Late last year I stumbled on the Etsy page for artist, Robin Kaplan. Instantly I fell in love. The Gorganist Etsy page showcases some of Robin’s amazing talent. But it also showcases her roots in fantasy and our favorite geeky fandoms. I know GirlGoneGeek.com’s Jamila is going to love her Dr. Who pieces.
So meet, Robin and welcome our first featured Geek Woman!
GamingAngels: Where did your inspiration come from for The Gorgonist (title of your etsy store)? The name sounds so scary, but your art while fantasy based is very beautiful.
Robin: I’d like to think the name implies I am a maker of lady monsters. ‘The Gorgonist’ is a play on the Gorgon of Greek mythology. Medusa, the snaky-haired lady who turned people to stone with her gaze, was a Gorgon and later the term entered neoclassical vocabulary as a term for a frightening, fierce, or otherwise unconventional and unpleasant woman. While I’d like to think I’m perfectly pleasant, I love monsters and adore monstrous women in history and fiction! So much more fun than winsome maidens. Most of my artwork juxtaposes something pretty or cute with something traditionally scary or monstrous: A lovely young woman takes her clockwork vulture for an autumn stroll, for example.(Besides, it sounds like ‘organist’ which I love, since I am a musician as well—though since I play the folk harp, you’d be more accurate to call me a Harpy!)
Your art in the store is mixed with pop culture references and romantic fantasy. Did you recently start including more of the pop culture inspired art?
The pop culture art, which I term ‘homage’ in my etsy store and ‘fart’ (the ‘f’ is for ‘fan’) in my everyday life, is actually something that helped begin my professional career. While I eschewed such things in art school and before, afterward I discovered the vibrant geek culture at conventions and found that I could use my children’s book style to create a new take on my favorite characters and worlds, and it is a great way to entice someone to come look closer at my originals. In fact, I’m about to take the ‘Fancy Dress’ series—the girls in spaceship dresses—and associate them more strongly with my children’s book brand!
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I am inspired by folklore and mythology, and pop culture which follow those traditions (even when it thinks it is being completely novel.) Cartoons from anywhere in the world, American, Japanese, French, etc, really get me going—a whole world created by drawings! What could be better? Oh yeah, video games—where you get to interact with that world! And most great cartoons and games have their roots in myths, legends, folktales, and classic literature, if you trace them back deeply enough.
As a geek some of my favorite pieces are the female Gundams, StarWars and the Pokemon inspired pieces. (love the final fantasy series too). Where did the fancy dress series inspiration come from?
The Fancy Dress series is inspired by cosplayers at conventions and costume culture. I’ve always loved costuming and dressing up, and have many friends who’re into theater, steampunk, cosplay, or Elegant Gothic Lolita culture. As a designer, how can I resist? So after seeing girls who attempted to turn the TARDIS and Dalek designs from Dr Who into Gothic Lolita dresses several years ago, I just redesigned them myself. Actually, a quiet famous cosplayer created a Death Star dress based on my design and made it onto the official Star Wars blog, and featured my print as well! It was awesome, and I’ve had other people dress up as my Mario Monster girls. Back to ‘Gorgonism,’ I enjoyed taking traditionally masculine things like the Death Star, Gundam, or mustachioed Mario and turning them into fluffy dresses. I’ve heard people refer to them as ‘Ginjinka’–a Japanese term for anthropomorphizing characters of that sort, and I think it works well, though I’m going for more storybook and less sex appeal, which can be implicit in that term.
I saw on your blog you have been to some conventions. Which convention is next for you and do you bring art to sell at the cons?
I sell my artwork at conventions up and down the west coast. They are lots of hard work, but so much fun to meet people with the same interests and hook them up with art they will love! Fanime, in my old hometown of San Jose, CA, was a great experience last year and I can’t wait to go back and see friends I made there (and eat great Indian food.) This year I’m starting with Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, then Sakura Con a week later! Spring and Fall are my big Con seasons and I do one or two a month. While I haven’t traveled east for a show yet, I’m trying to line up a few in Chicago and Detroit this year. Hopefully someday I’ll be invited as a guest! I bring a whole setup of artwork, books, and accessories of my own design, and this year I have some great new projects in the works.
How did you get your start as an artist?
I always knew I’d be an artist, even though for many years I was put off by the cultural stigma attached to the unhappy, misunderstood, unappreciated starving artiste. When I succumbed to the call of art school, I thought I was doing something practical by focusing on game art. Instead I chucked everything at the last minute when my final portfolio professor pointed out that all of my influences were children’s book illustrators. I showed him a piece of art that looked much more like what you see on my website today than anything in my previous portfolio, and he said, “Do that.” So I did! With three months to go, I built up a new portfolio in a new style, from scratch. So I graduated with a children’s book illustration portfolio! My hard work paid off. Within a few weeks of graduation I hooked up with an online kid’s TV show called Mrs P’s Magic Library. They wanted me to illustrate classic kids stories to be read aloud by Mrs P, played by Kathy Kinney (Mimi on the Drew Carey show) and I have been doing that ever since. Around the same time, I visited friends in Hawaii and we sold art at Kawaii con, which went so well I’ve been a believer in the artist alley ever since. There are few places that concentrate more art-lovers than comic and anime conventions. Think about it: conventions unite people with a shared love of pop culture and design.
Would you ever do art for a video game?
Robin: Short answer: heck yes! Long answer: That depends on what kind of art you’re talking about! If someone wanted me to do some concept art for a game, that would be great! It is a really grueling process, though, and I have experience with the grim reality of games. Making some characters for a facebook game or something that needs great 2D assets would be awesome. But I put my time in painting textures, so I wouldn’t want to do that unless the pay was really great ^.~
Are you a gamer?
I’m a huge gamer. I’m currently embroiled in the new Zelda game, and I am very addicted to Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton. I love anything by DoubleFine (Psychonauts, Brutal Legend,) and always give Squeenix and Vanillaware games a chance even though it is a crapshoot with them. I don’t do ‘fart’/pay homage to anything I don’t like, so that should reassure anyone who is wondering about whether I’m doing this cynically or not.I want to geek out here and say that Final Fantasy Nine, Ogre Battle 64, and Legend of Mana are my favorite rpgs! I always want to talk to people about those games and hope someone commissions me to do homage for them some day.
Your work on the book Spartacus and the Circus of Shadows just came out. What is the experience like working on a book and are you currently working on another project?
Great book, great little publisher, but crazy experience. I inherited someone else’s deadline, so I had very little time to do the best work possible, and I didn’t have an art director—all my direction came from the owner himself! He was great, but it was still a challenge. Working on a book means you’re making a contribution to a greater project, not just showcasing your own art, so it calls for compromise. The author and I have become friends and often joke around on twitter now. I’m working on some books of my own, as well a book for Monkey Minion Press and some new projects for Mrs. P!
Can people contact you for commissions?
I’m always open to commissions.Contact me through my etsy, or just email me! I have a whole faq and contract set up to make it as easy as possible. Some of my best pieces started out as commissions and I really welcome the chance to make things for other people.
Any advice to aspiring artists?
On the creative side, be fearless. Explore your ideas to the conclusions that make you comfortable and the ones that make you uncomfortable. No one needs to know about your failures, but everyone needs to know about your successes, and it helps to surround yourself with people who can help you learn to tell the difference. On the business side, just create awesome things! Make things you’d like to have, and other people are likely to want them, too. Fearlessness helps here, too.
Thank you Robin for the great interview! We love your work and encourage our readers to check her out. Hopefully I’ll get to meet you at a future con!