Hallie Bateman is a national treasure.
That’s what we’ve decided after getting to know the talented illustrator and writer - you may know her from her work in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, or The Awl. She recently moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, and we were thrilled to grab some insight from her to share with you.
How do you spend your time?
I write, illustrate, make comics and zines, movies and sometimes music. Art!
Be a part of a community and a conversation, and you’ll probably find yourself quickly being encouraged and supported by some of your heroes.
How’d you get started professionally?
I discovered illustration towards the end of college, where I was studying creative writing. It immediately took over my life - something just clicked. I tried to find every excuse I could to draw. If someone had a radio show, I asked to design flyers. If I wrote for the school paper, I made sure to illustrate, too. I turned in my poetry portfolio with illustrations.
This instinct led me to Kevin Nguyen, an alumni who’d started an award-winning blog called The Bygone Bureau. They didn’t have pictures, so I emailed Kevin asking if I could illustrate. He said yes, and I immediately started to illustrate. I didn’t get paid (they had/made no money) but I learned so much. I was getting published regularly, and felt more motivated towards that than I ever was in school. I worked with them, eventually as art director, for ~5 years, and only stopped because we decided to stop doing the website.
With my experience from Bygone Bureau I was hired to illustrate & art direct full time at a tech blog called Pandodaily, where I worked for 2 years. That was my first big break professionally, and another big learning experience. But Bygone is really where everything started.
Working without getting paid is something a lot of artists have done, but it’s a tough balance to get experience without being taken advantage of by others. Has that ever been something you’ve struggled with? How do you handle that?
Yeah this is really a touchy issue among illustrators and artists these days. Honestly, since I didn’t go to school for illustration, working for free enabled me to learn. I wasn’t really experienced enough to charge money for my services yet. At The Bygone Bureau I got the experience of working on deadline and getting to work with great writers. It was an amazing way to learn, and I don’t regret it at all.
That said, it was so valuable because I was collaborating with Kevin, who I really trusted. It was his passion project, and he wasn’t trying to make money off of my free work. This is still the way I make decisions like this. For example, I made a poster for my friend’s comedy show recently. I didn’t charge her because she’s doing something she loves and I want to support her. I wouldn’t do work for an ad agency for free, or do an unpaid internship. There’s a difference.
Also, Corinne Mucha told me something which I still use all the time when I have to choose whether to take a job:
- pays well
- will be fun
- will further my career
If it’s 2/3, take it. If it’s 3/3, definitely take it.
Your work has been published in places like The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. How do you get a foot in the door with all these amazing publications?
I’ve been working as an illustrator, and with many writers and editors, for about 5 years now. Sometimes people reach out to me, or I cold-email them, but if I know someone from a past job, or through Twitter, I feel more comfortable pitching them because I know they’ve seen my work before, and I won’t be banging on the door.
How do you pitch to those publications? What would you say to a young artist who wants to pitch but isn’t sure where to start?
Make work every day. Work hard even before the paycheck or publication or recognition is there. Draw, write, do whatever thing you do, and tweet about it. Sometimes, tweet about your cat. Just tweet a lot. At least once a day, like pooping. (If you should be so lucky to have such regularity.) Follow the people you admire and people you want to work for. Be vocal about appreciating their work and the work of your contemporaries. Be a part of a community and a conversation, and you’ll probably find yourself quickly being encouraged and supported by some of your heroes.
Talk to those heroes. Send an email, or a direct message, and ask them questions. Slowly figure out that this seemingly impossible thing isn’t so impossible at all. If you want to be in The New Yorker, go to their ‘submit’ page and find the email and submit. If you’re rejected, be proud of yourself. Being rejected means you tried, and that’s wonderful. Now try again!
You put a lot of work out online, especially on Twitter. A lot of it seems like it’s just for fun. Is it ever scary to put your personal work in front of a bunch of people?
For some reason it’s always just been pretty fun for me. I have fun drawing, and it’s fun to share it, and I’ve never been too afraid of people not liking it, or whatever, because I had fun making it. I already win. Also, I get a huge thrill posting something terrible, and being able to say “I’m a professional illustrator! Look at this horrible drawing!”
Living here is the best thing that's ever happened to me besides being born. pic.twitter.com/HVD9aFIkc3— Hallie Bateman (@hallithbates) February 28, 2016
I can learn from almost any artist, regardless of medium, because we’re all trying to get closer to ourselves, to our ideas, to let something out.
Who are some artists that inspire you?
So many, I’ll name some big ones. I think the common thread between them might be the willingness to speak directly from their own experience, very bold and personal work. Loyalty to their own humor, voice, eye. And all amazing writers, even if working in other mediums.
Lynda Barry is a huge inspiration for me. Her equal skill with words and images are hugely inspiring, I feel like she’s been lighting a path for me, almost. I dream of meeting her someday and visiting institute for discovery.
Miranda July inspires me to veer into new mediums, to work across mediums. To be open and unashamed.
I just heard Jonathan Richman for the first time last year, but he immediately was one of my favorite musicians. Actually, I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt music closer to my heart. He sings songs that tell stories, and they’re about the smallest things, like loving the corner store. I think he’s so funny and wonderful and heartbreaking.
It’s been said everything is a remix - what do you try to learn from the work of other artists? How do you work that inspiration into your projects?
I can learn from almost any artist, regardless of medium, because we’re all trying to get closer to ourselves, to our ideas, to let something out. I think I try to learn how they lowered their barriers, how they listen to themselves and let their work exist. When I see an artist’s fearlessness, it helps me move beyond my own fear.
If John Porcellino could make a whole career on his autobiographical comics, comics that have moved so many people, why should I hesitate to draw myself, to tell my own story? If Rilke could write a book of poems just about roses, and it could be so heartbreakingly beautiful as to make me sob uncontrollably, who am I to stop myself when I want to write just one poem about a flower?
What could I be capable of making if I could just defeat my own shame? I think all artists help each other, in this way. We give each other permission.
This is what you love. Don’t take it too seriously.
Do you have any tips for building an audience?
I said this before, but heck, it’s worth saying again: tweet a lot! And if you work in a visual medium, get on Instagram. Post stuff that you’re making regardless of whether it’s perfect or ready or whatever. It’s yours. This is what you love. Don’t take it too seriously.
How has your Big Cartel shop helped you?
It’s been a great way to connect with people! I love mailing the prints myself, and signing them, and including a note if I want to. It’s motivated me to make more things just for fun, and brought in extra income that helps a lot.
If you could have one famous person draw a picture of you, who would it be?
I guess Lynda Barry! Because it would mean she’d have to know who I was, and maybe be sitting in front of me.