(An Interview with Artist Jamie Shelman)
I’m very excited to share an interview with Jamie Shelman, the Baltimore-based artist behind one of my favorite Etsy shops, The Dancing Cat! Featuring a range of endearingly postured animal characters, Shelman’s work captures these human-like creatures in a single moment of reaction to an every day situation. From her snooty French chats (that’s French for “cats”) to bunnies, chicks, and beavers, her hilariously endearing illustrations have the quirkiest characters of the animal kingdom covered.
In addition to her painting and drawing work, Shelman also teaches online classes at both Camp Pikaland and The Dancing Cat Art School with her husband, artist Tom Meyer.
Jamie was kind enough to answer a few questions for us, and we’re happy to share this interview with her!
So, the giant umbrella question - how did you end up doing what you’re doing now?
After graduating from RISD and creating large abstract works for several years, I found myself traveling a lot between NYC and Martha’s Vineyard, without a large studio space but still having the desire to create. I was faced with the challenge of creating something with only pen and paper- in essence taking my artwork down to the bare bones, or what I could express with the least amount of materials and lines. I started out just drawing simple figures that made me and my husband laugh. I’ve always loved cats. I grew up reading Seuss, Roald Dahl, The Stupids, and absorbing images by Steig, and suddenly found myself enjoying drawing fat dancing cats, often with hidden psychological and emotional disturbances or expressions of joy.
As an illustrator, what do you find most challenging about working in a creative industry?
Getting to your audience! You can draw and draw and draw all you want (which I do!), but getting your work out there to people who get and understand it can be a challenge. Especially with so many artists and illustrators working today. Also having to fit a certain niche or idea about what an illustration is or looks like. I’ve never considered myself an ‘illustrator’ as I graduated with a degree in painting, so I still picture my work hanging on a gallery wall, and each piece as an end in itself, an individual work of art.
Your work - your Dancing Cat work, at least - seems to capture a character in a single moment of reaction to a somewhat every day situation, and there’s something so wonderfully open and expressive about them. There’s a sort of simple quotidian hilariousness to it, and a vulnerability, almost, for their seeming unawareness of our voyeurism. Or maybe I’m completely projecting! How would you describe your design ethos?
Haha! They know you’re looking and they’re highly trained! I always try to keep it simple. I draw a lot, so often a seemingly simple character or design that might only have a few quick lines, or look like it only took five seconds to draw, comes from hundreds of sketches, stacks of drawings until I get just the right feel or expression. Ease and simplicity come from practice; there’s a warm up, a familiarity with your hand and a letting go of any preconceived idea or notion of what something should look like… rather expressing how it feels or moves.
Of your past and ongoing work, is there a single illustration or character that is specifically a favorite of yours? Why?
I have lots of favorites. Definitely recurring characters that pop up or come back into my work. Recently I’ve been drawing a lot of bunnies, perhaps because of Spring, but I also love Chick, Beaver and ‘Son of The Beach’ for his Bacchanalian fervor.
(“Son of the Beach” )
(“Bunny Meadow / Need to Kill”)
What is something that has inspired you of late, and what about it do you find most inspiring?
I recently took a trip to Winterthur in Wilmington Delaware. Its the estate of Henry Francis Dupont - turned Museum- and the gardens and grounds are stunning. Huge poplar trees, dozens of blooming azaleas. Fields of wildflowers and plants. I love the shapes of plants and the expression and grace of trees that have been given the space to fully grow. I also love the plant lithographs of Ellsworth Kelly and every time I visit a great garden I’m inspired to make some simple plant drawings using line and shape alone. Plus, Winterthur is so incredibly peaceful!
Thank you, Jamie!
[Learn more about Jamie here, or check out The Dancing Cat for Shelman’s lovely prints and cards.]