Interview with Lindsay Watson
As You Were contributor Lindsay Watson is like the Björk of comics, with art full of magical, wide-eyed wonder. But it’s not all sweetness and light, as she refuses to shy away from depicting raw, dark emotions in her work. To find out more about her “nihilistic but deeply sincere” world view, keep reading.
Interview by Natalye for Silver Sprocket
Tell us about yourself. How did you get involved in AYW?
It’s funny being a part of As You Were and the Silver Sprocket crew in general, because I don’t consider myself to be a part of the punk community in any way except for the fact that I’m friends with people who are involved in it. When I was in high school I was into all of it, and I even owned and coveted some Silver Sprocket things before ever really knowing who or what they were. I grew away from punk, and a few years ago while living in San Francisco, I met Avi at zine shows, and then as soon as I left California, we started a friendship. He asked me last minute to throw in some filler pages for the book, and so I did!
Now I live in Portland and work in a bookstore and make comics and play guitar and dream a lot about a lot of houseplants.
When did you know you wanted to be involved in art?
I was 12 when I first realized I wanted to pursue art—my art teacher at the time said, “Damn girl, you can draw!” and it made me feel amazing, and then he helped me pick out the best art class to sign up for going into high school. I had an amazing teacher there, who guided me through all my high school years, and soon after meeting her I felt pretty sure I cared about nothing else, career- and life-wise, although everything I made was total shit until I was 20 years old.
What’s your process like?
The process involves a lot of self-doubt and questioning and a LOT of feeling like not making anything, ever. I went to art school, and after graduation was determined to make art my career, full-time. It didn’t take long for me to realize how absolutely stifling that is for my creativity and confidence and health, so I abandoned that whole idea.
Now I just make art when it feels right. I don’t pressure myself to do it every day or try to make money from it; I only do it when I have something to say. And it’s so much better this way. I made so much unnecessary, half-hearted, fake bullshit when I was living with the belief that to be an artist I had to make art literally all of the time. So now it’s very casual and infinitely more meaningful.
What kinds of mediums do you work with—do you have any favorites or ones you want to explore more?
Every so often I’ll fall in love with a medium and stick with it for a while until I get itchy for something new. I’ve been working with India ink and nib pens for maybe six months, and that feels really good. I also have some little rollerball pens that show every shake my hand makes, and those are lovely too. In the past two months, I’ve worked on two risograph projects and that’s an interesting process and result that I’ve not worked with before, so I’m excited to see those two comics in print.
You have a lot of reoccurring imagery and themes in your work, which focuses on magical creatures, nature and the wilderness, and the cosmos. It also feels very Scandinavian like. Is that on purpose?
I don’t think I do any of those things on purpose, although I am very aware of them. People have been using those exact descriptors for years, and I’m certainly proud of them, I think those are good images to provoke, and I’m happy to bring that into people’s hearts and minds.
What inspires you to draw what you draw?
I’m not sure, but I think what draws me to these types of things is just a boredom of the things I see every day. I’m a city person—like I NEED to be in a city, and I love the pavement I walk on every day, and I love the buildings and the way things change and don’t change. But when that’s translated to ink on paper, at least when I do it, it’s so lacking magic. It’s gotta be the straight lines. They’re good in real life—they’re pretty magic, actually. But I don’t care about drawing them. So I draw more organic things—things that are kind of alien. It’s exciting to enjoy a different or faraway world without literally traveling, because planes, I think, are also pretty ugly.
Does your art reflect your world view or the way you approach things?
My world view, which I think has come out in my work pretty accurately the past year, is pretty sarcastic and nihilistic but deeply sincere and full of heart. So everyone’s like a clumsy, sloppy, gorgeous yeti stumbling through a world that’s made of mistakes, and that’s the beauty of the world. That’s why it’s OK to be alive.
You have made a lot of little zines, some of which were part of mail subscriptions. Can you tell us more about what those entailed and if you’re still doing them?
I started my first subscription the summer I graduated art school and then moved to Florida for a little bit. Everyone I loved was in some distant place, so I was into sending a lot of mail and gifts and art to my loved ones elsewhere. This was when I was trying to get most of my income with art, so I was thinking up a lot of ways to make things interesting, that I could sell. So I got a few subscriptions, and the coolest thing was knowing that there were a few people in the world who liked me enough to pay up front for things I hadn’t conceived yet; they liked me enough to believe in me six months into the future. And then, of course, I was obligated to publish something every month for six months, so that was a good challenge.
The second time around I did it because someone who missed out on the first round just reminded me on Instagram, like, “Hey, when can I subscribe?” And I was like, “Alright, I guess I’ll do it again.” I’m not sure if I want to start it again. Maybe if I’m in a mood and feeling diligent I’ll do it.
As someone who has taught art classes to children, how has that impacted your own work? There’s this cheesy sort of cliché that teachers learn just as much, if not more, from their students, so we’re wondering if you’ve found that to be true, and if so, in what way.
Absolutely—I learned SO MUCH from my students! Mostly they really got in my head and taught me to be good and gentle and patient with everyone I meet, including myself. Everyone’s psychology and personal experience is so delicately complicated that you can’t treat everyone the same way. Even if you think you understand a kid one day, you probably won’t understand them the next. So an important thing I learned was how to ask questions that can inspire the answers that will help someone with whatever is troubling them. And there are a few magic words you can say too. Like if a kid was having a breakdown because their drawing didn’t look like mine, I could say, “Hey, that’s OK. Do you like it though? Did it feel good to draw it that way?” And almost every time I used that line, they immediately felt better and loved the drawing.
Some kids need you to literally hold their hand. Some need to cry alone and be ignored while doing so, and some need you to hold them and look into their eyes while they cry. I only got to teach for about 10 months, but I learned so much about caring for myself and others; not just loved ones, but strangers too. It helped me as I climbed out of a deep depression, and my relationship with myself and my art feels really great now. I would never force a child to do anything they feel bad about, and so I don’t force myself to do the same. Everything is much more simple that way, and much more fun.
I taught a few lessons that felt important while not being at all related to art. I taught a rude girl that if she hurts a friend’s feelings, it’s important to apologize instead of screaming “BUT I DIDN’T HURT YOUR FEELINGS” in that friend’s face. And I think she had never thought of it in terms of the other persons’ feelings, just in terms of her own intentions and how it feels to be confronted. That’s a lesson that has improved the way I treat people who are close to me, in a very important way. Also, I taught a kid not to hold in his farts and not to be embarrassed because all of us are basically whispering songs out of our asses all the time, so he should just go for it.
What does 2016 look like for you? Will you be publishing or releasing anything? Word on the street is you’re working on a book for Tiny Splendor. We’d love to know more details.
The Tiny Splendor book is being printed right now! It’s called I Don’t Need Eyes and it’s inspired by my faraway relationship with my babe. Some of the conversations in the book actually happened, and some are totally fiction but inspired by the actual ways we interact, and some are a combination of both. The first time we kissed he asked me to make comics for/about him, and I told him I wasn’t good enough. But then I made a whole book’s worth, and it’s a really cool way to communicate feelings from a very long distance. So that’s coming out in May, and I’ll have it at Linework NW.
I’m working on something now that will be printed in the second issue of Cold Cube, coming out in June, I think. And then I’ll be contributing to a Gridlords anthology, the release date of which I’m not sure. There are some zine fests I’m trying to attend. The rest of the year, beyond summer, I’m not sure what will happen, but I’m feeling inspired by those upcoming things.
If you had to choose one artistic piece of output of yours (comic or otherwise) that would be representative of who you are to show someone who is not familiar with your work, what would it be?
I think HUNK is a pretty perfect representation of myself. It’s actually the first thing I published that I feel is truly a comic, and I was really surprised when I found myself writing and making art in that way. It was a great and welcome surprise that I still feel proud of six months later, which is kind of rare for me. It’s me laughing at myself, my depression, and my shortcomings, while also celebrating how these things don’t always necessarily prevent one from being beautiful and smart and just generally OK. I just feel like it has a perfect balance of honest tender feelings while not being cutesy, and the current that moved that book along is one of cynical optimism.
Off the top of your head, who are some artists whose work you love that fans of your comics should check out?
Nathaniel Russell and Hiller Goodspeed and C.F.
What question do you like to be asked / wish you were asked but never were… and what’s the answer?
I tend to ask myself a lot of questions while I’m working that I feel would be good things to write about, but nothing specific enough to remember or mention here. I think I’d like to talk to people about the way certain symbols reach them or the way they interpret my words, because whatever I write goes through so many phases and transmutations that it has like five different meanings by the time I present it to the world. So I’m always interested to know if anyone’s interpretation matches any thought I’ve had, or if they’re just completely new to me.
And it’s reasonable that no one ever asks me if I’ve been bitten by a zebra, but, like, the answer is yes.
You can see more of Lindsay’s art by following her Tumblr or picking up some art here. While you’re at it, get your hands on a copy of As You Were: Living Situations here.