INTERVIEW WITH ILLUSTRATOR TREVOR GRABILL

Posted by Nate Williams

Trevor Grabill has spent his life wandering around the great lakes states and now lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His work under the auspices of Flat Mountain Press includes drawing, printmaking, and writing in the service of various clients and ideas. He also spends time petting animals, watering plants, going for long walks, and thinking about the weather.

How did you get into illustration/art?

I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. As an antisocial kid growing up in small towns, drawing was a way to avoid boredom wherever I found myself, from school to long car rides to social events. I also had a couple of relatives, a grandpa who was a carpenter and an uncle who drew and carved driftwood, who passed on a love of making stuff. The creative momentum generated from my childhood artistic life fuels my work to this day.

What about naive illustration/art appeals to you?

I think that virtuosity in drawing is often a distraction. It’s important to have it as a tool, but it should always (in my opinion) be secondary to expressive qualities. I think that often the simpler and more personal you can make your drawing, the better it will be understood.

Why do you mainly work in limited color?

Most of my training is as a printmaker, so I’m always thinking of the work I make in terms of a few simple layers.

What is ink-brewing?

As far as I know, it’s a made up term. I make inks at home using simple, often foraged plants, like dandelions, black walnuts, and beets. I get a kick out of experimenting and coming up with weird recipes. If you’re interested, you can find out more in my zine “Making Homemade Inks”.

Your animations have a great feel, but the last one you created was about 3 years ago? Do you plan on doing more animations?

Thanks! Animation is on the long list of media that I’d like to spend more time experimenting with. I’m doing a short artist residency right now, and I plan to devote some of my time here to playing around with animation - I’ll be posting the results on my tumblr.

The thing I like most about your work is the asymmetrical feel and subject matter (buildings, plants, not many people). What influenced this?

I grew up in midwestern small towns and have always felt a lot of space in my environment. I feel like this breathing room (and the attention to details it affords) has shaped my work, leading me to emphasize negative space and seek interest in everyday subject matter.

What is something new you have noticed or learned recently?

That the largest bombing campaign in history was the US’s undeclared war in Laos, where at least 2 million bombs were dropped in 9 years.

Is studying illustration in college worth the cost or do you recommend an alternative?

I didn’t study illustration, so I don’t know that I’m fully qualified to answer that. I majored in printmaking and graphic design at a state school with a very small art program. I didn’t exactly pick up a lot of “industry contacts”, and my degree has never come close to paying for itself, but I did pick up a lot of knowledge and skills that I use every day. I think the most important thing is to find a community of people who take an interest in your work (some of whom preferably are more experienced than you) and practice your craft!

When are images better than words?

When you want to communicate something visceral without judging, rationalizing, or filtering it first.

 What is success to you?

In my career, success is having the time, energy, and opportunity to make my best work, both in my own artwork and projects for clients and collaborators. 

Top 5 favorite things in life

1. Lake Michigan

2. Books of all varieties

3. Sitting on porches / around kitchen tables and talking late into the night

4. Weather (especially snow)

5. Vegetables

Top 5 bands/singers

Right now: 

1. The Books 

2. Det Gamla Landet

3. Sharon Jones

4. Afrika Bambaataa

5. Moondog

Can you suggest 3 artists or illustrators we should check out?

1. Antonio Frasconi

2. Nathaniel Russell

3. Tin Can Forest

More about TREVOR GRABILL at: Profile / Spotlite / Website /  Tumblr / Faceboook