Can you describe your background?
Well, I started out in fashion illustration. I studied with a number of teachers at F.I.T. [the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York – ed.]. And one of my main mentors was a teacher who was very rooted in fine art, so I was getting taught both principles at the same time. I was learning about drawing, and drawing the figure, and drawing the fashion figure, and then at the same time I was learning how to abstract the figure and learning about color and fine art and especially the modern art folks. To this day, I work in the fashion industry, and I spend a lot of time abstracting fashion and beauty and nature.
How does fashion illustration work — when you’re working on an ad, for example, what are you working from?
Well, I studied drawing from life…. And then, as time went on, I left drawing from life and now I mostly draw from memory. The figures just keep sort of coming. I draw them from my mind.
If it’s a job, I’ll often have specific clothing to draw. Most of the things on my site — a lot of the things that I do for myself in my studio — they’re just sort of memories and little vignettes of things that I’ve seen, and I’ve really loved.
I love to look at the couture in Paris and very beautiful, extravagant runway shows. I’m not that interested in regular fashion — American fashion. I look at those European shows, and then a lot of the details might show up in my work.
You seem to be very productive. Was that always the case or did something kick in along the way that helped ramp things up?
Well, I don’t know if I’m really that productive. I mean, it looks like a lot of work — when I look at my website, I think, “Oh geez, I have done stuff.” But I don’t draw every day. To me, productive people are people who draw every day or paint or are sitting at the piano every day. I don’t. But I do work. I’ll work when I really feel inspired to work. And I’m capable of producing a lot of work in a small amount of time. But I don’t necessarily work every day.
…when I sit down to draw, if the mind is kind of [churning]…I shouldn’t admit this in public, but I literally will go ‘shhh’ sometimes. Because I got work to do. And thinking about things is just not going to help.
What do you think helps you produce a lot of work quickly?
Shorter stints create better work. Probably not unlike a singer, too many hours can wear it out, you just sort of lose it, something is just not fresh. Because I work very directly (there are no underdrawings going on, there’s no sketching, there’s none of that — it’s just completely direct drawing), after three hours, you’re done with that part of the process.
There are all kind of other things that go on afterwards, but the actual drawing…when I’m in that space, it just kind of comes and it comes fast. And when I’m not, there are moments when things are not going so great and you’ve got to just stop. And I pick it up the next day, or two days later, or whenever.
Tobie Giddio grew up on the New Jersey Shore where she fell in love with fashion and art from the books and magazines in her basement makeshift studio. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, she began illustrating advertisements for Bergdorf Goodman that ran weekly in the New York Times. Other work during this period included editorials for Interview Magazine and elaborately illustrated forecasting books and editorial work for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue.Since 2000, her work has been commissioned by clients ranging from Seibu Department Stores of Japan, to Apple, Inc., and Tiffany & Co.
Recent projects have included a series of classic charcoal and pen and ink drawings for Amy Sedaris’s I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence and a series of drawings for Infiniti Cars, as well as animated projects with Dovetail Studios, a collaboration between Giddio and her fiancé, motion/graphic designer Peter Belsky.
It’s kind of a balance between music and then meditation. I’m a meditator. But I don’t do that while I’m drawing. Well, actually you know, I shouldn’t say that. I find that drawing for me is a moving meditation. And when I’m in the zone and I’m completely concentrating, there’s no thinking going on at all. I can have music on while that’s happening.
My meditation practice that I do outside of the studio contributes because I know that in that concentration, when I’m in that space, I can trust what’s happening without thinking about it or judging it too much. You feel like you’re really getting out of the way of what needs to be coming through you at that moment. You’re not so worried about it or judging. That’s the killer, you know — the thinking is just the killer with drawing. I mean, with anything, but we’re talking about drawing right now.
How long have you practiced meditation?
At least ten years and it’s the best thing because you learn how to turn off — or not even turn off, but manage — your thoughts and the process of thinking and judging. If you have a regular meditation practice, when you sit down to do your work, you have an awareness of, “Oh there’s a lot of thinking going on or worrying going on or judging going on.” Even egomaniacal thoughts like, “This is the greatest thing ever.” And you know, you have to throw those out as much as you have to throw out, “This is sucking.” [laughter]
Meditation brings an awareness about your artistic process just like it does about anything. And when I sit down to draw, if the mind is kind of [churning], it’s not like I go, “Oh no, this is just not going to work.” It’s more like, “Okay that’s happening right now,” and there’s a little “shhhh-ing” going on.
I shouldn’t admit this in public, but I literally will go “shhh” sometimes. Because I got work to do. And thinking about things is just not going to help.
And what role does music play?
The music helps because it puts me in a very lighthearted space. I feel happy, I feel joyful. I’m not a misery artist. I cannot relate to that on any level. I need to feel good, I need to feel happy, I need to feel a certain amount of serenity to work. I do not get into the angst thing.
Are there things that sap your inspiration?
I’ve read something about what you’re talking about. You’re asking about writer’s block and artistic block. I’ve never experienced, really — I should tap wood but — a long period of a block. I struggle through some drawings sometimes. I struggle, but I would never say “block” because I think it’s like habits — if you’re able to get through everything not going so fabulously for a day or two or three, and you have that consistency, then it never builds up to three months. You know that this is just a moment.
And then it’s always interesting to find out what it is that’s preventing the drawing. “Okay, what am I thinking? What’s going on here?” And I think if you really want to know, you’ll find out. And then you can work with that and move on.
What keeps your work fresh from year to year?
If it’s new to me then, hopefully, it’s new to the world. I don’t really look at a lot of things. I don’t look at a lot of art. I just keep focused on things that I love and see how they come through in the work.
I’m not usually focused on the same things all the time, so that kind of evolves. Like color palettes — I’m having this moment, and I just want to do everything in these pale pinks and beiges and pale grays. And I’ll just get into this certain palette, and I don’t know why that’s happening but it is. It’s like the way a musician is feeling certain tones and rhythms. It’s a very intuitive thing.
I wondered if there’s any particularly helpful advice you’ve picked up over the years about how to approach your art?
I’ve had a couple of teachers who were just so incredibly encouraging and that’s been the most important thing. I didn’t even get accepted to school when I started out, so when I met up with a couple of teachers that I really, really respected, and they were so encouraging, that was everything to me.
I didn’t like high school. I didn’t like my life before I started drawing in the studio. I was not a happy teenager or any of that. The success I did not have in those years growing up and being a kid was really fortunate because that made me strive to make something out of this and to really enjoy it….
No one had really encouraged me like that before. I just really fell in love with the whole atmosphere, is what happened. I really loved drawing from life. I really enjoyed college on that level. I really enjoyed that process of drawing fashion. And for the first time, I was having a lot of fun and being productive.
What made the biggest impact on you at the time?
It was moving to New York City from the Jersey Shore…. I was from Long Branch, and it was just like a party town. It was a beach town, and there was nothing there for me. And if I didn’t leave and I didn’t go to New York and I didn’t go to art school, I don’t think I would’ve had a very happy life. And I never would’ve been able to make this art.
What I experienced the minute I got to New York City was amazing. It was the ’80s. And there was all this fun, all this amazing stuff going on here, and it was really inspirational.
Was it partly the company of artists?
I had made a couple of great friends, but it was more being in the club scene, being in the fashion scene, being around a lot of beautiful things, a lot of wild things, fun things, things that just were visually and on all levels inspirational. You know, coming from the Jersey Shore there was nothing of that. It was good to get out of there.[laughter]
So a change of location’s a good thing?
It was great.