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Bob Eckstein is an award-winning writer, New Yorker cartoonist, and author/illustrator of The New York Times best-selling book (and postcard box set!), Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores.

A picture of the Bob's postcard set, alongside an illustration from the set featuring a bookshop façade

Last summer, in a webcast interview from his New York-based studio, Bob shared with Clarisse (aka CStar9) his love for endangered bookstores, admitted he used to send toast through the mail, and urged creative people not to work alone.

Three frames from Clarisse's conversation with Bob, featuring Bob gesticulating
For your World’s Greatest Bokstores project, why bookstores? And how did you narrow down your bookstore choices?
A colorful illustration from a bookshop façade. The big awning reads BOOKS

There were many different reasons why a store would be chosen: its historical significance, its importance to the community, maybe its beauty. Main-Street bookstores play so many important roles in a community, and I wanted to capture these in the book.

I have a great interest in story: people want to read something with meat on the bone. Luckily, bookstores are magical places. I profiled about 150 to 200 bookstores, and then had to choose half. I was hoping there would be a sequel!

You’ve written books about the bookstores of the world, but you’ve also written about snowmen, cats, Arctic explorers, and more. What does research look like for you?
A selection of books written/illustrated by Bob

Each of these books would have taken much longer without the internet. I make every attempt to visit and learn from a subject in person, but that is not logistically realistic, so sometimes research comes from surfing the web.

Once I find out everything I can, I try to simplify and curate the interesting stuff. That’s the glamorous part of writing a book. But eventually there comes a point where you have to stop doing that and just start writing.

You write for TV, you write prose, you paint, you are a cartoonist… Is there a medium that feels most like home for you?
Bob's cover for the New Yorker

It’s so much fun to create a cartoon that makes people laugh. And writing is something that I am certainly at home with.

I juggle many different things in my career. I’m a public speaker, I teach, I do cartoons for different magazines, I do illustration. It’s hard to make a living from this stuff. You have to produce a tremendous amount of work. At the moment, I’m working on four different books.

I write almost every single day. For the last few years, I’ve been waking up by 5:30 a.m. to start writing. By 9:00 a.m., I usually finish a piece. Then I can get started with the rest of my workday. That discipline is how I get so much done. I also don’t watch much TV!

You’ve said in an interview, “My deadlines are relentless [and I don’t doodle for fun]. If I’m drawing, it’s with a purpose.” Do you ever get creator’s block and if so, what do you do about it?

I have lists of ideas I don’t have time to get through.

An illustration of two men doing yoga. One of them is in a very elaborate pose. The caption reads: I have had a lot of free time this year

I don’t get writer’s block, where I’m just sitting around for an idea or joke to fall into my lap. The way I teach others how to get out of ruts is this: usually it’s a matter of tuning in to the voices and ideas in your head. These days the world is a very loud place. We are all inundated with distractions and sensory overload. Taking a walk or just even taking a bath to be alone with your thoughts…it’s surprising how easy it can be to come up with ideas during those times.

You also can’t work alone. I believe the best gift a creative person can have is the ability to surround themselves with talented people.

Anything I’ve had success with can be traced back to someone who helped me: someone who gave me encouragement, who inspired me to explore something new, or who gave me a professional opportunity.

How do you narrow down your ideas?

There is so much rejection in this field. So, basically, I fold up as many paper airplanes as possible, and then I chuck them out of the window and see which ones stick.

A group of balls resembling a Newtons cradle sculpture swings from the side of a building

I never actually intended to do postcards. But the opportunity came, and I went with it. I didn’t appreciate initially that the Bookstore postcards would go over so well. I always just cross my fingers that people will have a chance to see the things I work on. I know I usually sound like a have an ego the size of God’s cigar, but I was genuinely surprised to hear that for example, students were wallpapering their dorm rooms with the Bookstore postcards.

What’s your relationship to postal mail?

I love postcards. I have sent thousands of them – really! I used to send out mailings in groups of a thousand to potential art clients. I also sent jokes like poly-ethylening slices of toast and writing “Keep in toast” in yellow plastic that looked like squeeze-on butter. I eventually mailed them in plastic bags after sending hundreds with just putting a stamp on the piece of toast. Today I probably would be arrested.

I dearly miss the age of regularly corresponding with hand-written postcards. This year I sent maybe only a hundred. Email has ruined it, postage increases has ruined it, younger generations who don’t even write in script anymore has ruined it. I know I sound like an old man yelling from his porch, but it seems everything I love is going extinct -—from old-fashioned postcard correspondence to vinyl LPs, MAD magazine, and gag cartoons. I try to be a help. I raise awareness about the plight of disappearing bookstores. I’m writing a book now on our most important museums, and I’m working with a friend on a film that’s partly about climate change.

You do live drawing for events. How did that come about?

When I was a kid, I loved Sports Illustrated, and they would do drawings of sporting events. I eventually worked for them and was also a sports reporter of sorts for The Village Voice and The New York Times. So, it was natural for me to incorporate my humor and artwork to coverage.

A Super Bowl themed cartoon, in which the players, MCs and mascots all dance in the rugby field

I used to take-over the Times website front page for the Super Bowl, Olympics, or World Series. Then I did it for The New Yorker: the Oscars, Golden Globes, etc. I still live-draw occasionally to promote cultural events. It’s perfect for today when people want to see stuff as much as they want to read about it.

It’s also an example of how I like to always push the envelope, which artists and writers should always do. I’m always asking “what if?”.

It’s like the squirrel operetta I tried to make. What if?

What are you most proud of, outside of your writing and art?

It used to be my hair.

I’m very proud of my wife. She is a well-known book artist and a total bad-ass—she will hate this answer and I will pay for it later. But that’s what being a bad-ass is all about.

What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?

Growing up, there was no one who said, you’re funny, or, you should be a cartoonist. That didn’t happen until I was surrounded by friends very late in life.

A person is on a stage, while others comment negatively on their performance with snide, witty remarks. The caption reads: Hecklers on poetry night
Bob’s first New Yorker cartoon

My friend and mentor Sam Gross – who happened to be a cartoonist for the New Yorker – organized my birthday party one year. That party also happened to be the regular New Yorker staff lunch. The food was very good. I asked if I could come the following week and he said sure, but you also should make a cartoon and submit it to the magazine.

So I took up his dare, and the New Yorker ended up buying and publishing the first cartoon I drew. I realized later it wasn’t as easy as that. But it opened the door.

I always say to my students, you’re never going to have these things happen if you don’t show up. 80% of success is just showing up – being willing to listen to and learn from people. You never know when something life-changing is right there in front of you.

What’s next for you? And importantly: what postcards can we expect next?
A cartoon of a psychologist's office, with a snowman on the patient's sofa. The caption reads: so where do you see yourself in five years?

This summer, I spoke at the Humor Writing Conference. A few times a month, I produce my Substack newsletter, The Bob, which has turned into a huge, pleasant surprise. I have a handful of magazine assignments to complete. As I said, I’m working on four books.

And I am looking to make a box set of postcards in 2025, of museums in the U.S.

We can’t just leave on that cliff-hanger! Tell us about the museums postcard project!

I covered 155 museums for this project. Like with the bookstores project, I visited as many of the museums as I could in person. But for those I couldn’t visit, I sent friends and other ambassadors to report back to me with their impressions and photographs.

When I went to a museum myself, first I would just go and experience the place holistically. But in the back of my mind, I was always thinking, what’s the best angle or the most unique view of this place that would create an incentive to people, to say, Oh, I’ve gotta add this place to my bucket list.

An example is the American Museum of Natural History, which has an iconic blue whale that hangs in the main room of the oceanic division. I felt like it would be delinquent on my part not to give people what they expect and want to see in a view of that place. And then I would make supplemental illustrations to pique additional interest. I hope people will feel a real sense of wonder when they’re exploring this project, whether they’re looking at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston or the SPAM Museum in Minnesota. It’s just mind-blowing that all these places exist.

I want to add that I’m still sad that the bookstore book ended. It was the same with the museums project. I did three illustrations a day. I put my heart and soul into this project and slept very little. But I didn’t mind the long hours because it was such a fun thing to do.

Editor’s note: Footnotes from the Most Fascinating Museums is about to be published — it’ll be out on May 14. Hopefully the corresponding set of postcards will soon follow! 😊

To learn more about Bob, check out his website and newsletter! Bob has given interviews about the long and winding road to becoming an author and cartoonist, about humor, about his book The Complete Book of Cat Names and also been interviewed for the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest podcast. For the aspiring writers out there, he has some tips on publishing and writing on Writer’s Digest.

And now, for the sneaky giveaway: Clarisse is going to send 4 postcards from Bob’s World’s Greatest Bookstores set to 4 randomly picked postcrossers! 🎉 To participate, leave a comment below to share your favorite bookshop. Come back this time next week to check out the winners!

And the winners of this giveaway, as chosen by Paulo’s random number generator are… weesnet, traceyinwd, JillRock and MZLA! Congratulations, and thank you all for participating!


Chrissy Lau is an award-winning, British-born Chinese designer/illustrator based in Sydney, Australia. Her designs are inspired by her Chinese heritage and are instantly recognizable by her signature delicate lines and intricate patterns.

A sheet of Christmas Island stamps on the theme of the Lunar New Year of the Ox 2021

Chrissy took the time to answer Clarisse (aka CStar9)'s questions via email last summer, including sharing her unexpected journey from law school to full-time illustration, the many ways her family and culture influence her work, and why she always begins her drawings on A4 paper. Lunar New Year is just around the corner, so this seems like a nice time to publish her interview here on the blog!

A photo of Chrissy in her studio
Photo courtesy of Chrissy Lau
Your recognizable style carries across many different media (stamps, Royal Mint coins, sculpture, labels, murals, books). I learned from another fantastic interview that you’re a self-taught artist. Wow! What was your journey to professional art?

Ever since I can remember, I loved drawing. It had never dawned on me to pursue a creative career, it was just something I did to express myself. I was also very academic. I went to a private high school where they focus on careers such as medicine or law… which is why I graduated with a law degree.

I never became a working barrister; I knew after two weeks of law at uni that I didn’t like it. I carried it on anyway, as I thought it would be a good degree to have! A bit silly, but you feel responsible when you grow up with two parents who left school very young and worked very hard at their Chinese takeaway. They were always very supportive of any decisions I made, but I put that pressure on myself to finish my degree.

A few of Chrissy's designs. Some of the illustrations are featured in coins and wine bottles.
A few of Chrissy’s designs (explore more in her portfolio!)

Growing up, everyone was so encouraging about my drawings and always told me how creative I was but I never considered it as a career. There was an insane amount of reading to do at uni, so I drew more and more to keep myself sane. After uni I decided to see if I could sell my drawings. I still didn’t have the courage to pursue illustration full-time, so I continued with commissions at night whilst juggling various day jobs.

You took the plunge in 2013 to work as an illustrator full-time. What was your first postal commission?

An envelope featuring Guernsey Post's Lunar Year stamps for the year of the horse My first postal commission was Year of the Horse 2014 for Guernsey Post (read more about that philatelic series here).

Since then, I have illustrated each animal zodiac. 2024 will be the Year of the Dragon. The final animal of the series will be the Snake, in 2025—that will be a full zodiac collection of stamps.

In 2021, Australia Post commissioned the Year of the Ox, and I’ve continued with them on an annual Zodiac series. Australia Post's Christmas Island stamps for the New Year of the Tiger. Australia Post's Christmas Island stamps for the New Year of the Rabbit

In general, do you approach stamps differently than other work?

Stamps are really small, so the designs need to be eye-catching and not too detailed for technical/manufacturing reasons. The stamps I create for Guernsey Post and Australia Post are gold embossed (or foiled), so there needs to be enough breathing space between the lines as well as a minimum line weight so that they can be printed correctly.

What’s your personal relationship to paper in general, and to postal mail specifically?

I always sketch on paper. I need something physical to hold and see in order to get started. I like plain A4 printer paper. If the paper is too nice, or if it’s in a nice notebook or sketchbook, I always fear ruining it!

I like sending cards but I’m not fussed about receiving them. My family lives in England (where I’m originally from; I now live in Sydney) so I always like to send letters, photographs, and drawings to them.

Can you give us an example of how your East-meets-West identity manifests in your work?

I take my experience of growing up in England (1984–2007) and Australia (2007+) and mix it with my experience of being British-born Chinese. I have only lived in the Western world, so the inspiration/imagery of Chinese culture is what I’ve seen in England and Australia.

Illustration from Chrissy’s interactive<br/>
StoryBox animation My Father's story
Illustration from Chrissy’s interactive
StoryBox animation, My Father’s Story

My late father was my biggest inspiration and a fountain of knowledge when it came to learning the deeper meanings and symbolisms of Chinese culture. My dad had an incredible journey climbing over the border from China to Hong Kong when he was 10, to escape poverty. He was a big believer in feng shui and also very superstitious, so we always had long chats about my designs as well as Chinese history and Chinese art. When I create Asian-influenced art, it runs quite deep with meaning and symbolism as I pay homage to my heritage and my dad’s influence, whilst also creating something mesmerising to draw in anyone of any heritage. I grew up in Northern England and pretty much experienced racism on a daily basis, so to create Asian-inspired art means I am sharing my culture/heritage to create more familiarity and less hostility.

The stamps I create are launched from the West, but they are also sold in China and other Asian countries, so before they’re approved, we seek feedback from Chinese stamp experts.

I spend lots of time researching to ensure each object in the illustration represents something meaningful in Chinese/Asian culture. It’s important for me to create beautiful art that is intriguing and enticing and can be enjoyed by the viewer in a way that invites them to find out the deeper meanings behind the art.

Chrissy in her studio, a view from above, featuring her at her desk surrounded by artwork
Chrissy in her studio. Photo courtesy of Chrissy Lau.
The foundation of your artwork seems to be fountain pen and ink. How does that manifest in the digital age?

Before 2018, my art was very detailed and hand drawn: lots of black ink and splashes of red. I really enjoyed the style of block printing, so I liked to emulate that. I also drew a lot of hair with fine lines and lots of patterns. In order to become more commercial, I have had to evolve and inject more colour into the art whilst retaining my signature patterns.

In late 2018, I started to use an iPad to create art. I was very skeptical, but it was recommended to me by Luke Shadbolt who is a very talented photographer and husband to fashion influencer Nicole Warne. I was commissioned by them to do some illustrations for their wedding invitations, and they both said the iPad was a game changer for them. I haven’t looked back since – a small investment but one that has paid dividends.


My old process was hand-drawing sketches, scanning and emailing to the client, and once they were approved, I would outline in fountain pen and rub out the pencil marks. If I didn’t have a firm hold of the paper it would scrunch along with the eraser! I would then scan the outline and email to the client. Once it was approved, I would colour digitally in Photoshop on my laptop (I taught myself how to use Photoshop when I was 12, so years later it came in handy!).

My new digital process cuts out scanning/erasing, which speeds things up a lot. The iPad also allows me to create artwork in vectors (vectors don’t diminish in quality no matter how much you zoom in, as opposed to raster – when you zoom in it gets blurry) on the Adobe Illustrator app. It’s like drawing with a pen and paper, and it cuts out the need to learn Adobe Illustrator’s desktop version with a mouse, which is much trickier.

What element of your job as an artist do you like the most, and why?

I enjoy the challenge of turning a brief of words into visuals. I really enjoy creating art that’s inspired by my Chinese heritage because I can share the art with my children and teach them about their culture.

What do you like least about your work as an artist?

I’m not keen when clients change the brief halfway through as I’ve already completed a lot of research and brainstorming, or they tell you it’s a rush job and then take ages to give their feedback. It’s not that bad really, though as it doesn’t happen that often.

What is something are you proud of, outside of your artwork?

An illustration featuring a person and lots of small drawings floating above their head I’m proud that I am a good problem solver. I’m good at teaching myself how to do anything I put my mind to.

In 2010, I was asked by a recruiter if I knew what search engine marketing was and if I’d be interested in a job. I didn’t know what it was, but I learned to analyse data with various formulas and turn it into a report presentation… so I got the job! I did it for three years and I didn’t actually enjoy it, but I’m quite proud that I figured it out.

I am proud of my two sons – and of the fact they can grow up worry-free. I grew up as a translator for my parents (English was their second language), so a lot of responsibility fell on me. I also worked in their Chinese takeaway from a young age; it was just what had to be done. But I am grateful that I learnt lots of skills (using a wok, counting money, preparing food).

To learn more about her Chrissy, check out her website and portfolio. Over the years, she has given several interviews — for instance, about her work for the Sydney Lunar Festival, Guernsey Post, IllustrationX or Collective magazine.

Good news, everyone! Clarisse has a few sets of postmarked FDCs featuring Chrissy’s Lunar New Year stamps to send out to some randomly picked postcrossers! 🎉 To participate, leave a comment below sharing your Chinese zodiac sign or what your plans are for Lunar New Year celebrations (if any)! Come back this time next week to check out the winners, which will be selected randomly.

And the winners of this giveaway, as chosen by Paulo’s random number generator are… KeepItReal, Annemarielouise, norma4728 and skyjuice! Congratulations, and thank you all for participating!


Jeffrey Brown is a New York Times best-selling cartoonist based in Chicago. He’s written books for all ages, including the Star Wars Adventures book and postcard series that includes Darth Vader and Son, Vader’s Little Princess, and Rey and Pals. So it seemed only natural that we invite him for an interview.

Jeff was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions from Clarisse (aka CStar9) via email.

Jeff Brown's 3 postcard books: Darth Vader and Son, Vader's Little Princess, and Rey and Pals
Before we get started, what music should people listen to as they read this interview?

My first thought was the “Imperial March” from Star Wars, but I don’t think this interview will be quite so ominous and intimidating, so maybe I’ll say “Make a Picture” from the latest Andrew Bird album, Inside Problems.

Your process starts with a lot of brainstorming. For Rey and Pals, you began with almost 200 initial ideas! How do you know you’re ready to move on to step 2?
3 postcards from the Star Wars series, showing Darth Vader as an attentive parent to Luke and Leia

The ideas stage of any project is a 24/7 kind of thing. I bring my project brainstorming sketchbook with me everywhere and try to constantly be thinking of ideas and observing the world for anything that might click with a project.

I also dedicate a few hours a day just trying to come up with ideas, which includes reading and watching source material for inspiration.

I know I’m done when I really hit a wall, usually when I have a decent number of ideas – enough to see them making the cut for the final project. I give it a few days and if I don’t come up with more, then I’m ready for the next stage.

Of course, more ideas can still come all the way up until the final art is drawn.

comic from Jeff Brown's graphic novel memoir, with a young couple moonily buying bread in the supermarket
Your work covers a tremendous range of content for all ages, including film. What are some of the elements that define your work across projects? In 5 words or less, what do you hope people take away?

In five words, I hope people take away: feeling and laughing is okay.

I think my work leans toward a slightly expressionist cartooning style. It’s definitely not realistic – I like to draw things that don’t line up quite the way they do in life.

I also always try to have heart and humor, so there’s a warmth, whether it’s autobiographical comics, Star Wars, or middle grade kids’ comics.

Tell us about your studio. What are some of the inspirational elements there?

I have a plush Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro that is always hanging out somewhere. There are lots of Red Wings hockey cards and pucks, a Star Wars card with an Ewoks cartoon animation cell, some fossils and a Neanderthal stone knife, the Dune pop-up book from 1984 (opened to the sandworm scene, of course), my Eisner awards, a Warhammer 40K Space Marine figure…

But the biggest thing is original art. I have pages from favorite artists like Julie Doucet, Geneviève Castree, Moebius, Dave Cooper – and of course some favorite drawings by my two sons. There’s also a drawing my wife made for me for Father’s Day years ago, of my son Oscar… riding the Catbus.

cover from Jeff's book, Cat Getting Out of a Bag and other observations.
Is there an art medium that you’ve never learned but wish you could?

I like pen and paper the most, and I’ve always liked to work small, so I’m pretty satisfied with my process. Which isn’t to say I’m opposed to trying other materials, but I’m not going to force myself to work differently just because I feel like I should. The right idea would need to come along.

I used to think I’d like to make music, but my family can tell you that I cannot sing.

I once spent a couple months starting to learn how to play bass guitar, and that was enough to show me I should stick to drawing.

What is your relationship to paper broadly, and specifically to postal mail?

I still make all my art with physical materials – pen and paper. I like drawing in sketchbooks, I like the feel of the pen on paper. I use digital sparingly – mostly just for scanning images and maybe correcting minor text mistakes.

I still like getting mail, and I try to write back to everyone who sends me physical mail. Getting mail from kids is the best, because their letters and postcards are like mind collages: beautiful little messes.

comic image of the Mandalorian and Grogu in a sand racer
When can we expect your next postcard set?

I’m working on a Mandalorian and Grogu book currently, so, fingers crossed that Disney might want a postcard set for that. We’ll see!

You’ve wanted to be a comic book artist since you were in preschool. Who have been your main influencers in comic art? How would you say your work differs from theirs?

There have been so many, from Garfield to Mark Alan Stamaty to John Romita, Jr., to Eddie Campbell, Chris Ware, Joann Sfar, Kate Beaton, John Porcellino.

I think my work tends to be a bit more naive than a lot of the work I like, and it may be hard to see the influence.

Maybe it’s more that I draw on the storytelling qualities of the artists more than any superficial stylistic identifier.

Star Wars was the first movie you ever saw in a cinema, and you’ve remained a big fan of the films. Now you’re also a dad. How do these experiences merge in your Star Wars projects?
Darth Vader reading to Luke Skywalker as a young boy on his lap in a cozy chair

Even when I’m working with made-up worlds full of aliens and robots, I always start from a grounded place, something personal and real. Sometimes it’s a specific thing that happened or was said, sometimes it’s capturing the feeling behind what happened. I may write something down right after, but I try to live in the moment and not get ahead of myself thinking about how I might use it later.

But people around me have definitely made comments that I should put something in my books.

One unexpected thing about my Star Wars books was thinking I was writing for adults, only to have kids enjoy them just as much, if not more.

What’s something you are proud of, outside of your art?

I’m proud of my kids, although I read somewhere that parents aren’t supposed to tell their kids they’re proud of them because it ties their sense of self accomplishment to parent approval or something. But I think they’re both great!

What’s next for you?
cover of Batman and Robin and Howard, showing the characters in a middle school hallway

I’m working on a sequel to my middle grade DC superhero book, Batman and Robin and Howard, and also the Star Wars book I mentioned before – The Mandalorian and Child.

After that, I have a ton of projects I’d like to do. I’m most excited to work on my fantasy adventure epic graphic novel, The Fierce Knight.

To learn more about Jeff and his work, check out his website and Instagram page. Jeff has given a number of interviews, where he talks about being a dad, answers questions from a 5 year old, gives tips for up-and-coming artists, talks about the origins of Rey and Pals, or about his comic memoirs (for grown-ups), about screenwriting… or even gives a live art demo! 😍

And now, for the last giveaway of 2023: Clarisse is going to send 4 postcards by Jeff Brown to 4 randomly picked postcrossers! 🎉 To participate, leave a comment below sharing a Star Wars memory or your favorite character. Come back this time next week to check out the winners!

And the winners of this giveaway, as chosen by Paulo’s random number generator are… Kayla221B, triomom, merlina and Verabrady! Congratulations, and thank you all for participating!


Carolyn Gavin is a painter, illustrator, and designer based in Toronto, Canada. A flower child of the 1960’s, Carolyn grew up in South Africa, left to travel, and relocated to Canada where she currently lives with her family.

Earlier this year, Clarisse (aka CStar9) connected with Carolyn via webcast to discuss her creative origins, the unexpected path from a pile of wood to an abstract painting, and why most Canadians don’t paint their houses pink.

On the left half of the image, the Flower Box set of postcards is pictured. On the right, three postcards from Carolyn (from this set) are displayed.
The 10 cards that represent you in The Flower Box: how were they chosen?

I paint a lot of flowers and florals, so they took what was existing, which is lovely. If my work is picked up and used as-is, that’s a dream. I don’t have to sit down and create something for a job or art director.

You create such an incredible range of work – paintings, textiles, books. What was your journey to get there?

It’s taken a long time. My family is pretty creative. My mom did mono-prints, painting—everything under the sun. As a very young child, I was guided into the direction of painting and creating, including papier-mâché, pen and ink, watercolors, and more. I went on to do graphic design for three years, which launched me into a design career.

Then I traveled, immigrated to Canada, and my brother and I started a family business, Ecojot. First I designed, then illustrated the covers of our new eco-stationery line. Working with recycled materials and bright and fun colors, and making the notebooks locally right in Canada, was innovative at the time.

A mix of images of Carolyn's work, including art pieces and fabrics. All of them look happy and colorful.

One thing led to another and I was picked up by an agent, and my work took a turn for the commercial: apparel, bedding, editorial, book covers, book illustrations, and fabrics, etc. Recently I started teaching and doing workshops and retreats. But I’m also trying to focus on my painting! I’ve come full circle. I really just love to paint – that’s what I’d love to do all day.

How do your new ideas for your designs begin?

Some blocks of wood with abstract paintings on themOne thing can lead to another, creatively. A wood pile is my latest obsession. I’ve painted on wood panels for a long time. While I was in Belize, I came across a building site and found this pile of discarded wood. I picked up a bunch of pieces to use and loved the unevenness and roughness of the material. That seemed to dictate the direction of the painting—such a beautiful organic flow and I was so inspired. However, it was at the end of my time in Belize, just the last few days, so I was painting like a fiend all night long, trying to get it all out. And then I had to come home.

Tell us about your studio space.

Right now I’m in my small studio. It’s very bright, but it’s a small space, which kind of translates into small work. Sometimes I work upstairs in a bigger space that has an easel. That’s where I do my larger pieces. In winter I go to my studio in Belize. It’s a lovely get-away, a place for playing and experimenting. It took me about two months there this year to finally get into this new spate of work, which I feel is a nice new direction for me. So, I think each space where I’m at, dictates what I’m doing.

Art piece: watercolor flowers, ducks, chicks, hens, and a rabbit
You’ve said your work is strongly influenced by your growing up in South Africa. Can you tell us more?

South Africa is hot, colourful and noisy. I don’t know exactly how that translates into my work, but, I guess… people there aren’t afraid of color and vibrancy in their lives. I now live in Canada and when I first came here, I couldn’t believe how gray and dull the weather is. I think people maybe, as a result, are sort of scared of color and of standing out in that way. That translates into architecture too—they’re scared to paint the house blue or pink. In hot countries, however, it’s different. And so that’s how I grew up – with lots of color and pattern everywhere and a lot of nature around me. I was outside most of the time, immersed in it. It became a part of me. Now, when I go to a new country, it always inspires something new. When I’m here in my studio in Canada, I’m creative, I work, but it’s a bit more forced. When I am away, I might be more inspired. But of course that changes all the time. Tomorrow, I might feel very inspired.

A vase of flowers with multicolored birds in front of it, art piece: blue bicycle with flowers in the basket, art piece: cottage surrounded by tall, wild garden plants
Your work can be very intricate, especially with botanical forms. What does research look like for you?

I don’t really call it research. But if I am looking at something that needs more information, I probably go find it. You know, just on the Internet.

With the wood in Belize, I asked them, what kind of wood is it? (It’s Emery wood.) Where does it come from? What do they use it for? So I’m not just painting on a simple piece of wood. I like to know the background of something, especially if it’s found or discarded by someone.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

That is a difficult question, especially when you’re doing abstract. You can go on forever. That is something I’m learning along the way. I can’t stop learning about how to paint. It never ends!

When it’s finished is when I guess I just feel that sense of, Stop! You’re going to overdo it! And then you step back. When you come back the next day, you may add a little line here, a little bit of color there, but that’s basically when it’s done for me.

Since we’re talking to an audience who loves paper mail and especially postcards, can you tell us about your relationship to paper? And to snail-mail?

I love paper. I mean, every kind of paper. I love thick, textured paper, and Japanese paper, and handmade paper. I go to a mill in Montreal sometimes in the summer, and I pick up the most amazing handmade papers, all from 100% rag recycled from t-shirts. It’s the only mill I know of that still does this kind of stuff on a very artisanal basis.

I don’t ever write a letter anymore to anybody. But I used to, and I used to love getting mail in return, so I do love the whole notion. It’s a beautiful thing.

What’s a type of media that you’d love to learn?

I’ve been trying to work bigger, but that of course depends on the space that I have at the moment. I want to do monoprints, and cyanotypes. And work with big oil pastels.

You teach a lot of workshops and retreats. What’s your teaching philosophy?

screenshot of information about a May 20 art workshop, via Windowsill Workshops I love to impart my energy and some of my experience to other people and give them joy, and to teach them how to make their own joy. I think art is so meditative and therapeutic. When I’m painting, I kind of lose myself in the painting and go somewhere else. And that is very joyful.

Art is a very creative process that gives people a way to cope with stress in their life. Musicians do it – everybody in the arts world does it. It’s not a new thing. But if I can help others do it in my own small way, I think that’s important.

What are you working on now?

A Joni Mitchell quote: “Love must be the birds in spring. Only lovers hear them sing.” It’s from one of her songs; she is a poet!

I love type and words, and I love to illustrate around them. This is where my graphic design background comes into play. I can put elements together on a page and they work. Well, not always! But, anyway, here’s another one. This is from a book: “The birds are singing.” I painted the type first and then the birds and flowers around it. It all works together in terms of shapes and balance.

Screenshot of Carolyn Gavin during the interview, holding up a piece of art that says 'The Birds Are Singing' with flowers and hearts around them

To learn more about Carolyn, check out her website and Instagram page. There’s also a studio tour and a fun art demo to paint along!

And now, for the traditional giveaway: Clarisse is planning to send 4 postcards from the Flower Box set to 4 randomly picked postcrossers! 🎉 To participate, leave a comment below sharing a flower that is special to you, and come back this time next week to check out the winners!

And the winners of this giveaway, as chosen by Paulo’s random number generator are… duck2006, martha66, KimberKS and nisnoopy3! Congratulations, and thank you all for participating!

Inge Löök

Inge Löök is a Finnish illustrator and gardener who is perhaps best known for her “merry aunties” character postcards – an enduring favorite of postcrossers. She was previously featured on the blog over 10 years ago, and was kind enough to make time for an email interview with Clarisse (aka CStar9), for her series of conversations with illustrators and postcard makers. Enjoy!

Please tell us about your studio.

The place where I do my drawings is not very large; a table, a chair and the rest does not require much space. I prefer an enclosed small space where my thoughts stay together and do not wander away into other spaces. The house where I live is also small and the purpose of the house is solely to live in it. The nature outside is eternal and if I start to feel cramped I only need to open the door.

You take special care to create postcard sets of your art. Why postcards?

The old-fashioned way of sending letters and postcards is beautiful. You get to hold and touch the same paper the sender has touched. It is a gift and a thoughtfulness that requires planning in a completely different way than electronic messages.

For new ideas, what is the first step to getting an idea from your head to the page?

I do not use sketchbooks but I tend to use the back side of used photocopy sheets. Today I mainly draw postcards and if I get an idea I quickly note it down on any piece of paper with a few lines only so that I later remember how I envisage the theme for a new post card. An idea can emerge at any time, even in the middle of the night, and if so, in the morning I must swiftly note it to not forget it.

A stack of postcards sits on a table. The postcard on top features an illustration of 2 old ladies, having fun in a carnival ride
Please tell us a bit more about the origins of the Aunties characters in your art.

My closest neighbor lives around 30 meters from me in a house as small as mine. We think along the same lines and are in daily contact. She is actually one of the aunties in my illustrations, and I am the other one. In fact, we’ve played out most of what happens in my illustrations of the aunties. We’ve had wine in a tree, cakes under the table, and what we haven’t done, we wish we could do. This includes sitting high up in a clock tower with dangling legs. We are old now but know exactly how it felt when we were small and searched for messages in bottles.

An illustration featuring giant poppies overtaking a door Nature seems to be almost its own character in your work. We are treated to many detailed scenes that are infused with such attention and care – gardens, forests, fields, barns. How does a sense of place inform your art?

Nature is everything. I’m interested in the little and the small. I often sit with a magnifying glass and study the details of, for instance, flowers or a feather. As I see it, the big and the large then is space which offers fantasy experiences because we are unable to go there. I’ve got equipment for bird watching, and it is not only birds I look at, but the environment as a whole.

What is on the horizon for your art this year?

I’ve always had a hard time planning the future. The future has never really existed, but rather, it has merely appeared, which means that I have then had to face it as it appears.

To learn more Inge Löök and her work, visit her website or check out her Instagram.

If you’ve made it all the way here to the last bit, here’s a little bonus: Clarisse has 4 Inge Löök postcards to send to 4 postcrossers. To participate in this mini-giveaway, leave a comment below and let us know what adventures you imagine yourself on with your best friend, that would be worthy of being featured on a postcard! 😊 Check back this time next week for the winners!

And the winners of this giveaway, as chosen by Paulo’s random number generator are… LisaMonsterken, ozpom, Nalara and Bossmare! Congratulations, and thank you for your enthusiastic participation!