I sat down with the phenomenally talented and uber-witty Hillary White, pop art illustrator, painter, and t-shirt designer. Other fun facts: she digs tea, has a penchant for the '80s, and she's been practicing transcendental meditation since she was 10. How cool is that?
1. What’s your story in five sentences or less?
I am a Belfast, Maine, native born from the salty depths of a bubbling cauldron overflowing with ’80s pop culture, classical art, and Alice in Wonderland. I spend most of my time painting classical art and pop culture mash-ups, and designing T-shirts.
2. When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator?
There was never an “aha” moment. Drawing was something that came naturally and was enjoyable. I just kept practicing with encouragement from family and art teachers along the way.
After college I had “ordinary” jobs for a time and believed that the best approach probably was to make art a part-time thing, before eventually realizing the grind of going to work didn’t leave enough energy to be imaginative. Once I devoted myself exclusively to producing art—working on projects that appealed to me—things began to improve and evolve.
3. Where did you go to college and how did that experience shape you as an illustrator/artist?
Freshman year I attended Maine College of Art in Portland as a Painting major. Then there was a year of the same at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. My third (and final) year I switched to University of Maine in Orono, majoring in New Media. While I’m grateful for the experience, I decided that more college wasn't going to make me happier or more successful, only a debtor. Thankfully, art is one of those things for which you don’t necessarily need a degree, only creativity.
4. How has being a Mainer shaped you as an artist? Does your geography affect your art?
Basically, I lived in a Maine-kid's paradise—near to or within traveling distance of woods, fields, rivers, lakes, trails, and wildlife in a relatively small city, yet also rural—but I don’t use much of that in my work. Maybe it gave me the space to play and explore and use my imagination, but nothing specific comes to mind about how my location has affected my art…more at ease working alone? But that’s more about methodology than results; pop culture is everywhere. (Although it didn’t help my chances of becoming Miss America…)
5. Your alter ego is the White Rabbit. How did that come to be?
My last name being White, I was halfway there (so creative). For a course assignment during my third year of college we had to come up with a personal logo. Because I’ve always loved Alice in Wonderland the White Rabbit seemed fitting. He’s essentially Alice's guide through Wonderland, appearing and disappearing at various moments to propel her forward.
To me, he’s symbolic of synchronicity, a concept that resonates with me. A quote that sums it up for me that might explain it best: “There are times in our lives when we must make choices based more on instinct than intellect. Often, the soul recognizes its choice before the rational mind has time to process the information.”
6. You’ve become known in the art industry as a pop artist. Was that the result of personal evolution for you, or have you always been drawn to that style?
A bit of both? I mean, I didn't ever plan on being where I am now with my work but being both drawn to classical art and pop culture (especially the ’80s). It seems like a natural progression in hindsight.
7. Some people call art meditative. Do you agree? What do you think about when sitting at the wheel?
Speaking as a practitioner of Transcendental Meditation (since I was 10) I have something to compare it with. So, yes, I definitely agree. When working, I listen to my iPod and the world fades away. Art is one of those few things one can do where the mind doesn’t run incessantly. When I’m painting or drawing it’s like only “thinking” with my eyes.
8. What projects are you working on and who are your biggest clients?
Generally I have a few mash-ups in the painting queue (as already mentioned), as well as a few shirt ideas, but let’s not get too specific. There aren’t really any clients, as such. I do stuff kind of on speculation…I license my shirt designs (and sometimes poster prints of my art) to various companies, and sell work on print-on-demand sites (PODs). A few of the companies are TeeFury, RIPT Apparel, Shirt.Woot, Threadless, iCanvas, Juniqe, The Yetee, Busted Tees, Society6, and RedBubble.
9. What are your future plans as an artist?
Is it bad that I don't have any? Being more of an “in the moment” type person, I take things as they come. Just to be able to make art and have someone appreciate it. Anyway, I find too much planning doesn’t leave room for life’s surprises! (Preferably good ones…)
10. Who are other artists/musicians/writers/designers that inspire you?
There are too many to name so I’ll grab at some names. Artists: the Impressionists (such as Monet, Renoir, Manet, Cassatt) because I like to paint quickly and have a thing for color; the Surrealists (Dali, Magritte, Kahlo), for their bizarre/absurd and sometimes nightmarish imaginings which remind me of the strange, vivid dreams from my early youth. And I still love the illustrations of Roald Dahl and William Steig. And who wasn’t traumatized as a child by Stephen Gammell’s drawings in Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (which they’ve tamed in later editions)?
Musicians/music: Anyone/anything from the ’80s, even if not actually from the ’80s but sounds reminiscent of the time (it helps get in that “zone”). So MS MR, CHVRCHES, Florence + The Machine, Purity Ring, MGMT, Röyksopp, HAIM, The Naked and Famous, Metric, The Knife…OK, that’s enough...
11. Last but not least, what’s your “blissful interlude” – the time of day that gives you the most bliss?
Besides art-making—and this might sound very Miss Marple of me—tea time is always nice.