Rachel Levit’s subtle sense of humor
Rachel Levit’s illustrations lure you in because of their subtle sense of humor. With great spontaneity, she introduces characters that become very dear to us in a single gesture. She lives in New York and moves easily through many worlds: that of illustration and art, in Mexico and the US. This is what she told us:
Límulus [L]: What illustration techniques do you prefer?
Rachel Levit [RL]: The process begins with sketches, usually with pencil. I usually do the shapes by hand using sumi ink. When I have editorial commissions I work the colors on Photoshop, because if I were to do them by hand, it would take me three times as long. When they’re personal projects, unless it’s going to be printed, I like to do everything by hand. I love painting. I use gouache or watercolor and ink. The things I do for me sometimes end up in collective shows or I find them another life, perhaps printing them in zines. When they’re my own projects, I prefer having them physically as well as in my computer.
L: Is there a branch of illustration you feel more comfortable working with?
RL: I really like working for publications because it’s very fast and brief. They contact me and I only have a few hours to do the job sometimes. It’s rubbish a few days later. Although marketing pays more, I prefer that. I like to rotate between personal work, exhibitions, marketing and publications. When it’s something mine, it’s more personal than when I collaborate with a text, but I don’t like doing the same thing for too long. I’m currently working with ceramics, for example. I’m not entirely sure what “my thing” is.
L: That’s one of the advantages of illustration, that it can coexist with various disciplines: music, literature, design, marketing, journalism.
RL: Or animation. That’s what I like. I wanted to study fine arts, but then I realized I was too indecisive. Illustration is good for that because you can make it up but it’s a paid job. Although everything goes. Nowadays, there are many artists that shift from the art world to the world of illustration. More so in lowbrow, obviously, but there’s less separation every time.
L: Is there an illustrator that does that that you particularly like?
RL: There’s a Swedish illustrator, Camila Engman, who began as an illustrator and later on stopped her commercial career to dedicate more of her time to fine arts. There isn’t a lot of difference between her two styles. Perhaps she is now more experimental and does larger sculptures. And there’s also Marcel Dzama who draws, makes sculptures and directs movies. He moves in the gallery world but at the same time he does music covers and illustrated books.
L: Do you feel you’ve found your own style?
RL: At school they tell you it’s very important to find your voice, your style. But I’ve been drawing since I was a little girl and everybody’s always said “that’s so you,” “so typical of you.” Without planning it, I’ve always had a style, which I have refined over the years. Many people have a hard time but I’ve always drawn faces with very recognizable shapes. Although it has also evolved, and I always experiment, but the more you do it, the more you know what you like. You can’t feign style. Everybody draws a flower differently.
L: So you do experiment from time to time.
RL: Yes. I don’t like to begin things the same way or have a very specific style. I feel there’s still a lot of space to grow and evolve, and I don’t want to stay as someone that will always draw the same way. I’d rather be more open.
L: Are there also themes that are already part of your style? Characteristic of your work?
RL: I’ve always drawn people and characters. I’ve always drawn women because I found it more natural, and people started to hire me to draw about women’s issues, or issues that adapted to my style. It’s nice because you work with a personal theme and then people realize you can work with texts with related subjects. I end up drawing things that I would not have drawn out of my own initiative but that relate to my visual language.
L: What subjects are you working on?
RL: I’m sculpting more and looking at pre-Hispanic sculpture. Although I don’t want it to be the only focus. I’m making children, twins, women, animals, subjects that I had worked with before.
L: Do you work from home or do you have a studio?
RL: I have a studio that I share with three other people and I work there most of the time. Or in the ceramics studio toot, which isn’t too far away.
L: When did you start making ceramics?
RL: I started making ceramics with the dough one uses to bake at home for my illustration thesis, and a year later, I found a ceramics studio I started going to. It’s a process that takes time and practice. At first, everything went wrong but I changed studios and I practiced a lot more in Mexico. I’ve been experimenting for the past two years and I like it more and more every day.
L: There are a lot of Mexican motifs in your work. Do you think that living in New York has influenced how you’ve selected these subjects?
RL: Any Mexican that leaves Mexico becomes more Mexican. Because you are no longer in your element, your “Mexicanity” is accentuated. It happens to everyone. You miss it so much and it is so hard to adapt that somehow you want to be more Mexican. When I was in Mexico, I wasn’t really interested in pre-Hispanic art, and lately, I’m very interested in it. When you’re there, you don’t give it the time of day, and you rather look at art outside your country because it seems more exotic abroad. And when you leave, you realize that Mexico has everything, that it does not ask anything of Europe, that its culture is richer than in other places.