Sunday, September 9, 2012

Un-Still Life: An Interview with Artist Paula Pertile

Helium Figs, by Paula Pertile (all illustrations used with the artist's permission)

The lobster and the canary are delighted to have artist Paula Pertile as our guest today.  Paula creates some serious whimsy with her colored pencils, the kinds of images that simultaneously amuse and unsettle, that keep you coming back for more.  Trained in architecture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and in illustration at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, Paula has done a wide variety of commissions for publishers (she is a leading illustrator of children's books), media companies, major retailers, and greeting card companies.  You can read more about her background and her projects at  

Plums Up

Recently Paula began a series she calls "Un-Still Lifes."  Fascinated, the lobster and the canary asked some questions about this captivating exploration of weightlessness and fancy.

L & C:  What was the initial inspiration for this series? 

Paula:  "I had some lovely figs I wanted to draw. I fiddled with them, trying to set up an interesting still life. I had taken several photos, but wasn't really inspired by any of them. Then, in a moment of sheer frustration, I just flipped one upside down and thought 'well, why not?'.  The rest of the composition fell into place after that.  I really didn't have a well thought out idea about making a series, or what to call them, or anything like that. It was just an impulse to do something different. 

I guess the first piece in the series is actually Pulling Up Roots, which I did a while ago. At the time, I just wanted to do something with floating food, but the actual idea of an 'un-still life' hadn't come to me yet.

Calling these 'un-still' came to me after the Helium Figs piece was finished, and that's also when I realized I had unwittingly started a new series."

Pulling Up Roots

L & C:  Why depart from your other style(s) of work? 

P: "Its refreshing to have a new idea that really feels like 'me'. I've done so many nice still lifes of food and other objects that are no different that what a lot of other artists do, and frankly, a little boring. These 'un-still lifes' come from a place in me that gets me excited. I am looking forward to incorporating some architectural elements into them, working larger (and smaller), and just 'going there', if you will."

Taffy Rain
L & C:  What is your technique?

P.: "These pieces have all been done with colored pencils on paper. Colored pencils are my favorite medium, so I plan to do more like this. I mix wax and oil based pencils, and work 'dry', without any solvents.  I would like to explore using graphite, and maybe watercolors at some point, which are both media that I use for other illustration work."

L & C: Is the audience different for the Un-Still Life pieces?  

P.: "These pieces are a continuation of my realistic colored pencil work, but with a twist. They are new, so the audience remains to be seen. I'm guessing it will be people who appreciate classical realistic art, but who also like something just a bit different. As an illustrator, I draw and paint all sorts of subjects (children's picture books, architecture, decorative art, etc.). I expect that the audience for those pictures is quite different than the people who will be attracted to these!"

L & C:  Is there anything else you'd like to share?

P.: "Well, there's a funny story about the Plums Up piece. I conceived that as all the plums rising upward. And all the while I was drawing it, in my mind, that's how I saw it. It never occurred to me that the plums could be falling down, because I was so fixed on them floating up!  When it was finished, I posted it online and asked for help with a title. People came up with things like Plummeting and other clever titles that referred to the plums falling down. Other people said they knew they were supposed to be floating upward, and one finally suggested Plums Up. So I thought it was interesting that the piece could be viewed in different ways!

Summer Pops

P: "Thank you so much for having me as a guest on your blog. It's very encouraging to have people respond positively to these new pieces, and I appreciate the support so much."

L & C:  Our pleasure!  And now you have made us hungry!


Leslie Hawes said...

Standing and applauding! Yay, Paula! I give it two plums up!

Ginger*:) said...

Paula's work has always mesmerized me. Her art is amazing and I could spend hours looking at each new piece.