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Rose Wong is a New York-based illustrator whose work can be found in the popular Flower Box set, and in the pages of The New York Times, the New Yorker, The Atlantic, and more.

On the left half of the image, Rose's set of 10 flower postcards are spread out on the floor. On the right, Rose laughs to the camera in her studio

Last year, Clarisse (aka CStar9) caught up with Rose via web-cast in her Brooklyn studio. All the art pictured in this interview is Rose’s work!

A heavily stylized illustration of several buildings. Through the windows, you can see the inhabitants doing all sorts of things
When did you first identify as a visual artist? You’ve said that as a child, you used to make intricate drawings in Microsoft Paint.

I’ve always been a visual artist. It was something I just liked doing. No one prompted me to do it. I really wish I had the forethought of saving all those MS Paint drawings I made back then, but it was a different time.

Deciding to go to school for visual art was a more serious step. I didn’t even know what illustration was. Drawing, right? Fine art drawing? But then I did research and saw it was more along the lines of what I thought I wanted to do.

A minimalistic illustration of a house lifting from the ground. A person is suspended between the flying house and a trap door that just opened on the ground where the house stood.

That was a huge leap of faith for me, and for my parents who were funding me through school. My parents immigrated from China before I was born. I’m the oldest child, and they hadn’t really gone to college, so I was the first. I had cousins who had done the STEM career thing, and my parents just said, “You shouldn’t do that. You should do what you’re best at. Yeah, you should do art.”

When I graduated, I did a couple of editorials here and there — commercial jobs like book covers. But I was still very much in the student zone, figuring out my style and getting a footing in what it meant to work for clients.

I think I really became a visual artist when I started working full-time in 2018. I had been laid off from my job. And I was worried, because I didn’t ever make the decision to go freelance. I just started doing it. About a year later, when I started getting consistent jobs, I thought, oh, wait, I’m professionally a visual artist now.

The New York Times was my first client. They’ve been my repeat client ever since.

The 10 postcards in the Flower Box that represent you are “Blue No. 1” through “Blue No. 10”. Can you tell us about the roots of these cards?

Initially the drawings were black and white. But they said another artist in the box was already doing black and white, and they thought two black and white sets would be confusing. So I was like, you know what, I do sometimes draw in blue, so I digitally changed it — my inspiration being Chinese porcelain.

That was in 2017, before I did as much digital work. I was drawing from life. I used to go to the Botanic Garden to draw, after days at my full-time job. That was my oasis.

We can see some plants in one of my recent sketchbooks: these are drawn with gel pen on Moleskine.

Rose showcases one of her notebooks. Both sides are covered in drawings, featuring geometric renditions of plants
Is that sketchbook gridded? How on earth do you make such straight lines?

Sometimes you find materials that are just right for you. Grids have informed my drawing a lot. It also just makes my brain feel good to draw straight lines and to fill in in black. I use a ruler now, but all my plant stuff in 2017 was pre-ruler, just using the grid. It was all very neat. That’s what I think adds to the “design”-ness of my work. It’s not just free-form.

This is my most recent still-life. You can see it’s a return to less linear.

Rose holds up her sketchbooks, featuring plant drawings
What do you think is responsible for that shift?
A minimalistic illustration of leaves floating around. In the center, a tiny person can be seen, surrounded by the leaves

In my craft, even for editorial, I always start off drawing. I let myself be really scribbly with pencil and paper. When you move to Illustrator, everything gets straighter and tighter. So, working from analog paper to digital — the digital has now affected how I do the analog.

In my early editorials, I was trying to imitate the tight aesthetic of digital, and it was really difficult. Illustrator has taught me how to create shapes. It’s so funny to say that, but shapes didn’t come as naturally to me when I was drawing freely. I was just drawing what I was seeing. But then I started to see the flowers and plants I was drawing as squares, circles, ovals.

Of course lately there’s a desire to go back to natural, because I feel like maybe I’m too stiff now when I draw. I’m rulering everything and making it too perfect. So, analog and digital really affect each other for me. The two are in conversation, constantly.

How do you go from observing something to creating art on the page?
An illustration showing four sets of books that seem to portray fantastical worlds, with characters and scenery coming out of them

I graduated from Pratt Institute in 2014, and I got my first job working at Fishs Eddy, which is a kitchenware store. I was the assistant to the product designer and visual merchandising designer, so I was working both upstairs and downstairs of the store. I had learned Illustrator in school but had never applied it. So, during this time I was turning a lot of traditional drawings into vectors in Illustrator, to be printed onto ceramic ware. I was doing that for hours — just, like, tracing a floral design — as my job. And I got really good at Illustrator, and at the pen tool!

But also at that time, I was doing a lot of location drawings with my partner and some friends who had a plein air club. I was starting to develop a style by looking closely and trying to simplify what I was seeing. Now I do image research by spending a lot of time with books, bookstores, and museums. My partner, who is a book designer, is really good about this. Before, I would just look at one thing and then try to create something. Now I’m trying to be more intentional. When I was doing my most recent zine, I had six books laid out on the floor. As much as I love my folder of Instagram saves, it’s so nice to have books around, so I’m not searching through my computer for my inspirations. I have them all together in one place that’s real.

What’s your relationship to snail mail, or to paper and stationery in general? rosewong12

It’s so funny, because I love receiving stationery. I love collecting postcards. I love the images. But I don’t write many letters. I save all the wonderful postcards and little notes sent by my friends who love letter writing and care packages. I am terrible at making time to write little notes, but it might one day click for me.

Can you tell us about your Lookbook project?
A collection of very minimalistic fashion drawings

Lookbook was born during COVID. I got burnt out doing a lot of COVID drawings for client work. I felt like I had no attention span to make art for myself anymore. So, for Lookbook, I gave myself like a set of parameters. I wanted a project that was basically about repeating something small and eventually amassing something bigger. I was already doing these little girl drawings and fashion drawings and repeating them in my sketchbook.

So, here you see basically the origins of Lookbook.

Rose holds up her sketchbook, to show some of her stylized fashion drawings

Then I moved to doing these in Illustrator, which was a lot quicker than drawing them. I would do them in batches of 7 to 10 and post one a day. It was a way for me to quickly create little moments of art: inspiration about this color green, or this shape I saw in real life, or a vegetable I saw that I thought was really nice. I’d try to treat my Lookbooks as if I was drawing in my sketchbook, trying not to delete anything and just keep building. And being like, okay, I’m not going to fuss over them — I’ll just move on to the next one if I have a better idea.

This is not a question but a comment: Please tell your agent that Lookbook should be packaged as a set of postcards.

I’ve had people say, you should make stickers out of this. But I’m holding out for the book first! It’d be so cool for a digital project to come back around to analog, as a book, like we were talking about before. I should reach out to book agents, but that involves all this bureaucratic stuff that artists don’t like to think about when they are making things.

What’s something you’re proud of, outside of your drawing?
A small flower vase or jar made of ceramic, with a tile-like pattern

I’m really proud of my ceramics. When I got laid off in 2018, my friend and I decided to take a ceramics class that we’d already been wanting to do. It was a two-month class. And I said, that’s a great idea — I need structure. I did it as a “treat myself” sort of thing. But then I just fell in love and never stopped! It has woven seamlessly into my life and changed it in ways I never could have imagined.

For me it’s a respite from digital. My ceramics are also different from my illustration because they’re very decorative. I’m finding more ways to simplify patterns within my own language. I’m building my world through actual objects, which is so different than doing it on paper.

So yeah, I’m really proud of that. I also think it kind of links to the idea of postcards, because postcards obviously have a function, but they’re very decorative. The function is what gets it out into the world, but the decoration is why you want to send it. At the end of day, a ceramic piece holds water, plants, or pencils, and but it can also be just simply pretty.

What’s a new project you’re excited about? Or something you’re working towards?
Rose holds up her sketchbook, showing some of her most recent work

Well, I recently just finished my new zine for the Brooklyn Art Book Fair. I do riso printing with my friends from school in a project called TXTbooks. Zines and bookmaking allow me the space to explore something that I’m interested in, in a longer format, which in this case is architecture and imagined spaces.

In my zines there are no words — it’s really a free-form experience — a non-linear narrative. I want it to be an immersive journey. I love feeling like I’m capturing moments in my work.

Otherwise, I am excited to do more ceramics stuff. And I’ve been making a little foray into furniture and other bigger pieces. I’m just really excited to do… everything!

To learn more about Rose, check out her website and Instagram pages! You can also read about her roots as a digital artist, or about fashion and creativity in her recent Lookbook project.


And now, for the traditional giveaway, Clarisse is going to send 4 postcards from the Flower Box set to 4 randomly picked postcrossers. To participate, leave a comment below to share your favorite illustrator that should have a postcard box made with their art (but hasn’t yet)! 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… reverebeachdweller, Indreni, sagitta and fried_rambutans! Congratulations, and thank you all for participating!

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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!

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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?
jb4

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!

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Clark Little is an award-winning photographer based in Hawai’i. His 2022 book, The Art of Waves, was published as a postcard set in 2023.

In 2007, Clark realized his passion for shore break photography when his wife, Sandy, brought home a photograph of a wave to decorate their bedroom wall. Clark immediately bought a waterproof camera and used his experience as a surfer to begin recording his own perspectives of Hawaiian waves. Since then he has gained international recognition for his photography with magazine features in National Geographic and LIFE, and exhibitions throughout the US and internationally in Canada, Europe, Asia, and South America.

A postcard set featuring images of waves is spread out on a table

A while ago, Clark took time out from the waves to answer a few questions from Clarisse (aka CStar9), our intrepid reporter!

Your audience for this interview is international, from more than 200 countries. How do you think oceans unite us?

We live on a planet mostly covered by ocean. Water is 70% of earth’s surface, and of that, more than 95% is salt water. The ocean connects us all.

To me, being in the water, especially salt water, feels the most natural of anything to do. I feel alive. I think others can feel that too and have a connection to it on a higher level.

 A self-portrait of Clark with a breaking wave curling over him
Photo: Dane Little / Location: North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii
The Art of Waves was recently released as a postcard set. Why postcards? And what is your relationship to snail mail?

I love postcards.

When I first started photography 15 years ago, one of the first things I did was print a series of postcards. The local stores on the North Shore and Starbucks coffee shops let me leave stacks in there. I’d give them away for free. It exposed all of these people to my photography and got the word out. The postcards drove people to my website where I could then sell prints.

A grid of shorebreak images from the postcard set
Images from The Art of Waves postcard set

When Penguin Random House published my new book, all of us involved really wanted paper products to go with it. We wanted the photos to live outside the pages of a book: a jigsaw puzzle for those who love games and a challenge and who want to get to know an image intimately. Postcards for people who love to collect and put something on their walls, and to share.

Postcards are a chance to spread the images around the world. It’s an incredible format for sharing my photography. For people who don’t want to buy a larger print, postcards are a great way to have a small piece of my artwork. The printing is beautiful – full color! It can be framed and put up on the wall or on the refrigerator with a magnet, and of course mailed and shared with family and friends.

I don’t send too much mail myself, but receiving mail is great. So much fun to go to the mailbox and see what’s in there.

In five words or less, what do you hope your photography conveys about the shore break?

Nature’s power, beauty, and magic.

What does scoping a new photography site look like for you? Do you surf to get a feel for the place, or watch from shore, just dive in with your camera, or something else?
Clark in the ocean in front of a huge wave, with his camera raised in the air
Photo: Jacob VanderVelde / Location: North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii

I don’t surf much any longer. Once I got hooked on photography, I stopped surfing. I tried to surf a few times but all I could think about was the great shots I was missing.

So…. no, I don’t surf a new location first. The main thing I do is watch: see how the waves are breaking, how the currents are running. Try to figure out the bottom before I go out.

If there is someone out surfing or doing something in the water, I’ll see how they move around and are affected by the waves. If someone is on the beach, I’ll ask questions.

One thing I have learned, and we are taught from an early age in Hawaii, is to respect nature and its power. Nature always has the last say and makes the big decisions.

And then sometimes you just have to jump in and figure it out as you go. I have been caught in some pretty dicey situations. Like shooting very large waves in hidden valleys with only my assistant around and no cell reception in case I got hurt or sucked out to sea.

Or, shooting directly in front of an active lava flow. The lava was coming onto the beach and I was just a stone throw away shooting waves. I was trying to get a shot of the red hot lava at the end of a tube. I didn’t realize what looked like a sandy beach was actually glass-like shards of fresh lava. After just 15 minutes of getting tossed in the waves I was bleeding everywhere. Just walking on the “beach” to and from the water, I had cuts all over the bottom of my feet. And I didn’t get a good shot, which was just as painful!

Is there a page in the book (or card in the postcard set) that conjures a story for you that you’d like to share?
A wave curls over the photographer to break on sand

This postcard photo of a wave breaking on dry sand titled “Last Blast” is one of the most unique perspectives. “Last Blast” is also in my book. This type of shot really caught people’s attention when I was starting out. The most common questions were, “Is it real? What happened to the photographer?"

The average person, or even someone who surfs a lot, couldn’t be in this position getting a photo like this. It’s dangerous and requires perfect timing. It’s a large wave breaking on the dry sand. In another second, it will crash down and send me and my 10-pound camera flying up the beach. Sometimes I am swept up the beach over a hundred feet. Once in a while, I even lose my $10k camera and rig – which I’ve always been able to find and retrieve. With all of the beatings I take, I only get a few really good shots each year. The ratio is really low, but when I get a great shot, it’s worth it all.

These are called “Run and Gun” shots. You can’t swim around in the water in these type of waves – they break right on dry sand. It’s a technique where I run down the beach and throw myself on the sand at the foot of a wave right before it heaves over. I am in the pocket for a few seconds and snap as many shots as I can during the calm before the explosion. I love seeing the grains of sand, the water throwing over in a perfect arch, and some palm trees outside the tube. I never get sick of these shots.

When did you first see yourself as a full-time professional photographer? What would you tell the person you were 20 years ago about this move?

14 years ago – the week I appeared on live TV in the US showing my photography on Good Morning America: that was the transition point. The show was seen by something like 4–5 million people. Things just blew up after that. The week started with a UK newspaper featuring a handful of my shots and ended with this television appearance. My website almost crashed with the volume of sales and emails. It was the first time I thought I could be a professional photographer and make a living from it.

Clark in the ocean in front of a huge wave, with his camera raised in the air
Self portrait (Clark Little) / Location: North Shore, Oahu (Hawaii)

And the momentum kept going, so a few months later I quit my job as a supervisor at a botanical garden in Hawaii. It was a job I held for 17 years and thought I’d be doing it until I retired. I had all of the benefits and steady income. It was a safe path with kids, wife, and a mortgage. Once I jumped into photography full time, things went to the next level.

If I was to go back 20 years ago, I would tell myself, quitting my job was the best decision of my life. I’d also remind myself, don’t hesitate to do something if it feels right. If you have a passion for something and an opportunity presents itself, don’t talk yourself out of it. Go for it… full throttle!

To learn more about Clark and his work, check out his website, where you’ll find out more about his photography but also links to interviews he’s done over the years. And we really recommend watching this Nikon short documentary about Clark, to see him in action in the ocean!


And here comes the traditional giveaway! Clarisse is happy to award four postcrossers with a postcard from this lovely set. For your chance to receive one, comment below to let us know how you feel about the sea: do you live or take holidays by the sea? When was the first time you saw the ocean? And did you ever get knocked over by a wave breaking near the shore?

And the winners of this giveaway, as chosen by Paulo’s random number generator are… clbrown, Toome2, islander61 and Atlanta! Congratulations, and thank you all for participating!

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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!