July 29, 2011

More Than Just A Moment Shared

An Interview with Joanna Barnum

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

Okay gang, I’ve got to do a ‘thing’ here before we get started with the
Joanna Barnum interview!

DO NOT WORRY: the kids do NOT have to leave the room! Especially if you're like me and need them to stay and explain stuff to you.

Since I’ve been getting to know Joanna and her talents, I’ve had a song that always enters my mind and gets stuck there, often for days at a time. And the only way to get such a repeating track out of the echo chamber between my ears is to play it - even on endless repeat until it goes away on it’s on! Or whenever the other voices get loud enough to drown it out...

So bear with me, please:

Now, many of you are no doubt going ‘huh?’ or even ‘where’s my sandwich?’ by now. Why this very well known track by the fantastic U2 you say? Well, if you’ve had the opportunity to go to one of their MUST SEE concerts, you know at this point, Bono usually invites a young lady from the audience up on stage to do a little belly dancing with him. And guess what? In addition to her talents at putting ink and paint and more to paper, not to mention the other creative outlets she has displayed over the years, Joanna is a very capable belly dancer! So you begin to see how my brain – well, there’s no better word for it - ‘works’, eh?

But I don’t want to hear any catcalls from the peanut gallery, understand? I know for a fact that belly dancing is not only a very aerobic, taxing and difficult to master art-form, but the performers are also often allowed to perform with swords or other sharp pointy things. So zip it!!

And so, with these mental images planted firmly in your mind (oh and plants will figure into all this as well), I am proud to present the terrific Joanna Barnum!


Welcome, Joanna! What are you up to these days?
Hi Ziggy, thank you for your interest in my work!

Right now*, I'm in the middle of getting ready for a show at a local nature center. It's going up in mid-May, I've only known about the opportunity for about a month, and I'm trying to create mostly new work for the show...so although I tend to be a fast painter, things in the studio are a little harried right now!

The show will be at the
Irvine Nature Center in Owings Mills, MD from May 18-July 30, 2011. It's a two artist show; I'll be sharing the gallery walls with nature illustrator Rebecca Clark.

In addition, in late 2009, I painted a portrait of Charles Darwin and luckily it was recently featured as a “chosen” illustration by the
American Illustration annual. This portrait has enjoyed a lot of popularity online in terms of blogging and print sales. I'm using the Darwin piece as a jumping off point for a larger series of illustrative portraits featuring other famous biologists, naturalists, and conservationists.
(ZN: don’t forget as well that the Darwin design shown here is currently up for voting and pre-purchase registration at
Kickstarter!! Pledge now! )

I'm also working on my piece to contribute to Girls Drawing Girls's Volume 4 art book, which happens to have a nature theme.

(*ZN : our sincere apologies to Joanna, who broke all records in getting back to us with her answers back in April and just happened to hit a rather full publication schedule!)

Can you tell us a little bit about your background please and what inspired you to become the fantastic artist and graphic designer you are today?
I grew up in White Plains, NY (a suburb of NYC) as an only child, with a few close extended family members nearby. I had what I'd describe as a fairly ordinary, positive childhood.

I've enjoyed drawing and making things for as long as I can remember, and my family has always been encouraging of whatever I've wanted to pursue, including going to art school. I guess I've always been kind of dorky, weird, and shy...I guess there's often a connection between being kind of weird and being artistic in some way!
(ZN: yep! Hi Mom, hi Dad!)

I was a good student all around in high school and could have chosen between lots of different fields if I'd wanted to. But when it came time to choose a college and I really thought hard about it, I couldn't imagine being happy in any field other than the visual arts. Sure, I could have been GOOD at other things - and no doubt more financially successful by pursuing them - but I had and have still no passion for any pursuit that compares in any way to how I feel about my art.

In terms of my ‘formal’ education, I earned my BFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art, which has an amazing illustration department. Both the faculty and the other students there were incredibly inspiring.

Today, I identify as an illustrator first and foremost, even though I guess I'm more of what you’d call a creative ‘jack of all trades’. I do as much illustration work as I can get (which is never as much as I want!) but I'm still working hard to build the illustration career I really want to have. I got into painting commissioned portraits at first because it's something artistic I could find clients for, but it's become a real love for me, and now I'm trying to develop an illustrative focus on portraiture as well.

I’m also curious about the art and design scene in the Maryland area where you are. Is there a large ‘colony’ of fellow conspirators in the region? Or is a lot of this limited – if at all – to either the DC or Baltimore areas?
Parkville is just inside the Baltimore beltway, so I'm connected to the arts scene in Baltimore. That's where most of our galleries and events happen, but there are also other arts councils, etc. scattered around the state and I try to keep up with opportunities wherever I can find them.

I love that the Baltimore creative community is kind of offbeat. We have the
Fluid Movement water ballet group here, we're home to the Visionary Art museum and its kinetic sculpture race, and we have an active neo-burlesque scene. Baltimore is big enough that venues and projects can gather momentum, but small enough that it's easy for anyone who has the will to display their work or join a performing arts group.

Jumping right into the deep end of the pool, your work has been included in various collections of ‘erotic’ art; however, despite this all-encompassing label, I find that the pieces I’ve seen so far are – how to put this – somewhat ‘tamer’ (more reserved, less pornographic?) than many of so many offers seem to be today. What is important for you – or what do you look for – in terms of capturing ‘Eros’ in an image?
I have a strong traditional background in life drawing from the figure, and a lot of my work has focused on mythological subject matter. It feels natural for me to include nudes in those works much in the same way the nude features heavily in classical and Renaissance mythological artwork.

It is both a thing of beauty and I feel it helps to emphasize the archetypal nature of these stories. The body as well as the face has great expressive potential and can be used to convey passion and emotion in the general sense, not just the erotic. I'm happy to have these pieces welcomed into compilations of erotic work, and I enjoy that element of their nature, but that's not the only element at play for me.

Because so much of my work has celebrated the female form, I was welcomed into the
Girls Drawing Girls collective about a year and a half ago. The group is focused on pinup artwork from women in the animation and illustration industries. Being a part of the group has pushed me to start exploring the “Eros” element more blatantly, and I've been having a lot of fun with it. In general, I think the work coming out of the group is about women's own celebration of themselves not as erotic objects but as complete beings with agency and unique attributes worth admiring.

Speaking of ‘GDG’ – not that I’m looking for yet another opportunity to plug their latest collection known affectionately as ‘
GDG Volume IV : The Way Nature Made Her’ (order your copy today!!) – you also recently scored both an annual calendar appearance as well as getting to do their recent ‘Hoity Toity Art Show’ poster! What has being involved in this team meant for you and your career?
The ladies who run the group are not only amazingly talented artists themselves, but are also very driven to find and put together unique, exciting opportunities for all GDG members to participate in.

The opportunities that have opened up to me through participation in the group, both as official group activities, and through networking with the other women in the group, have been just astounding and I think have helped to push my career up a notch in the past year.

You also seem to have a keen connection to the world of fantasy. Can you explain a little about your fascination with this type of imagery and how it relates to your artwork? Is this more escapism for you or do you, too, walk the way of the macabre and sinister?
I grew up a BIG fan of fantasy and science fiction. Even as a very young artist, I wanted to paint dragons and unicorns, and I learned that that sort of work was usually considered “illustration,” which is what first started me down this road. As I matured, I fell in love with illustration as a concept, and branched out quite a bit. But I've managed to maintain a strong focus on mythology in my adult artwork, and I love getting illustration assignments that fall into the fantasy realm.

Having said that, I do think my work is different in style from the traditional look a lot of fantasy work has, like the sort of thing you'd expect to see coming out of Wizards of the Coast, but the fact that it's different has appealed to the indie publishers I've worked with. Painting someone else's invented worlds and creatures is ridiculously fun, and yeah, it is escapism to a degree.

It's not super intellectually heavy; it's just FUN.

Continued in
Part 2

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