Saturday, July 16, 2011

Anita Kunz interview in STAMP Magazine Online

Girls Will Be Girls

Anita Kunz's interview in Stamp.

When you think of being at the top of your game the words passion, desire, will, and acknowledgement come to mind. For this artist, she has taken these words and embedded it in your DNA. Her illustrious career is one in which we dream about. Anita Kunz has already etched her place in the Illustration Hall of Fame, but also receives honors that no artists even thinks about. One would be receiving the highest civilian honor by her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada. Others would include several gold medals by the Society of Illustrators, gallery shows in some of the world’s most prestigious museums, having her work become permanent collections in the Library of Congress while also becoming the first woman to have a solo there. I thank Anita for taking the time out to share with me and other aspiring artists her journey…..

STAMP: Introduce yourself. Where are you from and what is something you want the world to know about you?

Anita: Well I’m Anita Kunz, from Toronto Canada and I’ve been working for 30 years as an editorial illustrator for magazines mainly in the USA but also in Canada and Europe as well. For the past 10 years I’ve also been doing a lot of personal work. I guess you’d call it fine art, and I’m starting show that work in galleries. I also teach online at TAD.

STAMP: When did you become interested in art?

Anita: I’ve always been interested in art, even when I was a child. I never really wanted to do anything else. I think it’s in my DNA. My uncle and cousin were both illustrators too, and my uncle in particular influenced me a great deal. He illustrated text books, children’s books, painted, made sculptures, and even rugs. He was also a naturalist, which I thought was great!

STAMP: What is your medium of choice and why?

Anita: I’ve always painted traditionally, mainly with water based paint (watercolour and acrylics). Somehow I just find it easier. I’m hopeless at digital!

STAMP: Did you study at an art school? If so which one and how was that experience? If not, do you wish you did?

Anita: I did go to the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. At the time it was great for me…it really opened my eyes to many possibilities. But they didn’t teach art history or any business courses back then! I had to learn the hard way.

STAMP: Did you ever work a “regular” job? The traditional 9-5 before becoming an illustrator full-time? If so where? If not, why?

Anita: Just in high school and summers during college. I was a waitress which was a disaster, and I also worked in a factory bottling liquor (for Seagrams). It was brutal and that experience made me really want to do something else, so I worked very hard at being an artist!

STAMP: When did you decide to become self-employed and make illustration a career? Was the transition difficult?

Anita: From when I was young…again I had my uncle as inspiration, so I never thought of doing anything else!

STAMP: Would you suggest other aspiring illustrators take the same leap of faith?

Anita: It’s really hard to generalize. I think it has to do with talent and tenacity. If someone feels very strongly that art is something they must do, then the decision becomes easier. If however it’s something that someone thinks is easy, or fast money, I’d say reconsider being an artist! I think it’s more of a lifestyle than a job.

STAMP: What was your first break into the industry? Do you mind to explain this experience?

Anita: I remember when I was just out of school I got a tiny spot illustration commission from a Toronto magazine. I was so stressed out that I cried all weekend! (It was due that Monday). Somehow I got over the pain and gradually the stress lessened! Thank goodness!

STAMP: A lot of artists have different perceptions of working with art directors. Can you share your experiences work with art directors? And any tips you can give to younger artists?

Anita: Well I feel a bit spoiled because I’ve been very lucky to have worked with some of the best art directors in the business…Fred Woodward, Arthur Hochstein, Janet Froehlich and many others. I love when art directors give me a lot of freedom. I don’t like being micro-managed.

But that said, even if I’m heavily art directed I try and do my best. I try and be as professional as possible. I understand that I’m visually solving a problem for someone else, so I don’t have the right to be a diva! And if I want to make truly personal visual statements, I save that for my personal work.

STAMP: What are your feelings toward entering art competitions? Are they over-rated? Does it help even if you don’t win?

Anita: I think it’s important to get your work out there. Competitions such as CA, American Illustration, and the Society of Illustrators annual for example (in the US) are a good way to get your work seen. Even if you’re the most brilliant artist in the world, you still have to self promote. I don’t enter shows as much as I used to, because I’m now moving in a different direction. I’m a bit more concerned with galleries.

STAMP: One of the main difficulties in being a self-employed artist is pricing for your work. Can you give the aspiring artist advice as to how to price their work? While avoiding pricing themselves out of the job?

Anita: Arrrghhh! I hate the business side of this field! I’ve always had the worst time trying to figure out quotes. But it’s necessary to behave as a professional at all times. Luckily for me, most magazines have set rates. But it becomes more difficult to quote for ad work. If I have problems with a quote I might ask a colleague for advice. Or….I’ll ask the art director what kind of budget they have in mind…just to get the ball rolling, and go from there.

STAMP: Do you feel artists should use art representatives? Advantages and/or disadvantages?

Anita: It depends entirely on the artist. Some people like to spend all their time making art. Others don’t mind the business part and do it all themselves. I’ve rarely worked with reps because most of them take 30%, and to me that’s a lot of money! I’d advise young artists to certainly try an agent if they wish, but to be very careful not to get too tied in! I’ve heard stories of young artists who have horrible contracts they can’t get out of with agents for years! Be careful what you sign!

STAMP: How were you able to stay relevant for so many years with the new wave of artists?

Anita: Oh I don’t know….I hope I’m still relevant!! I try to avoid fads. I try to make work that’s authentic and personal. There are always styles that come and go, and if you depend too much on what’s currently hot, soon enough that trend will seem dated.

STAMP: I know that your client list is similar to “who’s who” in business. What was the best client you have worked for? Can you share with us your most interesting experience?

Anita: Well I loved working with Fred Woodward when he was at Rolling Stone magazine. I did many paintings for him, and he commissioned me to do a variety of things from political art to rock and roll art. For a few years, I illustrated the last page of the magazine. It was a series called Great Moments in Rock and Roll. I alternated with CF Payne and we came up with some wild ideas! Another time I came up with series of paintings that had to do with Elvis sightings. It was so much fun and really creative. I also love working with Francoise Mouly on New Yorker covers. The magazine prints work that is current and relevant and it’s always fun and challenging to try and visually depict the Zeitgeist. Francoise also gives cover artists freedom and autonomy.

STAMP: What drives you to constantly create art? Have you ever thought about doing something else?

Anita: I don’t think I’m good at anything else! And there are so many things to comment on in the world…I don’t think I’ll ever run out of ideas.

STAMP: The feeling of receiving the highest civilian honor in Canada could not be summed up in words. How did this situation happen?

Anita: I’ve spoken a few times at a conference in Toronto called ideaCity. From what I understand, a few of the other speakers wrote letters of recommendation to Ottawa. I think the office of the Governor General (who represents the Queen) goes through a process whereby they vet possible candidates, they research them and then decide whether or not they deserve the honor! I was thrilled that they decided that I had contributed enough to the culture to receive the Order!

STAMP: Traveling across the world to speak at seminars and workshops has to be a dream come true. Has this inspired you to begin teaching?

Anita: Yes I love the traveling part! I never thought I’d get to go to places like Norway, Portugal Turkey, and other places in the world for my profession! I think travel is the best education, and I love seeing other cultures. And regarding teaching, I’ve taught workshops and gave lectures all along, but teaching at TAD is a more structured and permanent position. I do love teaching. I love the energy and excitement that the students have.

STAMP: Do you think you will ever get to point in your career where you will no longer take on commission projects?

Anita: I guess I’ll have to wait and see. Information is moving rapidly from print to the internet. Whether that means less commissions remains to be seen. Many of my colleagues are currently reinventing themselves and trying different ways to reach out into the culture, and I’m doing the same.

STAMP: What advice would you give a young artist just starting or trying to get started?

Anita: I’d say keep open-minded about possible opportunities, learn all you can about art and about culture in general and work hard!

STAMP: What can we expect in the future from you?

Anita: Well I don’t intend to quit any time soon. I’ll just keep making images having to do with my impressions of the human condition. They may not be for magazines, they may be for galleries, but I’ll keep on going!

STAMP: Do you agree with the overall objective of STAMP Magazine? Why or Why Not? And what ways do you feel it can improve?

Anita: Absolutely. I think it’s wonderful to share ideas and connect with other creative people. The internet is so great for creating communities of like-minded others. And now geography is no longer an issue!

Learn about Anita by visiting her website, her art site, or her blog.

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