When I decided to launch a new blog, one thing that I was really excited about was commissioning a custom image to use as a banner and for promotional materials. Luckily, I happen to know a very talented artist - Madelyn Prager.
Maddie is the roommate of one of my closest friends, and a very cool chick in her own right. She is also a trans woman, who recently began to hormone therapy that will help her transition to the gender that feels right for her. I actually wanted to do an interview with her earlier this month, but she came down with shingles (booo!) and only felt up for doing an interview recently.
I really enjoy reading Maddie's comics, which you can check out at To Catch A Dream Eater. She's a cool, smart, and interesting person - check out my interview with her below.
Jessica: So tell me a little bit about yourself. How old are you? Where did you grow up?
Maddie: Well, I'm 25, and I was born in grew up in the greater Boston area.
J: What brought you to Chicago?
M: Well, it's a kinda long story, but, I went to college in Ripon, WI, and some of the friends I was closest with moved to Chicago after graduating. When I was struggling myself in the years after college, they gave me a place to stay, and when I was finally able to support myself, it was to them and the other friends I had made in the city that I wanted to move back to.
J: How do you think your personal life influences your art? Is a lot of it autobiographical, or is it usually a little more abstract?
M: Oh, my art is ALWAYS about me. I didn't always realize it at first, but as time passes I can always see how each story, each painting, was me trying to describe myself at the time, and my own struggles. Art has always been an easier way for me to express my thoughts and ideas than through conversation or talk. That's not to say that my work is explicitly autobiographical, but it's always one step away in its themes and metaphors and characters.
For a long time, I used my art as a stand in for me, but, I've found it's much healthier to see it as my expression.
J: I can see how that would be. Like, just acknowledging that this is you working through something would be better than divorcing yourself from it.
So how do you think the changes that you've been going through recently have affected your art?
M: Oh, transitioning has changed my art tremendously.
Before, especially, with the comics and prose I would make, every story was about the intense pressure of the character's world collapsing around them, as horrible things happened, with few solutions but to try and escape to something less ruined. They were stories about being hurt and damaged, about endings, and claustrophobic struggle.
Now, particularly with the comics I am making on To Catch A Dream Eater, I've changed to stories that while still often about struggle and the undercurrent of trauma, It’s become about confronting those awful things, and working through them.
My art has also changed, becoming much less... stiff and exact, and more free flowing, focusing more on making things I can accomplish, than projects that take every ounce of my effort.
It's become much more... healthy, I would say.
J: That's a really fantastic response, and I'm trying really hard to think up a good follow up question. You just seem remarkably self aware.
Do you think being an artist has been helpful in transitioning? Having an outlet to express all of these things that you're going through?
M: I think it's much easier as an artist to be aware of myself as I've made so many "me" things to study.
Being an artist has been super helpful in transitioning. I've done something I call "Emotion Paintings" for many years now to help work through things I otherwise can't deal with, and, just being able to watch how those changed and became artworks expressing joy instead of anxiety and fear was very helpful. I have almost all my art stored by date since 2007, and I can always look and see what my life was like then by going through the pieces. The art from before, and as I transition, does a remarkable turn in themes, colors, and, just has been a very reassuring sign of progress, and that transitioning was the right thing to do.
J: To switch topics a little bit, where do you see yourself going five years from now? Where would you like to be professionally?
M: Professionally, I'd like to not only be a full time artist, but, working full time on my comics, and MAYBE even making enough to be paying off my student loans!
J: Same here! Minus the artist bit. Mostly just the paying off the student loans bit. What is your favorite piece that you've done? Or just something that you're really proud of and would like to share
M: Oh geeze, that's a tough one.
J: I know, it's like asking a crazy lady which of her cats she loves the most.
M: laughs [I've included the images that she sent me throughout the interview. I think they give a great sense of Maddie's style and abilities. - Jessica]
J: So for the other aspiring artists out there, how do you get most of your commissions? I mean, in my case, your roommates are a couple of my best friends, but how would you suggest they build up a broader audience and cast a wider net?
M: Well, I mostly get commission through people I've met, fans I've had for years, so on. People I've met in real life generally commission much better, but, really the biggest thing seems to just be making contacts. Art commissions come best from knowing people who want art, and can pay for art. For selling art/garnering interest, going to conventions, putting your art where people can see it, and shouting that your art exists seems to work out.
J: What would you tell someone who's thinking about doing art professionally? Any words of wisdom?
M: Honestly, just, putting in the years. Start now. Start YESTERDAY. Don't wait, just start putting your work out there, trying to do what you want to be doing, and after long enough, things seem to start working. There aren't really any shortcuts.
Isn't she brilliant? I figured that would be a good place to end, since those are some words of wisdom I think everyone could benefit from, no matter what it is that they're endeavoring to to.