July 29, 2011

More Than Just A Moment Shared

An Interview with Joanna Barnum

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
Click any image to enlargenate

Joanna, I’ve really enjoyed going through your different galleries, great stuff!

I am curious though how you got involved in either ‘culinary illustration’ or even your ‘wildlife illustration’, where you’ve featured not only recently extinct animal species but also plants and fungi?
I love science, and I love the natural world, and preserving it is very important to me. I also have a strong aesthetic attraction to food and plants which I can't quite explain. I love painting these little jewel-like moments.

I also collect objects that are shaped like food or plants, which drives my husband crazy.

Now unless my eyes are getting worse than I thought, it seems that most if not all of your works feature watercolors & acrylics, pens & inks, colored pencils and a few other ‘traditional’ techniques. In other words, you work mostly by hand, correct? Do you ever include digital methods in your work?
I'm primarily a watercolorist, and sometimes I combine other mixed media elements with my watercolors. I'm definitely traditionally focused. I mainly use Photoshop to clean up my work after I scan it into the computer, but I also use it to rearrange traditionally created elements when I do design work, like logos.

For example, I'll paint lettering by hand, but it might take me several attempts to get all the letters the way I want them, and they might be all spread out over a sheet of paper mixed up with false starts. I'll scan that in and then rearrange the individual letters digitally.

I like my final pieces to look like they're traditionally created even when I've used Photoshop as a tool.

Your portrait collection also features some really well done pieces, including both ‘free-style’ and commissioned works (or even this lovely self-portrait)! But I’m curious (also because I may try this to help pay some bills soon): do you find it more stressful painting a person or someone’s pet? I know what I would answer!
When I'm painting a commissioned portrait of a person, it is a little more stressful than if I'm working on a portrait for an illustration or for my portfolio, because what's most important to most private clients is that the portrait be a) very true to life, and b) flattering. When I paint someone's pet, I actually have more freedom and can be a little more expressive, because the client is less likely to say “oh, the nose is too big, and what's that crazy red shadow you put under the eye?”

I would say that after sampling a large number of your works that there is a distinctive ‘Joanna Barnum’ style, where I really like what is written on your home site namely that your ‘style is loose, expressive semi-realism, executed in a combination of watercolor and mixed media.’

Can you describe a little what it’s taken to establish this in such a way that people will indeed look at your work and say ‘hey, that’s a Joanna Barnum!’? Putting it a little differently: do you hope or is it your target even that when someone is considering a commission say ‘hey, Joanna Barnum’s work would be perfect here’?
It's funny, because I spent a lot of time as a student, and I still spend a lot of time fretting that I don't have a distinctive style to my work. So it's nice to hear you say that you think I do.

Having said that, how important do you think it is for an artist to establish such a distinctive style? Does this have any negatives to it, namely, is it ever restrictive to you?
When I was in art school, a lot of my professors were really big on emphasizing that “style isn't important,” because I guess they didn't want us to get prematurely or even artificially locked into a surface look before really developing ourselves as artists. In some ways, though, I think they took it too far to that extreme, and it was a bit of a disservice.

I've found that the most marketable illustrators have a really clear look to their work, and often a strong focus on a certain genre... and as I mentioned, I've grappled with that a lot. I still feel like I'm not really sure what my work looks like...but I guess it's always easier to look at another artist's work and be struck by its distinctive look. Sometimes it's hard (or impossible?) to see one's own work for what it really is.

What is the ‘Rooney Gooney’ project? How did you get involved in that?
Rooney Gooney is a self-published educational children's book I collaborated on with a local retired doctor, Charles Bush. I've always wanted to work in children's publishing, so when an opportunity came along to work through the process on a self-published project, with an author that was actually willing to pay me for my work (which is pretty uncommon, if you peruse the classifieds section of Craig's List for any big city), I decided to go for it. It was a wonderful learning experience.

I had a lot of hypothetical knowledge about working through character development, dummy book, final illustrations, and layout for a children's book from my education at MICA, but I had never actually been through the process start to finish for a whole book.

I also learned a lot about how to put together something for print-on-demand publication through Lulu.com. I'm excited to use both those skill sets more in the future.

You’ve also created some very interesting dolls and/or ‘dragon scarf puppets’, jewellery, decorative items and more! Is the more ‘craft’ oriented side of your work a big part of your future plans or is this something you just do on occasion to mix things up a little?
The more crafty stuff is mostly a hobby for relaxation, although it's great when I can sell some of it to boot.

I really like anything involving making things with my hands: painting, sewing, embroidery, crochet, cooking,
baking, gardening, you name it. Mostly small scale, intuitive type things.

However, I'm not good at building stuff - I'll generally pass on anything involving math and/or power tools!

Now before I let you go, I must ask you one very important question: as someone who is by their own admission a little bit shy, how did you get involved in belly dancing, even to the point of (gasp) performing in public?
Belly dance is enjoying a huge surge of popularity in the United States. I had a lot of acquaintances that were involved in it. I took a class at a local community college because I hate to exercise, and I thought it would be a fun way to get moving. I ended up falling head over heels in love, for so many reasons.

I have since discovered that dancing is about an ephemeral moment shared with a live audience. It's exhilarating. Apparently, there was a performer hiding somewhere inside me waiting to come out.

And in the case of belly dancing, this form of expression is based in the social dances of the Middle East, and it's truly a dance of the people...there are belly dancers of all ages and shapes. It's been exciting learning a new way to express myself, and it was really scary at first because I'm used to creating my work in private, and then putting it out there for consumption when it's finished.

Right now I'm a member of a troupe that started out as a student troupe, but that I think has slowly been evolving to a more professional level, which I guess is on par with my personal progress as a dancer. It started out as a hobby, but I'm a pretty intense person, and I have trouble doing anything halfway if I love it enough to do it at all.

I keep saying that I don't want a second creative job, but it's become important to me to work toward dancing on a professional level. I guess it’s a point of personal pride, so we'll see what happens there.


Joanna Barnum is a bright young illustrator and portrait artist whose work has appeared in books, magazines, and games, as well as in several juried annuals of fantasy and other types of popular illustration. She holds a BFA in illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art, plying her craft primarily in the areas of fantasy and children’s illustration. In addition, her observational figurative work can be found regularly at local galleries and festivals. Her distinctive style has been described as being ‘loose, expressive semi-realism’, which she creates using primarily a combination of watercolor and mixed media.

Joanna grew up in White Plains, NY and currently resides in the Baltimore, Maryland area with her husband Mike who continues to show amazing patience in terms of his wife's odd collections. Among her many other interests, Joanna lists needlework, costuming, baking, camping, and volunteering as a board member and coordinator for the non-profit organization that runs Playa del Fuego, a regional Burning Man-inspired event.

Please check out more evidence of Joanna’s 'evolving' talents (I’m sorry, I thought I could get through this without using that pun) at the following links and galleries:


DeviantArt gallery
Etsy shop

And of course, be sure and follow the fantastic exploits of the ‘Aubergine Belly Dance Troupe’ at either their
homepage or as a fan on Facebook!


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Joanna Barnum, 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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