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Liza Corsillo: Illustrator

Lily Hetzler

Walking into illustrator, Liza Corsillo's apartment was like walking into a sun-filled story book.  The kind I want to live, minimal but playful and with beautiful colors.  Much like the artist's own work.  Chatting with Liza took us on a journey to Paris and the old streets of Brooklyn, through voyeuristic train rides and walks in the woods.  Get inspired by her adventures... Read on (and listen on below)!

Nativen:  How do you think growing up in Connecticut influenced your choice to become an illustrator? Or do you think it did?

Liza:  No, probably not. I think my parents influenced my choice to become an illustrator. My dad is a graphic designer and has always done book jacket design and album cover designs and he does a lot of hand‑lettering. My mom is a painter and sculptor, and makes collage things. I think it's more that than the location.

Nativen:  A product of your environment?

Liza:  Yeah. Maybe the color, story, or themes of the things that I draw are influenced by Connecticut. By like acorns and walking in the woods.

Nativen:  Yeah.

Liza:  I don't think that decision is totally based on place.

Nativen:   Was there a moment or an event in your life that helped influence your decision to become an illustrator? Like, was there an "ah-ha" moment that you had where you said, "Yes, this is what I want to do with my life.”

Liza:  Yeah, kind of. I went to two different art schools. I went to the Museum School in Boston, which is an art school that was really attractive to me as a teenager, because there were no grades and there was a lot of emphasis on "do whatever you want." Not a formal foundation year.

I was doing mostly photography when I was there, as well as drawing things and making sculptures that ended up as backdrops in photographs. Things like big cardboard cutouts and painted things that looked a lot like an illustration, but were a backdrop for a photograph.

I always thought about "Peewee's Playhouse" and really the bright poppy kind of imagery that I was really fond of that I would try and mix with photography or mix into a natural setting.

Then I went to grad school in Paris. The first year that I was there I continued with photography, but I didn't really want to be in the dark all the time, which now in 2014 sounds like the silliest thing you could possibly say.

But I had spent four years in a color darkroom or in the basement since that’s where I worked my student job; it was in the equipment room, the stock room.

So I was in the basement all the time late hours, eating out of the vending machine all the time. It was really romantic then, but then I got to this really new, beautiful place. I wanted to be outside and not be making photographs.

I had this weird feeling that this flat thing, this photograph, feels really stuck in itself. Like it is locked, or the things inside of it felt really trapped, and I wanted to change that. So when I was in school there I made some video work and sculptures and also started drawing a lot more.

Nativen:  Oh, that's great.

Liza:  Then coming back here, I started working with my two brothers, who I work for full time now.

I started doing some fashion illustration through them for a brand called "Folk." It's a British brand. I did a really fun look book for them.

Then I did a series of posters for my brothers' retail store, that's called "Hickoree's," that were inspired by the J Peterman catalog and the Vermont Country Store.

So all of the products are illustrated in a very photorealistic way. Those two things were the first real jobs I had as an illustrator and I really liked it.

The posters I illustrated were like a fold out, folded into four. So it looks like the size of a newspaper when folded up.

When they got printed, and my brothers brought them with them when I was home for Thanksgiving. I opened it up and all of a sudden my drawings that I had been really nerdily slaving over for a long time, were alive in this big thing. That felt a little bit magic.

Nativen:  Yeah. That's a nice epiphany, too, because it sounds like in your journey of becoming a photographer leading into being an illustrator, it became about telling a story.

Liza:  I think the end game or the end of this journey hopefully, if I can get my sh*t together - you can quote me on that [laughs] - would be like comic books and children's books.

Nativen:  Oh, amazing.

Liza:  And graphic novels. But maybe less graphic. Maybe not so hard black and white, although I really like that kind of drawing.

The photographs that I took; It was like trying to make a comic book in a photograph. It was really cool, because there was this weird awkward feeling of these two mediums or what I'm trying to do feels a little awkward in this medium.

Yeah, but in the end it felt like I was trying to put a round peg in a square hole.

Nativen:  That's good that you know that now. What do you love most about Brooklyn and how do you think that affects your work?

Liza:  There's a lot of things that I really like about living here. I guess this neighborhood, I just moved to Lefferts Gardens. I'm right at the southeast end of Prospect Park.

This is similar to what I found really inspiring in Paris actually also, is that living in a city among people who are of all different walks of life and cultures and things like that.

I end up feeling like I get to spy on people a little bit: on the subway and in the park and when they're doing their errands on the weekend. It feels like, in kind of a journalistic way, I get to study people and Brooklyn's really good for that.

The subway is one of my favorite places to draw, because it's like this social contract to let everybody just see you do the weird stuff you're going to do on the subway, because you have no choice.

People eating. I don't know. People eating like a really smelly noodle dish, like Chinese noodles on the subway, and it's all over their face. I love that.

Or people cutting their fingernails. I don't totally love, but it's also...

Nativen : It’s fascinating.

Liza:  In Paris, there was a lot of that. I think for me itit’s just like such a wealth of weirdness, because it's a foreign country. I was trying to figure out this puzzle of another language and what is that? Like. Just hearing new slang that was so exciting for me.

Or seeing people's weird t‑shirts that had English written on it, but that made no sense. That was just super rich.

Nativen:  A definite window into a culture for sure.

Liza:  Yeah. So much weird private information that people let you have.

Nativen:  Yeah. That's something that's so great about cities in general, especially cities like New York and Paris, because they’re huge. There's such a lack of personal space in the way that we live our lives in a city that you're just willing to give up, that you totally just have free access to all of that information that would normally be hidden in a car. I think the veil just totally falls away, which is amazing and strange.

Ok, just a couple of sort of more rapid fire questions. Do you have a favorite restaurant in Brooklyn?

Liza:  Yeah, it's a new little restaurant on Broadway. Under the JMZ, called Dotory. It's a Korean Restaurant.

They have a bibimbop that is tailor made for my taste, because lots of that type of food that I really love doesn't have enough vegetables in it. They do a bibimbop with a whole avocado fanned out on top of it, and all of these of exotic green and vegetables. It's amazing.

Nativen:  That sounds amazing and may just have to go eat that right now.

Do you have a favorite home good store in Brooklyn?

Liza:  Well I have two favorites.

There is the favorite that's like maybe aspirational for me but also very close to my heart. Angela Silva who is the girlfriend of my elder brother has a store called Joinery in Williamsburg on south 1st and Havemeyer. It's not just home goods, it's women's clothing and home goods, but it's just like the most beautiful space. She has the best eye for it. The things I want to buy there are big investment blankets or a really beautiful rug or things like that. It's not like where I go everyday but I think about it a lot.

The other one is like where I go all the time. I like to mix my clothing and home goods, I feel it’s a good thing when they go together.

I just love going to Muji.

Nativen:  Muji is great. There is something about the lighting, the simplicity and the color tone and the texture and everything that you just sort of feel like you want to snuggle on a blanket or something sit and read inside there.

Nativen: Do you have a favorite park or outdoor space?

Liza:  Prospect park. The part of it with the lake.

Nativen: What do you think is the greatest resource to your work in Brooklyn? Or in New York in general?

Liza:  I guess it’s always changing but I think especially in this neighborhood and in north New York in general there is so much amazing typography on the sides of the buildings and crazy balls-out advertisement.

I don't really like the more contemporary [typography], I'm not talking about an iPhone billboard.

Just when I was going to meet you, there is a place on Flatbush that's called "Best Meats” which is a great name. The whole front of it made up of a yellow and red lettered font. The windows are completely covered with those and that's a super inspiring thing.

A mix of that and being close enough that I can drive to Rockaway beach before work, which is amazing. Also, being able to take my dog to the park every morning. If it weren't dark so early then I would have time to do it in the evening too

Nativen:  Yeah. I think the facades of buildings and sort of like the remnants of previous businesses and the layers that veil over that over the years, it's pretty fantastic across New York. It's really nice that we actually still have access to that.

I feel that there are a lot of cities that disappear really quickly when development comes in.

Liza:  Yeah. What is there when that is gone? I guess it's just simplified

Nativen:  I know but it's such a rich cultural history to sort of see all that in one place.

This is such a hard question to ask you because it's complicated, but do you have a favorite illustration that you have done for any particular reason, or maybe a project that was the greatest reward to finish?

Liza:  There is a thing that I made for a friend of mine that I'm planning to continue doing as a series, and as a thing that people can buy.

The first one that I made was my really close friend Tamia was [and still is] going through the process preparing to apply to graduate school to do art restoration: to restore paintings and also books.

She was having a really hard time because she had to do all these chemistry courses she never done them before, it was just grueling.

So she asked me to make her an inspirational poster that she could look at to spur her on. I really loved the poster that I made for her.

Nativen:  That's great.

Liza:  It's like the inside of a museum backroom where everybody is working on like cleaning up drawings or dusting, like in my very naive imagination about what happens, dusting the face of like a mummy or something like that.

There is a big glass case that comes right into the center of the picture with the mummy inside of it and at his feet is a little cat mummy.

Then there's just shelves and shelves and things like that.

That one's my favorites right now.

I'm working on the second one of those for a friend in LA who's a writer. It's about writing a novel.

Nativen: Oh, great. That's so cool.

Nativen:  What part of the illustration process brings you the most joy?

Liza:  I'm really pleased right now with the consistency with which I am drawing. So the reward of sitting down and making a drawing every single day is probably my favorite part, because the opposite of that is a very unpleasant process...

When I haven't been drawing because of a crazy week at work or I go on vacation or something like that where I haven't made any work in a week - then sitting down to make something is always an exercise. It’s like I hate myself.

Well not…. It’s like, I hate myself lite.

Nativen:  Right, exactly. A diet version.

What would you say then is the greatest struggle for you in illustrating?

Liza:  It's hard to mix periods of time of getting a lot of work done and periods of time of trying to show people that work.

Like right now, I think the biggest struggle is allowing myself to sit back and put a bunch of things that are already made in front of me and say, "Here's what I'm going to do with this."

I have that thing where I sometimes start a new project instead of finishing an old one, because it's easier.

Nativen:  Right.

Liza:  Which is why doing commercial work is so cool, actually. I struggled a lot in art, especially in undergrad with the idea that doing commercial artwork was not cool. And not true or something...

I actually think with my personality I work better when somebody else is giving me a deadline or working with an art director. In situations like that I really flourish because I feel the stakes of somebody expecting this thing.

Nativen:  Yeah, absolutely. That is a completely understandable challenge of having the stick‑to‑it-ivness to be able to see something through when you don't have a clear end to it.

Liza:  Yeah. The other thing of just like, to be super real about it, I have a lot of projects that I want to get printed or to make, but I don't have the money to print them.

Nativen:  Yeah. For sure. Such is the struggle of being an artist and a business on your own and all that.

Liza:  Yeah.

Nativen:   That's the name of the game.

Liza:  I need somebody to donate a Risograph printer for me. I'll put that out there.

Nativen:  Awesome!... What's one thing you've always wanted to do but haven't done yet?

Liza:  I really want to go to Greece or a place like that by the ocean and I'd like to go for six months and not work.

Nativen:  That would be nice.

Liza:  And make work.

Nativen:  Right.

Liza:  My drawing sabbatical is the thing I've always wanted to do.

Nativen:  That would be a really amazing opportunity.

If you weren't an illustrator, what do you think you would be?

Liza:  An easy answer to that would be making another kind of artwork. But I think I want to do that still.

There's other object design things that I really want to do. So maybe to really answer that question… I really love teaching. I've worked for several years as a French teacher. So probably something like that.

I also feel like I don't do enough things, like physical body things in my day to day life. I mean, there's a lot of huffing and puffing…

Nativen:  To live in New York City?

Liza:  Yeah. But I don't do enough weeding the garden, meditative physical work. So if I was going to do a different life over, I would want to maybe teach and work the land. [laughs]

Nativen:  That's great. Hey, listen. You've got lots of life left, so maybe you can have a double life and change gears sometime down the road.

Liza:  I'm saying "work the land." [laughs] It's just like... It sounds corny, but it fits so closely into the niche of Brooklyn.

Nativen:  Yeah. But it's an "animalian" experience. I mean we kind of joke about that, because it sounds like an ism that you can directly correlate to this whole kind of locavore back to the land movement that's happening, but at the same time, it's like there's a reason that phrase sounds the way that it does, because it goes back to what we do as base animal beings.

Liza:  Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of the drawings that I make or the inspiration for drawings that I make have to do with searching for a spiritual connection to nature and to inanimate objects. A bit of magic realism.

Nativen:  That's great. Do you listen to music when you illustrate?

Liza:  Yeah, sometimes. I was listening to podcasts a lot. I haven't been doing that all that much, because I need recommendations.

I was listening to Dan Savage all the time for a long period of time. I really love the beginnings of those shows where he's talking about stuff that's going on in the news and things that are happening. And I like his rants. I find them really inspiring.

…I listen to Phosphorescent. Sometimes classical music, although I feel like I didn't ever have that education, so I end up typing into Spotify, like "calm classical piano music," like a nerd. Or, like the opposite of a nerd... I’d love to have more knowledge of that.

Nativen:  That's cool. If there were three words that sum up your work, what would they be?

Liza:  Maybe not always what they are, but "intimate," I think is one, "pervy," and maybe "feminine."

Nativen:   Is there anything you do to specifically connect with your community with the artwork that you're creating?

Liza:  Not enough.  I have put out two issues of a zine that I want to continue with, it's on the docket, of a zine called "Alone to be Together." It's all women contributors. For the first one I asked people to write or make a drawing or contribute some creative thing that had to do with the sentence, "Alone to be together." What does it mean to them?

Which, for me, came out of the end of a really long‑term relationship and realizing that I had very few of my own friends, that I felt like I hadn't nurtured that kind of thing, especially with women. I wanted to make an excuse to hang out with all these women I thought were cool.

I was also living in upstate New York, so I felt remote and disconnected from a lot of those people who lived down here. The second issue of that is called "Fear and Snobbery." It was whatever people wanted to write, or contribute, that had to do with that. The next one is going to be "Living Deliberately." It's been in the works for a long time, because I just moved and that was a drawn‑out process, and work stuff. But I still really want to continue those things.

Nativen:  That's great.

Liza:  That's a community thing.

Nativen:  I look forward to reading them.

What's the most helpful advice that you think you've received as an artist or an individual, or what advice would you give to young people that are looking to create their own thing?

Liza:  There's a thing that I heard that Jerry Seinfeld said about his success. Maybe somebody was like, "That's way up there, there's no way I could ever get to that point. Basically, like, "He is a magic person. He's not real anymore. I could never do what he did."

I may be making up this story, but it is true that he said this. He said that the secret to his success is he just writes every single day. No excuses.

Nativen:  Absolutely. Who's your hero, or who's someone who's helped influence your work?

Liza:  I really love this illustrator called Blexbolex. He's an amazing artist and everything, but in terms of a bigger hero, the reason that I went to school in Paris originally is because I went to that school on exchange. The reason I chose that place and that school to go to was because this woman,Annette Messager, was teaching there. She's a French artist. My mom took me to see her work when I was about 14. She had a retrospective in New York. We took the train in together and saw her work.

That's the closest thing to that, because then I ended up being in her studio and working with her, and got to be standing next to her when she would nudge me and tell me an inside joke that was just for me, and we spoke French together. That's a big deal to me.

Nativen:  Yeah, that's a really powerful motivator. That's so great. That's cool.

Liza:  She makes really weird work, too. She makes kind‑of pervy things that I really love, in a way that I find so fearless.

Nativen:  Oh, I like that.

What are five objects you can't live without?

Liza:  I have two or three rings that were my grandmother's that I would be very devastated if I didn't have them. On a more daily basis way, I always have a pen and a notebook in my bag. I feel like I can't live without that. I have some artwork that my mom made that I really covet and would save if there were a fire.

Nativen:  That's a good way of thinking about it. What would I save if there was a fire?

Check out more of Liza's work here.

Interview and Photos By: Lily Hetzler

Assistant Editor: Emily Murphy (This interview has been condensed & edited)

all images copywright of Nativen