Human life, from the inception of documented and discovered evidence, has been deeply and markedly engulfed by art. Our lives often find themselves transposing across mediums, at least for the few moments of entanglement with the artwork. A gist of solace and easement unfurls itself in our conversations with and around art – our being has been historically intertwined with the rapture of a shared emotive link. Through both the struggle to establish this emotive link and its ultimate grounding, we tend to discover and just as importantly rediscover fragments of ourselves. In her essay ‘Art Objects’, Jeanette Winterson said, “An examination of our own feelings will have to give way to an examination of the piece of work. This is fair to the work and it will help to clarify the nature of our own feelings; to reveal prejudice, opinion, anxiety, even the mood of the day. It is right to trust our feelings but right to test them too. If they are what we say they are, they will stand the test, if not, we will at least be less insincere.”
Julia Gootzeit is a cartoonist, whose comics delve into themes of reflection – into both the mundane and the gleaming seconds of a past and a present. Through her illustrations, largely following a four-panel comic strip style, she often places herself in these moments of reflective storytelling. We ask Julia about her identity as an artist, using art as a cathartic venture, inspirations she tends to revisit and her aspirations for the future.
You tend to place a version of yourself in your art – has this helped with any sense of introspection or catharsis? How so?
I started out doing more straightforward diary comics where I was always a character and I depicted some part of my day. While my comics have gotten a little more abstract over time, they still centre around my daily experiences. I think when I’m drawing I can be a little bit nicer to myself than I am in my head. Drawing things out gives me time to realize that my feelings aren’t unique or particularly weird and it can be helpful, as a pretty private person, to have them out in the world.
How do you usually frame your illustrations? How would you describe your personal ideation process?
Sometimes I have a very specific image of what I want to draw or say and sometimes I just start drawing and see what happens. If I don’t know what to draw, I start drawing the things around me. I think it helps to draw a lot because then I can tell myself that each drawing doesn’t have to be great, and it frees me up to doodle and zone out. For longer comics, I go through a more formal ideation process and make a written outline, and thumbnail/pencil everything out.
Who are your points of reference, in terms of inspiration?
I have a lot of cartoonist and artist heroes, but right now I’ve been particularly into Lynda Barry. I have a collection of her Marlys comics on my nightstand now that I’ve been re-reading before I go to bed. Her comics are funny and devastating and warm-hearted. She’s really good at capturing the gravity of specific mundane moments and complicated relationships in easy organic ways. Also, her philosophy on comics and art is really inclusive and positive which is something we all need.
How did you come to find and adapt this four-panel form in your art?
Several years ago, I went to a surplus art supply store and bought cheap stacks of index-card-size watercolour paper. I drew tiny drawings on them for years and eventually started using them for daily comics. I’m out of that paper now, but it was a really easy and satisfying form factor, and I often cut paper into index-card-size pieces to draw on.
I first came across square four-panel diary comics via James Kochalka’s comic American elf, which I read all through high school, so it was a form I’ve been aware of for a while. Squares are nice because they’re flexible with panel layout but also offer a constraint to work with and push against.
Also, it’s ideal for Instagram, which I feel torn about. My longer work meant for print tends not to be square.
Tell us a little about yourself – how did you become an illustrator? How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I’ve been drawing all my life starting from when I was very little. Over the years I’ve had a complicated relationship with art. I went to art school for sculpture but spent several years in my twenties feeling burnt out and not doing much art at all. Right now I spend a lot of time working on comics and illustration projects. I guess I would describe myself currently as a cartoonist or comics artist and am really happy and excited about that identity.
Do you have any distinctly favourite pieces that you have produced over the years? If yes, then why these pieces?
I’m most proud of my longer-form comics because creating them is such an arduous task. I have to have a lot of faith in myself to go through the process of planning and execution without knowing if things will turn out well. I don’t think these pieces are necessarily my most artistically successful, but they’re the pieces I need to make to help myself get where I want to go in terms of telling longer, more intricate stories.
Do you have a piece of literature, music or film which you find yourself revisiting? This could be for the sake of inspiration for your art or for an inspiration to fuel life – anything!
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante have been my favourite books since reading them a few years ago. The books follow two girls from childhood to old age, and I find myself replaying parts of their narrative to myself often. The books are poetic and blunt and really good at describing very specific aspects of existence that I didn’t think could be put into words.
Where you stand currently, what do you hope or aspire for yourself in the future?
Eventually, I’d like to make a graphic novel and have more commercial illustration projects lined up. I want to spend a higher percentage of my time drawing! I’d also like to play around with animation and video game art, but I always have more project ideas than I have time.
How have you been spending your time these days? We would also love to know more about what you do apart from your art!
I have a non-art full-time job right now, which I’ve been lucky to be able to do remotely since March. Other than that and comics, I spend a lot of time hanging out with my partner, playing video games and thinking (worrying?) about the future. I’m currently pregnant, so I’m also doing a lot of being very excited and nervous about that!