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Natural talent, naturally inspired

Lili Arnold is a Californian artist and designer who specialises in illustration, printmaking and textile design.

Step us through your art process. Where do you find your inspiration?
Here’s a walk through my process: After carving my soft-kut rubber block with linocut tools, I separate the flower pieces by cutting them out with a facto knife. When the pieces are separated and ready for printing, I then choose my ink colours and begin mixing on my palettes, using palette knives and brayers. When the inks are mixed, I then roll the different colours onto my carved block, starting with the simplest pieces first, then adding gradients and finer details toward the end. When all the pieces of the block are inked, I then assemble the composition like you would a puzzle, and I move it into place inside a template the same size as my paper. The next step is placing the paper on top of the inked block, placing it down on one end and gently guiding it down the rest of the way. I will smooth the paper over with my hands, rubbing back and forth and around the edges. Then I take my baren and do a more thorough burnishing of the entire block. The final step (the best part) is peeling the paper off the block and revealing the final work of art!

I am constantly inspired by nature. Whether its the cacti growing in my backyard, or intricately patterned sea creatures at the aquarium, or the colours of a forest after a light rain… I am always humbled and awestruck by the natural world around me. I also love looking through books of scientific illustration, folk art, and poster art. Something about the tangible pages of a real book connects me to what I’m looking at much more than a screen. I think being inspired is a multi-sensory experience; I am struck when multiple senses are ignited and moved in a new way.

I think being inspired is a multi-sensory experience; I am struck when multiple senses are ignited and moved in a new way.

Lili Arnold at work – photo by Brittany Beryl Photography
Lili Arnold studio workspace – photo by Brittany Beryl Photography

Can you describe your workspace?
My workspace is a bit non-traditional; I used to work in my bedroom on a 6’ plastic folding table. I would set up every time I needed to print, and break it all down when I was done. I live in a shared home with my husband and three housemates, so I felt like I needed to keep things tidy and out of sight. More recently, I’ve migrated to our living room and set up a table by a big window which feels much more spacious and permanent. I have a few flat files underneath my work table, and a little rolling cart for all my supplies. It’s still a pretty compact work situation, but it works perfectly. Plus I don’t have to pay to have an off-site studio space which is great!

Do you believe artists should always be pushing messages through their art?
I think there are many ways to express oneself through the arts, and it’s not always necessarily in a conceptual way. That said, I do believe some of the most impactful and historically relevant art comes from a conceptual root. I think if someone has a genuine message they want to express through art, they should definitely continue to push themselves and share that with the world. When I was in school studying art, I felt a bit as though the idea of conceptual art was pushed heavily, and I didn’t have strong ideas to share through my art at the time. I still consider myself more of a folk artist as opposed to a conceptual artist, but I still feel a need to push myself and share what I’m doing with others. One of my biggest goals is to inspire others to try printmaking, or any art form for that matter, and experience the joy and fulfillment of artistic expression.

One of my biggest goals is to inspire others to try printmaking, or any art form for that matter…

Photo by Sun & Life Photography

What drives you to create?
I have always felt a strong desire to create things with my hands. Whether it’s been cooking, knitting, drawing, gardening, or printmaking, I feel the most satisfaction when my hands and body are moving and making something while doing it. It’s in my biology and it’s unavoidable! I’ve reached a point where I’ve really gotten to know myself as an artist and I’m on a path that I look forward to continuing. Since getting really into creating art focused on the aesthetics of plants and animals, I keep adding to my list all the flora and fauna that inspire me and impress me with their natural beauty and perfection. The urge to interpret all these incredible wonders of the natural world is a huge drive in my daily creative life. I also have a drive to keep up with my audience on social media; there are many people with questions about materials and processes and I feel motivated to share information and answer questions so that the next generation of artists have as much information as possible to make their journey enjoyable and hopefully a bit smoother.

How do you keep yourself motivated?
I constantly seek out inspiration in nature and make sure I allow time for reflection and time to develop genuine ideas. It’s inevitable that sometimes there will be creative lulls and hardships, but I’ve learned it’s important to let those moments happen and then pass organically. At this point in my artistic journey, I know better what to do in order to stay inspired, and how to navigate the lulls. Reading books and blogs, exploring the natural world and connecting with other creatives are things that constantly fill me with inspiration and ideas. Pinterest is an amazing resource too! I could spend all day finding interesting and inspiring images.

Photo courtesy of Lili Arnold

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is first making the art itself. The satisfaction of working with my hands is what I look forward to every day; it wakes me up with excitement. Second, I am immensely touched to hear from other artists, young students, retirees, and all kinds of walks of life to find out that they decided to try printmaking after watching one of my videos or saw a piece that inspired them. I think about going in the direction of Art Education at some point because it seems so important to facilitate creative discovery – it can be therapeutic, expressive, and deeply satisfying, and everyone should have the opportunity to explore and create something that is true to them.

How do you support your art practice?
When I first took the plunge into the independent artist lifestyle, I still had freelance graphic design jobs from my previous career path to support my art making. It’s been a gradual transition away from computer-based art and design into handmade illustration and printmaking, but now I am almost fully where I want to be. My goal is to stop taking commissions and freelance design work unless it’s a dream opportunity, and instead just focus on making new art pieces while sharing my process along the way.

Photo courtesy of Lili Arnold

I think it’s so important to create something you fully believe in; that’s what makes it so satisfying.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The biggest challenges so far have been first finding myself as an artist, and second growing a business from the ground up. There are so many factors that lead to each of those hurdles, and it’s all stuff that has to develop organically. I think it’s so important to create something you fully believe in; that’s what makes it so satisfying. But it’s not always easy to have great ideas let alone execute them well. After discovering my love for representing plants in my art, it really stuck and I was able to grow that passion into an artistic path that I was so excited about, but it took years to get to that point! Before that I did so much experimentation and felt a little lost in terms of who I was as an artist. It’s something you can’t rush or fake. Building the business was challenging in so many ways, but thanks to connecting with other small business owners and Google searches I was able to figure most of it out. Every small business has so many unique moving parts; you have to be ready to make a lot of mistakes but take them as learning experiences and not let them get you down.

Photo courtesy of Lili Arnold

What significance, if any, has social media played in furthering your career?
Social media has literally made my career happen. Because of Instagram in particular I’ve been able to grow a curious audience to share with, and they are the backbone to almost all the income I make. My online shop is linked to Instagram, so anyone who follows me or finds my page can explore and make a purchase. The great thing about Instagram is that people can really get to know me, my style, and my process, which I think is really important these days when making purchases or pledging support. My goal is for people to feel confident in supporting my art and feel connected to me and what I’m making. Social media has also connected me with many awesome brick and mortar shops who now carry my work, something that would be hard to do on one’s own from scratch. I know social media can be intimidating because of the sheer mass of content and talent, but I recommend it to anyone who wants to share what they do.

If you could collaborate with any artist, in any medium, past or present, who would it be and what would you ideally create?
The most powerful collaboration I’ve done yet is with Gillian Welch, a musician who I cherish and respect beyond words. I dream of collaborating with her again in the future. She inspires me musically, aesthetically and personally and I can’t imagine anyone else ever matching that influence. I would also love to get involved with an organisation that is making a significant impact on this planet – whether it’s an environmental, humanitarian, cultural or social cause, I do think it would be possible to make an impact pairing art with an important issue. Going back to the original question, there are so many artists I admire, it’s really hard to choose. I think the legendary scientific illustrators of the past like Ernst Haekel would be so inspiring to collaborate with. There’s also modern day illustrators who blow my mind like Katie Scott, Jeremy Collins and Phoebe Wahl. I might have to start a blog dedicated to this question actually!

“Euphorbia Trigona” by Lili Arnold. Photo courtesy of the artist.