Welcome to our new blog series: Meet the Artists! We want you all to get to know the artists behind the face of Posters for Nepal, so we started this interview series, starting with the very talented Mitzie Testani!
1. Who are you & What do you do?
Mitzie Testani (http://www.mitzietestani.com) I’m an illustrator who is rediscovering my love for paint. I’m originally from Lakewood, CO (near Denver), and I lived in Chicago, IL, Pittsburgh, PA and Philadelphia, PA before settling in Syracuse, NY.
2. Where did you go to school?
I earned my BFA, with honors, from Tyler School of Art, Temple University. I graduated in 2008 with a focus on print and interactive design. I have also been taking continuing education illustration classes through Lilla Roger’s Studio (http://makeartthatsells.com) to strengthen my style and to grow the range in my portfolio.
3. How did you know you wanted to be an artist/when did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
Nothing in my life has ever been a straight path! In college, I was heavily art directed whenever I illustrated (which is what is supposed to happen in college, I wouldn’t change that because I learned a ton from it.) When I graduated, though, I did not have a strong sense of how I truly liked to illustrate and I didn’t like the process I had developed, which was mostly collage and little drawing.
So, I chose to focus on interactive design, since that was my career before Tyler. I later joined the board of AIGA Philadelphia as an interactive co-chair and I even taught a beginner’s interactive design course at Tyler. I was fairly certain that I was going to do interactive work for life and I still find interactive design fascinating, especially touch applications.
A few years later, I became a mom and my whole world was knocked upside down. I took a bit of time off and started to draw again while my son was napping. I realized I had really missed art and it was something that made me really happy (and it was much less stressful than coding).
As I started to rebuild my portfolio, I was fortunate to meet other artists in Syracuse, and to be in a couple of art shows. I had a couple of small professional projects, was published and won a couple of awards for illustration. So I began to wonder if I could illustrate for my career. It took me a while to hit on my style, however, and I scrapped about 60 pieces from my early efforts.
On the advice of a Tyler alum, I joined an “art licensing” group on LinkedIn and I learned of Lilla Rogers’s book: “I Just Like to Make Things.” Lilla is a renowned illustrator who has a hugely successful art licensing agency and also teaches illustration classes and about illustration as a business, which made it very practical to me. I think my only real thoughts about illustration as a career prior to this was editorial illustration and maybe packaging. I had not given serious thought to licensing art, even though it’s everywhere you look.
So, I started taking Lilla’s classes as sort of a self-authored masters curriculum because she teaches how to illustrate over several markets: bolt fabric, home décor, children’s books, wall art, gift, paper, baby/children’s apparel and décor, scrap-booking, editorial and party paper. There is really a huge need for art in the world and I had been thinking so small!
It really helps to have a market in mind when I illustrate now and I can see a lot more potential for my work. Last year, I entered Lilla Roger’s Global Talent Search (it’s how her agency hires illustrators nowadays.) It’s highly competitive and I only made it through the first round of the competition, BUT I made it through the first round (there were about 1,000 entrants). So I took that as a big sign to keep going.
4. What drew you to this project?
Knowing who was putting it together was big for me, because I trust Dermot and Scott and I know they care about the projects they are involved in. Sometimes I feel quite helpless when I watch the news and I felt so much for the people of Nepal when I heard about the tragic earthquakes. They are facing so many obstacles to rebuilding their infrastructure. Getting involved on a more personal level makes me feel helpful in some small way.
5. Who/What are your inspirations?
I’m sort of obsessed with collage (my sister’s influence) and pattern and just a bit of messiness, and I love nature. Our family hikes every weekend, rain or shine. I usually bring a sketchbook and draw the flora while my husband and son are turning over rocks in search of creatures.
I also adore the quirkiness of Monika Forsberg, Martha Rich, Oliver Jeffers, the Clayton Brothers, Tony Fitzpatrick, and the painting and lettering of Nate Williams and Maira Kalman.
My faith as a Christian has also been a huge influence, not just visual reference, because I tend to look inward a lot to guide what I want to work on. And dreams. Sometimes I wake up with an image and I need to paint it before coffee so I don’t forget it. If you’ve ever read the book “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert, that will explain things. I feel very blessed when I get imagery like that!
Just making work every day has also been a big push. Someone who influenced me to do that and to paint again is Jennifer Orkin Lewis (studio name of August Wren). She publishes a 30 minute painting every day on Instagram. It’s always amazing and experimental and fun. It also makes me feel more positive when I literally only get 30 minutes to work on something!
I also think it’s important to connect with other artists so you can share your frustrations and “fill the well” when you need encouragement. My network consists of online communities, local artists where I live, and good friends that I’ve kept in touch with.
6. What would be a dream project for you to work on?
I started this whole endeavor to be an illustrator with the dream of working on Children’s early literacy touch applications and also board books. But I also love editorial imagery and illustrated packaging (both make me buy things I don’t need). I would also love to license patterns and cross over to some of the other markets like home decor and paper goods. Maybe I want too much, but why not?
Photo credit: Maria Rizzo