Aiyana Udesen

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There is a silent storm on the World Wide Web where celebrities are being fused with animals, but to simply imagine Donald Trump’s head on a mule – don’t front, we’re all thinking it – would be a crime against the creator of this witty fusion. Aiyana Udesen, 26, loves to listen to Talking Heads and INXS while drawing for hours in her San Francisco studio, before serving cocktails at a local comedy bar.

Perhaps, pieces of her career build Aiyana’s sparkling character, or maybe, Aiyana’s persona brightens her drawings – it doesn’t matter, because clever how-to-draw books and illustrated story books take people straight to Aiyanaville, a place that makes the Internet happy and weds Nelly with a handsome penguin.

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Format: Where did you go to art school?
Aiyana: I went to the San Francisco Art Institute and I graduated in `03.

Format: Did the steps to gaining recognition as an artist begin while at SFAI, or after?
Aiyana: Actually, it’s so weird, because during school I thought it would be so difficult to make it as a gallery artist that I was going to avoid it and try to get a job, so I really wasn’t looking for shows and I never really looked for shows during school, either, I didn’t really care. But, right after I graduated my friends started asking me to be in shows and through them I ended up showing all the time, and it was so fun that I just decided to keep doing it. I always try to keep it fun and not stressful so it’s more fun for me.

Format: What is it about being a gallery artist that you enjoy?
Aiyana: It’s really nice to have deadlines that aren’t like job deadlines. So, if it’s a deadline for a show it’s like, oh I have to be creative and make something! That’s good for an artist. By the time you frame your stuff and hang it up you have the opening, and you have a big party and all your friends are there, it’s the [most] fun thing in the world – and, if you sell stuff it’s even better!

“I don’t like to do something without including animals, because I feel that people, generally, don’t respect animals as much as humans.”

Format: Your books are witty, pop-culture-like and not expected. How did your books materialize?
Aiyana: I started out doing them to pretty much make myself laugh, because if I’m not laughing while I’m drawing something then its no good. My school was so serious about art and I didn’t always get the best feedback as far as pop-culture stuff goes, like pop art, they weren’t as into that, especially in San Francisco, but I feel like I’m kind of making fun of art a little bit, even though I love it – it is so serious sometimes and I kind of make mine as silly as possible, for me.

Format: Why Nelly and a penguin?
Aiyana: I thought it would be really funny to do a how-to-draw Nelly, because I had a bunch of pictures of him, I don’t know why, and I thought he was really fun to draw. I thought it would be funny if I gave instructions on how to draw somebody like him, because it is so complicated that it’s totally ridiculous to learn how to draw somebody in three pages, so that was my funny joke. And, I thought if I put an animal in there, too, because that is what a lot of old drawing books had, they had the me parts of drawing books where it was a certain subject and then they would throw in some other ones, so I threw the penguin in, because it’s so easy to draw that it’s definitely something you could draw in a few pages. I thought it would be funny to have them together as if they’re both just as easy and important as each other. Then I really liked having the penguin have his little wing over Nelly’s shoulder, in the end, I thought that was hysterical!

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Format: You have a book with Mariah Carey and a mouse, why either of the subjects?
Aiyana: I’ve been raising mice for a really long time, so I’m constantly drawing them, because they’re in front of me. When you break things down into drawing techniques and terms like that, it doesn’t really matter, you can pretty much compare anything as long as they’re alive. That’s why I feel like I can put somebody like her with anything I want. And, a lot of people hate mice. People really don’t think they’re significant and they’ve been through a lot in our world, but they’ve endured a lot and they’re still around. I have a lot of respect for small animals like that, rodents and stuff, I don’t know why. I just like them. They’re kind of like the underdogs. And, people are so fascinated with Mariah Carey’s breakdown and stuff like that. I’m fascinated in that, too, because it’s funny and it’s on TV, but I’m also interested in why mice act the way they do and I can watch them probably longer!

Format: Is there a deeper meaning behind the humor in your books?
Aiyana: I have some major animal issues in my books. I don’t like to do something without including animals, because I feel that people, generally, don’t respect animals as much as humans. I’m constantly trying to hook people with the celebrity, but then make people learn something about an animal.

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Format: As a gallery artist, do you feel that living in San Francisco is harder for you to get your product in circulation and have a successful career, compared to a gallery artist in Manhattan?
Aiyana: I know a lot of people that I went to school with and they immediately left for New York or for L.A. and they were really eager to jump into that, because there is such a huge art scene out there. I feel like I have faith in myself that I will be able to do it, because I want to stay in San Francisco, because that is where my family is. I think that if I want to be successful then I can do it. I wouldn’t tell anyone else what to do, but I don’t feel like you should have to go to another city in order to make it.

Format: As a female gallery artist, do you feel that there are any obstacles in your way, because of your gender?
Aiyana: I think it’s kind of weird how few female artists there are. I don’t know why that is. For me it I think it has been an asset, because I’m every time I go to an art show I’m constantly mingling and talking to people. I think that a lot like having a few girls in their shows, so if I’m one of the only ones I definitely can show! I think it’s been a plus. I think people might think of somebody who likes to draw all the time think of boys. I think get a little more respect for that, I hope.

Format: Do you find that your subjects are mostly female, because you are a female or is there no gender barring?
Aiyana: I think that I can get away with doing more feminine stuff, but I can do it either way. If I’m drawing a serious portrait of a teen idol from the `80s or something like that and making him all cute, I don’t think some people could get away with that as much as I could.

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Format: And, is that your gender or personality that allows exception for cute pieces?
Aiyana: Probably my gender.

Format: Through the grapevine, it has been said that you’re not on that next, next in terms of technology.
Aiyana: I’m so retro. My friends are always teasing me, because I don’t have a cell phone and I have dial-up. I think it’s really, because I want to save the money, because I spend a lot on my rent! Like, I’ll watch a really fuzzy TV show for entertainment, because I don’t have cable. I try to stay that it is, because I’m so stylish, um, so `80s?

Format: Do you find that staying lo-tech may hinder your art work?
Aiyana: I learned a lot of programs when I was in school and some of them I still use, like Photoshop, but that’s pretty much to layout my books. I’m sure there are things I could be doing to make my life easier, but it’s just a matter of time. I don’t know if it will help me that much creatively, but it will definitely help me get my books made.

“One time I came into the studio and they said, ‘OK, we need you to draw three things. A ninja, a wizard and a futuristic female robot.'”

Format: Do you have any other books that are going to be released in 2007?
Aiyana: I’m working on one right now and I haven’t figured out exactly what it is going to be, but almost every example is going to be Worf, from Star Trek, but it’s not going to say Worf in there, it is just going to be a coincidence that he’s in every single example of different mediums. So, if you’re using different tools, it is going to like, ‘And, to make a dramatic portrait,’ and then it will have Worf, again! Every single page will be Worf and I’ll never mention that I’m drawing a Klingon and I’ll throw in some random stuff. I thought it was really funny to draw his forehead, because it’s so gross looking and now I’ve drawn it so many times I can’t stand looking at it any more! I feel like I’ve been doing all these really unattractive people, lately, because I just did a job where I had to do Leatherface, from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and he’s wearing someone’s face over his face, it’s so disgusting and I was trying to draw him all nice – eww, when can I draw some cute guys or celebrity girls?

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Format: How do you promote your books and what has been the response?
Aiyana: It’s been good. People buy them from my website and sometimes I go out and trade with people or hand them out. Like, I went to the comic convention in San Diego and I gave 40 of them out, but I thought it would be a good place to do that. The MOCA [Museum Of Contemporary Art] in L.A. ordered so many of my books from me and they sell them for $13 each in their store, but I haven’t been going around trying to get stores to buy my books, a few stores sell them. It’s really cool, I went in there, one time, and I saw them with bar codes and price tags.

Format: How do you feel about your book art being sold in stores?
Aiyana: I’m totally fine with selling them that way. Where I have a problem, is when I’m doing freelance stuff and I’m doing like – I’ve done this before, where I’m at a design studio and they’re paying to do drawings and concept drawings. I’ve done it before and it pays a lot of money, but I feel that if I did that all the time I’d go crazy. That really feels like selling out to me, because you’re drawing something for this huge ad campaign. Either I don’t have enough practice or I don’t like it!

“And, a lot of people hate mice.”

Format: What were your concept drawings for advertisers?
Aiyana: It was basic concepts for ads. I had to do a yak, one time, with a headset on and he was supposed to be at a computer and I had to draw that. One time I came into the studio and they said, ‘OK, we need you to draw three things. A ninja, a wizard and a futuristic female robot,’ and I was like, ‘What!’ I’ve never drawn any of those things in my life and I got like $900 for sitting there for a few hours drawing these things. I thought, ‘You’re getting one of the only girl artists in town to do these super boy things.’ I was really happy to get the check!

Format: Do you use a publicist?
Aiyana: I am my own publicist. Basically, if I’m networking or trying to get shows or anything to enhance my art life, I’ve tried to make sure that I’m having fun while I’m doing it. So, I go to art shows and mingle. That’s pretty much why I’ve gotten as far as I have, because knowing people and becoming friends with people is the best way to go. I’ve never gone into a gallery with a bunch of slides, which is totally what I thought I was going to have to do. Fortunately, I’ve known since I was very little that I was going to be an artist, because my family is really artistic and they encouraged me a lot. My mom used to say, ‘If somebody ever asks you what you want to be when you grow up you tell them that you’re already an artist!’

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More Info: http://www.aiyanaville.com

Jordan Chalifoux

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