Studio Visit with Alison Woodward

Please meet Alison Woodward. I think the first time I saw Alison's work was when I happened upon a photo of her grad piece from the graduation show at Emily Carr University. It's the most beautiful, intricate piece of work made up of layers of cut-out pieces of painted paper. A unicorn-like creature emerges out of the work and is surrounded by golden leaves (which kinda adds a whole extra level of magic to it). (See the second photo below) I was excited to chat with Alison and take a peek inside her studio. Oh, and if you're thinking about getting a tattoo, be sure to consider Alison and her incredible line work.

Studio Visit: May 11th, 2016

Introduce yourself. How would you describe yourself as a maker/creative? How do you spend your days?

Hello! My name is Alison Woodward and I am an illustrator living in Vancouver. I devote most of my time to tattooing and designing tattoos, but I occasionally get to work on personal projects. My work stretches from painting to paper craft, I'm a big fan of diversity of mediums.

My mornings are making coffee and taking our dog out, scrolling through instagram.
I ride my bike to work everyday. I usually arrive at the tattoo shop before noon to get set up, talk to clients about future projects, answer emails. I tattoo four or five days a week usually and draw my designs in my time off. After work I go home to my little dog Tali and my partner Lucas and we usually hang out for a bit a mellow!
....and then I usually get back to sending emails and drawing tattoos into the night.

My days off are where any extra curricular art work happens. I often have a painting on the go that I just stare at for months until I get a chance to touch it. Right now it's several zine projects that I need to assemble and a few primed panels.

There aren't that many days out of the year I'm not drawing at some time.

Briefly describe your journey. Were there some pivotal things that helped propel you to where you are now? (Perhaps there were some struggles that you see, in hindsight, helped you get to where you are now?)

I've always been into visual communication. I am very lucky that everyone has always encouraged me to follow that passion. I owe so much of my creativity to my parents. They have always done their best to let me try whatever I've been interested in ever since I was young. My Mom used to sew a lot and I learned a lot about crafting and making with her, and my Dad was a biologist before he became a librarian. When I look into my interests now I can clearly see that I'm a total blend of my parents!  I met my best bud, Brianne Tweddle , in grade seven. She was the first person my age that I had ever met that was as enthusiastic about everything, especially drawing, as I was. We entered every art contest we could, either together or competitively. In highschool we had our first art shows together, entered community art events together, and were part of our school's first art history club together! High school was also when we both realized that we wanted to pursue tattooing. We've always been catalysts for each other. We were both accepted to Emily Carr in 2008 and moved to Vancouver from the Okanagan together.

Art school was an amazing time of experimentation that made me question everything and why I was making art at all. I was able to go to Scotland on student exchange and that's when I applied for an apprenticeship at the tattoo shop I work at now.

Long story short I was chosen to apprentice at the Fall in 2011 and have been hustling there ever since!

I was cleaning my desk off a year ago and I found a letter I wrote myself when I was given the apprenticeship. I was going to school at the time and working at an art supply store. My family was supportive, but they didn't want me to ruin everything I had worked for and bail on my degree. This letter was me telling myself I could do it- I could work two jobs, make no money, and get my foot in massive door to the tattoo industry. When I read it now, it kind of seems pleading, but it reminds me of how hard I worked to get to where I am.

I would not be where I am today without the immense support of my family, my friends, and the community of artists in Vancouver. I can't sugar coat it, tattooing is the hardest job I've ever had, and without the support of other tattoo artists who believe in me I probably might have quit. Without the support of other artists and gallery owners, no one would have ever seen my work! And I may have never met you!

Your work seems to speak to old fairytales and has a strong sense of narrative. When did that fascination begin, has it always been a part of your art?

I feel that narrative has always been present in my work! From the small books I would make as a kid about magic cats to the paintings of animate decaying animals I make now... I'm a very sentimental person and I've always been interested in all types of narratives- the lives of creatures and things. This is why I love subjects like scientific illustration, because as objective as we can try to be, there is always the lens of the artist over every representation. I love old illustrations from zoologists trying to document animals from memory. These animals in these images are sometimes as fantastical as imaginary creatures!
I also love the narrative combined objects have. Viewers might all read the image differently, but it sparks stories about relationships.

Do you have any rituals or a routine that helps ground you & primes your creative mind?

A cup of coffee, a good playlist/podcast, and a quiet house. Even typing that, I feel a bit more relaxed.

Fear and uncertainty seem to be an innate part of the creative process. How do you confront your fears, instead of letting them stop you?

Tattooing has really put fear in the art process in perspective for me. I have never been more (professionally) scared in my life than I have been tattooing! You're collaborating directly with another person with hopes and fears, and that brings a tremendous amount of pressure. Mentors of mine with years of experience over me have told me they feel the same and that feeling never really goes away.

 It makes any other art I work on for myself feel so much more approachable. I get to be alone, in terms of creativity, and say things with my work that I'm personally interested in exploring.

On the other hand, I find the imagery that I get asked to work with a lot in tattooing seeps into my personal work. It can be a challenge to get back to a more freeform approach to drawing, without anyone telling you what to do, when all I do all day is work with other peoples ideas.

What kinds of activities/interests do you have outside of your actual art practice, that you feel informs or inspires your work? (or maybe just contributes to a richer life)

I love riding my bike! It makes me feel better about sitting around tattooing and drawing all the time. I love biking to work because it's a moment to clear my mind: no one can call me, I can't check my phone, I'm fairly alone and I just have to be present and watch for traffic. I ride my bike all year round, so right now (in the spring time) is particularly nice.

Being outdoors is an excellent stress release. I was lucky to get to go camping a lot as a kid and I love getting to make it out to the forest. I love living in the pacific northwest for that reason especially.

Another is music. Music isn't something I've ever been good at, but it's nice to have a hobby that has nothing to do with my professional goals and is just for me. A friend has been showing me around a banjo off and on for the last year or so.

Do you feel that the creative community in Vancouver is supportive? Is there any way that you would like to see it grow? Can you list any events or an organization that you feel do a good job at fostering this?
I feel that the community in Vancouver is so supportive! I should be more specific: I feel that the lower brow, local, more casual art scene is really rad and full of lovely wonderful folks doing amazing work! There are excellent galleries like Hot Art Wet City, The Gam, Untitled Art Space, The Fall Tattoo's Art Gallery, Seymour Art Gallery, just to list a small few, that are welcoming local and new talent to show in a gallery setting!
Folks working in comics have been so kind to me- cloudscape comics, Canzine west, the Vancouver comic arts festival, Word Under the street- all of these groups (and more!) have been so encouraging and I've met super inspiring people through. Snag at the Cobalt and Andrew Young who runs it, does a A+ job getting folks out to see local and emerging talent and supports a creative community that needs to look out for each other.
I am not a fan of gatekeeping, there should be no limit to the amount of people who get to participate in art! I'd love to see people continue to lift each other up- I wouldn't have had the opportunities I've been afforded without the kindness of others.

Any exciting projects that you are working on?
I am so excited that I get to work on a mural this summer in Strathcona! I'll be collaborating with another local artist, working in a team of many local artists to cover a local building.


Thank You Alison!

View more of her awesome work here: