Today’s Feature – March 30-31: Bambi Edlund

March 31, 2008 at 9:19 pm (Today's Feature)

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I love Bambi Edlund’s philosophy – the one that keeps pushing her site “Le Pen Quotidien” along every day. It’s a helpful strategy that’s inspiration to just about any creative person, a line of thought to support true passion in a world that often requires a not-so-creative 9-5 workday five times a week. Edlund puts her idea to words, “After a lifetime of knowing how to draw but not knowing how to WANT to draw, I think I’ve finally figured it out. But still, my tendency to finish only that with a finite deadline means that I fall short on follow-through… I figure it’s time to face up to the fact that I only consistently do that which I am held accountable for, and plan accordingly. And so, we have this website. Daily drawingsÑof anything, in any style, any mediumÑas long as they are done daily and posted.”

Edlund, a graphic designer and illustrator in Vancouver, B.C. has been drawing as long as she can remember, her notebooks in first and second grade covered with things like “chickens playing the banjo” drawn in the margins. “Le Pen Quotidien” contains more critters like this along with other interpretations of buildings, vehicles, people, even heavy working equipment. Inspiration for the name? A chain of bakery/cafes called “Le Pain Quotidien” (translated as “The Daily Bread”). Since the idea struck down on site at one of these corner spots, “changing the pain to pen seemed a fitting title for a daily drawing venture.”

If you’re wondering about Bambi’s ability to keep a new drawing up each day of the year, forget about it. It’s finally turned into her top priority, something she wouldn’t consider thinking about missing. And she doesn’t stockpile these pieces – she knows the value of posting her work the same day it’s produced. In the future, Edlund hopes to translate her work into children’s books. Looking at what she’s accomplished thus far, I’m confident this dream will become reality as well. Read into the XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: Bambi Edlund

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How and when did your passion for art first develop?

Bambi Edlund (BE): My father is an artist, and so I just always drew when I was a kid. My parents kept one of my notebooks from first or second grade and it had things like chickens playing the banjo drawn in the margins. It was just something that was always there.

PEV: Was there a certain moment or time in your life when you realized that you were going to be an artist or do art professionally?

BE: Well, in school I was always the artist, right through high school. After graduation I applied to art school and didn’t get in, which I can understand now because I just didn’t have the passion for it then-I was technically good, but I didn’t care enough. Not long after high school I abandoned it, pretty much completely, for a lot of years. Over the last ten years, in addition to working full time as a graphic designer, I have done art in spurts-but throughout I did always know that at some point I would do it professionally, I always had faith that the passion would come. Then one day, about two years ago, it just showed up, quite unceremoniously. A strange but welcome surprise. Now it’s the only thing I consistently feel like doing.

PEV: Now living in Vancouver, B.C., what kind of art were you interested in growing up? Were you surrounded in an artistic environment?

BE: My dad painted a lot when I was a kid, plus worked as a commercial artist and signpainter, and most of our family friends were potters or weavers or photographers, so I was never very far from art. My first love was children’s book illustrations, of the whimsical animal variety, and that remains my favourite art form to this day. Richard Scarry, Quentin Blake, and Mercer Mayer were my earliest influences.

PEV: What drove you to illustration and painting versus any other genre?

BE: Twelve years ago I studied for a semester in Europe, moving around with a group, studying art history. I remember one moment in a gallery in Paris, it was an absolute turning point for me, as I was always kind of haunted by the idea that I should be making art, and for me that meant painting. I was standing in a wing of a gallery after seeing hundreds or perhaps thousands of paintings in the past couple of months, and it hit me that I don’t really care about paintings. At least not serious fine art paintings. It was such a freeing moment, because it allowed me to banish that idea once and for all. Over the next few years I realized that if what I really cared about was children’s illustration, that’s what I should be doing. So I have worked at it bit by bit, and now I’m finally at the point where I’m creating art I care about in the form of illustration. I like that it’s free from the seriousness of fine art, which is simply not my thing. I don’t take anything very seriously, when it comes right down to it.

PEV: Tell us about your site, “Le Pen Quotidien”. And for those not familiar with the language, what does it mean?

BE: In some parts of Europe and New York City there is a chain of bakery/cafes called “Le Pain Quotidien”, which means “The daily bread”. I was in one of these cafes in New York last fall when I came up with the idea of doing the blog, and so changing the pain to pen seemed a fitting title for a daily drawing venture. I keep it in lower case wherever possible, however, as there is a right-wing politician in France named Le Pen. I get the odd visitor to the site that has come in after googling him-I suspect once they hit my blog it’s pretty clear we’re not affiliated.

PEV: What made you decide to do a new drawing every day? How hard has it been to manage that task?

BE: This past October while on vacation I read Julie & Julia, about a woman who decides to make every one of Julia Child’s recipes in her French cookbook in a year. She admits in the book that she never would have done it if she hadn’t said she was going to. That really struck a chord with me-I knew it was time for me to start drawing regularly, but I also realized that, sadly, the only things I consistently accomplished were those that had to get done, either for work or for other people. So, I figured if I told a bunch of people I was going to do this, I would be held accountable and would come through. And I have. It has been a lot of work, but mentally it has become my number one priority, and I am so excited by it that I haven’t ever considered missing a day. It’s funny, people often ask if I ever stockpile and do a few so I can take a day off, but I am committed to doing the drawing in the same day that it’s posted. I think because I’m doing it for myself, as an exercise to help me get better, I don’t even consider cheating. It has been a great test run in terms of assessing whether or not I could succeed at drawing for a living, and I think the fact that I have been able to churn something out every day for 151 days now-through illness, the death of a friend, Christmas chaos-proves to me that I could happily do this daily.

PEV: Needing to draw something new everyday, do you ever get hit a “creative road block”? What do you do when this happens?

BE: The toughest part by far has been coming up with ideas of what to draw. I have been very careful to make sure I only draw something I really feel like doing each day, so it often takes a lot of time to come up with an idea that seems worthy. I vary the styles and content a lot to keep myself interested (I’m extremely fickle), but when I can’t come up with anything I usually hit the web and start looking at either sites with great links just to get my mind moving, or I browse Flickr. I always end up with an idea by the end of the day.

PEV: What kind of music are you currently listening to?

BE: I listen to a lot of different music. I always have The Long Winters, Harvey Danger, Nada Surf and The Shins in rotation. Lately I have been listening to Tom Petty’s Highway Companion, Lyle Lovett’s It’s Not Big It’s Large, and Feist’s The Reminder.

PEV: Is there an up and coming artist right now that you think we should all be looking into?

BE: In terms of illustrators, I think Tommy Kane and Mattias Adolfsson are brilliant.

PEV: If you could sit down to dinner with one artist, alive or passed, who would it be and why?

BE: Jim Henson, no question. The Muppet Show came on the air when I was six, and it changed my life. The fact that someone else thought that animals in place of people with no questions asked was a good idea really spoke to me. I remember writing a report on his creation of the original kermit (from a green bathrobe and ping pong balls) in grade four or five. I think Jim Henson was an absolute genius, and it broke my heart when he died.

PEV: Out of all your illustrations, is there a certain one that stands out among the rest?

BE: There are so many now, and really, I have been happy with most of them, which has been the most shocking part of all. It’s like a magic switch was thrown when I decided to do the project, and suddenly each illustration I started I was able to finish, and not screw up. I think having to stop and get the thing posted saves me from taking things too far and wrecking them. If I had to choose one it would change daily, but I think the bike of bees would always be high on the list. And the bat and rat spooning in the attic is dear to my heart as well.

PEV: I noticed that in a lot of your illustrations a certain person is clearly shown. Has anyone in your illustrations ever commented on your interpretation of them?

BE: The only people I have drawn are friends, so I suspect it’s odd for them to check in and see themselves. One fellow that I did early on (my first portrait, actually) admitted that the photo I had used was his most hated photo of all time, so I ended up doing another illustration. The new one he liked enough to use for the header of his own blog, so that’s kind of fun. But mostly I prefer to draw animals, and for the most part they’re fairly easy to please. The rats are pretty critical.

PEV: You mention a lot the term “Leap”. Tell us about your fascination with “leaping” and the meaning behind that.

BE: Leap was a recent theme for Illustration Friday, which is a website that posts a word each week, and invites artists to illustrate that word. It’s great for me because it gives me a jumping off point for generating ideas. Most people do one illustration, but sometimes I find it’s fun to do a few completely different interpretations of the word through the week. Leap was a funny one though, because I realized I had already done “a leap of leopards” as part of my collective noun series, and “ten lords-a-leaping” as part of the 12 days of Christmas. Not sure why “leap” has showed up so much, but surely I have exhausted it by now…

PEV: How have all your friends and family reacted your art career?

BE: My friends and family have been incredibly supportive. It has been so helpful knowing that so many of them are checking in daily and enjoying the work I’m doing, it keeps me moving at 2 a.m. when I’m half asleep and blindly putting a sketchbook on the scanner (which is not at all unusual). Everyone is really excited about the response to the project, and that keeps it fun for me.

PEV: Where do you think your work take you ten years from now?

BE: Ultimately I would love to do children’s books, I don’t really see me ending up anyplace else. I went through my twenties and early thirties trying to figure out what I should be doing, and of course now it seems clear that this is where I have been heading since I was really little. I suspect that happens for a lot of people, in hindsight it was always perfectly clear.

PEV: In one word, what best describes Bambi Edlund?

BE: Contradictory.

PEV: In your hometown of Vancouver, B.C., where is the best place to see great art and meet great artists?

BE: Well, I am fortunate enough to live in a house owned by a painter whose husband was an architect, and whose children and friends are all artists, so I meet more great artists in my own home than anywhere else.

PEV: When you aren’t working what can we find you doing in your spare time?

BE: “Spare time”. That’s cute.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about Bambi Edlund?

BE: I have managed to get this far in this project without drinking coffee. I can’t stand the taste-but I suspect it would prove invaluable. By month six I may be drinking it anyway.

PEV: So, what’s next for you and “Le Pen Quotidien”?

BE: Well, I have vowed to do the daily drawing thing for a year (and as if that weren’t enough, I decided to do it during a leap year-I suspect I’ll burn out completely on the 365th day and curse February 29th forever). I have absolutely no idea what will happen beyond that, but the response so far has been staggering-I expected after six or eight months people might begin to notice, but the internet has an incredible reach. I’m just enjoying this time, the sense of all kinds of possibilities looming.

For more information on Bambi and Le Pen Quotidien, check out www.LePenQuotidien.com

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