Lauren Purje, creator of the YOU MIGHT BE AN ARTIST IF…  (YMBAII) collection to be published on February 1st, shares her thoughts, experiences, and artistic island survival preferences with us. Purje graduated Ohio University with a BFA in Painting and spent some time working for art galleries, studios, and stores in New York. YOU MIGHT BE AN ARTIST IF…, a collection of her strips from the art blog Hyperallergic, is a very honest and  fun look into the life of one artist. 

ComicsVerse: Your art is not only something you enjoy doing, but something you’ve worked towards your whole life. In YOU MIGHT BE AN ARTIST IF…, you share some of the struggles and anxieties that come with that hard work. From my experience, one of the most anxiety-inducing decisions to make is the decision to get a degree in the Arts. Did you always know that you would pursue a BFA?

Lauren Purje: I did. I was one of those kids that always answered, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with “artist,” even though I don’t think I knew what that meant yet. So, the internal battle over getting a BFA didn’t exactly happen for me. I knew it wasn’t going to be the way to make a ton of money, but that’s never been a big motivation for me. I’ve always had very low expectations, so all things considered, I feel like I’m doing pretty alright.

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CV: Hrag Vartanian wrote a beautiful foreword to YOU MIGHT BE AN ARTIST IF…. You were the first comic contributor to the art blog Hyperallergic, which is where YMBAAI… was born. How did your story with Hrag and Hyperallergic start?

Source: Hyperallergic, Lauren’s first post from Aug. 2012

LP: It was all thanks to the internet, even though we live in the same city. I had maybe a dozen of these art-related comics, and I would put them up on my Facebook. For whatever reason, one of them started to get shared a lot outside of my own circle. It didn’t go viral or anything, but it was getting shared between art geeks. It’s the very first one in the book. Hrag saw it and messaged me asking if Hyperallergic could post it on their site. Then, a couple days after that, he asked if I’d be interested in doing a strip regularly for them. I didn’t even have to think about it, I was really excited to be part of Hyperallergic. I was already following their art news. They have a slant as being “sensitive to art and its discontents,” which is really refreshing when it comes to art criticism. When I started working for them, I kept thinking they’d get bored with my strips and would drop me at any point. I was terrified all the time, but now it’s been a little over 4 years, and I haven’t gotten fired yet! I feel a little more secure these days.

CV: The art and structure in YMBAAI… is a great balance between “high” and “low” art. How and when did you learn to strike that balance in your own work? Did you always love and work towards refining both kinds of art?

LP: Yeah, when I was a kid growing up learning how to draw, I was either trying to copy da Vinci sketches or Mickey Mouse characters. Basically, I’m still that kid, switching back and forth between the two extremes. Just now, as an adult, people see that as a low-art/high-art thing. Which makes it seem like I have some deep thoughts on the matter, but in all honesty, I’m just doing whatever feels good to me at the time. I’ll always have a passion for both.

CV: Going off of that — your website is full of amazing nature drawings and paintings. Several of your panels in YOU MIGHT BE AN ARTIST IF… also feature wildlife. Is nature one of your regular wells of inspiration? Why?


LP: It’s a little strange, because I’m not even remotely close to being an outdoorsy person, but I’m really fascinated with the natural world. Drawing in general is just my way of understanding things, I think. I like discovering how things work by looking at anatomy and scientific drawings. Like, how is a horse’s leg put together compared to a wolf’s? I’ll spend an entire day just drawing legs if I can get away with it. For some reason, I want to know that kind of stuff. It probably comes from my obsession with the work of JJ Audubon and people of that era, when natural science and art were basically one thing. I’m sure it also stems from living in a big city and being surrounded by cement all day, maybe it’s therapeutic in that sense. I pretend I’m Darwin, seeing it all for the first time, dissecting it without getting messy. That’s my idea of “fun.”

CV: Contemporary art comes up several times in YOU MIGHT BE AN ARTIST IF… you’re very fair in poking fun at it but also acknowledging that appreciating or criticizing any kind of art takes the knowledge and research to do so. You mention some already in YMBAAI…, but what are some of your art pet peeves?

LP: A lot of contemporary art just isn’t my thing, but I can accept that some art I don’t like looking at can be really meaningful and worth reading about. I can appreciate that to a certain extent. But, boring art that literally means nothing, that bothers me. Especially if it gets an excessive amount of praise and attention. There’s a lot of that out there. Andy Warhol probably paved the way, and for some reason people will always continue to eat it up. There’s nothing wrong with that, I just don’t have much use for it myself. But, I guess, I find all of that sort of fascinating in it’s own way. I worked for Jeff Koons for a couple months. I felt a little ill about it most of the time, but it was interesting to be in the belly of the whale and see how that whole machine works. I’m curious about all types of artists, even the ones that infuriate me.

CV: You dedicate several pages to exploring quotes and concepts by famous artists. Were some of these figures your inspirations as you honed your skills?

LP: Oh, definitely. Most, if not all, of the quotes in this book are grabbed from people I’ve admired for a long time. If it’s in a comic, I probably carried it around, scribbled in my sketchbook for some time before I drew it. Or, there’s some figures, like Camus, Beckett, Durer, that always seem to be floating around in my head when I’m thinking about creativity, or just existence. Tom Waits is a huge inspiration to me too. In the book he makes a couple of appearances. Some titles are snatched from his songs even. He’s not a visual artist, of course, but his ethics and creative spirit are things I absolutely admire and look up to. I may have an abnormal amount of heroes and idols, but he’s got to be my number one.

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CV: If you could only salvage one artistic tool to use for the rest of your life, which tool could you not live without?

LP: It’s probably a boring answer, but I love boring things. It would have to be your trusty #2 pencil. Or, to keep it artsy – an HB pencil.

Pick up your copy of YOU MIGHT BE AN ARTIST IF… online or at your local comic book store on February 1, 2017. You can find Lauren online on her site and on Hyperallergic!

This interview has been edited.

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