artwork will be used & making it easier for your client is part of that service to them.
How has illustration given you, or strengthened, your voice?
CS: It gives me another way to communicate to a much broader audience. Anyone who knows me will tell you I like to talk...a lot....super chatty. But, sometimes communicating visually has a deeper, more meaningful and lasting impact, and as I get older I find that really comforting.
If you had a billboard on the side of a busy freeway, what would it say or look like?
CS: It would show 3 women of color who are bad ass. I'd want little girls to look up & see themselves in it. I want them to be able to imagine their greatest life and to know that they can have it with commitment, focus and kindness to themselves.
What advice do you have for creatives trying to find their niche and better define their style?
CS: Pay close attention to the world around you, find inspiration from music, movies, fashion (whatever grabs you) from past and present. I think taste is something distinctly individual and it only forms if you're engaged with your surroundings. While you're looking around, make a commitment to yourself to make something everyday, try new mediums, try new techniques, you can even copy the works of others (don't ever present them as your own of course) but just by doing (and doing it often) you will become the artist you are meant to be.
What are some of your favorite things about the creative community here in LA?
CS: I love that LA is made up of so many different types of creative people who can express themselves in any way they can imagine. Through food, through drinks, through art, through technology, through performance.
There are so many of us! And we all have mad hustle, I love the energy and determination so many people have out here but because this is Sunny So Cal, we have lots of physical space which allows for a bit of emotional space too...we are getting shit done but none of my friends seem too overwhelmed. When I was younger I thought that I belonged somewhere else, but I know now that this is home and will always be, I love LA!!!
Thank you Carolyn!
Photos by Marielle Chua