Joana Avillez’s (MFA 2012 Illustration as Visual Essay) illustrations in Lena Dunham’s highly anticipated memoir Not That Kind of a Girl recently hit stores and gadgets worldwide. Reviewers have described Avillez’s work in the book as “whimsical,” “charming” and “delightful.” Avillez began the project while she was still a student at SVA, and next month she’ll return to the College along with over 340 fellow MFA Illustration as Visual Essay alumni for the “We Tell Stories” exhibition. SVA Close Up caught up with Avillez via email to talk about her kinship with Dunham, the creative process itself, and the pleasure (and inspiration) of working from home.
How did this project come about?
Lena asked me if I could do illustrations for her book while I was still at SVA in the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program. We worked on the proposal during my last year, and then there was an interim year until I began working with the final manuscript. I couldn’t have dreamed of something more exciting to work on, frankly.
What was your process when you began creating these illustrations? Did you read each essay all the way to the end and then begin? Or did you find yourself drawing as you read?
Lena would send me batches of essays every month or so. I always draw as I read. Initial inner brain responses can be so important; I wouldn’t want to lose any of them, however silly. Lena’s writing is also so visual—some drawings are directly translated from sentences, i.e. “a bowling ball with a hat on it,” but some are more complex.
Was there a particular essay in which you felt flooded with ideas and inspiration? Was there one that was harder to envision visually?
Lena and I both felt that “Barry” was best with limited illustration. It’s a serious topic and the drawings can add a light garnish that we didn’t want for this piece. In general, I could draw endlessly about Lena, essay or no essay. There are drawings that found their way into the book that were in a sense freestyled, just to my own personal response to how inspiring Lena is. Similar things tickle us, and it’s fun to come up with ideas for illustrations that I know will move her. It’s a dream conversation with a friend: you speak by exchanging writing and drawings.
The illustration that depicts a girl painting the words Not That Kind of a Girl on a wall is striking. Subtle details make the image convey so much. Do you remember what you started with when illustrating this? Or what detail was the last finishing touch?
Thank you! I did this illustration over the winter, in the thick of working on NTKOG illustrations, and when my boyfriend thought it was also a great time to repaint all the walls in our apartment. I work from home, and between the toxic paint smell and having to continuously move my drawing table all over the place, I was a little annoyed at him. I was watching him from my desk—islanded in the middle of the room—and began imagining him writing the book’s title on the wall. I used an ink-block roller to make the letters, so in actuality they are each about eight inches tall. (Turns out I shouldn’t have been so annoyed!)
Any tips on working from home? Are there particular creative conditions that you require? Certain hours? Certain lighting? Coffee? Tea? Do you pace or stay seated?
Working from home is a nightmare to some, but for me it’s completely freeing. I’m an only child and I relish being by myself making things. It’s amazing to enter into your own world like that. In the morning I usually just leap from bed to desk and make coffee (or go outside if I need to exchange words with a barista to confirm that at least my vocal faculties are intact). I’m not very particular about much, except solitude and a few dance-about-the-apartment breaks.
Images: All illustrations by Joana Avillez, courtesy of The Random House Publishing Group.