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Featured Artist September 2015: Charrow

It’s September, which means it’s time for another featured artist! Each month on the Card Gnome blog, we’re featuring a Card Gnome artist to share a little history, a little background, and a lot of inspiration!

This month, we’re pleased to introduce Charrow, the artist and gouache extraordinaire (we’ll explain) behind Parade of Squirrels. Charrow is a Brooklyn-based artist who spends her time gathering inspiration from nature, fellow creatives, and of course, squirrels. Welcome, Charrow!


Tell us a little bit about yourself: What got you interested in illustration and water color?

I had always loved to draw and used to make stationary out of lined paper using colored pencils when I was younger. I made different themed borders and pretended it was my stationary line.

As I got older, I mostly focused on drawing in pencil and had a hard time figuring out how to use color well. I took some classes in oil and acrylic, but never really loved either medium. After college, where I studied art history, I decided I wanted to go to graduate school for illustration and design. While in grad school I had a wonderful teacher that introduced me to gouache.

Gouache is an old school illustration material and was used often in illustration for advertising because it reproduces really well. I fell in love with how easy it was use and unlike a lot of artists that use it thickly, I found I enjoyed making it super watery, which is why everyone mistakes it for watercolor.

The main difference between the two mediums is watercolor is translucent and gouache is opaque because it has white in it. It scans a lot better too, which is perfect for greeting cards. I hate color correction and usually just bump up the contrast. I really love to make things, so the less grunt work I have to do, the happier I am.

I love puns and visual jokes, and illustration allows me to make art that is both amusing and endearing. I love fine art, but I’m not a very serious person and fine art often feels very buttoned up; I enjoy being much more low-brow. I also really like function, and illustration is a great way to produce something beautiful that can also be used for patterns, cards, textiles, and merchandise.


Where do you gather most of the inspiration for your work?

A lot of inspiration comes from puns or idioms. I come from a family of language nerds and punsters, so it has always been in my blood. I love silly and weird humor. I really love children being goofy and weird, so sometimes I will just play with my friends’ kids and watch what they are thinking about or imagining.

I love nature and spend a lot of time in Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden for inspiration. We live in a city so often I will find some funny juxtaposition between the urban landscape and nature.

It’s so hard to not take inspiration from everything. There is always something on a given day that can be inspiring, from dogs, to squirrels, to whatever podcast I am listening to. Basically, I spend a lot of time looking at things. I also am inspired by things that drive me crazy. I like to make fun of people on cell phones, loud talkers, and of course people that dress their animals in clothing. (FYI: I do dress my pitt bull up as a cheerleader on Halloween.)


Do you have a favorite artist?  If so, what draws you to that person’s work?

OH, I love a bunch of people. It’s so hard with Instagram because I find new artists every day who inspire me like crazy. I love Oliver Jeffers because he is the jack-of-all-trades. He makes amazing and strange children's books, which I love; if I could write a book, it would be of the same ilk. He also is a masterful fine artist. He seems to have a lot of freedom and fearless artistic style. I am sure there is a lot of control, but he makes everything look so easy and fun. His type is also extremely expressive.

And then there are is Jay Ryan who makes great band posters with squirrels... and really I love squirrels.

There are also a bunch of artists who I love to follow on Instagram and whose art has a lot of patterns and great texture: Genine, Lisa Congdon, Julia Rothman, Claudia Pearson and Faye Moor. Basically, it’s impossible to not be inspired these days. I have to close all my programs to get work done because I become so overwhelmed.


Your work reflects a true love for squirrels. How'd that come about?

Well, they are like hidden little gems you have no idea how much you miss them until they are gone. In high school we went to Israel and they do not have squirrels was very sad for me. But seriously, have you every seen them walk? They hop a lot, but sometimes they will walk, like they are on a coffee break from being a squirrel and its so funny to me. It’s unclear where this strange love came from, but they are the perfect balance of cute and maniacal. I love that balance between adorable and dangerous.


What, in your opinion, is the hardest step in creating your cards?

I find the making of cards really easy. Sometimes I have to make cards to fill up certain categories that are light, and that’s really hard. Some categories like sympathy and new babies are hard to do. I am not a sappy person and really, if you need sappy there are a lot of cards out there for you. The hard thing is making something endearing. Sympathy is impossible because you never know what to say to someone who is suffering and really there are only a handful of ways of saying "I'm here for you" or "I'm sorry for your loss."

The other pressing issue is choosing what to print for shops that only want a small batch of cards. I have over 250 styles and I think 200 of them are no occasion cards. It’s so nice to get a weird card that the sender writes what it’s for on the inside. I think I appeal to the crowd that has a lot of inside jokes. A lot of people connect with the cards that have goats. I cannot tell you why, but seriously, slap a goat on it and you have solid gold.