freelance

artist, illustrator, printmaker, California

Lili Arnold

You studied printmaking in college?

Yes. It was almost by accident. As a junior I transferred to UC Santa Cruz. I was originally trying to do pre-med...but once I started taking classes like calculus and physics I was like, "Oh my gosh. I can't wrap my mind around any of this. This is not good." So I started rethinking my future and what I was going to major in...

I think my art education at UCSC allowed me to appreciate printmaking and start to figure out what I liked and what my style might be. I was always really drawn to pattern and folk art. I feel like most college art programs are focused more on conceptual art. So not necessarily something that's aesthetically pleasing but more focus on the message behind it. And I get that, some of the best art in the world is inspired by tragedy or something very personal. [Conceptual art] can have so much meaning, but I found my style in more folk art type things...

[After college] I did graphic design for four or five years. I got to a point where I was feeling creatively stifled because all the work I was doing was for someone else. I never had any real creative say in the final product ... I just executed the project that was given to me. I was craving some type of creative fulfillment. So I started doing art in my free time. On the weekends and whenever I could squeeze in a little project. ...I would do a little watercolor or I would paint a flower pot, all kinds of random stuff. I came across my old block printing tools and I thought, "Oh, I remember doing this. This was really fun…"

My first block print as an adult was a little sperm whale. Once I started I couldn't stop. After the sperm whale I did a whole little ocean series. Then a friend who worked at a store downtown reached out to me. She had seen them and asked if I would be interested in doing a First Friday. The first Friday of every month in Santa Cruz, a bunch of shops and galleries will host new artists with a collection of work... It's a really fun community arts event. So I had a First Friday. And I felt a lot of love from people in our community. It encouraged me that much more, so I just kept on creating…

When you went from your full-time graphic design position to what you are doing now, what did that transition look like? Are you printmaking full-time?

I am printmaking about 70% of the time, the rest of my time is filled with order fulfillment, commissioned pieces/illustrations, designing bandanas/packaging/branding for my products, and the last element is art shows & pop-ups. The transition from graphic designer to what I’m doing now was pretty scary at first. I was used to a steady 9-5, so managing myself and my own creativity took some time to harness and organize.

[When I quit my 9-5,] I kept some freelance graphic design clients and just did my art and printmaking on the side. Slowly the balance shifted more toward the printmaking end of things, once business started to pick up. Now I pretty much avoid graphic design whenever I can unless it incorporates handmade illustration, painting, or printing of some kind…

I've been obsessed with botanical illustration and scientific illustration. I like Ernst Haeckel ... He did a lot of ocean scientific illustrations. I get a lot of inspiration from doing research and ordering old books that have botanical illustrations. Also just getting out in nature...

I got the idea to do a protea and I think that might have been the first flower other than cactus flowers that I had done. So that kind of got me thinking about other types of flowers and I think that probably is what lead me to actually do this print [of Dahlias]. Now I'm feeling even more inspired to do different types of flowers from all over the world really. There's just so much beauty in the leaves and the petals and the whole structure of the plants.

So your cacti will morph into more flowers?

I think so. That's kind of what I'm feeling right now. 'Cause I did a lot of cactus.

I did, I don't know, a dozen at least, maybe around two dozen cactus and I loved every single one of them. I feel like [in the creative process] there's a natural desire to evolve and change and progress. So I feel like I've explored cacti ... and that has lead me to this next body of work. I have so many ideas for different flowers I wanna do, this could go on for awhile. But who knows?

Being an artist of any kind, it's hard to plan. It's like you have to listen to whatever's driving you and whatever ideas might pop into your head. Kinda just have to roll with it.

I feel like too much planning starts to feel cycling. Running my Instagram page, for example. I do enjoy it, but then there are times where if I plan it out too much...or if I start to schedule too much or start to pressure myself to keep up when I don't necessarily feel like it... I've gotten to the point where I just want to do whatever feels right and not worry if [Instagram’s] algorithm is going to put me below someone. It's probably not very business savvy...

I feel like for me to keep doing what I'm doing I really need to fully enjoy it and embrace the creative aspect of it. That's the most rewarding part of it.

These are all the flower pieces that I cut out after I carve the whole block. I'll carve [a block] in one piece and then I use an x-acto knife to cut out the pieces so I can color everything separately. That was one thing I never learned in school, was printing with multiple colors. Traditionally you carve multiple blocks [one for each color] and then you register each block.

[Explaining what it means to ‘register’ in printmaking.] So you'll print one color first for all the pieces of paper that you're doing. Once that color is done, you have to register [or line up] the next block[s] and the paper perfectly to print the second color [third color, etc] on top of it. It's always intimidated me. It's really hard to do without a printing press because printing by hand, there's so much inconsistency. I also use deckle edged paper. So you can see it would be really hard to register this paper, each piece is slightly different and like what part of the deckle edge do you really choose to be the part to align?

Had you seen other printmakers do this method before? Or did you have a light bulb moment one day?

I hadn't seen anyone do this before. I kind of did it out of desperation. The first few were very ... there was a lack of expertise for sure. The way the pieces fit together didn't really work. It was definitely challenging. But I've started to design the compositions with this idea in mind, that, "Oh, I'm gonna have to cut these out. So how can I make this easy?"

I just try to problem solve as I go 'cause there's a lot of factors to worry about....

That's how I work. A lot of trial and error. And googling. I have made many mistakes carving in blocks before. I did some googling and there's this stuff called Bondo which is used for car repair. It’s car dent filler. I read online that a printmaker used that to patch up mistakes made on their blocks. I ended up trying that because I had made a poster for a band ... I had to print 150 posters and somewhere on the poster it said 2017 and the seven was backwards… So I ended up using Bondo and patching the seven and carving the opposite side of it. And it worked!

Now I know if I really mess up on something that there is a chance it can be salvaged. In the past I just would abandon and walk. Sometimes it's like 15 hours of carving and it's tragic!

Find Lili:

Lili Arnold Studios

Instagram
Make sure to check out the videos she posts of mixing inks, it’s incredibly satisfying ;)