Illustrator and designer littleclyde (Michelle Bothe) creates an inspired world of joyful and tender characters – giant cats, introverted monsters, and playful bears. Her work is at once warm and gentle.
Bothe has a designer’s eye – her compositions sit well as well on a page as they do on a tote bag, t-shirt, or phone cases. They’re compact but with plenty of breathing room. A design like “The Remnants” is tightly constructed and vast. You can feel the space.
A resourceful craftsperson, her work wonderfully blends the organic with the digital. The rigid pixels of a computer softened with the beauty and flow of ink and watercolor. While all textures and elements are manipulated into a cohesive and delightful design.
"Moving into the POD world has definitely influenced the way I design. It used to be that the design just needed to look good on a shirt, but with so many different products and formats, it’s a new challenge to make a design that can look good on everything."
What I responded to first in your work is no matter how diverse some of it is stylistically, there is cohesiveness to it all. “Room for Dessert?” shares very little with “The Echo” but it’s clear they are cut from the same cloth. When you begin a piece, do you have a full vision in mind? Is it important to you to have a consistent body of work?
It’s nice to hear that you see cohesiveness to my work! Consistency is something I think about often, where I wonder if I should make more of an effort to develop a more unified portfolio. My styles tend to meander quite a bit as I experiment and try new techniques. I feel like I’m constantly learning.
I do envy artists that have a very recognizable and personal style — it’s something I would love to develop more at some point, but quite honestly, I don’t think I’m there yet. I feel like I often approach things from more of a designer’s point of view, rather than an artist’s point of view. That means, I’ll take my idea or concept and think, “What’s the best way to solve this problem visually?” Then I just sort of try things out until I reach a point where I’m happy with the piece. Some of my favorite work is done without a clear vision — it’s more of a jam or an improv.
The process is kind of like this — Do this, erase this, try this, what about this?, that’s cool, let’s take this further, I don’t like this part, maybe this?, okay, not bad, finishing touches, I guess it’s done?
I would maybe say that my designs are unified more conceptually and by mood. I come from a writing background and I like things to have a hint of story in them. I don’t necessarily have a specific story in mind, but I think in images that seem like part of a larger whole, like you could tell a whole story about these characters or the landscape.
“I'll take my idea or concept and think, 'What's the best way to solve this problem visually?' Then I just sort of try things out until I reach a point where I'm happy with the piece. Some of my favorite work is done without a clear vision — it's more of a jam or an improv.”
You use text in such a great way. That’s something that seems easy but is actually incredibly difficult. With “Wise Old Owl Says,” you built the entire figure out of text and in “The Echo” those “hellos” show off another side of your sense of humor. At what point in the design process are you considering text?
I love good typography, and at some point last year it became something that I wanted to play around with more. I would love to get better at it. “Wise Old Owl” was a great exercise — that was a concept that was based in text and I took it on as a challenge to myself.
“The Echo” was more of an improv piece. I started with the watercolor background, added some trees, then a bear, and then at some point I started playing around with the “hellos” and the idea of an echo in the woods and that’s where it ended up. So I guess to answer your question, it depends. It can be planned as an integral part of the piece, or just appear organically in the process.
I love your piece “Into The Woods,” such a great image working with a limited color palette. You tend to keep your work to a few colors, two or three at the most. Do you start using color from the get go, or does your work start as a pen drawing with color, easing its way into the design?
Partly, I’m still used to the process of old school screenprinted tees, where you were usually limited to 6 to 8 colors. In the beginning, I started with black and white line art, and then used the maximum amount of colors allowed to color the design. Somewhere along the way, things got streamlined a bit. I also realized that a lot of my favorite shirts to wear from other designers were a lot simpler in terms of palette.
My process is changing though. Often, I’ll start the finished drawing directly on the computer, skipping the hand drawn line-art phase altogether. And I’ve been using a lot of watercolor lately, which takes advantage of an unlimited palette.
There’s such a loose and spontaneous feel to your drawings – you can feel the raw doodling in each piece. When does a doodle become a finished piece?
I don’t know! But I certainly feel more like a doodler than an artist with a capital A.
A lot of my design ideas are born from random doodling. The finished piece certainly involves much cleaner linework, color, texture — but how far it progresses from an original doodle can vary.
"My styles tend to meander quite a bit as I experiment and try new techniques. I feel like I'm constantly learning."
Your design “A Quiet Spot” makes a great tote bag, greeting card, or throw pillow. It’s a square composition, but with the water and leaf elements pushing outward it can really fill any type of canvas. Are you creating designs for specific items for your Redbubble store?
Moving into the POD world has definitely influenced the way I design. It used to be that the design just needed to look good on a shirt, but with so many different products and formats, it’s a new challenge to make a design that can look good on everything.
A lot of it is smart placement, cropping the design in a way that fits the format. Sometimes I’ll rearrange some elements on different product formats for a better composition. And it’s funny you bring up “A Quiet Spot” — I actually own that as a tote, and it’s pretty cool!
One of my favorite pieces of yours is “The Fog.” It has a wonderful variety of textures – watercolor, wood block print, and pen and ink. Was this all created digitally or did you build up organic elements?
This is one of my favorites as well. It was pretty much created digitally. I was basically doodling on the computer with my graphic tablet. I had scanned in a watercolor texture of mine and was playing around with shapes. A cat was born. I had always wanted to do something based on the poem “The Fog” and the rest grew out of that.
I have a little background in woodblock printing, so that was definitely a visual inspiration as well. Although my work is growing increasingly digital, I often like to retain an analog element. So I like to sit down with paper and watercolor and just play around with colors and textures, and then use that as a base for a lot of my illustration. Or add some subtle texture to computer drawn things to make them feel more organic. I think it’s cool that you can’t always tell what parts are digital and what is by hand.
With your business Linolade, you do a wide variety of digital work, so with illustration being your day job, how much of your day is set aside for your own personal work?
Well, Linolade is mostly web and print design work – lots of layout, less graphics – so illustration is definitely more of a side gig for me. I work on my own designs when I have time — I’m a freelancer, so that can vary.
A lot of times I’m itching to do my personal work, but real life work and family take up most of my time. Sometimes I’ll get a nice slow period and I can get a lot done on the illustration side. I have productive and non-productive phases. It would be nice to get more consistency to the illustration side of things, but I probably need to find a greater discipline in myself to do it. I would love for it to turn into a profitable side job, it’s so much more rewarding on a personal level!