Monica Garwood speaks to i-D about capturing the quirks and charms of Margot Tenenbaum, Agatha and Mrs. Fox in India ink.
Monica Garwood grew up in Marin County, California with an artist mom, and went on to graduate with a BFA in illustration in 2013 from California College of the Arts. Since then, Garwood has been painting portraits - "I don't go for total realism, but an idealized little visual summary of who they are," she explains - in addition to doing hand-lettered calligraphy, which she taught herself. Her brushstroke is fluid and fanciful, the vibe of her work spirited yet meditative. Recently included in the Spoke Art 2015 "Bad Dads" show this summer - a tribute to the work of Wes Anderson - her illustration "Wes's Women" was an especially charming and astute look at the director's female-flecked universe. Garwood talks to i-D about her approach to drawing famous faces, the appeal of flawed characters, and her deep love of Frances McDormand as Laura Bishop in Moonrise Kingdom.
What were your beginnings as an illustrator? How did you come to focus on that artistic practice?
My mom is an artist—she's a printmaker and painter—so I grew up with a lot of art projects and had a very early start. In school we had a great art curriculum and I was exposed to a ton of art history. I always created a narrative when I was drawing, so naturally I was attracted to illustration.
You've focused on pop culture in various forms, be it Amélie or a chart of women in music - not to mention your participation in the "Bad Dads" show. How does pop culture inspire you, and how does it inspire your work?
I love painting portraits, whether the subject is famous or not, but it does add an extra layer of excitement to be painting a pop culture figure whose work I respect. My favorite thing is to try to perfectly capture the spirit of a person on paper, and nail down the characteristics that make them unique. I don't go for total realism, but an idealized little visual summary of who they are.
Your portraits of the women in Wes Anderson movies are so wonderful! Are you partial to any one character?
Thank you! I had a blast painting this and actually my favorite character shifted as I worked on it. I am partial to Agatha [from The Grand Budapest Hotel] for her can-do attitude and uplifting pep, but I also really love the flawed, unsettled Laura Bishop. I adore Frances McDormand and everything about her character—down to the wardrobe and frazzled hair and makeup—was perfectly imperfect.
What is your favorite Wes Anderson movie?
The Darjeeling Limited! It portrays emotion and frustration in such a realistic way, and the cinematography is so beautiful.
What's your approach to doing a sketch based on a character? Is it studied - do you watch the movies again, do you look at still images - or more freeform?
When I'm painting someone recognizable, I pull a ton of references, from screencaps from the movie to real-life snapshots of that celebrity. I combine the references and try to get down the essence of the person, rather than just drawing from one screencap or photo. I do a few sketches and then paint my favorite when I've nailed the likeness.
Your focus solely on Wes Anderson's female characters is an empowering overview of the women in his films. Is female-specific representation especially important to you?
I think that even though Anderson doesn't often cast females as leads, he really does give all his characters, male and female, such great depth that you don't see in a lot of films. I don't necessarily think that females are underrepresented in media, but I do think it is rare for female characters to be as multidimensional as their male counterparts. So I wanted to spotlight all these super unique characters that Wes has created because I think you can look at any one of them and there is a whole persona there with a backstory, flaws, quirks, and significance to the plot.
The "Bad Dads" piece is executed in India ink and gouache on paper - do you use principally these materials, or do you switch them up?
I am much more of a drawer than a painter, so I love any transparent media (ink, watercolor) that I can work from light to dark with. I think the way the white paper shows through gives everything a glow.
You do hand-lettering for magazines - how did this come about?
After college, I had a design internship in New York with Penguin Books, and it was only two days a week, so on the other days I taught myself calligraphy! Learning the formal ways to do Copperplate script with a nib allowed me to translate that into looser lettering with a brush. When art directors see I can do hand-lettering, they sometimes ask me to do that as well to accompany an illustration, or just on its own.
What are you working on next?
Today I am painting a poster for a jazz series in the Yukon Territory, tomorrow I am painting a portrait of a humanitarian for the Rotary Club, Monday I work onsite freelancing for a clothing company creating illustrations for apparel graphics. Very all over the place! I just got my first job illustrating a whole book for 10 Speed Press (Random House) which I will be starting on this fall. I'm super excited about it!
Text Sarah Moroz
Images courtesy Monica Garwood