Interview with Mary Kate McDevitt
Illustrator and hand-letterer Mary Kate McDevitt gives us a little interview after her phenomenal Studio Tour. I couldn’t wait to hear about her process, inspiration, and little bits of advice!
Q: I love your work because it’s quirky whimsical and absolutely adorable. Tell our readers exactly what you do!
A: Hi there! I’m an illustrator and hand-letterer. I went to Tyler School of Art and studied Graphic Design and Illustration. I now live in Portland, OR with my boyfriend Fred and cats Peppy Mew Mew and Charlie. I spend my days painting on chalkboards, drawing and painting, hanging out with my cats, drinking coffee and good beer. I almost said biking but my bike was recently stolen so instead of biking around the town, I’m shopping for a bike around the town.
Q: You studied and worked as a Graphic Designer. Why did you make the transition to illustration?
A: I’ve always worked with a blurred line between design and illustration. I went to Tyler School or Art and I was really into my painting and illustration classes so when I would work on a design project, a lot of times I would incorporate illustration or an illustrative style. After I graduated school I was working as a graphic designer at Go Welsh, and the illustrative projects were far and few. I would come home itching to work with my hands and paint. It was then I started focusing on my Etsy shop and doing more painting for personal work and soon was supporting myself with my art.
Q: What brought you to Portland, OR?
A: The initial attraction I had to Portland was the art community. I was living in Philadelphia before moving to Portland and although there is an art community it’s not a very tight knit group of illustrators or artists like I realized there is in Portland. I had never even visited Portland before moving here, Fred was on a cross-country trip the summer prior to moving and I told him to swing by Portland because I think I want to live there. He ended up prolonging his trip because he loved Portland so much. When he got back it only took 2 weeks of planning to pick up and move.
Q: How do you think living in Portland helps or hurts your work?
A: Definitely helpful! There are a lot of really talented artists and illustrators here in Portland. I’ve found that everyone is super supportive and I’ve actually felt really welcomed into the art scene. From all the really great shops in Portland that I have work in and the super cool shop owners to the artists I get together with every now and then for a drink & draw and the art openings every week really help to keep me motivated to keep creating new work and better work.
Q: Where is your studio space in your home? Is it your ideal space? If not, what would be your ideal space?
A: It’s behind my couch in my living room, it sounds small but it’s surprisingly roomy. It’s not my ideal studio, Fred, who is a screen printer shares the same space and it can get tight when he is printing a large order of posters or shirts. We also have to be pretty tidy since it’s right in the middle of our place and sometimes with deadlines and too many ideas it can get nuts. But I do like the idea of my studio being a part of my home because if I see my work sitting out and I’m not working on it I would feel guilty. I also work really late into the night and biking or walking or public trans-ing it 3 in the morning to my studio or home seems like a big schelp.
I would love to have a big detached studio in my background with a printing studio, painting area, chalkboard prep area and sewing station. Another dream studio is to have a store front with a studio in the back and my home upstairs. I’ve always wanted to be a shop owner.
Q: What inspired you to mix illustration and hand lettering with chalkboards?
A: I suppose I was inspired for this idea when I shared a loft with my roommates. We would use a big, old chalkboard to keep track of our daily to-do’s, sort out our bills and doodle dumb notes to each other. It was helpful for us to use for those quick notes. I would draw fancy lettering for our lists and I found that blending creativity and practicality worked out well keeping us motivated to get stuff done.
Soon, I began to hand paint and design small-scale slate chalkboards, combining the idea of making achievable goals through out the day with my love of hand lettering and voila, Mini Goals Chalkboards. I started by giving them to my friends as gifts. After all my family and friends had one of their own, I kept getting new ideas for designs so I decided to share them with everyone and started my Etsy shop.
Q: If you weren’t an artist and had a 9-5 job, what would you do?
A: I would love to be a shop owner selling handmade goods, books and art. It’s something I would really like to do for real someday but I think if I wasn’t an artist it would be fun to work with artists and say things like “oh, you artists and your creativity, I don’t know how you do it.”
Q: If you lost your thumbs, would you still try to make your art?
A: I just tested to see how it would work and I’m pretty damn good at working thumbless.
Q: We all have a color we despise. What is a color you would never put in a piece?
A: I guess purple never seems to make it into any of my work. But I have nothing against purple.
Q: What has been your favorite saying, sentence or word to hand letter?
A: “Today I Will…” It’s probably the saying I’ve hand-lettered the most. “Lovely” is also lovely to hand-letter.
Q: What song is the musical representation of your work? Metaphorical or literal.
A: The Trees by Rush Not only is it a bad ass song but it reminds me of what I say to my paintings when it’s not working and I have to erase or paint over what always seems to be an arm that just won’t cooperate.
Q: If I made a documentary of your life, what would it be called?
A: Drawing Letters and Singing About Cats. That’s 75% of my day.
Q: Who would play you? The lead role!
A: I’m bad at knowing movie stars but I love Zooey Deschanel and I like to flatter myself.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you can give our readers?
A: We’ve all heard it before from our moms and teachers but it’s so true, be yourself! It’s true in your real life and your work life and I think we all need to be reminded of it every now and then. Also, it feels good to get some stuff done.
Thanks so much Mary Kate! Make sure to take a look in her lovely shop.
Images: Mary Kate McDevitt