Interview: Allison Bamcat
Allison Bamcat is a contemporary illustrator from Los Angeles, CA. After completing a seven-year run as a product designer for a major brand, she works full-time as an artist in her new home of Santa Monica. Her candy-coated paintings celebrate the juicy colors found in nature through her surreal landscapes, featuring fruit, botanicals, exotic birds, and melting rock formations. Her background in product design collides with her paintings, resulting in a bouncing array of repeat prints and patterns for apparel and accessories.
What aspects of your own life inspire your art?
My art is very closely tied to my emotional state. I notice that in times I've been overwhelmed or depressed, I use darker colors in my paintings, where lately I've been using warmer, happier tones like oranges and coral pinks. I gravitate toward the colors in flowers and plants, as well as the symbolism they carry, like how friendly big, rubbery banana leaves appear versus the sharp eyelash-spikes of a venus flytrap. I use different types of plants and animals in my work as supporting characters to build a collection of feelings this way.
When did you decide that you wanted to stop working for a major company and start creating art for yourself?
Honestly, it took my husband changing direction in his career for me to get on board with changing mine. Working in corporate culture for so long, I became really stubborn and stayed at my job probably longer than I should have. I spent so much time putting out fires and making revisions that my art suffered. So the offer of a different career opportunity where I could focus solely on my art and design work was a welcome change. It's amazing how many of the walls I built up working in corporate have just crumbled, and I'm finding it's much easier to get started when I don't carry so much baggage.
When did your interest in patterns and textiles start? Has the idea of putting your imagery on textiles driven your work in any particular way?
I was mentored early in my career in the footwear industry to create legible print and pattern files for factory use. I'll admit it was a learning curve that was difficult for me to grip on to, and it took several years to become proficient at getting projects to come back as I imagined them in my head. One day, design leadership created a new team specifically for creating illustrations and graphics for product, and I was placed on it. It was a boat load of illustration work that hit me suddenly, and I learned a lot about streamlining my processes. Learning to maintain the integrity of my artwork with limitations around detail, color, and the small surface area of a sneaker made me a more considerate designer.
Through trend research I began looking up to the detail work of major design houses including Gucci and smaller, more eclectic brands like Gorman and Mara Hoffman, determined to create design work at the same caliber of sophistication but for mass-market. Some days I was only given the opportunity to create a polka dot print, so I aspired to make a new, fresh polka dot that didn't exist in the market yet. Looking at every brief as a challenge to create art fueled me to continue on tough days when my designs were dropped repeatedly from collections. Knowing that I produced and presented real art at every chance made creating prints for myself a natural evolution of what I was already doing. So I began painting silly things like vegetables and french fries, turning them into prints that I'd sew into my own little bags and pouches. The idea of using prints and patterns to help people express their tastes in a functional way throughout their day always drove me to want to make new, fun prints and patterns.
What draws you to the vibrant color palette you use?
Color has always been a form of expression for me, through my paintings, my wardrobe, and even my hair color over the years. It's no surprise to anyone that as a kid, I was obsessed with the candy-colored designs from Lisa Frank, as well as Barbie and Rainbow Brite. Why only use half of the crayons in the box when you can use them all? These days, I strive to create a mood through the use of color, especially through the clash of heavily-rendered objects on top of flat planes of white or solid colors. While I've learned some restraint in which colors I use, it's only because I've done a better job of creating color studies before I create my larger works. Without some kind of pre-determined guide, I'd probably use every color I own at once!
The limited, contemporary color palettes we used in footwear design have continued to influence me as well. Learning color heirarchy in product design definitely inspired me into using odd or sometimes "ugly" colors in my works to draw the eye toward the more vibrant colors I tend to choose. I'm still learning a balance, but looking at runway fashion still inspires me to try new color combinations in my work.
What does your creative process look like?
My current creative process is a bit broken. Creating art in such a fast-paced industry for so long, I got into a bad habit of creating only one sketch toward one concept and using that to create finished artwork. Now that I work for myself, I've been more lenient about how many times I can sketch out a certain idea before I take it anywhere else. Sometimes, I even sketch for fun!
But, generally, I'll dream up an idea and toss it around in my head for days or weeks before I feel ready to put pencil to paper. I resolve a lot of the general vibe in my head, and then I resolve the composition on paper using eraseable colored pencils on heavyweight sketch paper. I'll tighten this sketch up three or four times by blowing it up, printing it out, and sketching on top of the printout, using lots and lots of reference photos. From the sketch, I create a digital color mockup and fool around with color only just enough to get a point across. After blowing up the sketch to size and transferring it to wood or paper, I pull out only the tubes of paint I think I'll need and stick strictly with the specific spectrum of color I chose in my mockup. From there, I build up darker to lighter layers using dry-brushed acryla gouache, a super-matte, polymer-based, vibrant paint made by Holbein. I typically leave my pieces unvarnished to preserve the velvety paint finish. Luckily, the polymer content of the paint helps to protect the piece without varnish.