"As I was growing up, so many people told me 'oh you'll be famous one day!' I believed it, but always figured it would be after I was long gone. I realized when I started having children that I didn't want to wait till after I was a memory. I wanted my kids to know one day that it's good to go after your dreams. So, with that in mind I started practicing more and posting my progress through Facebook and Instagram."
LifeAnimated (real name Amanda MacFarlane) is a nomadic artist. Since the age of three, her norm has involved moving every so often from home to home. As a child, she lived in Zambia with her family, a setup that seems exotic to those of us who grew up in suburbia. She now moves around America with her military husband and young children. She’s a strong and positive lady having battled malaria multiple times, and has managed to kick off a career as a freelance artist while raising 3 girls under the age of 6. Out of all this, Amanda took time out to answer some questions about her life of art, and very, very large spiders.
Tell me a little about your childhood in Zambia. How does it compare to your life now?
My dad took my mom and his four daughters to Zambia when I was 4 years old. We lived on a compound in the African jungle amongst the peaceful Lamba tribe and wildlife. All of the big game lived in animal reserves, however monkeys, snakes, hippos and crocodiles lived near us. The local people were the most hospitable and genuinely sweet I’ve ever met. Growing up there was an amazing experience. Life was very simple — as a kid I loved it! I was constantly outside exploring with my dogs on my bike, and always had a sketchbook close at hand. We all experienced the Lamba culture, food, people, life, malaria. I was the youngest of all of us, so Zambia wasn’t a culture shock — it’s all I remembered.
Coming back to the states was a little different. I had been back in forth a few times as a child, but we never stayed long — just enough time to raise money for the work over there. I met my husband in Zambia. He was a missionary kid as well. We hated each other at first (seems like all good relationships start there). Anyway, we became best friends over the years and got married at 21.
I’ve been back in America for about 13 years now and I still have culture shocks from time to time. I’ve always loved growing up in Zambia, it’s my childhood home, but I love living in America. I wouldn’t have been able to explore other places around the world if it weren’t for the people here. There are so many differences between the two, but I think the main thing I struggle with here is how there is no time to do anything. America is always fast moving and has so many choices of things to do or what to buy. Africa was very laid back and easy going. I still remember the first time we spotted a Dr. Pepper at a grocery store. I was about 14. We bought them out — not many choices there. I think that’s why I drew so often as a kid. I didn’t have much to do, but through that, I fell in love with it!
Africa sounds very idealistic, except for the Malaria and crocodiles. I’m willing to bet that there were giant spiders here and there as well. What were some of your challenges growing up and when did you start thinking that you wanted to be a professional artist?
Big spiders! And lizards in my room constantly. The lizards ate the spiders, and the spiders ate the Mosquitos, so it all worked out in the end, I guess. I had a great childhood. That being said I have had malaria 6 times and my appendix almost burst when I was 8. There weren’t any knowledgeable doctors where we were, so surviving those moments were all by God’s mercy.
Art-wise, my challenges were [that] we never had paper, and I had only a few pencils. During dusk, when villages would burn their grass to scare animals out for dinner, there would be charcoal falling down like snow. I remember I would gather [the charcoal] quite often to use for sketching pictures with later. Seems so strange now. I’ve always wanted to be a professional artist. I still want to! :) As I was growing up, so many people told me “oh you’ll be famous one day!” I believed it, but always figured it would be after I was long gone. I realized when I started having children that I didn’t want to wait till after I was a memory. I wanted my kids to know one day that it’s good to go after your dreams. So, with that in mind I started practicing more and posting my progress through Facebook and Instagram.
That’s incredibly interesting that you used the charcoal from the fires that were used to scare the animals. Who were some of the artists who you learned from? Does anyone stand out more than the others?
I have been drawing ever since I could hold a crayon. But I really started getting into art when someone gave me a Norman Rockwell book around the age of 10. We didn’t have Internet till I was like 15 or 16, and didn’t use anything like Google until I was in my twenties. The only artists I knew of were in my school books, until that book I received. I loved Rockwell’s ability to tell a story in a single picture. I also loved his characters; they were almost cartoon-like. I drew almost all of his pictures in that book as a kid, and painted a few on canvas and my bedroom wall [when I was] around 15 yrs old. I’m still being inspired by artists; I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop learning. Glen Keane and Jin Kim‘s work are very inspiring to me now, among so many others I have run across through Instagram and sketch-dailies.
I can totally see Kim and Keane’s influence in your style! I think your male characters are much hotter, though. Have you ever done any animation?
Thank you, that’s a huge compliment! I am currently finishing up on a possible show, but I can’t go into the details. It has been a fun and challenging experience. I’d definitely do it again!
That must be exciting. Hope you’ll be able to talk about it soon. What’s your preferred medium?
Colored pencils and digital painting. I used to paint with oils every day, but haven’t picked up paint in a long time! Having a paint program is a lot easier when there are little hands getting into everything messy :)
Speaking of little hands, you’re a mom of two working from home and your husband is a military guy, so you move around a lot. I’m sure that painting digitally not only helps keep the kids from making glorious messes, but also helps you travel more easily from place to place. How has your career as an artist been moving around so much? What’s the good and the bad?
As much as we would all love to settle down, we can’t right now (being a grown up and all that). I have been traveling since I was 3, so I honestly don’t know the challenges or eases of putting down roots. Traveling is like second nature, so being an on the go freelance artist has been really all I’ve ever known. The Internet has been a great help to me! Sites like Redbubble, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have helped me out so much! I’m so thankful for all of the people who have followed and purchased art because of these sites! Times are certainly a lot kinder to artists these days with art being digital, but I don’t think Disney, Pixar or Dreamworks would hire a traveling artist. Oh, how I wish they would!
There are more and more artists who work entirely from home, so you never know!
Thanks so much for spending your time on this interview, Amanda!