After finishing art school in 2005, illustrator and artist Mary Purdie had a less than glamorous introduction to the world of being a professional designer. While struggling to find her place in the art community, she frequently found herself doubting her abilities and wondering if she had made a mistake. It was only after taking her career into her own hands and creating her own space in the form of an Instagram account, an Etsy shop, and a website that she found her groove with her hilarious, satirical and sometimes painfully true illustrations.
While she draws her inspiration from her experiences as a woman and pop-culture references, the recent election has inspired her to take her power as an artist to access people’s opinions and challenge them to do something about it. Here is our interview with the powerful, clever, and inspirational artist:
Kinsey Litton: Did you ever have a moment where you second-guessed your chosen career as an artist?
Mary Purdie: Oh my god – several years in a row. Especially after college. I did pretty well in school: I was well received by my professors, I got good grades, and I think I was just validated a lot in college. And then after school ended it seemed like a lot of my peers ended up with really good jobs. My best friend got a job at the Gap, another ex-roommate of mine got a job at Mattel. And I was working for a production company making movie posters. But my boss was paying me under the table and not giving me enough hours. I ended up working at a health food store at the juice bar and just wondering to myself – why did i go to art school? No one will hire me. I really lost my way. It really took the wind out of my sails. And then I met my husband, who is a designer as well. We started collaborating and working on pieces together. And I kind of learned that I’m not a designer, I’m an illustrator. It really took me a while to figure that out. Very few people get settled in their careers straight out of college. I went to school for design and I was in so much student debt and I was working at a grocery store – who wouldn’t feel like a failure? Looking back I wish I could tell my younger self, “quit feeling sorry for yourself. Get back up. Find your passion. Keep working at what you’re good at. And if you’re not good at it – GET good at it”
K.L: What is your greatest source of inspiration for your artwork?
M.P: Up until the recent election, I was all about pop culture and being a woman. Intertwining the two was my biggest source of inspiration. One of my friends said, “your art makes me proud to be a woman.” And that was the greatest compliment, because that’s what I want you to feel when you look at my art. TV shows, music, I am the biggest Beyonce fan. Or really whatever I’m going through. I’ll wake up and be like, “well, I got my period. What do I want to draw about?” I draw inspiration from anything around me and really my experiences as a woman. And then sometimes I’ll find a moment in pop culture that I can connect with that experience.. I call them “mashups.”
How has the current political climate affected your artwork?
M.P: Well when the election started and the debates were happening, I felt like I had something everyday. I was very pro-Hillary so I drew a lot of her… and of course making fun of Donald Trump. Ironically I got so much inspiration from this shit-show of an election. Even though I can’t believe it went the way it did. Now, it feels like it’s kind of one thing after the other. I feel like I don’t have time to keep up and draw everything that comes to mind. But really, the goal is to inspire people to take action or even just to make someone feel good. Now that my audience has grown, I feel like I can inspire people to donate or call their representatives. For example, I posted a Mindy Kaling drawing one day with the phone number to call to oppose Steve Bannon. And I ended up receiving a lot of comments that people called their representatives because of that post, which makes me feel so awesome. With my Lady Liberty piece that went viral, I totally didn’t think much about it. I drew it in like 45 minutes to get it off my chest, and it ended up going viral. So I put it on my Etsy as a digital download pack with all proceeds going to the ACLU – I ended up donating almost $1000 to the ACLU. It made me realize that I have a lot of power as an artist to do those kinds of things.
Kinsey Litton: Social media is such a double edged sword for artists. On the one hand, it increases access, but at the same time it create the illusion that content is free, how have you navigated that?
M.P: So I lived in New York City for the past nine years until I recently moved back to Los Angeles. I was working full time in NY but since I moved back to LA, I’ve been working part time. Part of that was because I was getting a bit of cabin fever and I really wanted to go out and meet people – I didn’t really know anyone. Its nice to get out of the house and to have a reason to get ready in the morning, not to mention the steady paycheck. The rest of the time I’m illustrating. In terms of monetizing, the more my audience has grown the more I feel the need to really keep up with it and them. People will say, “Oh can I get this in a print? Can I get this in a shirt?” and it’s really hard to keep up. I do get a couple of requests in my DMs from people asking me to draw them… and it’s a little bit like, “For free? Are you Beyonce? Get out of here.” But I know a lot of other artists who are struggling with this. This is a job. I draw for fun but it’s also my career – I just want to ask people, “Would you work at your job for eight hours for free?” Cause that’s how long a portrait takes me. So I usually just send them a link to my Etsy.
What advice would you give to a young girl who wants to be an artist one day?
M.P: I would say to keep pushing forward no matter what. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough, because for one, art is subjective and people who criticize art are often not artists. Everyone’s a critic. Ignore the negative comments or negative feedback because it’s really hard to not take it personally. Keep practicing. Creativity is a muscle, and if you don’t use it and stretch it, you will lose it. Push through the creative blocks and self-doubt because you will find your style. If someone won’t give you a job or a space to do what you want to do, create it yourself. There are so many resources and e-commerce sites that you can really build your own business. That’s not to say it’s easy but it’s so worth it.
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