Emily Ettlinger graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2016 with honors, a BFA in illustration, and very little sleep. She likes to make comics, which are usually silly but sometimes thoughtful. More of her work can be seen at www.emiett.com. She provided art for this week’s story,“Lacuna” by Lane Robins.
This interview was conducted by email in March 2017.
Tory Hoke: As an illustrator, how did you get where you are today?
Emily Ettlinger: Growing up, I was very lucky to have a lot of artistic support. My mom realized early on that I loved drawing, so she often took my brother and I to art museums and did lots of craft projects with us. I had a big network of artists around me (friends, family, and teachers) to take inspiration from. I’ve been helped so much by the people I know, and I’d be a much different person and artist if it weren’t for them.
Tory Hoke: There are a variety of pop culture themes in your work. What attracts you to your chosen subjects? What effect does experimenting with different styles have on your body of work?
Emily Ettlinger: In terms of pop culture, I usually have at least one of three reasons for making art of it: if it’s not too popular and I want to let others know it exists; if it is popular but I’m not seeing art of it that I like; or if I have a strong visual I want to get down on paper. I especially like visual cues—parts of the source material I can subtly weave into the picture that are understood only by people who know the story.
Working in a variety of styles is very natural for me. I think that if I tried to force myself to draw one way all the time, I would get bored. That isn’t to say I don’t think I have a style. I just don’t worry about it too much. I know I can’t truly draw like Leyendecker or Tezuka. I can only draw like Emily. Changing how I draw isn’t always unconscious either. Depending the mood I want from the image, I may decide to work more stylized vs. realistic, or soft-edged vs. high contrast, or detail-heavy vs. simplistic.
Tory Hoke: According to your Twitter feed, you were recently at Otakon. How was that experience? How do you compare the different conventions you’ve visited?
Emily Ettlinger: I had a great time at Otakon! It was my first time selling at a convention in a while. I was confident about the work I brought, but the last con I’d sold at had been a total bust for everyone who went; I’d only made $12.50 in three days, a record low for me (keep in mind, I started selling art at conventions when I was fourteen). By comparison, this time at Otakon was a record high! I was very lucky to be tabling next to some experienced con-goers who were always happy to offer me advice and food. I made some new friends and met the artist of one of my favorite comics, Paranatural. It was a lovely experience!
Tory Hoke: What inspires your creations? What effect do you hope to have on your viewer?
Emily Ettlinger: My brother says that writers try to convince you that the stories they like are good, but through their own writing. They take their favorite aspects from their favorite ’80s cartoon or gothic romance series and write in a way that others see the merit of them.
I think, writing-wise, I work the same way. In terms of art, many times I’ll see another artist try something and I’ll want to try it too. The initial thought is “that looks good!” or “that looks like fun!” or “I wonder how that would look in my style?” I’ll have the same string of thought for things in my daily life too: how lighting hits a person, how moss is arranged on a log, etc.
As for the effect I want on my viewer, mood is extremely important to me. I want the viewer to feel the piece even if they don’t understand it. It’s been a longtime goal of mine to master emotion in my art. If I can elicit the emotional response I was aiming for, I feel like I’ve done a good job.
Tory Hoke: What is the art community like where you are?
Emily Ettlinger: Boston is a very artsy place. I haven’t lived here very long, but I’ve met plenty of artists already. So many restaurants or stores have paintings on the walls or beautiful displays in the windows. It feels like everyone here either is or knows an artist in the area.
Tory Hoke: What other artists inspire or interest you?
Tory Hoke: What would you like to see more of in contemporary F/SF art?
Emily Ettlinger: I’d like to see more variation in design—more inspiration taken from outside of what’s popular in F/SF art. I have a friend who makes reference pages for everything she draws. Each page is littered with photos and drawings from all over the place. The pages are labeled (clothing, character, environment) but often you wouldn’t be able to tell what they’re for because there’s such a variety of imagery in them. The images still work together. I can tell, “Oh, whatever this is for, she wants it to be pointy and colorful,” but I won’t know she’s designing a hat or a building or how magic looks until I look at the label. I think it gives her designs a freshness that I’d like to see more often.
Tory Hoke: What’s your dream project?
Emily Ettlinger: I have dozens of my own stories bouncing around in my head. The dream would be to have the time and financial support to get them down on paper. I would also love to work on a cartoon series someday.
Tory Hoke: What’s next for you?
Emily Ettlinger: I’m currently working on two comics. One is a solo autobiographical comic, which will hopefully be done by the end of the month. The other I’m making with fellow artist Glinda Chen and writer Max Gladstone. The short story ties into Max’s fantasy series, The Craft Sequence, which I highly recommend.
Tory Hoke: Thank you for your time, Emily! It’s been a pleasure.