This month we’ll be talking with the Baltimore bred, Brooklyn based cartoonist Paige Pumphrey. She’s an illustrator specializing in pin-up style artwork, heavily influenced by American comic books and animation, tattoos and mid-century ephemera.
Paige, you’re mostly known for providing artwork for roller derby bouts, gig posters, burlesque shows and comic book pinups. What some folks might not know is that you also letter manga and design ads. You do a lot of different things and you do them all well. How do you juggle it all?
Aw thank you for the kind words!
I definitely consider myself to be all over the place as far as projects go. Usually I schedule myself week by week and plan a day for this and a day for that. The paid gigs like manga lettering and commissions are always a priority. I usually focus exclusively on them until they’re done, especially when money and deadlines are involved. Freelance is all about time management and finding the initiative to start working, even when someone isn’t telling you to. If I have stuff that needs to get done and I’m taking time to work on personal projects I get an immediate pang of guilt that I could be spending this time on “work-work” instead of “fun-work”, as is the tendency when your hobbies and personal interests become your vocation. However when my schedule is free I tend to come up with fun side projects of my own, like fan art or crafting merch or creating concept art for my fabled magnum opus comic I’ve been working on for 20 years.
Out of the varied work you do, do favor one discipline over another?
Character design has always been my foremost passion. I didn’t have a ton of friends growing up, but early on I was introduced to RPG manuals, comic books and video games by my older brother. I love drawing people. Drawing unique characters and figuring out the puzzle to giving them that spark of life gives me so much joy and purpose.
Does it require a change of mindset when you go from working on say a Manga then over to a gig poster? Any mental palette cleanser?
Oh absolutely! Like I said, some jobs have priority over others and I’ll devote my time and creative energy to them almost exclusively. When I need to finally take a break I try to get as far away from my computer desk as possible and focus on real life things in front of me. I’ve been taking Pilates classes the past couple of years which has really helped me with my posture and undoing the years of damage that hunching over a sketchbook or computer desk has caused me. I also live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn which in and of itself is this crazy cultural zeitgeist and I’m very lucky to be here, so when weather allows I’ll take walks around the neighborhood to appreciate the city and all its inspiration. Being freelance at home and working crazy hours can be very isolating, so I’m glad to be able to even just open my shutters and be reminded that for good and bad, humanity exists. Which now in these days of constant screens in our faces, can get very divisive and make you forget that people are people and everybody’s got shit going on.
What does a typical work day look like for you? Your workspace?
I work from home as a freelancer alongside my husband and fellow Kubert School alum Phil Balsman. With our powers combined, we form the design house Odin Star Industries. We usually have a staggered schedule (he’s a night owl, I’m a day walker) so I’ll get up before him and get my shit together. Coffee, NY1, moisturizers. Once Phil’s been roused I’ll head over into our office and get down to business. We have a two bedroom apartment (that I’m currently redecorating which is very exciting) and our second bedroom is our office space. Both Phil and I’s desks sit perpendicular to each other, so yes technically we’re ALWAYS at work. Work time is all the time. Which is great and terrible, all at once. Especially working in a field that directly correlates with your personal interests, because you’re so invested. That being said, my workspace is basically my entire apartment- I have one desk in the office alongside Phil’s where my computer and Cintiq tablet reside. That’s the “serious business” area, where I do all my digital work including manga lettering, ad design, typography/logos, and drawing/inking/coloring on the Cintiq. I also have a second desk out in the living room that’s reserved for physical media, mainly my sketchbooks, crafting and makeup. A lot of my creativity spills out into the world through how I express myself as a person. I’m very much into pinup and fashion and I will often get myself all dolled up when going out, a lot of the ideas I get for pinup art start with me being my own model. One of the tag lines on a con-exclusive art book I put together a few years ago was “is it life imitating art or art imitating life?” Which is very much my brand. And now with social media I can share the goofy adventures I dress up to go on with my friends and followers, which in turn inspires my art, which in turn affords me the ability to go out, ad infinitum.
In regard to Odin Star Industries, how do you guys divvy up the workload for a project you're working on as a team?
Phil definitely takes on the majority of the Odin Star workload with designing logos and covers for manga and businesses. Most of the work I do under the banner of Odin Star is separate from Phil, including manga lettering, interior house ad design, and reformatting digital comics files for print. Phil does enlist me for help with cover design on occasion. A major example of us collaborating was on the zombie manga series Sankarea, where the covers were completely redesigned from the Japanese version to something more palatable to the US market. The original manga series had a somewhat generic cover design that didn’t really tell the potential reader what the story was about. We ended up taking interior art from the book and I digitally colored it to match the spookier/horror feel we wanted to give and then Phil used those new art assets to design a new cover. It turned out really cool, I was very happy with it. Other duties I’ve had as a part of Odin Star Industries directly working along with Phil includes art assistance such as cleaning up image files, flatting colors, and standing over his shoulder at 1am and telling him which of the 3 f’s (or whatever letter it is) he built for this logo looks best.
Being that it’s still early into the new year, do you have any professional goals, art goals you’ve set for yourself?
Haha, ohhh there’s always ongoing stuff that I’m supposed to be working on. To the point that I get overwhelmed and have to take a nap.
The guiding star of my entire career has always been that I want to draw actual comics. I’ve done a few shorts here and there but nothing of notable value. I’ve been carrying around my own magnum opus universe of characters in my head for over 20 years and every year I fine tune those ideas a little more and more and inch closer and closer to actually doing something with it. Like when I want to indulge in drawing purely for myself, I draw characters and scenes and ideas for that. So doing more of that is always on the to-do list.
Also I’m tentatively planning a return to vending my wares at conventions. I took what was supposed to be a year long hiatus after 2015, but I was so very, very tired and here it is 2019 and I’ve still yet to muster the energy to be back working a show. Tables are expensive and require an exorbitant amount of time/work/money before, during and after the convention. I’ve been keeping my eye on shows and have been concocting new ideas for merch, so perhaps I’ll be back in the saddle in the near future.
In the meantime, a more immediate goal I'm working on is more commissions and paid illustration work. One of the ways I'm doing this is running a special I just started this year of tattoo flash styled portraits with name banners and flowers. Couples, singles, I'm even doing pets. They've been taking off pretty well so far, and make great presents. I also have really enjoyed focusing on likenesses and the botanical illustration aspect It's been super rewarding making people happy with my art on an individual level.
With an added interest in more illustration work, have you considered an agent, or representative? Ever used one in the past?
I’ve never used an agent or representative before! The whole process of acquiring one and then navigating the work that an agent would get me always sounded so daunting and complicated. Granted I have zero experience on the matter. I definitely could see how an agent would be helpful in matters of project management and rate negotiation. Shoot I know from experience that uncomfortable feeling of directly talking to a client about getting them to pay what I’m worth. Especially me being someone who’s known for always being so nice and pleasant and eager to please. There have been times that clients took advantage of that. So I get the appeal of someone going to bat for me and taking care of all the technical business stuff so I can focus on art.
I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering, or life, what would it be?
Being a creative person who works in a visual field, I'm always looking for inspiration. A great way to find that elusive spark is to go read up on your favorite artist, and find out who inspired them. Or better yet go online or to a show and ask them yourself. I read about that in a book called "How to Steal Like an Artist". It's basically like going through your artistic family tree. Once you see who inspires your favorite artists you can almost see what bits and pieces they borrowed from to get the style that they're using, that's inspiring you. It's like being a DJ and crate digging for records. Yeah you can grab a sample everyone knows from a pop hit made in the last 30 years, but to me the best DJs are the ones who really dig in the crates and find some ancient gems no one knows about and folds that into their repertoire.
Thanks to Paige for talking shop with us this month. Be sure to check out her work and follow her on Twitter: