Writer and Illustrator Hallie Bateman’s Insatiable Appetite to Create

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Based in Los Angeles, California, Hallie Bateman is a freelance writer and illustrator who’s had her work published by The New Yorker, The New York Times, Buzzfeed, The Awl and others. Although she never had formal training in illustration, she received some powerful advice to “draw every day,” and since she began illustration she’s done just that, becoming a prolific artist who knows no bounds.

A print Bateman sold to raise funds for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, with more than $5,000 contributed.

Bateman studied creative writing in college, and although she didn’t study art in school she taught herself illustration. There were no classes or instructors to mold her artistic capabilities or provide her with a process. She learned on her own. “When I was starting out, I devoured all the interviews and books I could find. (Letters to a Young Illustrator by R.O. Blechman is great.) On Twitter and Instagram, I followed every illustrator whose work I loved. This allowed me to witness the day-to-day lives of illustrators, and eavesdrop on conversations between them on favorite pens, how to deal with clients, etc.” Learning on her own and producing work outside of a school system was an entirely self-reliant and self-made endeavor. And there’s been no problem with motivation because she’s always had an appetite to create.

Bateman’s mug designs sold at MoMA’s design store Colossal, as well as others vendors.

Bateman says that she started illustrating in 2010—”for no money, of course”—and her first paid work might have come sometime in 2012. For those starting out—with or without a degree in art or illustration—Bateman suggests building a relationship with yourself and not waiting for a client to hire you. “At least for comics/illustration, it’s a very small world, and most of the people in it are kind and generous. Even if you’re starting out, and aren’t very experienced, you can still relate to working artists if you post your work and show that you have a passion for making art and working hard. Share the work of your heroes along with your own work, and eventually you’ll feel yourself becoming a part of the community. Also, go to comics festivals even though they can be intimidating at first. You will find your people there.”

“Runners,” a personal sketch from 2016.

“World Map,” a personal work from 2013.

Even though she wasn’t being paid for approximately two years, she started calling herself an illustrator when she began illustrating. But it took her longer to call herself a writer, and as she wrote more, enjoyed writing more, and was published more, the title felt appropriate. “Honestly, after I read the book Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, something clicked for me. Some of my terror lifted, and I started to open up way more in my writing.”

“Night Drive,” a print Bateman sold in 2016 that raised more than $2,000 for Planned Parenthood.

Routines and Molds

Whether finding client work on her own as a freelancer or making her own projects, she’s continued to draw every day, create every day. “I bring my sketchbook almost everywhere and love to draw from life. It also functions as my journal, and I often need to draw just to sort out some feelings or release some energy. I’m not very precious about it. I am careful to make my sketchbook a very accepting and safe place. If I’m working on a book or another large project, I’ll draw at roughly the same time each day and keep a detailed list of work to be done. I take satisfaction in crossing items off it each day. I’ve found becoming super organized is the only way to get through a huge project like that.”

A Feb. 2017 illustration for Mother Jones that appeared in an article about food deserts.

Book cover for Among the Woo People made in 2017.

If you take a look at Bateman’s portfolio of work, the first thing you’ll notice is the range. She has done different things over time, and continues to do different things. There’s not one mold that you could fit her work into, and admittedly, Bateman herself strives to constantly break out of molds. For an illustrator, especially one with a signature style or rendering technique, it can be easy—or even desirable—to become known for that style. But not for Bateman. “I say ‘no.’ Often, I’ll make a type of work, which generates demand for more similar work. For a while, this can be an exciting opportunity to explore my own work and learn a lot. Eventually, I feel like I’m being asked to replicate old work.” Saying “no” might seem like the last thing a freelancer should do, but for Bateman, it’s proven to be an asset. “I think I break out of a mold when I start to say ‘no’ to the work I’m known for, ‘no’ to the things I’m good at, and head in new, scary directions. I break out of molds when I let myself keep failing and trying and learning.”

Related: HOW Design Live speaker Emily Cohen on the art of saying “no.”

This cartoon from an essay at BigCartel was a “predecessor/companion to the Artistic Licenses” that Bateman now sells.

Creative License

Reinvention and breaking out of molds has served Bateman well, allowing her to take on any number of projects, any kind of project. I first noticed Bateman’s work online, when her Artistic Licenses began making the rounds on social media. They started out as a fun side project for herself, and now you can get your own Artistic License, with your very own portrait drawn by Bateman.

Bateman’s Artistic Licenses, a project she enjoys doing for other people.

For Bateman, the process of making the licenses is both educational and rewarding. “I love drawing each person’s face, and learning a little about them.” For the owners, getting a license is not only fun and games, but it’s also an opportunity to “banish self-doubt” when family members ask about career or life choices. Bateman has had positive reactions to the licenses, especially because they can help people “dissolve their doubts.”

As an illustrator and writer, making the leap into books seemed like a logical next step, and she’s made that leap by making her own books. Bateman’s creative journal Brave New Work was published in 2017 by MoMA and her latest book, What To Do When I’m Gone, comes out in April 2018.

A spread from her book What To Do When I’m Gone.

What To Do When I’m Gone is a book for mothers and daughters, for anyone who’s lost somebody, or anyone who will one day lose somebody. Bateman sees the book as good preparation, an icebreaker of sorts, to assist people before they lose a parent, before the grieving happens. Making work that is both positive and helpful to people has always mattered to Bateman, and What To Do When I’m Gone does exactly that in so many ways.

Writing, Illustrating, Amplifying

When I spoke with Bateman about her own work, we also had an opportunity to chat about work that inspires her, and she cited filmmakers Mike Mills and Miranda July. Mills and July, who are married, have both “worked so fearlessly in so many mediums” and Bateman hopes to “reach anything near to their level of pan-artistic freedom someday.”

In Mills’ work, a blurring of boundaries happens and that appeals to Bateman, especially when it comes to the blend of documentary and artistic elements and how “he pulls from his own life and interviews with friends and strangers.” It’s about both truth and fiction, rather than a clear separation between the two. “I love the idea that there’s not such a hard line between truth and fiction—that there’s truth to be found in the gray areas. I love this because I strive to be an emotional reporter, parsing and playing with facts and experiences to find and amplify emotional truths.”

In her own writing and illustration, Bateman has proven herself capable of doing just that, finding and amplifying emotional truths. In all likelihood, she will continue to do so, and if she keeps breaking out of molds, there seems to be no limit to what she will do next.

Caption information for artwork provided by Hallie Bateman.

Check out more of Bateman’s work at her website and on Instagram.


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