For as long as I can remember making things, I have been interested in capturing memories and nostalgia. Honoring memories has become a really important practice for me because it illuminates moments that shaped the person I am today and also enables me to remember the feelings I hold close to my soul, the lighthearted, the heavy, the everything.
The themes in my work are born from and influenced by a love of children’s literature and television, the Sunday funnies and also memories from my own experience growing up. I think we are uniquely drawn together when moments from the past appear in our foreground. Whether it is a direct personal connection or a subtlety picked up with a tone seen in an image, it is important for me to tug on the heartstrings of people who view my work, to encourage them to laugh, to feel human and maybe even feel some honest goodness inside.
1. tell us about your hometown / city and how it has shaped your artwork.
I grew up on the south shore of Long Island. The town where we lived was littered with gems like a two-dollar movie theater, millions of all-night diners and family-run businesses like bakeries and paint shops. It was minutes from the ocean. Happy Days or the Wonder Years could have been set there, at least that's how it felt as a kid. The small-town vibe, partnered with living in a house with my grandparents for a number of years, instilled a really deep appreciation for authenticity, closeness, and cherishable quiet moments, all of which I try to create in the things I make.
2. your illustrations evoke childhood nostalgia with a retro aesthetic. tell us about your cast of recurring characters and what kinds of materials influence your work.
I grew up spending a lot of time with my cousins and kids from our neighborhood, in all sorts of little gaggles. I think a lot of my memories of our time spent together is reflected in my work, be it in actual characters or in the settings. I think most recently the mischievous children I paint have somewhat to do with memories surrounding that time in my life.
In terms of inspiration, I draw a lot from the things I grew up with and sometimes the things that my parents did. We lived with my grandparents so the house was very well seasoned from my mother and her sisters who grew up there years before I was born. I think all the television, old children's books found in the attic, and the old family photos really resonated with me. I am really drawn to the fragility of old books, the worn quality of old commercials and segments from children's television and just about every color used back then. I especially enjoy the details, how colors fade, how things fray and how time sort of distorts material because I think it speaks to how our memories distort, fade and sort of unravel.
3. tell us about an early work of yours that remains very important to you.
In college I made a series of screen prints of rooms, that were sort of like rooms in an empty dollhouse. I can remember it was the first time I really wanted to understand a process no matter how much work it would take. I worked really hard on matching the colors and the overall imagery with exactly what I saw in my mind. Even when the printing process got the best of me, which it did for several weeks at a time, I just couldn't help but want to fully realize the ideas. Living through the tough parts of a process is really important. It was a good lesson for me.
4. when you hit a roadblock, what is your favorite thing to do? (take a walk? chug gallons of coffee? dance naked around your living room?)
When I hit a bump in the road, usually after a few minutes of fussing, I take a step back and either move onto the next thing if I'm still feeling like I've got to accomplish something or I'll take a walk outside to process what's happening. It's usually pretty hard to surrender to defeat in the moment, but whenever I give myself the space I am relieved with the outcome, even if means allowing myself to scrap everything and begin again. I think it's hard to know when to cool it or when to push through a situation when you're making something. It's taken a lot of work to train myself to listen to myself when it's time to take a break. Now periodic breaks and check in's feel like a part of the process. It's kind of like a puzzle; sometimes, a 3000 piece puzzle where you're missing pieces 2995-2999, but nonetheless, well-spent work.
5. how does illustrating your past influence the way you process your memories? do you work with specific events or touch more upon general childhood themes?
I think illustrating my past helps me sort it all out and also allows me the opportunity to honor childhood in its entirety. My childhood was really special - sure, it was filled with a bunch of drama, but still, I have some really solid memories. I think making art based around that time in life is important for me because it's such a unique time. When you're a kid, there is so much unknown, so much left to be determined, but it doesn't really matter. Nowadays, the unknowns can be a lot more serious and equally terrifying; there are higher stakes. Illustrating the past lets me encourage the viewer to look back into their own childhood, which was hopefully a much simpler time, and find something to feel nostalgic about and to remember what it felt like when we were all okay.
I try to represent a little bit of my personal past, but deviate sometimes. Other times I hone in on classic or general moments that are relatable to the viewer so they hopefully leave with an impression, even if it's the pull of a tiny heartstring.
6. are you self-taught or did you learn from classes? when did you start drawing?
Making things was my favorite part of growing up. I started drawing very early. My father worked for a newspaper and sometimes we would hang out in his office while he worked. It had a xerox machine and an entire office closet full of paper supplies. My sister and I drew on everything and with anything we could get our hands on.
I went to FIT in NYC and Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. Art school was hard in ways I hadn't expected. I struggled for a long time finding my voice amongst the still lives of vases and self portraits. I will say that it was helpful in encouraging me to build a pretty wide arsenal of skills, that secretly help me when I'm stuck on a project every now and again.
When I transferred schools, I was a bit older than the college freshmen that were in my classes and had a hard time connecting. I looked elsewhere to figure out what the hell I truly liked. Places like Space 1026, Spector Gallery and the Fabric Workshop and Museum were huge inspirations for me. There was an authenticity in these and other places around the city that reminded me that while the history and the skills that I was learning were important, what ultimately was the most important was making things that felt personal to me however possible.
7. do you have any upcoming projects of collaborations you're looking forward to?
This year, I am working on some paintings for a couple of group shows and I'm collaborating with a writer from the UK on a children's book. My husband and I run a limited edition collaborative screen printing project with various artists, which I am always stoked about. It's called Tie One On and is a bandana of the month club. We invite an artist to create a one-color design each month that we then screen print onto a bandana. This is our second year and this time around we are sourcing organic fabric made in the USA and I'm using a serger to finish the edges on each bandana in each edition of 20. It's a low-key collaboration but is a lot of fun to connect and honor artist's work that we really admire.
8. who in your childhood was most influential to you? supportive of your artwork?
It's hard to say who was most influential to me. I think that there are parts of each member of my family that encouraged me to make, do, create and not give up, as cheesy as it sounds. I think ultimately though, my grandfather is the overarching figure who has solidly supported each member of our family to follow their creative passions, be it hobby or career. He is a dedicated tinkerer and is still to this day remodeling, exploring and seeking answers to improving things. I think that he lit a little fire inside of all of us to never be satisfied, lazy or to stop. I think that's a blessing and a curse but ultimately I really am grateful for the drive to make and couldn't think of life any way else.
Heather Sundquist is a visual artist who presently lives in a tiny house under a gigantic oak tree in Austin, TX. find more of her work at www.heathersundquist.com and check out @heathersundquist on instagram.