We were first made aware of Minneapolis-based artist DC Ice--yes, that is her real, badass name--by seeing her artwork at the Birchwood Cafe. Her costume-clad foxes seen smoking cigars or working on typewriters stole our scotchy little hearts immediately, as did the artist herself: a strikingly beautiful, feminine yet edgy, all-around pleasure. Aside from illustrating children's books and turning out a seemingly endless array of paintings and drawings, DC also displays some of her artwork at galleries around the metro, currently at the AZ Gallery in St. Paul. We sat down with DC to chat about the artist's way, animals, and how she makes a living doing what she loves.
S&TF: Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
I did. One of my first memories was painting with my mom. I think I was three or four years old, and she had me set up in the living room next to her. It was always second nature and always common in our family. I used to get children's books from the library and try and copy the drawings. I didn't realize that the illustrations are actually drawn huge and then scaled down. So I was always trying to draw really, really tiny. And now, years later, I draw with a razor blade to make these tiny points, because I spent years trying to draw such minuscule lines.
S&TF: What do you use the razor blade on?
Scratch board. It's kind of like a white clay board with a thin layer of black India ink. So when I start, the entire board is black, and then I use the razor blade to scrape off the ink and reveal the white underneath.
S&TF: Do you use that for all your work?
I use it for everything except when I'm illustrating children's books. In that case I use the smallest tipped micron pen, because I like that line quality that's really smooth and tight and precise, and then I mix it up with a painterly style where the paint is more messy and fluid. So it's a cool dichotomy between meticulous lines and painterly color. It's a dark whimsy. I always say my work is "sinister but sweet."
S&TF: I noticed a lot of foxes in your work--what draws you to animals?
I love portraying animals with human emotion. When you're drawing a man or a woman, you can see their age and race and how they dress. But when all that disappears and you're left with fur, you don't have any of those preconceived notions. It's just raw emotion. When I'm drawing or illustrating animals it's just a means of picking apart all of that outside stuff and getting to the emotion. Their eyes are always very human and relatable. They have so much personality. Capturing that is what I try to focus on.
S&TF: I love how you say in your artist's statement that your art is a space for you to be cruel, in a sense. I love that edginess. Can you speak to what led you to that discovery? That this is your space to be that way?
You know, I was in a critique a few years ago, and people were asking me about teeth. There are a lot of teeth in my paintings, so they kept asking what that stood for. And I thought, huh, I don't really know, and just kind of blew it off. But later on I went back and thought about it, and it probably stems from the fact that when I was younger I broke my friend's teeth. By accident! One time it was leap frog and her teeth hit the concrete floor. And in college it was my friend Ethan--I punched him in the shoulder in a "hey buddy" kind of playful way--and it was when he had a beer in his hand. It accidentally hit his face and knocked out his teeth. And then I was actually in a really bad car accident a few years ago, and I was bleeding from the head. I was at the hospital and I asked the nurse for a cup because I said, "I have so much glass in my mouth." So I kept spitting the glass in this cup and the nurse said, "Oh honey, that's not glass--those are your teeth!" And I had chipped eleven teeth. So whether or not I acknowledge it immediately, I feel like all of my artwork stems from something personal and dark. Or maybe it's not always dark, but my art is where I can story-tell my life. It might be a gruesome, weird story, but it feels good to extinguish that from my body and let those bad stories escape. It's therapeutic that way.
S&TF: What is the hardest part about being an artist?
Well, you're alone a lot, which is beautiful. Alarm clocks don't exist in my life, so that's very peaceful. But then once a month when I have a show, I get all this feedback which I have to take in. It's empowering because I take in all of the good words and the comments on what I could change, but I do have to be "on" in those moments and extremely focused. So I think the hardest part might be just to suck in all that information at once. Because it's not like I go into an office and work with people and get feedback throughout the day: it's very condensed. In my day to day life, no one can tell me if i'm on the "right path" or doing good work. It's just up to me. It's very personal. So that's hard.
S&TF: Do you think that it’s necessary to have darkness to make art? Do you think that the creative process is about using that darkness up, or more about the total experience of human emotion?
I feel like I use it a lot. Especially going through my [recent] divorce--it was really hard and I got to portray that and get a lot of emotion out through my artwork. I don't think that I inherently need that though; there have been some happier pieces of mine that have been successful. So I don't think that I need the hurt to produce the art, but....it doesn't hurt.
S&TF: That’s a great answer. I think people have conflicted opinions about that.
Yeah. You want to use it so it's not "in you" so much.
S&TF: How do you get paired up with children's book authors?
Well I went to college for illustration, and someone I went to school with contacted me because he was working for a publishing company. So I did my first children's book from word of mouth and then after that, that children's book company used me a few other times. It's fun because when you work with different publishers--I didn't know this, and I think most people don't know this--publishers like to play God and pair this author with that illustrator. And so sometimes I illustrate people's books who I've never met. And other times authors will contact me directly and say they'll want to self publish, and then I'm working directly with the author.
S&TF: What advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?
Ah, it was such a process. I was working for a jewelry designer and the company slowly closed, so there were six full time employees and then five and then three. And then it was just myself and the owner, and she had basically retired. So it was an easy way to ease into art full time. I had been designing jewelry as a 9 to 5 gig and then I would go home and do artwork and it was definitely like working two full time jobs for a few years. So I eased my way into it....and I think I should've told myself five years ago to have the balls to do it sooner. I also would have told myself to worry less--that God provides. My background is in snowboarding, and that was my passion forever. I wish that everybody could do what they're passionate about every single day--
S&TF: Wait, wait, wait--were you a pro snowboarder?
After high school I took off a year just to snowboard, cause I didn't know what I wanted to do. And then I went to art school and thought I'd go into photography--for snowboard photography, because that's how much I was into it. And then I took a few pictures and discovered I'm horrendous at photography! But I took one illustration class and immediately said: this is my passion. It just consumes me. I get so excited about art and illustration in particular. I like when a drawing is just a compilation of mistakes; it's messy and perfect all at the same time. It's gritty and glamorous and all mixed up. That's what gets me hyped.
You can check out DC's artwork right now at the Birchwood Cafe and the AZ Gallery--both on display until July 27. She'll also be showing at the Uptown Art Far August 1st through the 3rd.