Rad Women Who Make Rad Art: Nation of Amanda
Contributed by johngentile, Posted by Interviews

Every Tuesday in the month of September and November, Punknews will run a series called Rad Women Who Make Rad Art. The series will be a string of interviews with some of the most exciting female visual artists that have connections with music, today. Our inaugural edition features Nation of Amanda aka Amanda Kirk!

Nation of Amanda's art is simply awesome. She draws detailed diagrams of Tortas, creatures from the black lagoon that wave in a melancholy fashion, cupcakes that vomit, and hedgehogs… oh so many hedgehogs. On top of that, she draws tons of punk rock flyers and collaborates with Mitch Clem on those straight-up-kickin' Turnstile Comix. Her work focuses on watercolors and inks and she's able pull more emotion out of a single brush stroke than most chumps can in an entire book.

Click Read More to see what Nation of Amanda has to say and see some of her fly work.

What got you interested in the visual arts?

I always drew, and painted…from the time I was little. It was also the only thing I ever wanted to do. I showed up at career day in first grade dressed in my Crayola artist smock, and it just progressed from there. I always had favorite artists and cartoonists that I looked up to. My brothers were both into comics, and I would go to the minimart with them and buy Archies, and all the Harvey titles when I was a kid, which turned into me liking indie comics and poster illustration as a teenager and I just never stopped liking and being interested in all of it.

How did you improve your technique? Did you go to formal training?

I went to college for art. Community College, and then transferred to a four year. I studied Fine Art Drawing because they didn't have Illustration as major, and it was kind of a dirty secret that that's what I wanted to do. The fine art kids talk a lot of trash about the commercial art kids, and I didn't connect with the graphic art kids really at all. It all seemed like sitting in front of a computer, which didn't interest me anyway. After I left school I was already making comics and zines on my own, and putting things on my Livejournal and I really never stopped practicing. I have really dry periods where all the stuff I make ends up just being for me, but I'm never not making things and learning new stuff. I wanted to start water coloring at some point, and I just went to the used book store and bought a ton of books on technique, and what to use, and just figured it out on my own. I look at stuff I made when I was going through that learning process and it is just painful to look at.

A good deal of your work deals with depictions of animals. Why do you focus on this topic so frequently?

I think I just draw and paint things because they make me laugh. I think most animals are ridiculous so it's pretty much a no brainer. Also, I think animals are a dynamic subject matter. People project all this emotion and stuff on animals and it's fun to play with that.

Likewise, a good deal of your work focuses on anthropomorphic foods, such as dancing cupcakes. How come?

Again, the real goal here is usually to draw what will amuse me. I sit around thinking things like, "wouldn't a carrot escaping being planted in the ground with a jet pack be hilarious?" and then I draw it. I really think the end game is just to get people to look at the thing, be it a cover, or a poster, or whatever. I try to think up things that aren't being used, and then hope for the best. I drew a cupcake throwing up on a comic about turning 27. Mitch turned that into a comic about me, and the whole thing sort of blew up. People I didn't know got them tattoo'd on their bodies and sent me pictures. It was nuts. I don't think I could ever top that so I haven't drawn a lot of cupcakes since.

Do you see yourself as "a tortured artist"?

I mean, artists, from my experience are sort of a broken bunch. We're all kind off messed up and we funnel it creatively when we can. But no, I wouldn't say I'm tortured. Mostly I'm just tired all the time from working my day job, and then coming home to a stack of projects. But the project part is the fun part. The rest of it is just paying bills on time.

How do you see punk rock and the visual arts intersecting?

I mean there is the obvious…bands need art for shows and album covers, and the two sort of support each other. Artist who like the music, and the community are going to shoot for working in that circle. I wanted to do flyers for a band in Austin, and I just asked if I could and they said yes and it sort of worked its way up from there.

But it is bigger than that. Punk rock has become sort of this all-encompassing word for a way of living your life, and that means publishing, and putting on shows and making things but it has funneled out into the way we all live, and how we are politically involved, and how we will grow old. It's intersected with the whole shebang.

I find it interesting that you render a lot of scary things, like zombies or skull-headed birds as "cute." Is there a message or directive behind that?

I don't know how all that became a thing, other than that almost all the art for hire stuff I do is for men. So a guy would approach me about making a band logo, or a poster with an idea in his head and when I would present him with the end result it would end up looking cute, because that is how I draw. Also, I love horror movies, and urban legends and monsters so I think I'm just drawn to that stuff. Besides, I'm drawing flyers for punk bands for christsakes! So while I can definitely squeeze in a few puppies and mermaids, really a skull stuck on a bird body just seems more fitting at the end of the day. So I will draw it! And it will end up adorable! Heck yeah!

A good deal of your work includes water coloring the inks done by Mitch Clem. How do you approach the situation in which you are modifying someone else's work?

I guess I consider that our work, not his. We live together, and we are each other’s best friends, so I think we tend to be very in sync with those projects. For the most part, we are differing to each other on our separate projects anyway, and it sounds corny but we really GET EACH OTHER.

When he passes stuff off to me for round two, I'm working from whatever photo reference he did, so our notes match up. Also he'll let me know if he wants something a specific way, but other than that he lets me do my own thing. A lot about creating a composition is balancing lights and darks, so it wouldn't really work if he commandeered the whole thing. He just has to trust me, and then we also work together on anything that isn't working from each other's end. I will say, that when he draws stuff all people look a certain way in his head, and when I'm done, usually it is all reversed. His Hispanic guy with a black shirt is my blonde guy with blothy skin and a white shirt. It seems to work for us though…

For the most part, I haven't really collaborated much with anyone else, so I don't have anything else to compare it to.

There is a good deal of conversation about whether it is difficult for women to exist in the music community. Do you think that it is easier, harder, or the same, to be a woman in the visual arts? Why?

I think there is a gender gap in both, and while there are different problems within each, I hear a lot of the same shit from both sides. There seems to be this really persistent belief that women making art or music is "only for other women"… And when that is the case, I’ve heard people say that it is a bad thing. I have seen men and women be openly dismissive of art and music if it is in anyway feminine, as if that means it is somehow less relevant.

I do think that there is just a real learning curve, I have been slighted because of my sex at shows and I have never thought it was done maliciously, or even on purpose. People assume I'm the girlfriend that tagged along…and that's probably because there are less girls at the show…but there are probably less girls at the show because us women aren't being welcomed into the big-sweaty-fist-bump that is the show. I have seen more than one girl be active in the art scene or the punk rock community, only to be basically blacklisted after she breaks up with one of the guys in the group… even if she existed in that group before they dated. Hell, it's happened to me too.

Recently, you had some of your designs used without your authorization by someone else selling products. What did that mean to you?

I don't think people really got how upset I was. Mitch found out this website had taken something that I had drawn, and just redrew it and didn't change the wording or anything, and was just making tons of money off it. I got off an eleven hour shift at work and he told me at the grocery store on the way home and I wandered around the store having a panic attack. It was awful. Everyone else took charge and told them off for me, which is good because I was a wreck.

This t-shirt company, called "Human," just figures out what is popular on Tumblr, Reddit, and Pinterest and then they print shirts and stuff of it, regardless of copyrights and ethics. When someone calls them on it, they pull the merch quickly, because it's on a print-by-demand business model. So since they have no profit loss, they just get to steal, and steal, and never really get in trouble for it. I had posted a drawing of a sloth, and it had a banner on it that said "nap all day, sleep all night, party never." Not groundbreaking stuff, but it was funny, and I posted it to my blog and it had okay feedback.

Someone had someone redraw it as a tattoo for them, and they asked if they could post it to their blog if they credited me. I said yes, because at least they gave me credit, and her tattoo went VIRAL. When it went viral, my credit eventually got erased in all the reblogs and retweets and stuff and this caught Human's eyes and they copied the tattoo, which is a redrawing of my art, with my phrasing word-for-word on it.

Two things really,really kill me about the whole thing.

One: Human could have done a little digging and offered to pay me to redraw it. I don't know that I would have said yes, but I am for sure on the affordable side art-wise.

Two: I was already making plans to print my version into shirts and patches, because people wanted them. Now that it's after the fact I worry people will think mine is a copy of theirs. UGHHHH.

Did you take any action to make the infringing party stop via an e-mail, phone call, or legal action?

I wrote them a letter threatening to take more official action and they immediately removed the design from the shop. But it's still on their countless blogs, and on Facebook and Reddit with their store link and logo all over it and their version of it is everywhere. It's on several meme databases. Mine is basically irrelevant because their’s is the one everyone knows. It sucks. There's not really a better way to put it. Have you found the art world to be competitive, supportive, or both? Why?

I have found the punk rock part of the art world to be so great and supportive. It's such a small community that I think it has to be. When that bullshit was happening, it was my indie comic/illustration friends who were the ones blowing up the internet trying to fix things, and writing me just the sweetest things. You go to zine fests, and small press conventions, and come home with friends. I might only see these people once a year, or never in the real world, but they’re the ones who are encouraging me to make things and get stuff done. When they get jobs I want, I'm happy for them, and it makes me work harder. So it's both, but in a good way for me.

What is so great about hedgehogs?

Ha! They are just the brattiest most ungrateful pet you could ever imagine. They shit all over your love. They hiss, and get mad at me for just taking care of them. But they are so stupid cute that I don't care. I love them against their will. I have two currently. I have had five in all. All rescues. I think only one has ever actually loved me back. I don't care. They rule.

What do you have in the works?

Mitch and I are currently slaving away on Turnstile Comics #3. This time the band is Lemuria, so it's going to be great. I'm doing an album cover for a friend of ours, and I'm going to start selling more actual art and prints online because people want them. Hopefully everyone will read this, find out I'm affordable and nice and request for me do flyers for their show. I'll be tabling with Mitch, Liz Prince, and Ramsey Bayer at the Small Press Expo in September.