13Sparrows has a reputation for high quality graphics of wildlife. Hailing from Chicago, USA she has an extensive background in graphic illustration.
What’s the story behind the name of your brand, 13Sparrows?
I’ve always loved wild birds. Watching a flock of the fearless, dusty little ones that make their homes near people is a different experience than watching a single bird hopping about. A flock of sparrows has an elastic bond and a community intelligence, and I think a lot about human society and how we view education with a kind of rigidity.
Are there any artists who inspired you to draw?
When I was young I remember we had an old, old copy of The Children of Odin by Padraic Colum. It was illustrated by Willy Pogany and I would study his spare and vivid line drawings. I would also lay paper on top of the drawings and trace them in pencil, studying all the details. Another illustrator I remember obsessing over when I was young was Arthur Rackham. His fairy tale drawings were compelling and sumptuous and a little ominous.
How long having you been drawing?
I have been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. My mom was always very encouraging, she has always been artistic herself. I remember drawing a lot of stylized hot air balloons with banner flags and hearts all over them when I was grade school age. And I would draw floor plans to imaginary dream houses for my family to live in.
What techniques (including programs) do you prefer to use?
These days I do most of my drawing in Affinity Designer, which is a vector drawing app like Adobe Illustrator. Before I draw on the computer, I usually do some sketches in my sketch book. I have one sketchbook for drawing and another for making lists and jotting notes and ideas. I call it the separation of church and state, it helps me think better if my sketches are on clean pages. Which is kind of weird because my sketches are usually very loose and messy. Also, I have a spreadsheet where I keep ideas for clip art sets, broken down by category. I get a little anxiety thinking that if I do a set of something like birds or vegetables, I should consider how to divide up the whole collection into sets first. So I research a full list of those things and divide them up into all sorts of sets in the spreadsheet. Sometimes I draw all the sets but usually I just draw some of them. This tells you a whole lot about me.
Do you have a favourite subject to draw?
Birds are definitely my go-to. Drawing in simplified vector lines the way I do can be a little strange when the subject, like a speckled bird, has a lot of detail. I’ve evolved a style that I really enjoy that keeps the detail accurate yet is uncomplicated. If I didn’t draw this way, I think I would get bogged down in detail and would never finish anything.
What’s your favourite part of creating graphics for others?
I have thought a lot about presenting things to kids in truthful ways that they can understand. It’s pretty important to me that my birds look like the specific species they are meant to represent, that my kitchen utensils be the ones that might be in anyone’s kitchen. I also spend time thinking about the items and objects that people are actually using, not our outdated mental symbols for things. For example, I don’t think many people use the old red and grey horse shoe-type magnets anymore even though that might be the first visual symbol for a magnet that you think of. That’s why I drew magnet wands for my science supplies set instead, because that’s what kids are really using. So when a teacher says, “These drawings are accurate and show how we work in our classroom!” it makes me very happy.
13Sparrows, you recently put together a behind the scenes look at the process you personally use to create a single graphic: What prompted you to do this?
It’s understandable if buyers don’t realize how much work goes into making a clip art set, especially when there is so much work available on the internet for free, or cheap, or just too easy to download. I thought it might be good to shed light on the fact that I do put a lot of research into my sets and into making the drawings accurate. I realized that it might not be obvious how much work I do, so I took some time to explain it.
What is one art-related goal you have for the future?
I would very much like to keep making clip art sets and grow my business to the point where I can support myself with it. I should probably get working on all those sets in the spreadsheet!