This week's colorful hand-lettered Marijuana Issue cover was created by Pittsburgh artist Ellissa Nicholle Schatz. Pittsburgh City Paper asked her a few questions over email about her artwork after completing the cover illustration.
How did you get into illustrating?
I went to SCAD [The Savannah College of Art and Design] for illustration and printmaking, and now am working to amp up my freelance career alongside my graphic design 9-to-5. I'm just having fun and figuring out what/how I like to draw.
What is your dream job? Dream client?
I'd love to be doing creative direction for an art and fashion publication, something where I could have my eyes and hands in a lot of different projects.
Freelance-wise, I've been dying to work with Bitch Magazine since I first found out about them. Doing a mural is also on my list of goals for the next couple years.
Your cover illustration this week includes a lovely moody person, scrolling hand lettering, lots of plants, and an interpretive and vibrant use of color — all of which are seen throughout your larger body of work. Where do you gather inspiration from?
Honestly, Instagram, like everyone else, mostly. I love big Versace-ish fashion prints and bright colors that maybe don't go together and girls that have inches-long bejeweled acrylics. Also other illustrators like Laura Callaghan and Caleb Boyles (I went to school with him and you should really check him out … he's so good).
You work in a lot of different mediums including silkscreen, digital illustration, works on paper, animation, and zines. Do you have a favorite? Do you go to a particular medium for creating different subject matter, mood, or message?
When I feel like I haven't made something in awhile, or having a day where I can't draw, I like to paint or silkscreen (both using very low-tech setups on top of my drafting table). Making something that is probably going to be kind of messy by nature makes me loosen up a lot and gets me in the mood to have more ideas for projects way more organically than staring at an empty Photoshop document would.
Digital is cool for most client work just because you can change things so fast and colors can be so fun to play with, but there also is a pressure to make things extra perfect because you have the ability to do so. I think painting and screen printing are more of an experimental personal project way of working for me, and then drawing and animating in Photoshop is more "professional" I guess. I'd loooooovvveeee to start doing more animations for work just to get better at it.
Do you have any big or exciting projects coming up?
I'll be in a show with a bunch of other artists in the fall, so I'm starting to work on paintings for that. That's going to be super fun. And then I'm also in the works for something with a really cool publication later on in the spring. For more on that you'll have to check my Instagram because it's not entirely ironed out yet.
Where can people buy and see more of your artwork?
I'll have some work for sale in Small Mall this summer! I'm thrilled about that. And then you can check out my Instagram, I sell prints on there sometimes. Or my website. I also have a Redbubble and Society6 that are up to date (for now) if you want different sizes!
What brought you to Pittsburgh?
I came to Pittsburgh for school back in 2010, and I stayed after graduated in 2014.
You’ve studied in London and NYC. What’s Pittsburgh’s art scene like in comparison?
I can't make the most accurate comparison since I was in London and NYC very briefly as a student, and not as a working artist. However, at first glance, the Pittsburgh art scene is small, yet robust. The artists who are a part of it are welcoming and interested in giving back to the city.
Your artwork is always full of surprises. Do you purposely seek out work that borders on the bizarre?
Yes, I've always been interested in the abject. I've always sought out universal human expression, and shock/awe and humor are two emotions I enjoy evoking in people.
What’s the most fun project you’ve been paid to do?
The most fun project I've been paid to do is PublicSource's "Data on Race" article. I was hired by PublicSource to illustrate infographics that demonstrate racial statistics in Pittsburgh. I found the work profoundly impactful, and I learned a lot from the data I worked with.
I have several dream jobs. A few of them include Music Video Director, Independent Book Store Owner, and Animated Show Creator.
What inspires you?
I am discovering that I am obsessed with storytelling, specifically visual storytelling. I loved comic books while I was growing up, and I am rediscovering that side of me again. Currently, I am in the process of reading Sabrina, a graphic novel by Nick Drnaso about conspiracy theories involving the murder of a woman, and how the false narratives affect the victim's friends and family. I was particularly interested in it because it was the first graphic novel to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and its themes of fake news are particularly relevant in our current political climate.
Also, I'm reading The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner, a semi-autobiographical graphic novel about a teenager growing up in San Francisco in the '70s. I recently realized I have a strong interest in the coming-of-age story, especially from the female perspective, so I've been reading a lot of female autobiographies as well (in both novel and graphic novel format!) I'm also addicted to watching music videos, and I can't stop watching Vince Staple's video for "Fun" and Rosalia's video for "MALAMENTE".
You curated a feminist art exhibition last year at Future Tenant for the first time. How did curating a show for other artists compare to creating artwork for a solo show of your own?
It was really fun curating a show for other artists. I flexed my consolidation-building muscle, and also wrote a show statement that I was proud of for the first time in my entire life. It is much easier to write about other people's work than your own.
Do you think women artists have a loud enough voice in Pittsburgh?
No, I don't think women across the board have a loud enough voice in Pittsburgh. I think it's getting better, but across the board, the city is still a very male (and white)-dominated environment.
You’re also involved on the board of directors for the Pittsburgh Zine Fair. Are there any new zines in town we should keep an eye out for?
I am actually in the process of curating a Pittsburgh Zine Fair Pop-up at Small Mall, a store in Lawrenceville that focuses on artist-made goods. I curated this section and will include zines by Rachel Ann Brickner, Jason Lee, Aaron Regal, Ceci Ebitz, Madeleine Campbell, and Maggie Negrete. The subjects of their zines include exploring Asian-American identity, women in the music industry, gentrification in Pittsburgh, and the anxieties of being a young adult in this day and age.
You included so many fun things on this week’s Winter Guide cover. What’s your favorite winter activity?
My favorite winter activity is having an excuse to stay in because it's too cold. And drawing!
The ChallengeThe following is a paraphrased account of what our Creative Director and Managing Editor, Lisa Cunningham, said to me one sleepy afternoon last week: “We are doing a college nihilism theme. I am looking to really embody the essence of a college student here. I was thinking ... a cover ... like a teen fashion magazine! All bright and peppy but WAY more depressing. We need someone innocent and youthful and then we need to corrupt that. The model needs to look like they are trying their best but is also in a constant state of complete emotional destruction. Also let’s make it cute.”