In our regular office tours, we often see studios that serve as co-working spaces for the creative professionals who work there. It’s not often, though, that we get to hear these studio mates talk about each other’s work. In this thoughtful interview with illustrator Julia Rothman, we not only get a glimpse inside her workspace, but also get a glimpse of the admiration she has for the women with whom she shares the office: artists Caroline Hwang and Meredith Jenks. Get to know them all in this week’s tour.
Can you give us a little info on your background? I graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 2002. I work as an illustrator and pattern designer in Brooklyn, New York. I do editorial work for newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Food & Wine, and Bloomberg Businessweek. I also make patterns and have a range of products like wallpaper, stationery, and fabric and make patterns for companies like Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, and Crate and Barrel. I authored and co-authored The Where, the Why and the How, Farm Anatomy, The Exquisite Book, and Drawn In and am currently working on a book about New York City that will come out next year. I’m also part of a three-person company called ALSO with designer Jenny Volvovski and animator Matt Lamothe.
Tell us about yourself and your work: what you’re passionate about, what inspires you, and where you’re going. Lately, I’ve become more interested in working on self-driven projects. Whether it’s a book project or a set of patterns, I like doing work that generated from my own ideas because it gives me complete freedom to do what I want. I’m currently trying to experiment with new mediums, too. I’ve always drawn with a tight pen line so lately I’ve been switching to a thicker brush and trying to loosen my work up a bit. I’d really like to push the handmade quality of my drawings and use the computer as little as possible.
Describe your studio space. What’s the aesthetic? What do you like or dislike about it? How is it different from your home office? The studio is great because it’s completely different from my home office. At home, I have a tiny room that’s basically closet-size and it’s always a complete mess. Sometimes you can’t see the floor because there are papers and drawings everywhere. I decided to have this second space because I wanted a cleaner place that I could go to to work on bigger projects, away from my computer. I bring my laptop to the studio, but mostly I come here to paint and draw. It’s about a 35-minute walk from my apartment in our Park Slope neighborhood to the studio in the area of Crown Heights. I like that it gives me an excuse to walk a little bit, especially now that the weather is getting so nice.
The space has really high ceilings and great light. There are two enormous windows and they look out over subway tracks. The train runs right outside the window every 20 minutes, only a few feet away. The first few times it happened I gasped because it comes so close.
Before Caroline and I moved in here, her boyfriend, designer Joel Speasmaker, shared it with Meredith and another designer. Joel left some of his stuff behind for us to use which includes shelves, flat files, and a giant ladder that they found. He has great taste, so we’re lucky that he’s lending his furniture to us.
Tell us about your studio mates. What are the advantages of sharing the space with Caroline and Meredith? What’s a typical day like? Do you influence or inspire each other? Caroline Hwang is an amazing illustrator and artist and Meredith Jenks is a super talented photographer. But honestly, we don’t see each other that much. We have such different schedules that it is pretty rare that all three of us are working here at the same time. The day we took these pictures was an exception.
Caroline is here nights and I get to see what she’s been doing when I get in the next day. Lately she’s been indigo-dying fabric which looks like a crazy science experiment. There are tubs filled with colored liquids lining one side of the studio. Her results are stunning, rich blue fabric pieces and color-saturated clumps of yarn hanging around the studio drying. She’s preparing for a big show coming up at Beginnings, a gallery she, Joel, and some other friends run in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Sometimes she’s working on illustrations in studio and she uses embroidery in most of her work. Her desk is full of string of every color and there’s bin under her desk full of hundreds of fabric pieces. I’m always peeking at her desk to see what she’s been up to, whether it’s a drawing for a New York Times article or a little zine she’s put together.
Meredith keeps absolutely tidy and it’s rare that I can tell what she’s been working on since it goes straight from her camera to the computer. The other day, though, I found a stack of gorgeous test proofs from a shoot in our recycling bin and had a hard time throwing them out. She’s able to really capture stories in her photos and they all have such beautiful bright palettes. One of my favorite photos of hers, that she hung behind her desk, is a photo of an abandoned ice cream cone that had fallen to the pavement. Caroline asked her if she set the whole thing up because it seemed to be such a perfectly captured moment, but Meredith said she just found it that way. It takes a really good eye to notice that something like that would make such a striking picture. Currently she’s traveling for a big editorial photo shoot of some famous chefs.
You have a few vintage Eames molded plywood dining chairs in the studio. Which chair is it, and why did you choose it? What do you like about it? In the middle of the studio, we have a little common area that has a table and a couple Eames molded plywood chairs. These we also got from Joel and were all in place when I arrived at the studio. I asked Joel where he got them and he told me he found them at a small furniture store in Richmond, Virginia, many years ago. I always eat my lunch at the middle table; they’re pretty comfortable.
Photo: Meredith Jenks