Catapult Artist “There is No Other Way to Be”: Hanna Barczyk, Catapult Artist for December 2018
“Conveying emotions, narratives, stories. This, I believe, is at the core of all art.”
As part of our Catapult Artist program, Nicole Caputo, Catapult ’ s art director, sits with December’s #CatapultArtist for a conversation on art, creativity, and the artist’s life.
When we launched Catapult Artist this year, the goal was to shine a spotlight on emerging and established artists, to have their talents celebrate the essays and stories in the magazine. And our latest Catapult Artist wraps up our year wonderfully.
Every piece created by Hanna Barczyk is bold not only in its color and line work, but in the emotion she inspires in the viewer. No matter how intricate or simple, her artwork is dynamic and packed with energy, compositionally interesting, and grounded by an intelligent concept. For all of these reasons I am delighted to end the year with her work as out Catapult Artist for December.
’s work can often be found in the pages of the Based in Brooklyn, New York, Hanna New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times—and now Catapult. Find more of her work on Instagram @hannabarczyk.
Illustration by Hanna Barczyk for Catapult, as featured in Nahida Nisa’s “How to Love a Rabbit”
Nicole Caputo: Can you tell us a bit about your process? How do you arrive at your ideas, what are the stages in between and how do you go about executing the finished piece?
Hanna Barczyk: I begin by reading the assignment and deciphering its main point which can often be complex, especially in newspapers like the New York Times and The Economist, or national magazines. I then locate the emotional core of the piece—what emotions does the piece elicit, and how can these emotions best be represented? I try, through my craft, to connect opinion and emotion using visual metaphors. I draw from my initial visual notes and thumbnail sketches.The process is very technical and focused. I view it as solving a puzzle. It is a process of discovery.
My tools are regular computer paper and pencils of varying softness. All my ideas are ‘visual notes’ first: these are usually very rough sketches to record all the ideas I have on how to approach a piece. Once I have a pencil sketch finalized, I use a fountain pen and India ink to create a line drawing, which I then scan, add colors and texture digitally. I use Adobe Photoshop and a Wacom tablet.
What is your favorite medium to work in?
My favorite medium to work in is India ink and large paper. I love the dramatic and natural flow of the ink—there is a fluidity to the ink that, when mixed with water, becomes quite poetic. Drawing with India ink for me provides me with a sense of freedom of movement and mind.
Photograph courtesy of Hanna Barczyk
How would you describe your work and has it changed over the years? How so?
My approach is to unite emotion with bold, graphic elements to solve creative problems. My work often reflects critical social issues like diversity, immigration, war, women’s movements, and civil rights. Politics is central to my work, because politics is interwoven with art and society, and I try to think about which images need to be out in the world at this time. My ambition is to reflect the human condition in all its variety and beauty and to communicate truth.
I feel that my work has evolved towards a simplicity in forms and shapes, as well as a limited amount of line work. I hope to focus on impact and further bring a subject towards an essential truth.
With each project, I learn something new. My intent is largely the same: conveying emotions, narratives, stories. This, I believe, is at the core of all art.
Illustration by Hanna Barczyk for Catapult, as featured in Bryan Washington’s “The Case Against Making a City ‘Beautiful'”
Do you have a creative outlet outside of your work and if so, what do you receive from this practice? How often do you engage with it?
I love to dance, practice yoga, as well as read. I try to engage with any one of those activities every day. I like to use these outlets as an escape. In exchange, they often spark new ideas, or provide new energy to my work flow.
How does your commercial practice influence or inspire your fine art practice and vice versa? What are the differences for you?
My personal practice is somewhat different. I do freestyle automatic drawing, visually dancing out my thoughts as they come up. Eventually, I will have several different thoughts and would want to try and visually express them. I explore and deepen these, always with my eyes open to where they could go. This process, at its best, is one of surprises: One initial act can lead to an unexpected outcome in the drawing, based purely on instinct and imagination. I may end up somewhere very far from where I started, and it is in that process—from conception, to creation, to completion—that the particularities of the art work are born. Each day, I work to sharpen and improve my skills on a technical level so that I can be better equipped on the journey that each piece of art requires.
The fine art and commercial work influences each other, creating fine art work often brings new ideas and approaches to the commercial work. Commercial work always make me more curious about different subjects that I further sketch out for possible drawings and paintings.
Illustration by Hanna Barczyk for Catapult, as featured in Addie Liechty’s “Finding My Place in Ritual and Love as a Queer Mennonite”
I would love to hear your thoughts about the importance of the role/responsibility of the illustrator/artist/designer in today’s turbulent times? What do you feel your responsibility is?
Whenever an artist dares to work and create and put art out into the world, they are making a political statement. Their art is entering into a political society, and will be received and judged, and may even change the politics. But that cannot be the expectation. At the end, the artist must create from their own version of reality.
If an artist remains true to their authentic self, and the layers of emotion and depth within them, and if this artist roams this inner wilderness and is able to produce something out of it, then they have done the most revolutionary thing they could do, which is to create meaning in the world.
It is not the responsibility of the artist to change the world—that is every citizen’s responsibility—but to show the world all the perspectives that have been missing. In this way, artists help us to understand ourselves better, and may even give us new senses and emotions that were dormant.
Did you always want to become an artist or was there a different path you took that lead you to here and if so, what did that path look like?
I always knew I wanted to be an artist. There was no other way to be.
Even though I took many different paths to become an artist, the journey became part of who I am today. After graduating from the Ontario College of Art and Design, I continued my studies with a government funded program in Toronto—the Youth Employment Services—for one year. I co-owned a non-profit mural organization that provided artistic outlets to women at shelters around at-risk neighbourhoods in Toronto; community murals were the end result.
From graduation to becoming a full-time artist, which took about eight years, I worked plenty of different jobs full- and part-time—from working in the film industry as a stand-in or body-double, in the service industry (restaurants, hostessing), in teaching as well as performing Argentine tango and salsa. I also took on a few internships with artists such as Jose Ortega and Edel Rodriguez. I also interned at Fashion magazine and The Walrus magazine in Toronto.
It was only when I decided to move to New York City in 2014, when I quit all my jobs to focus on becoming an illustrator, that I actually became an illustrator. There were lots of compromises, but also extreme passion and focus on the goal.
Photograph courtesy of Hanna Barczyk
I would love to hear any advice you have for those interested in becoming illustrators and how they should go about sharing their work and receiving commissions?
A specific breakdown for individuals interested in becoming an illustrator would look like this:
Preparing a portfolio (physical and online one) of perhaps fifteen pieces, that can range from personal images to mock up posters or book covers, containing a variety of work.
Developing a strong professional online presence. Showcase your work and keep putting it out there.
Finding at least ten contacts of art directors (one can find them through previous illustration annuals, Twitter, Instagram, art and media events, and by sending them direct promo material by email and real mail!
Setting up an in-person meeting—these are still key to breaking into most industries.
Being persistent and following up with people until you get either some feedback or a commission.
Once you have a commission, send that out to the remainder of the clients, and blast it on social media. The cycle continues.
Further advice: Be curious about the world, be open to new experiences, read books, attend workshops, have conversations with family and friends, and spend time by yourself. Keep drawing.
In general, as an entrepreneur, one has to understand simple business practices: professionalism, reliability, and being on time.
Photograph courtesy of Hannah Barczyk
What does your day-to-day life look like living as an artist? What have the drawbacks been for you and what are the things you like most about this lifestyle?
On a typical day, I wake up at around 7 am, then I have an espresso and read the New York Times. I officially start working at 8:30 am. Before noon, I usually work on sketches, read assignments, and respond to emails. Usually around 1 pm, I realize I’m starving and I’ll have a quick lunch and spend my afternoons working on finishing illustrations. I tend to work till 7pm, then make dinner and try to catch a yoga class, dance, meet with friends, or take care of other things. I often work on personal drawings or painting later in the evening.
However, this all changes when I work on rush assignments, then I will ignore the schedule and focus on the assignment that has to be done for that same day.
Some of the drawbacks come with compromising mostly all weekends for working on projects, and it’s often unpredictable to plan a vacation—you never know how busy things will be in a day from now.But I love every aspect of this lifestyle. As I said, there is no other way for me to be. •
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Illustration by Hanna Barczyk for Catapult, as featured in Veronica Walsingham’s “How Human Kindness Helps Us Weather the Storms”