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Featured Artist: Illustrator Amy Swartz on Her Surreal Skulls and Animals

Illustrator Amy Swartz, invited us into her disconcerting world of lurking animals and cracking old skulls for a chat. Amy brings together the worlds of living and dead animals — both imagined and real — with a good dose of surrealist grotesque subject matter for good measure. She has a B.A. in Art History from the University of Alabama, however it’s clear her upbringing surrounded by wildlife prints and flora and fauna illustration has influenced her. I chatted with Amy about her true love of animals, the value of a good colored pencil, and keeping her work fresh.

"Flight of the Elephant" by Amy Swartz

What materials do you use, and which are your absolute favorites? 

I mostly use colored pencils, heavy body acrylics, acrylic inks, and more recently, gouache. I’m a huge fan of Prismacolor colored pencils. I’ve been using them for years! I use Liquitex acrylic paints and Daler-Rowney acrylic inks. As for wood, it’s less about the brand and more about the type. Woods like birch and poplar are fairly hard and are great to work on. I usually just buy wood panels at home improvement stores and have them cut to size, but I’ve been known to buy pre-made birch panels from American Easel.

"Velvet" by Amy Swartz

You’ve been stranded on a deserted island and can only take three art materials with you, what are they? 

I would definitely have a pencil sharpener, colored pencils, and wooden panels. I think colored pencils get looked over a lot for being juvenile, but they’re extremely versatile, easy to find, and easy to use.

"XIII DEATH" by Amy Swartz

Can you tell me about your fascination with skulls and animals? 

My parents had these huge Guy Coheleach wildlife prints all over the house when I was growing up, so I definitely think that had a big impact on me. I’ve always just gotten along really well with animals. Even now, when I’m invited over to a friend’s house for a get together you can find me communing with the cats in a corner somewhere instead of socializing. As for the skulls, it all just simply started with me doing a few practice sketches and paintings and I realized that I actually really enjoyed portraying them. I like to think of the wood as “tree bones,” so it seems relevant to work with death related subjects.

"Bloodbirds" by Amy Swartz

What has been the biggest learning curve you’ve come across as an illustrator and fine artist? 

Honestly, the biggest learning curve hasn’t been actually teaching myself how to use these materials, it’s been trying to keep my work consistent without it all looking the same. It’s something that I struggle with every single time I start something new. In the past before I started working on wood, I used to bounce around a lot with different subject matter and materials. Now that I’ve found subject matter and a frame of mind that I really like to work from, I want to be reliable without being predictable. Keeping consistent while constantly trying to improve is also something I think about.

Check out more of Amy Swartz’s portfolio and support her by picking up some swag here.