INTERVIEW by SUZE MYERS
PHOTOGRAPHS by SUSANNAH van der ZAAG
INTERVIEW by SUZE MYERS
PHOTOGRAPHS by SUSANNAH van der ZAAG
The women in Louise Reimer’s illustrations are busy: they’re rock climbing, hitchhiking, and jamming out on electric keyboards, adorned all the while in lightning bolt-patterned suits or the perfect pair of wide-legged embroidered overalls. They are, in short, the women we aspire to be—with the dream wardrobe to match. Reimer—a born-and-bred Canadian—illustrates these “feminist paradises” for clients like Lenny Letter, Refinery 29, and Vice, and is currently hard at work on a children’s picture book with a Quebecois publisher. Constellation art director and designer Suze Myers chatted with the illustrator this summer about everything from graphic novels and thrift shopping to Toronto’s burgeoning creative community.
Hi, Louise! Tell us a little about your background in printmaking and illustration. What was art school in Vancouver like?
I went to school in Vancouver at Emily Carr University. The school is very conceptual and was pretty traditional when I went there, although I think it might've loosened up a bit since then. I never thought that illustration was something I wanted to do until I took an illustration class in the summer of my third year, and it felt very natural. In my last year of school I took a class with the great illustrator Julie Morstad, and she gave me some good advice about not worrying about what anyone else is doing and just doing whatever the ‘heck’ you want, which I took to heart.
Before that I took a lot of printmaking classes. I liked the history of the medium and the process. The community within the print studio was tight, as it was a small department that was physically separated from the rest of the school, and we were all bound by our love for this equipment-heavy, somewhat obscure medium.
You've described the girls you draw as living in a "feminist paradise," and you've illustrated women like Shelley Duvall and Joni Mitchell. Why do you feel it's important to make art through a feminine, feminist lens?
I wanted to see women who were physically and psychologically empowered existing in the wilderness, which has been a masculine arena in the history of Western imagery. I also wanted to make work to counteract the huge canon of images of women made by men. I’m happy to see that there’s a ton of women making work about the female gaze right now though. It’s hard to say if we’ve completely offset all of art history, but I think we’re getting close.
I [also] want to bring attention to creative women who have been overlooked in favor of their male counterparts, but have given us amazing pieces of art, like Shelley and Joni. I love them so much. They both seem like beautiful weirdos who followed their own artistic paths. Joni definitely rejected traditional ideas of what women should do and has talked a lot about sexism in the music industry. She often sings about her conflict[ed] [feelings toward] wanting to be in a relationship but also wanting her freedom, which is very relatable for me. Plus, she's Canadian.
I saw that you recently painted an electrical box in Toronto. How did this opportunity come about? Do you see more street art projects in your future?
The city of Toronto has a great program where every year they hire artists to paint on electrical boxes in the city. I did one last year in a northern part of Toronto, but this year I was very lucky to paint one in my neighbourhood. I would love to work on more large-scale projects in the future! It is a great respite from working on minute drawings at my desk.
I’m happy to see that there’s a ton of women making work about the female gaze right now though. It’s hard to say if we’ve completely offset all of art history, but I think we’re getting close.
As an illustrator myself, I'm always interested in the way illustrators develop their specific styles—whether it's from just constantly doodling or it evolved from more traditional drawing lessons or something totally different. What was your path to your specific style?
I’ve been drawing since I was a small child, so it’s been almost 25 years of practice. When I was young I drew to entertain myself, and then in high school I was in a fine arts program for a while that really encouraged us to follow our own ideas. My childhood and teenage years were very tumultuous, and I moved around often, but making art was something that I could always come back to. Every few years I was the new kid at school, so I would hang out in the library looking at art books and comics. Then there was a boom of more serious graphic novels being published when I was finishing high school and starting university, and those were very inspirational. Julie Doucet, Chester Brown, Jillian Tamaki, and Daniel Clowes are the [artists] that come to mind. I took some formal drawing and painting classes in my first year of university, but I switched out of that department the next year. I do think they were useful for thinking about color and negative space though.
I think the key is to surround yourself with supportive, creative people, and to practice all the time. I get rusty if I don't draw for a week, and I feel extremely blessed to have wonderful friends who I can hang out with while making things these days.
One thing that really struck me about your work is your use of pattern—the figures you draw often wear stripes or florals or textured garments. Where does this interest in textiles and fashion come from?
I’ve always been drawn to ornamentation and costume, and I've been obsessed with thrift shopping since I was a teenager. As a child I loved dressing up for Halloween, and my mom, who sewed and quilted, made my brother and I costumes every year. She was very open to me wearing weird clothes. Last year I made myself a Pierrot costume that I'm really hoping I can wear again soon. I took the two textile courses that my university offered—one of them was fine art-slanted and the other was all about learning different surface design practices. I think about that course all the time, because I learned about so many techniques: block printing, shibori, indigo, dip-dyeng paper, and more.
Making up patterns for clothes is probably my favorite part of drawing. A few years ago, I got really inspired by the way Botticelli painted gauzy fabric; how you can see right through it, but it has these tiny embroidered flowers. I used those fabrics in a bunch of drawings, including having them over striped track pants. I liked the idea of drawing something that looked classical but had hints that it might be taking place today. In a way, I was saying, ‘This is an ancient myth, but these ideas and images are still relevant.’ It’s also the act of creation, of seeing anything you can imagine come to fruition on the page. All of my dream clothes can exist in the 2D realm.
What is it like to work in Toronto’s local creative community? Who are some other Canadian creatives inspiring you right now?
Toronto is great. There are lots of people making different types of art, and I feel very grateful to have many creatives friends here. In the winter, I had a weekly drawing night with a few pals, which was very inspiring and necessary to making it through the long, dark [season]. Lately I've also been going to this communal ceramics studio where everyone is very supportive. I just realized that it’s almost always all-women there! Maybe that’s why it’s such a relaxing atmosphere.
I'm constantly inspired by my friend Chelsee Ivan’s beautiful photos, Sojourner Truth Parsons’ paintings, Vanessa Brown’s sculptures, and Juli Majer’s delicate sci-fi drawings and comics.
What advice would you give to aspiring young illustrators and artists?
Follow your vision, believe in yourself, ask for more money, and support each other. ★