On Tuesday, August 13th, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erica Sirotich, the artist behind Cuddlefish Press. I visited her SF home and received a very warm welcome, and after offering me some coffee, she led me to her quaint studio space where I asked her about herself and Cuddlefish.
Erica's journey to becoming a full-time artist is not typical (although talking with her reminded me that the journey of any artist is hardly ever "typical"). I started the interview by quoting the bio on her site, where she mentions how she's a 'self-taught artist' but she quickly corrected me, "It's not quite as simple as that.."
Erica had grown up in a Florida suburb, and after graduating from a local arts high school, she attended the nearby arts college. But after staying there for only one semester, she transferred to the neighboring liberal arts college, seeking out the chance to pursue a dual degree. "I ended up majoring in religion. I studied Asian religion, I studied Buddhism. I kinda thought maybe I would try going into academia. And it was fun! Studying that stuff was super fun… So, I was on track to being an illustrator, but then I thought, 'I kinda wanna try all this other stuff…'"
After graduating, Erica found herself in a variety of stints and temporary jobs, from working in a law firm as a legal assistant to working for an international disaster relief organization.
"I was [in the organization] for 3 years. I stayed there because I was super motivated by the work that they did, and that kind of thing was inspiring especially because I have an interest in humanitarian efforts. Anyway, they kept promoting me until they made me the Associate Director of the US branch. It was like I was thrown back into that sort of situation that I was in at the law firm, where all of a sudden I had to be something like a figure head…and it was getting more and more administrative. It was cool in some ways, like I got to travel internationally for it - and that was cool - but again, it just wasn't my thing."
But the door leading back to illustration opened through her little brother Nick, who, unlike her, stuck with the art school curriculum. "I say that I'm 'self taught', but really I have to give my brother credit because he taught me SO much. I didn't know how to do anything. I mean, I had in mind the kind of work I wanted to do, but I really owe him a lot. He taught me a lot, how to use Photoshop, those kinds of things. It's almost like I went to 'Nick School'. He jokes around that I owe him half his student loans."
After attaining her honorary 'degree' from "Nick School" and developing her skills a bit more, she started getting a lot of positive feedback and a few small commissions through people she knew as well as through online community sites like Deviantart.com, where she posted up her work.
Shortly after, she was given the opportunity to move out to California with her boyfriend, thanks to his software company being acquired and relocated to Palo Alto. And during the process of looking for a new place to live, Erica declared, "I'm not going to move 3000 miles across the country to live in Palo Alto; I want to live in San Francisco!"
A few shots of her home studio...
During our interview, Erica certainly looks like someone who has embraced this city as her home, with a cup of coffee in her hand and her dog, Russell, snoozing at her feet; but she's also embraced the flourishing art community that all of a sudden became so available to her. "In Florida, there's not a lot going on: not a lot of art shows, not a lot of craft fairs, there's just not a lot of that. And I came out here and one of the first things I did was go to Renegade Craft Fair as well as other craft fairs, and I was like, 'Whoa.' I started seeing illustrators having booths and just selling prints. They basically just made themselves a brand and just sold their stuff. and I was like, 'I can do that.'"
After moving out to San Francisco, Erica quickly got involved. "I started seeing all these opportunities in addition to freelance illustration, like other opportunities to have a bit of a presence and to get your name out there. So I focused more on my Etsy shop and I did do a Renegade craft fair, as well as several Bazaar Bazaars, Alternative Press Expo... My first show was actually a holiday Renegade show, and looking at the money I made, it pumped me up to get the shop going, and I also just had such a good response!"
A small sampling of adorable Cuddlefish stationery and products.
It's no surprise to me that Erica's work would gain attention. While I was with her, she actually gave me a little "demo" of her usual sketching process. She's a fan of very very crisp and clean lines, which she often edits with satisfaction via Photoshop. "My process is pretty straightforward: sketch, ink…My secret is actually these really cheap brush pens from Japantown..." But regardless of what brand of pen she uses, I'm pretty sure the kind of cute coming out of Erica's work can't be found anywhere else.
(Above) Some work in progress and (below)Erica giving me an inking demo while using her beloved lightbox.
It's always great to hear artists' stories, and I think it's especially important for art students (like me) to pay more attention and take some notes. Erica's practical advice for people pursuing a career in art are as follows: (1) have a strong online presence (through portfolio sites, social media, etc.), and (2) make sure that online presence is a professional one. But I think another lesson to learn from Erica is that there is no one defined track to becoming a full-time artist. Erica and I actually share a lot of similarities, like a love of coffee, a passion for well-made comic books, our tendency to have mini-obsessions every now and then (just to name a few), but it was especially nice to see someone else who indulged in her interests outside of art, and benefitted greatly from it. "While I do joke around about those 'boring' administrative jobs I had, I still use skills that I've learned from them. I also think a lot of people don't realize that there a lot of paths to a similar spot. Obviously art school is a legitimate path to 'making it' but.." She trailed off, and I chimed in: "… but it's not a cookie cutter thing?" "Yeah, it's not."
(Above) Erica's shelf dedicated to her "favorite books", and (below) her stamp collection, one of her mini-obsessions.
But what's in store for Erica in the future? Well, what she really wants to do are children's books or children's products, and she hopes that the reputation of her work will provide a door into those fields. "Even when I don't try to make it cute, things I make just end up looking cute anyway." Erica may be 'cursed with the cute', but whatever she's doing, I think many people would agree with us when we say: she's definitely does 'cute' right.