Creative Profile: Kersey Barrett-Tormey
Originally trained as an animator, artist Kersey Barrett-Tormey accidentally fell in love with illustration after taking a comic book art class in college, creating a fifty-page children’s book about a girl whose daydreams show up in the wool of her pet sheep. A self-confessed compulsive daydreamer, the vigorously talented and fiercely imaginative Barrett-Tormey has a gift for storytelling that is at once enviable, effortless, and undeniably evident from the first moments of meeting her. We were lucky enough to get to visit her studio at Goforaloop in San Francisco and chat with her about her creative past and artistic process. Barrett-Tormey’s latest book, Beaver Away: The Story of Boh Going Solo is out now and she’ll be reading it at the Aldea Baby store on April 27 from 1-3PM.
Did you have a particular theme in mind when you were creating Beaver Away?
The story is about the early twenties…it’s kind of a warning about the early twenties. There’s a lot of warning right when you hit puberty, your parents are like ‘This is going to suck,’ or like ‘This is going to be really hard,’ but nobody really tells you that about your early twenties. So, hopefully kids will read this and then when they get older and they graduate college and they’re kind of confused about where they’re going in life, they’ll have this book. I hand-drew all the pictures and I even printed it out in the studio next door. This is a completely handmade book.
Yeah, you can really tell—even the buckets of hair that come off Boh the Beaver have tons of detail. How did you first get into drawing like this?
I’ve always been into it!
You’ve always drawn, since you were a kid.
Yeah, there was never a point where I decided I wasn’t going to draw. I’ve always been drawing. I don’t even remember how old I was when I first started drawing. I think since I was five I decided I was going to be an artist, since kindergarten.
I think it’s so rare for people to know their profession from such a young age, but also to stick with it through their formative years into adult life.
Yeah, I think there’s knowing what you want to be and making sure that you love it even if you aren’t making any money off of it.
Was there any point where you felt like Boh the Beaver, where you were like ‘I can’t do this’?
Yeah, I got tendonitis when I first got out of college. It was horrible. Everything hurt—opening doors hurt, sharpening pencils hurt—everything hurt. Eventually a friend looked at my wrist, which was swollen, and she said ‘You need to go to a doctor.’ And so I go to the doctor and he said, ‘You have tendonitis,’ and I just start crying. And then he was like ‘You’re okay, you’re okay, you can draw more like Ralph Steadman!’ and I was like, ‘Everybody and their mom wants to be Ralph Steadman!’ But he actually had a lot of really good advice.
How long ago was that?
That was right when I got out of college and it actually came back last month. It’s kind of strange to think that drawing has a shelf life, but I also feel like for every bad thing that happens, something good comes out of it. Every time this happens, my style changes. When I first got out of college, I was doing a lot of stuff that was really detailed. And then the tendonitis happened and everything that was really detailed with all the lines that you can’t really see, it all became a lot looser and I started creating all these cool textures instead.
What kind of music were you hearing in your head when you were creating Boh?
I was solely listening to Arlo Guthrie when I was drawing it. My dad’s house was under construction at the time, which was perfect because I was making a book about beavers, and the only thing that could tune out the noise and make me sane was Arlo Guthrie. So that was kind of the mood and the area I was going for, definitely folk and even printing it out on brown paper and using the browns and the greens and the yellows. I didn’t want anything to feel like a machine was part of what they were doing, it’s very much unplugged.
Have you been doing any new forms of art that you’ve been really excited about?
I’ve been really digging painting. I don’t usually dig painting, but now I’m super into it.
What started this painting phase?
I…think the tendonitis.
Oh, because there’s less pressure involved?
Yeah, painting on wood (pieces of found wood) and collage. One thing I would like to get back into is animation. I went to school for animation and eventually I would like to build up that animation studio.
To see more of Kersey Barrett-Tormey’s work