May 16, 2011

Monsters and Whales and Bears, Oh My!

An interview with Amanda Lee James

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
Click on any picture to entkleinen

Amanda, you’ve listed some of your inspirations as old children’s books, Japanese woodblock prints and illustrated animal encyclopaedias, as well as having an interest in creatures and places you’ve never seen. What are some of your other inspirations for your unique style? You’ve mentioned the cover of the Beatles’ album ‘
Revolver’ which is what I though of right away when first seeing your work!
Funny you mention that because my mom is a huge Beatles fan! We actually had a Beatles room in our house!

In fact, ‘
Yellow Submarine’ is probably one of my biggest influences for colour choices and a few of my patterns. It’s an absolutely beautiful and inspiring film for me. I grew up amongst many of their collectable figures, plates and records so I think I absorbed a lot of those colours and styles from that era.

In terms of children’s books, two of my favourite illustrators are
Mercer Mayer and Maurice Sendak – but there are far too many amazing illustrators I enjoy and respect to even begin naming them all. We have this absolutely huge bookstore here in Portland that’s just a few blocks from my apartment and when I need inspiration, I just go downstairs to the children’s section and get lost for a couple hours.

Speaking of influences, am I correct in assuming that you also have a particular affinity for the sea and the amazing variety of life that it holds? I really enjoy your work here and I think that some of these pieces are among your strongest!
I love sea creatures. I think that sea exploration is infinitely more interesting than even space exploration. And for a long time, I wanted to be a marine biologist in addition to being an animator or illustrator.

I get seasick though... so I switched my focus to recreating and celebrating these wonderful creatures in my art. I also reference sea creatures frequently because stylistically they lend themselves well to my art. Sea creatures are naturally so patterned and unusual and full of artistic opportunity!

Your shop is also filled with lots of goodies. I’m curious though as to why you almost always print ‘varied editions’ even changing (slightly?) the placement of the animal or even the colour schemes?
I print varied editions mostly for two reasons:

First off, it’s nice to enhance the individuality of the print. More traditional editions of prints naturally have some variety because they are handmade, but I try to further enhance this by having a variety of placement and colour. I think that a print can be as individual as a painting and that they should be valued equally.

Secondly, I get bored making the EXACT same image over and over. Changing colours helps keep my eyes fresh and allows me to explore more in the printing process.

Last year, your design for the album cover of ‘The Angry Orts’ was picked one of the
best 90 album covers of the year by redefinemag. Congratulations! How did you get involved in working with a band on this cover and how did the overall design ‘process’ differ vs. a piece you do on your own?
I got involved with
the Angry Orts project through somewhat of a fluke. Their guitarist’s girlfriend played flute with me in our high school’s marching band and remembered that I did art. They contacted me and I showed them my latest work, the animal series, and we began the collaboration.

I think that the design process for this project was very similar to my normal working methods. The key differences were making more stopping points to check in with the band and taking into account that it would be reproduced digitally and that it would have to be shrunk down considerably.

I loved this project though and the Orts made some amazing merchandise out of the nautilus drawing. It was exciting to see my work in so many other mediums, like earrings, shirts and that kind of stuff.

Now I’ve got to spend a moment or two on your
mixed media ‘bathroom’ set which included scale, medicine cabinet and yes, toilet. Again, if my homework is right, you made these by ‘applying’ a mosaic of different materials (Twizzlers, Lifesavers and marshmallows among other items) onto a Styrofoam form. I guess my question is simply: good heavens, what ever prompted you to do that? It’s fantastic, yes, but wow, definitely unique!
This was the most stressful project I have made as of yet. It is also one of my favourites.

It was actually a whimsical approach to dealing with eating disorders. It was all about overindulgence, obsession and image. I am not sure where the exact idea came from but I have long been obsessed with the candy forest room in ‘
Willy Wonka’ so I would say that’s a definite inspiration.

I originally wanted to do an entire bathroom scene, complete with a bathtub, but quickly learned that candy is very expensive and that this type of sculpture is very time-consuming. It was my first time working in three-dimensional form and my first time working with candy and acrylic simultaneously. And as I was to find out, acrylic dissolves many candies into a brown mushy goo!

Looking back on this though, I can definitely see it as a precursor to my current work. In a way, I am now creating pen-line mosaics instead of candy ones.

You’ve also recently shown not only an affinity for the undeniably confirmed life-forms on our world but also both some unconfirmed (as of yet) and even monstrous creatures. Can you explain your interest in the more imaginative side of your ‘
animal’ or even ‘monster’ prints?
Most recently I have started to experiment with completely separating myself from reference material. As a result, I started to make more imaginative creatures. They are naturally the best subjects for this type of experimentation because there is no concrete definition as to what they should look like.

I find doing this coupled with a lack of reference material to be really liberating because there are truly no boundaries. At the same time, they are some of the most challenging works for me because it can be very hard to get a concrete enough vision in my head in order to transfer it to paper.

I often like to share some of my research with my kids (Jr. age 10 ¾ and li’l Miss, age 7 going on 17), if for nothing else to get them to turn off the TV for a few minutes. In the case of many of your pieces, my son truly enjoyed the subject matter (esp. bats, anything with tentacles, etc.) and texture (I think his words were ‘oh wow, worms!’). My daughter seemed less excited and even issued a slight ‘ooh that’s yucky’ for a couple of images. Still, she’s young and has very little disposable income so I wouldn’t worry about it!

That having been said, there does seem to be a lack of ‘Barbie aesthetic’ if you will to your art (to be bluntly sexist, it can be argued it’s not terribly very ‘girly’ I guess, where I note my daughter’s room is indeed filled from floor to ceiling with Barbie, Hannah Montana and more... sigh, where did I go wrong?). Is this choice intentional or has it just kind of turned out that way?
This choice was not intentional. Maybe is has to do with my growing up as kind of a tomboy?

I don’t personally see my work as masculine, but I have noticed that many people are surprised to find out that my work is made by a woman. When I go to craft fairs, my boyfriend is kind enough to come along and keep me company behind the booth. Despite the huge “Prints by Amanda James” sign on the front of the booth, nine times out of ten people assume that he is the artist and direct their questions to him.

Sometimes I can find this a bit frustrating ... but for the most part it just leaves me perplexed.

Your work is offered in a variety of forms, including fine art prints and stretched canvases, iPhone Cases, ‘skins’ (for laptops, i-Pads, -Phones, and –Pods), tee-shirts and also hoodies. Is there an avenue that you haven’t offered yet where you’d like to see you work appear?
People are kind of afraid to touch prints. As such, I’d like to make something that people would touch.

With this in mind, I’d really love to illustrate a children’s book. I’m actually in the very beginning stages of working on one written by a friend. I think that books are absolutely wonderful little objects because people interact with them and flip their pages.

Finally, just from your list of exhibitions in 2010, it looks like it was a busy year for you. What’s coming up in 2011 and beyond?
I have a solo show coming up at Mag-Big here in Portland that I am pretty excited about. It’s going to kind of be my ‘Farewell to Portland’ show because I am planning on moving across the country to go work on my MFA in printmaking this fall. I have always lived in Portland so I am extremely excited to start working and living in a new community.

Right now, I am still not sure where I am going to exactly – but I do know it’s going to be at least 2000 miles away! And I can’t wait! (ZN: see update below!)


Amanda Lee James grew up in the picturesque if not often soggy realm commonly known as Portland, Oregon. At last glance, she can still be found working out of her downtown studio apartment which she shares with a, quote, wonderful guy named Ian and three cats, Ghostie, Spooky, and Whisper. She is nearing any moment now the finish-line for getting her Bachelors in Drawing and Printmaking from Portland State University.

Afterwards, she will pack up cats, guy and her assorted collection of fuzzy and squidgy friends in print and head off to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to attend graduate school at LSU. We hope for her sake that she knows what TRUE humidity is like!

Amanda’s work is filled with an obvious sense of her love to draw and print things that make not only herself but others very happy. She has a knack for furry creatures, friendly monsters and tentacled beasties of all shapes and sizes! Her work is filled to the brim with overlapping and painstakingly detailed patterns and she confesses as well to wanting to see just how many different lines and shapes she can get onto one piece of paper.
We wish her all the best of luck and success in her on-going travels and hope that Cajun Country treats her with all of it’s famous Southern hospitality indeed!


Shops :


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Amanda Lee James, including all current or previous business affiliations related to same, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations. In all cases, we invite you to visit the artist’s site(s) for more!

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